Strength Exercise Instruction: Seated Leg Press

Strength Exercise Instruction: Seated Leg Press

The leg press in Wenzel Coaching lifting routines strengthens muscles, tendons and ligaments of the lower body. Muscles that are activated include the gluteus maximus, quadriceps and hamstring muscles. The lower reps and higher weight are intended to work on explosive power.

Front view of an athlete doing the seated leg press exercise

Balance and core stabilization are essential to safe strength training. Before starting the leg press movement, draw in your abdominal muscles. Then think of pulling up from your pelvic floor up to your rib cage (also known as bearing down), while simultaneously drawing your bellybutton to your spine. Imagine someone is about to punch you in the gut—that’s how firm your core should be.

You can use a variety of machines for the leg press exercise: hip sled, horizontal leg press, vertical leg press or a seated leg press. The weights given on your plan assume you are using a hip sled – the machine to which one adds weight plates on the sides. The hip sled itself weighs 75-125 pounds, so subtract the weight of the sled from the weight you put on the machine. (For simplicity, assume it weighs 100 pounds, or ask a weight room attendant.) If using any other machine, talk to your coach about potentially adjusting the listed weight amounts in your plan until you’ve done your first strength test for the year.

Breathe! Don’t hold your breath, especially when bearing down on an exercise. Exhale through pursed lips. This keeps the core engaged and reduces lightheadedness.

The Leg Press Setup

  • On machines with adjustable seats, position the seat so that your knee bend is approximately 100 degrees when your feet are on the foot platform before pushing. On a hip sled, adjust the safety limiters to catch the sled as high as possible with the knees bent to 100 degrees or more.
  • Position your feet on the foot platform hip-distance apart. Turn toes slightly outward if that is a comfortable position for you.
  • Place each foot roughly the same distance from the edge of the platform.
  • Position your feet an inch or two from the top of the foot platform to ensure you get the correct angle between your upper leg and lower leg.
  • Select the weight called for in your Wenzel Coaching plan. If using a hip sled, be sure to include the weight of the sled as part of the total weight. For example, if your plan calls for 150 lbs. and the hip sled is 50 lbs., only add 100 lbs.

Executing the Leg Press Lift

A GIF of an athlete demonstrating the seated leg press exercise

Sit tall by raising your chest panel up and back while pushing your shoulder blades towards your back pockets. Avoid leaning forward or slouching. Press your whole back into the back of the machine.

  • If you are relatively new to this exercise, do it slowly so you can focus on posture and control. If you have mastered this lift, do it explosively, moving the weight as fast as a you can (which may not be that fast if the weight is heavy)
  • Push through the balls of your feet to get a little extra calf work.
  • Gently grasp hand holds during the exercise. Try not to grip hard.
  • Exhale as you extend your hips and legs, inhale as you return to bent knees.
  • Keep your core engaged and your back firmly on the back rest.
  • Keep feet firmly on platform.
  • Legs should be parallel to each other throughout the entire exercise. Don’t allow them to shift inward or outward. Undue stress on your low back or knees could result.
  • Extend your hips and legs until the knees are fully extended, but not locked.
  • Inhale as you return to bent knees.
You should never feel pain in your lower back or knees while doing the leg press. If there is any pain, reduce the weight and/or reposition the seat to reduce your knee bend.

Talk to you coach if the weight, reps or sets don’t feel right. The number of reps and sets are meant to challenge you as you progress with the plan, but never should you feel pain during this lift. You should always be able to finish your sets with a steady rhythm. If you can’t, consider slowing the rhythm or reducing the weight. Your coach will help you decide which.

Talk to your coach or a certified personal trainer at the gym if you’re unsure of this technique. Don’t rely on the person next to you or even the personal trainer unless you’re confident the person knows the difference between a leg press for runners and cyclists compared to a leg press for weight lifters.

Associate coach Rhonda Morin, EMT, is a two-time state champion cyclocross racer and national bronze medalist for master women. She has a certificate in core and corrective exercise.