The leg press is an underrated way to develop stronger glutes. Here are six tips on how to optimize the exercise so that you are primarily targeting the glutes.
The leg press is, without a doubt, one of the best lower body exercises.
It’s also one of my personal favorites.
Stacking a TON of weight onto the leg press machine makes you feel like an absolute badass who can lift way more than their body weight.
It’s also incredibly effective for targeting not only your quads (the primary thigh muscles), but also your hamstrings, hips, calves, and, most important of all, your glutes.
- Leg Press – The Basics
- How to Work the Glutes on the Leg Press Machine
- Leg Press for Glutes – FAQs
People who spend a lot of time sitting will find that their glute muscles weaken over time, which can lead to tightness in the hip muscles and reduced efficiency in muscle engagement.
That’s why it’s so critical to spend extra time training your glutes during leg day.
You’re not just trying to get that “thicc” look, but you’re ensuring that your lower body has ample mobility and muscle support throughout every movement.
Below, we’ll talk about how to do leg press for glutes, including some tips on adapting the leg press exercise to focus more on glute engagement rather than just maximizing quad power.
You’ll find that just a few small tweaks to your workout routine can do wonders to help you strengthen and tone your glutes like a boss.
Let’s jump right in.
Leg Press – The Basics
Before we get into the leg press for glutes, let’s take a look at what exactly this exercise does for your body overall, and how you can incorporate it into your training.
The leg press is a fairly simple workout, one that involves one of three types of leg press machines:
- Horizontal Leg Press – This machine features an upright seat with a platform directly in front of you. You plant both feet on the platform, press your back against the seat, and push horizontally to extend your legs.
- Vertical Leg Press – This is a far less common machine, but still a highly effective one. Instead of pressing horizontally, the weight is loaded vertically (you lie on your back with the platform above you) and the push movement is fully vertical.
- 45-Degree Leg Press – This is a machine you’ll find in just about every gym, and it “splits the difference” between a horizontal and vertical leg press. The weights are pressed along a sled rail set to a 45-degree incline, allowing for maximum lower body engagement with less direct load on your joints.
All three versions of the leg press essentially focus on the same primary muscles: your quads. The quadriceps are a group of four muscles:
- Rectus femoris
- Vastus lateralis
- Vastus medialis
- Vastus intermedius
Together, these four muscles make up your quads (your thighs), and work together to generate pushing, running, and jumping power.
The leg press also engages the hamstrings (the “pulling” muscles on the back of your leg), the calves (lower leg), and your glutes (butt muscles).
Depending on your foot placement on the leg press machine, you can adapt the focus of the training to target different muscles. For example, sliding your feet lower on the platform doubles the focus on your quads, while sliding your legs to the outer edge of the platform will work your knee adductors and the VMO muscles that stabilize your knee.
I’ve written a whole article on the benefits of leg presses, which will give you an idea of just how useful and versatile this exercise will be.
For the sake of this post, however, we’re going to focus entirely on how to use leg presses for glutes specifically.
How to Work the Glutes on the Leg Press Machine
If your goal is to work your glutes on the leg press machine, here are a few tips that will help to maximize your results:
Tip #1: Place Your Feet High on the Platform
Rather than planting your feet directly in the center of the platform, slide them up toward the platform’s upper edge.
This “High Foot Stance” the hip extension throughout the exercise, and also places greater emphasis on your gluteal muscles.
Note: Make sure to push with your heels rather than your forefeet, as that will further increase focus on the back-of-leg muscles (glutes and hamstrings).
Tip #2: Go Deeper
Sounds a bit dirty, I know.
But it absolutely works!
If you stop pressing when your knees hit a 90-degree angle, the focus is chiefly on your quads. However, when you go deeper into the leg press (just like with a deeper squat), your glutes and VMO muscles both push upward until your quads can fully engage.
A lot of experts will tell you not to “crack the 90”, but the truth is that careful, controlled deep leg presses will be excellent for both your hip muscles and your glutes, creating greater mobility and focusing on the less-utilized secondary muscles.
Tip #3: Point Your Toes Outward
Your gluteal muscles play a role in the external (outward) rotation of your hip joint. What this means is that when you leg press with your toes rotated outward, your glutes have to work with your hip muscles to complete the reps.
Note: This exercise will activate the upper glutes more than the lower glutes, so that’s where you’ll feel the burn more effectively.
Try to spread your feet just slightly beyond shoulder width, then point your toes outward (like a penguin!). That’s the setup that’ll help you target your glutes (and hips) more efficiently.
Tip #4: Try Side Lying Leg Presses
This is an interesting variation on the classic leg press!
Instead of lying on your back and pressing directly upward, horizontally, or at a 45-degree angle, try lying on your side. When you push using just one leg at a time, your quads and hamstrings will engage, but your posture will increase glute engagement exponentially.
You’ll work with A LOT less weight for this exercise than with standard leg presses—to be expected when you’re only pushing with one leg, and the position is more awkward with less power generation from your quads.
However, adding this to your workout can do wonders to target those glutes with laser-precision.
Tip #5: Adjust the Seat Back
It’s worth taking a few seconds to adjust the position of your seat in order to change the angle of your siting/lying position, which in turn alters the way your muscles engage.
In this case, to target the glutes, you want to raise the seat back so it’s as upright as possible. This increased upward/forward tilt of your upper body will shift the focus slightly upward from your quads, instead focusing on your hip and glute muscles. There will be more “hip-hinging” action, which will lead to greater glute muscle engagement.
Tip #6: Use a Band
Glute bands are a fascinating addition to your lower-body workouts!
The elastic bands wrap around your legs and prevent your legs from naturally rotating outward when you lift. They can even increase internal rotation (hip adduction), so your hip and glute muscles have to work harder to maintain the proper posture throughout the full range of motion.
[More experienced athletes and trainees will want to use a fabric resistance band for this type of training as they are far stronger compared to latex or rubber bands. See our collection of the best fabric resistance bands.]
Using a band means you’ll feel the hip abductors quivering with the effort of driving your legs outward against the band’s tension, and your glutes will be equally engaged thanks to the effort of maintaining external rotation.
Leg Press for Glutes – FAQs
What is the best foot placement on leg press for glutes?
Both high and wide foot placement will lead to greater engagement of the glute muscles. If you really want to “max out” the glute focus, place your feet on the upper corners of the platform—essentially, as high and wide as you can go. Add in a more elevated angle of the seat back for optimum results!
Is side leg press good for glutes?
Side leg press is potentially the most effective leg press variation to target your glutes. Because of your posture (lying on your side), your quad and hamstring muscles are less engaged, and your glutes have to generate a lot more force to press the platform (and the weight above it) upward.
The unilateral (one-sided) single-leg exercise definitely deserves a place in your Leg Day routine!
Can leg press replace squats for glute development?
Leg presses aren’t quite as effective as squats for working your entire lower body (including hamstrings, glutes, and quads).
However, if you’re unable to do squats—due to injury or limited mobility—they make an excellent alternative for lower body training and are one of my favorite leg machines at the gym for this reason. Thanks to the tips above, you can target your glutes almost as effectively as you could using squats.
The leg press is an excellent lower body exercise, one that can be adapted to target pretty much any of your leg muscles.
Though it’s not primarily glute-focused, you can adjust your stance, seat position, and range of motion to increase glute engagement.
And I highly recommend that you do!
Your glute muscles play a critical role in lower body power generation across all exercises, and they help to support your lower back and assist in efficient leg movement.
Simply put: stronger glutes will reduce knee and back pain and make you a more effective athlete across the board.
So use leg presses to focus your training more on your glutes, and the payoff will be noticeable in every single sport and activity you do!
More Leg Press Guides
6 Best Leg Machines for Your Home Gym. Looking to get your press on in the comfort of your home gym? There are some excellent options on the market for all budgets.
Leg Press vs Hack Squat: Pros, Cons and Differences for Monster Leg Muscles. The leg press and hack squat are both excellent exercises for developing strong leg muscles. But which one is for you? Read on to see the pros and cons of each.
6 Leg Press Alternatives for Building Strong Legs. Looking to mix up your leg training? Here are six alternatives to using the leg press machine for strengthening your legs.
Leg Press Foot Placement: 6 Foot Positions and the Benefits of Each. Target different leg muscles on the leg press machine with this guide to using different foot placements during your sets for maximum leg muscle recruitment.
7 Benefits of the Leg Press (and How to Do It Like a Champ). The leg press is a killer way to develop stronger and more muscular legs. Here are 7 reasons to hit the leg press machine on your next leg day.