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The 4 Best Leg Press Machines to Tone Your Legs

The 4 Best Leg Press Machines to Tone Your Legs

Getting killer, sexy legs can be difficult to achieve for both men and women. Maybe you do a million squats in hopes to tone up your legs. Despite this, you still have some jiggle or you don’t have enough muscle definition. If you struggle with pain in your joints, perhaps free weight and barbell squats are too painful for you to make any gains. A leg press machine may be just what you need to engage in effective and intense leg workouts.

Leg machines can fit seamlessly into most home fitness spaces and provide a leg-specific workout to target your quadriceps, hamstrings, calves and gluteal muscles. Contrary to popular belief, there are actually several exercises you can do on your own squat press machine:

  • Leg press (includes various leg positions like narrow, regular and wide)
  • Leg presses with accessory items (i.e. physioball between the legs, elastic resistance band around the knees)
  • Calf raises
  • Single leg press
  • Hack squats (if applicable)
  • Lower abdominal exercises (if applicable on some vertical leg press machines)

Leg Press Machine vs. Other Leg Machines: What are the differences?

If you are interested in purchasing home leg workout machines, it is important to understand the different options available to you. In the gym, you may see leg press machines, squat racks and Smith machines used for leg workouts. While they all target the legs, they are all a little different! Here is an overview of a few types of leg exercise machines that are on the market today:

Option #1: The Leg Press Machine

Leg Press Machine For FitnessWhen using a leg press machine, the person exercising sits in the seat with their legs elevated. The angle of the seat and legs can range from 45 degrees to 90 degrees (which allows for variable pressure on the back and legs). During each repetition, the person pushes a weighted platform away from their body. In the most basic sense, the upper half of the body remains stationary, while the lower half moves the weights.

Some leg press machines can also allow you to perform hack squats. Basically, a hack squat is an assisted squat. On a hack squat machine, you place your back against the back and shoulder pads and then lift the weight by pushing your upper body away from the floor. Since you have added support in your shoulders and back to lift the weight, these may be easier on the back. If you want to impress someone with how much weight you can lift, try a hack squat machine. Generally, you can lift more weight on a hack squat machine than other types of leg machines.

Option #2: The Squat Rack

A squat rack typically consists of two vertical posts. For free weight leg exercises, a squat rack is performed with barbells and weight sets. In a squat rack exercise, your feet are usually placed on the floor and you push a weighed barbell upward using your legs and abdominal muscles. The weight is placed on your shoulders (and thus placing weight on your legs as they work).

Per a study done in 2017, barbell squats are more effective at gluteal and abdominal muscle activation than hack squats on a leg machine (12). So, if you’re interested in exercising the gluteal muscles and abdominal muscles during your squats, consider purchasing a squat rack.

Option #3: The Smith Machine

Man Using Smith Machine Leg Press for FitnessYou may also see leg exercises done on a Smith machine. Similarly to a squat rack, a barbell rests on your shoulders and you use your legs to push the weight away from the floor. The main difference between a squat rack and Smith machine is that the Smith machine uses a barbell that slides on a track. This barbell is not removable and slides up and down as you squat.

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that just like a hack squat machine, you may be able to put more weight than normal on a Smith machine. Again, assistance features on these types of equipment can help you increase the weight (and perhaps help maintain your form).

Making True Gains in Your Legs: Consider the Leg Press Machine

As you can see, all three of these machines offer heavy weight and leg toning exercises in their own specific way. For those looking for a completely leg-specific workout, consider a leg press machine that only allows you to push with your leg muscles (and nothing else). Unlike in the exercises on a Smith machine and squat rack, your leg muscles are the sole performers on a leg press machine. Leg press machines generally relieve pressure on your back and abdominal muscles.

Are squats on a leg press machine effective?

In the fitness world, we often hear that barbell squats are the gold standard for getting toned legs, but is that really true? While studies show that squats are highly effective for increasing strength and jumping ability, the overall conclusion is that both squats and leg presses can be effective for functional outcomes (3). According to the research, there are benefits to using a leg press machine rather than doing free weight squats:

Benefit #1: Less Back Pain

Firstly, leg press machines typically reduce the pressure and weight on the back muscles since you are placing all of the weight on your legs. In one 2017 study, researchers explored the effectiveness and adherence rates of several types of exercises on chronic low back pain. Amongst Pilates, aerobic exercise, aquatics and resistance training using a leg press machine (as well as other exercises), researchers found that resistance training had positive outcomes. Not only was the resistance training on a leg press machine effective in decreasing low back pain, it also had a high participant adherence rate.

Benefit #2: Max Out More

If you like to max out when weight lifting, consider a leg press machine. According to a study that evaluated neuromuscular adaptations in a leg press exercise, adding more weight than your max weight may be beneficial for muscle gain. In this study, researchers found that loading more weight (higher than your max weight load) can spark added muscle building, even if you can only do one repetition. These exceptionally high-weight repetitions aim to activate every single muscle fiber during the exercise.

Now, imagine trying to do such an exercise with a barbell. Would you feel comfortable attempting a squat that is far too heavy for you to lift? Probably not! That can lead to injury. On a leg press machine, you can try these extremely high-weight exercises without running the risk of dropping all that weight. For any heavy weight lifting exercises, make sure to obtain clearance from your doctor and understand how to safely do the exercise.

Benefit #3: Safety

For those who are less skilled in weight training, or for those who are trying to increase their leg muscles for daily activities and functional reasons, a leg press machine may be safer to use. Leg press machines minimize the need for a person to balance and hold the weight outside of the actual exercise, reducing injury and accidents.

Choosing the Best Leg Machine for Your Home

Now that you know what to think about when choosing a leg exercise machine, take a look at the Fitnessator’s top picks. Once you read the reviews, don’t forget to try our sample leg press machine workout detailed below!

For those who do not have time to read through the entire reviews, skip down to “The Rundown” section to compare these top leg exercise machines. Once you have purchased your new leg machine, try our home leg press machine workout

Fitnessator’s Top Pick

GLPH1100 Leg Press & Hack Squat Machine by Body Solid

GLPH1100 Leg Press & Hack Squat Machine by Body SolidWhy We Love It:

The GLPH1100 is a squat press machine that combines the traditional leg press exercise with a squat rack converter. On this one piece of equipment, you can get the benefits of both a leg press and a hack squat.  

The Research:

This hack squat leg press machine has been supported by research to improve skeletal health. In one study, researchers had participants perform hack squat max outs for 12 weeks and measured changes in their muscle force, body composition and skeletal health. According to the study, these max out exercises improved the participants’ force exerted during the exercise and improved their overall bone health (4). If you are interested in leg exercise equipment that helps you build muscle and protects your bones, be sure to purchase a leg press machine with a hack squat attachment. 

Details:

  • Max weight lifting capacity is 1000 lbs
  • Compatible with Olympic weight plates
  • Total product weight is 317 lbs
  • Dimensions: 83in x 34in x 56in
  • Price (Body Solid Website): $1940 (price may vary based on location and shipping)

Things to Consider:

This particular weight set is only compatible with Olympic weight plates (and they are an additional cost). If you already have Olympic weight sets in your home, this leg press machine can fit well with your existing exercise equipment.

Customer Reviews:

As you may imagine, customers appreciate the versatility of this leg press machine with the leg press and hack squat attachment. It also has multiple angles and foot adjustments for personalized comfort and different exercises.

Even though this leg workout machine is highly rated, customers complained that assembly was long and complicated. Assembly can take over 5 hours! One customer said that they had to run to the hardware store to get nuts and bolts that were missing in the delivery package. For this leg press machine, consider expert installation if available.

Who Should Purchase This Product:

If you already have Olympic weight plates in your home and you are looking to enhance your leg workout, the Body Solid leg press machine may be the best option for you. With up to 1000 lbs of weight lifting capacity, power lifters can make massive gains on this machine.

Fitnessator’s Runner Up

Leg Press Hack Squat Machine by Titan Fitness

GLPH1100 Leg Press & Hack Squat Machine by Body SolidWhy We Love It:

Similarly to the Fitnessator’s top pick, the Titan leg machine can perform both leg presses and hack squats. Unlike the Body Solid leg machine, the Titan leg machine is about half the price, making this a great option for those who do not want to spend nearly $2000 on one piece of equipment.

Details:

  • Contains safety stops for bailout in any position (great for super max outs)
  • Compatible with Olympic weight plates
  • Total product weight is 325 lbs
  • Dimensions: 40in x 53in x 84in
  • Price (Titan Fitness Website): $897.56

Things to Consider:

The Titan leg press machine has a max weight lifting capacity of 875 lbs. While the Fitnessator top pick can lift more weight, the Titan model is still comparable for a significantly cheaper price. With the Titan model, you may be getting more weight lifting capacity per dollar than the top pick leg machine.

Customer Reviews:

According to customer reviews, the Titan leg press and hack squat machine is one of the favorite pieces of exercise equipment in their homes. This leg workout machine is said to “rip your legs to shreds,” so effective leg workouts come standard on this product.

While there are limited reviews for this product, customers say that while the assembly instructions are straightforward, assembly and installation are fairly time-consuming to complete alone. Consider expert assembly or having a partner to help you set up this machine.

Who Should Purchase This Product:

If you need a leg exercise machine that can lift a lot of weight for a deal, consider the Titan leg press machine. This 2-in-1 leg press machine fits the weight lifting needs of most consumers while offering a better value in comparison to other products on the market.

Fitnessator’s Honorable Mention

Mini Leg Press by TDS

Mini Leg Press by TDSWhy We Love It:

The Mini Leg Press by TDS is a moderately priced seated leg press machine that also offers a moderate amount weight compared to the other machines on this list. With a seat angle of 90 degrees, this machine is great for relieving pressure on the back during exercise.

Details:

  • Contains safety stops for bailout in several positions
  • Max weight lifting capacity is 600 lbs
  • Total product weight is 280 lbs
  • Dimensions: 96in x 34in x 51in
  • Price (Sears Website): $978.40

Things to Consider:

As an added feature, this leg press machine has a detachable and adjustable incline bench. You may be able to use this weight bench for other exercises. While the price of this product is nearly $1000, you may find added value in the removable weight bench.

Customer Reviews:

Per the customer reviews for this leg press machine, the Mini Leg Press has a very solid steel frame that does not budge during use. Many people have purchased this product after leg or back surgery and claim that there is minimal pressure put on the back during use.

While many customers rave about the sturdiness, customers complain that the assembly directions were complicated. Also, the instructions did not provide adequate information. That being said, you may have easier installation with a partner.

Who Should Purchase This Product:

Since this seated leg press machine does a great job with relieving lower back pain, consider the Mini Leg Press if you suffer from chronic low back pain, hip pain or have a history of back or leg surgeries. Always consult a doctor for personalized exercise restrictions. Exercises on seated leg machines such as this one are great for decreasing back pain, increasing strength and improving functional ability of your lower body.  

Best Compact Leg Press Machine

Powerline Vertical Leg Press by Body Solid 

Powerline Vertical Leg Press by Body Solid Why We Love It:

Even though this is a more compact leg press machine, it still provides substantial weight lifting abilities. It will accommodate the strength gaining potential of most people. The Powerline leg press machine is the only vertical leg press on the list. This gives you a slightly differently type of exercise than the other options reviewed.

Details:

  • Compatible with 1-inch standard weight plates (Olympic adapter sleeves available for purchase)
  • Max weight lifting capacity is 400 lbs
  • Total product weight is 93 lbs
  • Dimensions: 46in x 48in x 60in
  • Price (Body Solid Website): $570 (price may vary based on location and shipping)

Things to Consider:

While the Powerline vertical leg press machine is compatible with standard weight plates, you can still use Olympic weight plates on this product. However, proper weight sleeves are required. So, regardless of which types of weight sets you may have at home, you can be sure this machine can accommodate them.

Customer Reviews:

Many customers chose this product for the price. Compared to other leg press machines, this vertical leg press is half or a third of the price. In terms of equipment performance, it is sturdy and easy to use.

When using this product, customers say that they experience some squeaking from the metal parts rubbing against each other. Also, while the back cushion is comfortable for most, some customers need a small cushion to support the neck and head.

Who Should Purchase This Product:

For those with limited space, a vertical leg press machine is a great option to get a leg-specific workout. Since it’s the only one that accommodates standard weight plates, the Powerline may be the best option if you already have standard plates.

The Rundown on Leg Press Machines

Here is a quick way to compare all the leg press machines we reviewed in this article. Hopefully by using this list, you can find the best leg machine for your needs. 

Product Less than $750 Less than $1000 Greater than 3 exercises available Type(s) of weight plates needed
Body Solid Leg Machine (Top Pick) X Olympic
Titan Leg Machine (Runner Up) X X Olympic
Mini Leg Press (Honorable Mention) X Olympic
Powerline Vertical Leg Press X X Standard or Olympic (with adapters)

 

Sample Workout: Leg Press Machine

After reading these reviews, you can better determine which leg press machine is the best fit for you. Here is a sample workout to try. As you will see, our workout aims to provide a comprehensive leg workout.

If you want major muscle bulking and/or toning alike, follow the step-by-step workout below. Since everyone requires a different amount of weight (and different goals), it is up to you to determine how much weight to add. For higher intensity, consider adding a physioball between your legs and/or an elastic resistance band around your knees (5).  

Exercise Sets Repetitions
Standard leg press (legs shoulder-width apart) 3 10
Calf raises 3 10
Wide leg press 3 10
Single-leg calf raises 3 10 (each side)
Narrow leg press 3 10
Standard leg press (legs shoulder-width apart) 3 8 (max out)

 

Before You Purchase

Leg press machines are one of the best ways to target your legs. Regardless of your training goals, you can benefit from having leg-specific equipment to get the strong legs you want.

Before you purchase a leg press machine for your home, make sure to consider your budget and available space. If you have a joint pain or leg injuries, talk to your doctor about using a leg press machine. While avoidable, heavy lifting via a leg press machine can cause injury. By weighing all the costs and benefits of a leg press machine, you can be confident in your purchasing decision.

What works best for you? Leg press machines? Barbell squats? In your opinion, would you purchase a leg-specific exercise machine for your home? Tell us in the comments.

7 Comments

  • Luigi Ruggeri says:

    “Generally, you can lift more weight on a hack squat machine than other types of leg machines”
    That is so true. I find it amazing what you are able to do. I like doing the hack squat exercises very much because I find them effective. Generally squats are very effective, in my opinion.
    What I also like very much and really do regularly are exercises for hip abduction and adduction on such machines. Do you have any recommendations?

    • Amanda Kostro RD, LDN & Professional Dancer says:

      While they do make machines that are specific to hip adduction and abduction, there are a variety of exercises you can do for those muscles. Here is a list:

      Cable weight hip adduction and abduction (requires cables or elastic bands attached to something)
      Plank and side plank hip adduction and abduction (doing exercises while in the plank position)
      Clamshell exercises
      Thigh Master products

      Try these out! Let me know what you think!

  • Jason Torres says:

    Those are some great recommendations, thanks so much for them! I agree that they’re better and in a way, safer of a workout than other types of exercises, plus you get to max out more making for a more fulfilling workout. I never skip leg day for this reason. I’m interested in learning more about that one by Titan Fitness, it looks to be just right for me. With it being half the price of your top recommendation, and still a solid piece of equipment, I think I can get down with it a lot more. I’ll have to look more into it, but I appreciate the research into this!

  • Izona says:

    I really enjoyed reading this very informative article on leg press machines. I never knew that there are such a difference between these machines. What would you recommend for someone who never did leg presses?

    • Amanda Kostro RD, LDN & Professional Dancer says:

      For beginners, looking at leg press machines is the way to go. Leg press machines tend to be a little safer because you are not using free weight once the weight is on the machine (as opposed to a squat rack where you have to balance and hold up the weight). Perhaps the best product to try for a beginner wanting to do leg presses would be the Mini Leg Press by TDS. There are several reasons this one may be the best for you:

      1. Moderately Priced
      2. The seat angle is set to relieve back pressure. If you are new to leg presses, you will need to learn how to properly use your legs (and not your back) when squatting or pressing. This machine could help with managing pressure on the back while you learn proper alignment.
      3. Contains safety stops, which is great for everyone, including beginners!
      4. It has a detachable incline bench that you can use for other exercises.

      I hope my suggestions help you make an educated purchase!

  • Lindsay Niles says:

    I’m intrigued by the price difference between the GLPH1100 Leg Press & Hack Squat Machine by Body Solid and the Leg Press Hack Squat Machine by Titan Fitness. Is there any practical reason why one would want to consider the more expensive machine?

    • Amanda Kostro RD, LDN & Professional Dancer says:

      The main difference between the Fitnessator Top Pick (Body Solid) and the Runner Up (Titan) is that the Top Pick has a higher weight lifting capacity (1000 lbs versus 875 lbs). So, for our heavy weight lifters out there, this may mean the difference of staying where they’re at or improving themselves. For the average weight lifter, the Titan can still be a viable option since it is much cheaper.

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