What Happens When You Recline the Backpad on the Leg Press?

The leg press is a universally popular exercise that targets the legs, but what happens when you lower the back support, opening the angle of your hips?

January 8, 2013

Jimmy Peña, MS, CSCS: Photos of IFBB Pro and Team BSN Athlete Brandon Curry

Machine-Made Muscle

One of the most common exercises for the legs is the leg press. A multijoint movement, it targets all the major leg muscles, including the hamstrings, glutes and the front quads. Research confirms no other move stimulates the vastus medialis muscle (teardrop of the quads) better than the leg press.

Acute Bench Angle

Relative to most exercises in the gym we’re all pretty strong on the leg press, shown here with hips bent about 90 degrees. The back support allows for very little body english while you press the footplate away from your body. In fact, the body is in a very strong position, engaging all the muscles of the lower body as you lean back against the pad. Remember not to completely lock your knees at the top of the movement. Try also not to come down so low that your glutes rise off the pad. Both mistakes can put undue stress on your knees and low back, respectively.

Make This Change

Recline the Leg-Press Pad

Most leg-press machines allow you to alter the angle of the back support. Unfortunately we seldom utilize that benefit. But try this: Lower the back pad as far as possible. During a typical leg press most of the emphasis is on the front quads because you have very limited hip extension. For that reason the leg press isn’t the best exercise to choose when you’re trying to target your upper hamstrings and glutes, even if you widen your stance on the footplate.

However, when you lower the backrest, you change the angle of the hips, calling upon more of the hams and glutes to help press the plate away. With a wider hip angle your body resembles more of a straight line than in the standard version where hips are bent at almost a right angle. Consider the top of a standard squat, for example. As you press through the floor, you eventually reach that straight line. The closer your body comes to a straight line, the more hip extension you achieve and the more you involve muscle fibers throughout the lower body.

Get The Benefits From Both

We often harp on the benefits of changing angles for most bodyparts, but this is an example of how altering angles on just one machine can revolutionize your progress. From one set to the next try altering the angle so that you get the benefits of the small hip angle and the larger one. You may have to vary the weight as you make these adjustments until you get used to the changes because you might well be stronger in one position than another. The mere fact that you’re exposing your quads to a simple change in angle will force them to respond in size and strength.