Leg Press Foot Placements: 5 Stances Explained

5 leg press foot placements

The leg press can be altered by placing your feet in different positions to get more or less activation of certain muscle groups.  Each has their own unique advantages and disadvantages.

The 5 leg press foot placements are:

Unfortunately, lifters often fail to select the correct foot placement required to place emphasis on certain muscle groups. In turn, the result is poor technique, less effective training, unimpressive results, and (possibly) higher risk of injury. 

To avoid these critical mistakes with your leg press foot placements, continue reading and make sure to select the appropriate foot placement based on what muscle groups you wish to target.

You’ll find some awesome lower body variations to target your quads and posterior chain in my 9 Best Leg Press Alternatives (With Pictures) article. Check it out next!

Leg Press Overview

5 foot placements for leg press

The leg press is (typically) a weight-loadable carriage that travels down and up a 45-degree set of tracks. The lifter is positioned on the seat and lays on the backrest, using their legs to push the carriage away.

It’s worth mentioning that some commercial gyms have leg press machines where the load moves on a horizontal set of tracks. Many lifters will find this style of leg press to be unsuitable since they often can’t be loaded heavy enough to provide a challenging resistance.

If you have both options accessible, I’d suggest that you opt for the 45-degree leg press.

Muscles Used In The Leg Press

the muscles used in the leg press

The muscles used in the leg press are: 

• Quadriceps

• Glutes

• Hamstrings

• Calves

Before attempting to emphasize one muscle group over another, it’s important to understand how your muscles work during the leg press.

In order to push the carriage back to the top (this is after lowering it towards you) a couple things have to happen.


First, your knees must extend (straighten) to return the carriage to the starting position. This action is almost entirely handled by your quadriceps, but your calves help out a little bit.

Second, your hips must extend to reverse the hip flexion (bending) that occurs when the platform is lowered toward you. Your glutes and some of your hamstrings are recruited to make this happen. 

Remember that with the leg press, there are certain muscle groups that you can target more (or less) by altering your foot position and stance width on the platform — let’s get into those right now.

Leg Press Foot Placements

Let’s now discuss the 5 feet placements in more detail!

REGULAR FEET HIGHFEET LOWFEET NARROWFEET WIDE
StanceFeet on the middle of platform, shoulder-width apartFeet high up on platform, shoulder-width apartFeet low on platform, shoulder-width apartFeet on the middle of platform, hip-width apartFeet on the middle of platform, 1.5x shoulder-width 
Muscles WorkedQuads, glutes, hamstringsGlutes, hamstringsQuads, calvesQuadsGlutes, hamstrings, abductors
ProsSuitable for most lifters and skill levelsPosterior chain is emphasizedTargets quads to a high degreeMore weight can be liftedExcellent glute emphasis
ConsDoesn’t isolate one muscle over anotherLeaves out most of quad recruitmentPosterior chain is neglectedLimits the range of motion of movementRequires high flexibility in adductors (inner thighs)

1.  Regular Stance

regular foot stance places your feet in the middle of the platform, about shoulder-width apart

The regular foot stance places your feet in the middle of the platform, about shoulder-width apart.

Target Muscles

This stance primarily targets your quadriceps, with an additional focus on your glutes and hamstrings.  

How To Do It

  • Step inside the leg press and place your feet directly in the middle of the platform
  • Feet should be shoulder-width apart, or slightly outside shoulder-width apart
  • Toes should be slightly flared out in this stance
  • As you perform reps, go as deep as possible, while keeping your feet flat on the platform.  
  • Ankles should not start to lift

Pro Tip

In order to maximize the strength and hypertrophy development of your quads and glutes, you’ll want to take your reps as deep as possible.  Don’t sacrifice range of motion for load.  

Drawback

A study by Worrell and colleagues (2001) has shown that the glutes are recruited the most during end-range hip extension (when your hip joint is straight). During the leg press, your hip joints are still at a reasonably flexed angle when you lockout each rep.

For this reason, the leg press probably isn’t the best exercise if you’re looking to hammer your glutes and hamstrings. Instead, choose a deadlift variation. In fact, a hip thrust variation would be most preferable because your glutes will be contracting maximally at the top against the load of the barbell.

Open up my 9 Best Barbell Hip Thrust Alternatives (With Pictures) article in a separate tab, so you can truly activate (and build) your glutes!

2.  Low On Platform

low on platform stance places feet low on the platform about shoulder-width apart

This stance places your feet low on the platform about shoulder-width apart.

Target Muscles

While the leg press already targets your quads, this stance will hit them even harder by allowing your knees to travel further beyond your toes.

How To Do It

  • Step inside the leg press and place your feet are low on the platform with your heels almost hanging off the bottom
  • Feet should be shoulder-width apart, or slightly outside shoulder-width apart
  • Toes should be slightly flared out in this stance
  • As you perform reps, go as deep as possible, while keeping your feet flat on the platform.  
  • If you can’t go all the way down without your heels coming up, reduce your range of motion slightly or put on some squat shoes

Pro Tip

Allowing your knees to travel further in front of your toes will require more ankle flexibility than you might be used to. 

In this case, it’s acceptable to use a squat shoe with a high heel. This is encouraged as it will achieve the knees-forward position you’re seeking, without having to spend extra time mobilizing your ankles.

Check out my related article on how far your knees should bend forward while squatting.

Drawback

In order for your quads to be targeted more with this stance, you’ll need sufficient ankle mobility. Without this, you won’t be able to get deep enough to recruit your quads maximally.

If you’re struggling with stiff ankles and don’t have a pair of squat shoes, spend more time going through ankle mobilization drills during your warm-up.

Here’s a short, practical video on how to improve your ankle mobility. Although it’s for the squat, your enhanced mobility will transfer extremely well to the leg press.

To find out where your overall warm up routine falls short, read my definitive guide on How To Warm Up.

3.  High On Platform

high on platform stance places feet high up on the platform about shoulder-width apart

This stance places your feet high up on the platform about shoulder-width apart.

Target Muscles

While the leg press works your glutes and hamstrings already, this stance targets them even more by requiring additional hip extension.

How To Do It

  • Step inside the leg press and place your feet are high on the platform with your toes almost hanging off the top edge
  • Feet should be shoulder-width apart, or slightly outside shoulder-width apart
  • Toes should be slightly flared out in this stance
  • As you perform reps, go as deep as possible, while keeping your feet flat on the platform.  
  • Ensure your lower back doesn’t raise completely off the backrest, reduce your range of motion if this happens

Pro Tip

Adjusting your foot placement certainly assists in shifting the focus to your posterior chain, but you can also use mental cues to pinpoint the muscles you’re trying to target.

During this leg press variation, focus on “pushing through your heels” or think about keeping the weight “heavy in your heels”. Repeating these cues in your mind as you’re doing the exercise will reinforce the idea that your knees shouldn’t travel forward very much — keeping the emphasis on your glutes and hamstrings.

Check out my article on How To Leg Press Using Your Glutes More.

Drawback

While this stance will definitely target your glutes and hamstrings more, it might also work on your lumbar (lower back) muscles more than usual.

This happens because there’s more hip extension occuring, which means that your hip joints are also experiencing more hip flexion (bending) than with the regular stance. 

If you have a sensitive lower back or currently have a low back injury, this might not be the best foot placement to use.

My article Is It Okay To Deadlift With a Round Back? addresses the deadlift, but it’s also relevant for any exercise where back rounding might occur (like in the leg press). Check it out next!

4.  Narrow Stance

narrow stance places feet in the middle of the platform, but only about hip-width apart

This stance places your feet in the middle of the platform, but only about hip-width apart.

Target Muscles

While the leg press already emphasizes your quadriceps, this stance will increase the focus on them.

How To Do It

  • Step inside the leg press and place your feet in the middle of the platform
  • Feet should be only hip-width apart, or slightly outside hip-width apart
  • Toes should be slightly flared out in this stance
  • As you perform reps, go as deep as possible, while keeping your feet flat on the platform.  
  • Try to descend until your thighs make light contact with your stomach on each rep

Pro Tip

Having a narrow stance will inherently limit the range of motion for this exercise, since your thighs will likely make contact against your stomach at the bottom.

However, this allows heavier weights to be used. Because of this, don’t hesitate in adding more weight to the leg press carriage. 

Check out my article comparing the differences between the leg press vs squat.

Drawback

Athletes who have limited hip and ankle mobility might have serious challenges with this foot placement style. 

You either might find your heels rising from the platform or your knees caving.  Both of these positions should be avoided at all costs.  

Due to the amount of internal rotation (rotating inwards) present, those with immobile hips may need to switch to a different stance variation.

If you also find that your knees are caving in while using this stance, learn how to eliminate this inefficiency for good in my How To Fix Knee Valgus During Squat (7 Tips) article.

5.  Wide Stance

wide stance places your feet wide out on the platform, well beyond shoulder-width apart


This stance places your feet wide out on the platform, well beyond shoulder-width apart.

Target Muscles

Although the leg press already hits your glutes and hamstrings, this stance will recruit them significantly more.

How To Do It

  • Step inside the leg press and place your feet in the middle of the platform
  • Feet should be about 1.5x your shoulder-width apart, with your feet almost starting to hang off the platform
  • Toes should be significantly flared out in this stance, up to 45-degrees outwards
  • As you perform reps, use your inner thigh flexibility as your gauge to determine when to stop your reps, as this will vary widely
  • Over time, strive to get the tops of your thighs perpendicular to the floor (this would be parallel to the floor if you were performing a squat) 

Pro Tip

With this wide foot placement variation, ensure that you’re driving your knees outwards. This is especially important in the ascending phase, as it helps you maintain an efficient leg press technique.

Allowing your knees to cave inwards puts you at a mechanical disadvantage because the force you’re pushing into the platform is no longer aligned directly with your knees — leading to a slight (but noticeable) loss of power.

Drawback

A downside to the wide stance foot placement is that it necessitates a reasonable amount of inner thigh muscle flexibility. These primary muscles in the groin area are the adductors and if they’re inflexible, you’ll have a hard time keeping your knees out at the bottom of the leg press.

In addition, lifters who have an adductor injury or whose inner thigh muscles are prone to strains might want to select a different foot placement to reduce injury risk.

Need to improve your adductor flexibility or strength? You can improve both at the same time using the Cossack Squat; read my Definitive Guide on it here.

Final Thoughts

The best leg press foot placement for you is largely based on what muscle groups you want to target.

Want an all-round, powerful stance? Use the regular stance.

Need to focus on your quads? Pick the narrow stance or place your feet low on the platform.

Prefer to focus on your glutes and hamstrings at the same time? Put your feet high up on the platform. 

Looking to isolate your glutes? Select the wide stance.

After making the best foot placement selection based on your training needs, remember to also train hard, recover well, and stay injury free.

Want to learn how the leg press compared with the hack squat? Check out my article on the Hack Squat vs Leg Press.


About The Author

Kent Nilson

Kent Nilson is an online strength coach, residing in Calgary (AB). When he’s not training, coaching, or volunteering on the platform at powerlifting meets, you’ll likely find Kent drinking coffee or enjoying his next Eggs Benedict. Connect with him on Facebook or Instagram.