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How to Do a Leg Press Machine Exercise to Build Lower Body Muscle

WHICH EXERCISE ALLOWS you to work with the most possible weight?

The deadlift or back squat might be the first options that come to mind, and these big barbell movements are solid answers. Both exercises train your legs, using the biggest muscles in your body where you’ll be your strongest, and serve as the traditional barometers of overall strength. But expand your horizons to include machine-based movements, and there’s an easy answer to this question: the leg press.

The leg press offers exercisers an enticing proposition: Load as much weight onto the rig as you can handle, plop down into the seat, and push away. You’re not working with free weights, so in theory there’s much less to worry about when it comes to form. But in reality, you’ll need to understand a bit more about the exercise—and the way your body works—to perform it as safely and effectively as possible.

Here, Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S., explains everything you need to know about what the leg press, which he calls “your most powerful exercise.”

Benefits of the Leg Press

Work with big weightsLess stress to CNSDevelop leg muscle and strengthGood for beginners

The leg press allows you to train your legs with heavy loads. You’ll be able to work with bigger numbers than your free weight movements (meaning: exercises that use implements like dumbbells, barbells, and kettlebells) for one simple reason: You’re not stressing your spine.

“We’re removing something called axial loading,” explains Samuel. “When I’m doing a squat or a deadlift, I’ve got all that pressure from the weight and from gravity coming down on my spine.”

Since your position within the machine doesn’t force you to support the weight with your spine, you’ll be able to pile on more plates and use only your big leg muscles. What’s more, you’ll avoid straining your central nervous system (CNS), which causes fatigue and might limit your ability to keep pumping out reps sooner.

This position also makes the leg press a simple tool for beginners. You’ll be able to work with heavier weights more quickly than the form-intensive free weight exercises. That said,…


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