Leg press: make this great all-around thigh exercise a staple in your routine

Technique

* Sit and lean back on the pad of a leg press machine angled at approximately 45 degrees.

* Place your feet shoulder-width apart in the middle of the foot platform, with your hips and spine pressed against the back support.

* Apply pressure equally to the entire soles of both feet, release the locking lever located alongside the seat and straighten your legs.

* Your legs should be fully extended but not locked, and your upper body should be pressed firmly against the back support. This is the starting position.

* Inhale slightly more than usual and hold your breath as you bend your knees to slowly lower the platform.

* Allow the platform to descend low enough to create’ an 80-90-degree angle in your knees (measured from the back of the calf to the back of the thigh).

* Continue to hold your breath as you straighten your legs to press the platform back to the starting position.

* Exhale as you pass the most difficult part of the pressing motion.

* Fully extend your legs but don’t lock out your knees. Pause momentarily at the top.

Performance

* To help prevent back injury, don’t allow your knees to touch your chest during the lowering phase. The farther your knees come down, the more rounded your low back gets, which puts pressure on the lumbar intervertebral discs and can cause injury. On most machines, the 90-degree knee-joint angle is both sufficient for muscular gains and optimal for back and knee safety.

* Breath-holding during the initial push phase plays an important role not only in exercise safety but also in effective execution. When you hold your breath, you generate more force and stabilize your torso to allow for more effective leg actions.

* Exhaling after passing the sticking point relieves built-up intra-abdominal and thoracic pressure.

* To stimulate more glute and hamstring recruitment, place your feet higher on the resistance platform. The lower you place your feet, the more stress is put on the quadriceps. Each of these foot placements depends on hip-joint flexibility and how well you can handle the stress on not only your knees but also your lower back.

* Don’t lock out your knees at the top of the movement, especially if you naturally have several degrees of hyper-extension in the locked position. This can lead to excessive hyperextension, which can severely injure your knees.

* Compared to the free-weight squat, the leg press allows you to use much more weight, in some cases well over twice the amount. The extra weight increases intensity, so always use caution to reduce the risk of injury.

Primary Muscles Involved

The primary muscles of the hip joint are the gluteus maximus and hamstrings. One of the largest muscles in the body, the gluteus maximus is located at the back of the hip. The hamstrings are composed of the biceps femoris, semitendinosus and semimembranosus. The biceps femoris, the largest of the three, is typically the muscle that is well defined on the back of the thigh.

The primary muscle group of the knee joint is the quadriceps, which consists of the vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius and rectus femoris. These muscles run almost the entire length of the thigh and converge into the quadriceps femoris tendon that attaches to the kneecap. The vastus lateralis on the outer side of the thigh and the vastus medialis on the inner side of the thigh are known as the teardrop muscles. The vastus intermedius lies between them and beneath the rectus femoris, a large muscle that crosses both the hip and knee joints, and runs straight down the front of the thigh.

Muscle/Joint Actions

In knee-joint extension, the backs of the thigh and calf move away from each other in a leg-straightening action. The quadriceps is the main muscle involved. In hip-joint extension, the thighs move away from the torso toward alignment with the upper body. On a 45-degree-angle leg press machine, they move to a position perpendicular to the torso. In hip extension, the gluteus maximus is involved early and the hamstrings do most of the later work. The hamstrings are two-jointed muscles with actions at both the knee and hip.

Sports Uses

Without hip- and knee-joint extension, lifting heavy weights off the floor would be impossible. These dual actions allow you to move your upper body in a straight, upward pathway, which is critical in the deadlift and squat in powerlifting, and the snatch and the clean and jerk in weightlifting. The leg press develops and defines mainly the front of the thighs, especially the middle portion, as well as the middle and upper portions of the rear thighs and glutes.

Knee- and hip-joint extension and the muscles involved are crucial in a multitude of sports. These actions are used in all forms of jumping, running, lifting and pushing, and they’re especially important in sports such as track and field (throwing, jumping and running events), basketball and volleyball (jumping), and snow and water skiing. The leg press is also used to enhance knee extension in kicking (soccer, karate), and knee and/or hip extension is vital during swimming strokes such as the freestyle, butterfly and breast strokes.

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