The leg press is a lower-body strength training exercise performed on a leg press weight machine.
It is a great exercise to add to your workouts for any fitness goal you may have such as increasing strength, building muscle, or developing muscular endurance,
When you are planning your leg workouts, you probably ask yourself, how many leg press reps should I do in each session?
In this strength training guide, we will discuss how to do leg presses, whether it is better to do squats or leg presses in your lower-body workouts, and ultimately answer your question, how many leg press reps should I do based on my fitness goals?
Let’s dive in!
How to Do Leg Presses
Before we look at how many leg press reps to do to build muscle, increase strength, increase muscular endurance, or other fitness goals, let’s discuss how to perform leg presses properly.
To perform the leg press exercise, you sit down and then press a weight-loaded plate away from your body by extending your knees.
There are two different leg press machine positions: The horizontal leg press and the incline leg press.
With the horizontal seated leg press exercise, you sit in the leg press machine in a fairly upright position with your feet against a platform that’s directly in front of your body.
The incline leg press exercise uses a similar movement pattern and range of motion, but the body positioning and setup are different.The incline leg press generally has the platform and backrest angled about 45° from the vertical position so as you extend your knees to push the platform away from your body, the pushing direction is an upward/outward angle rather than straight forward.
Visually, we intuitively think that the incline leg press is harder than the horizontal seated leg press because you are pushing the weight up against gravity.
However, the relative workload on the leg press muscles isn’t inherently greater than it is with the seated leg press with the horizontal pressing position.
This is because the incline leg press machine uses a cable pulley so you aren’t pressing the weight stack itself against the force of gravity, you only have a negligible change in the weight of the cable attached to the weight stack.
Essentially, the main difference between the incline leg press exercise and the horizontal leg press exercise is just in the setup position and how easy it is to get in and out of the machine.
Here are the steps for how to perform the leg press exercise:
How To Perform The Leg Press
- Lie or sit back on the leg press machine with your head and back fully supported, your knees bent to 90 degrees, and your feet up on the platform a little wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Grip the handles found on either side of the leg press machine seat.
- Keep your core tight and press your hips down, making sure to only move your lower legs by contracting your quads.
- Explosively press through your heels to extend your legs fully (extending your hips, knees, and ankles) without fully locking out your knees. Think about “gluing” your hips and upper body down so that you are only initiating and controlling the movement from your legs.
- Squeeze your quads in the end position when your legs are extended without fully locking out your knees.
- Hold for 2-3 seconds.
- Slowly bend your knees to return the platform to the starting position, aiming to extend the eccentric (lowering) portion as long as possible.1Schoenfeld, B. J., Ogborn, D. I., Vigotsky, A. D., Franchi, M. V., & Krieger, J. W. (2017). Hypertrophic Effects of Concentric vs. Eccentric Muscle Actions. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 31(9), 2599–2608. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000001983
How Many Leg Press Reps Should I Do To See Good Results?
Determining how many leg press reps and sets you should do in a workout depends on factors such as your training level, what other exercises you are doing in your leg press workouts, and your training goals.
Of these, your training goal plays the most significant role in helping guide the number of sets and reps of leg presses you should do, along with how much weight to lift.
The following table provides recommendations for how many reps to do and how much weight to lift for different strength training goals based on the average guidelines from the American Council on Exercise (ACE)2How Many Reps Should You Be Doing? (n.d.). Www.acefitness.org. https://www.acefitness.org/resources/everyone/blog/5867/how-many-reps-should-you-be-doing/ and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. 3Sands, W., Wurth, J., & Hewit, J. (2012). The National Strength and Conditioning Association’s (NSCA) BASICS OF STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING MANUAL. https://www.nsca.com/contentassets/116c55d64e1343d2b264e05aaf158a91/basics_of_strength_and_conditioning_manual.pdf
|Training Goal||Sets||Reps||Rest Period||Intensity|
|General Fitness||1-3||12-15||30 to 90 seconds||Varies on exercise and ability level|
|Muscular Endurance||3-4||>15||Up to 30 seconds||<67% of 1RM|
|Hypertrophy (building muscle mass)||3-6||8-12||30 to 90 seconds||67% to 85% of 1RM|
|Muscle strength||4-6||3-6||2 to 5 minutes||>85% of 1RM|
|Power||3-5||1-5||2 to 5 minutes||85%–100% of 1RM|
A person doing a leg press.
So, when you want to do leg presses to increase quad strength, work up to performing 4-6 sets with 3-5 leg press reps per set, using at least 85% of your one-repetition maximum (1RM) for the load.
The fewer reps of leg presses you perform, the closer to 100% of your 1RM you should aim for with your weights.
When your primary goal is hypertrophy (muscle growth) with leg press workouts, you should build up to performing at least three sets of each exercise, using loads that are 67 to 85% of your 1RM for 8 to 12 reps.
Is the Leg Press A Good Exercise To Reach Your Fitness Goals?
Deciding which exercises you are going to do in your workout routine depends on your fitness goals, level, the equipment you have available, and the focus on your workout.
There’s often a debate about whether it’s better to do leg presses or squats, as the muscles worked by leg presses vs squats are similar, though it is important to nuanced differences.
If you are doing your leg workout at the gym, there’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of the weight machines.4VINCENT, K. R., VASILOPOULOS, T., MONTERO, C., & VINCENT, H. K. (2019). Eccentric and Concentric Resistance Exercise Comparison for Knee Osteoarthritis. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 51(10), 1977–1986. https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0000000000002010
Although it can be argued that the leg press is a less functional exercise for the legs than a barbell or a dumbbell squat because the leg press machine dictates the path of motion in a single plane, there are benefits of adding leg presses to your leg workouts.
The leg press machine is a great way to strengthen your quads and build muscle, particularly if you don’t have a spotter for heavy freeweight squats.
Firstly, because you are seated and the weight machine confined the movement to one plane, you do not need to recruit stabilizing muscles and balance the barbell or free weights as you squat.
This allows you to lift heavier loads, which in turn leads to a greater muscle-building stimulus for your quads and glutes.
Essentially, the fixed path of motion allows you to safely lift more weight with leg presses vs squats without needing to balance or stabilize your body.
Plus, weightlifters who try to squat too heavy and use weights that they cannot manage through the full range of motion will often not squat low enough for fear that they will not be able to get back up out of the squat under the weight.
If you aren’t using the full range of motion, you will compromise the effectiveness of the exercise.
However, there is a trade-off to being able to lift more weight with leg press workouts vs squat workouts.
While the potential to get stronger and build muscle faster in a safe manner is offered by the stability of the leg press machine vs the inherent instability with free-weight squats, the fixed plane of movement does decrease the functional use of leg presses.
In sports and everyday activities, when you are squatting or performing a triple extension movement pattern (which involves the simultaneous extension of the ankles, knees, and hips), such as when you are running, climbing stairs, stepping up onto a curb, doing lunges in a leg workout, or jumping, you have to stabilize your body yourself.
You don’t have the luxury of letting your stabilizing muscles in the hips, ankles, and core go for a “free ride” as they can with a leg press weight machine.
The leg press is also an excellent alternative leg exercise for building muscle for individuals who may experience back pain.
Because you are seated with the leg press machine and pressing the load from the weight stack, your spine is not placed under the load of the weighted barbell.
This removes compression stress on the spine when doing the leg press vs back squat, so leg press machines can be safer for maximum lifts.
In these ways, doing leg presses vs squats can actually improve safety for heavy lifts and help you lift more weight to maximize your gains in strength and mass.
Ultimately, performing both exercises in your training program can help you capitalize on the benefits and partially negate some of the drawbacks of each leg exercise.
If you would like to incorporate squats into your training sessions, check out our guide here.
- 1Schoenfeld, B. J., Ogborn, D. I., Vigotsky, A. D., Franchi, M. V., & Krieger, J. W. (2017). Hypertrophic Effects of Concentric vs. Eccentric Muscle Actions. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 31(9), 2599–2608. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000001983
- 2How Many Reps Should You Be Doing? (n.d.). Www.acefitness.org. https://www.acefitness.org/resources/everyone/blog/5867/how-many-reps-should-you-be-doing/
- 3Sands, W., Wurth, J., & Hewit, J. (2012). The National Strength and Conditioning Association’s (NSCA) BASICS OF STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING MANUAL. https://www.nsca.com/contentassets/116c55d64e1343d2b264e05aaf158a91/basics_of_strength_and_conditioning_manual.pdf
- 4VINCENT, K. R., VASILOPOULOS, T., MONTERO, C., & VINCENT, H. K. (2019). Eccentric and Concentric Resistance Exercise Comparison for Knee Osteoarthritis. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 51(10), 1977–1986. https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0000000000002010