How To Do The Smith Machine Leg Press Properly

The Smith machine leg press is a strength-training compound exercise that particularly targets the muscles of your leg.

In essence, this movement emphasizes your quadriceps, but it also fires up your hamstrings, glutes and calves.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Set the bar at around three feet off the floor, get into a supine position and place your feet on the bar about hip-width apart.
  • Un-rack the safety catches by stretching out your legs to lockout.
  • Bend your knees and flex your hips to allow the barbell to descend.
  • Push your feet into the bar and take a deep breath in as you extend your hips and knees.
  • Lower the bar to the starting position and repeat the steps as many times as you want.

WHAT MUSCLES DOES THE SMITH MACHINE LEG PRESS WORK?

QUADS

The Smith machine leg press primarily trains your quadriceps, but you can increase their engagement during the movement by pressing light weight to activate them more.

HAMSTRINGS

Most people report that this exercise gives them an intense pump in the hamstrings. This is likely because these muscles play a major role in extending the hip and flexing the knee joint.

GLUTES

Glutes are generally more active during high intensity training compared to low intensity training.

So they don’t get as activated as the quads and hamstrings during the Smith machine leg press.

However, you can still use it alongside a high intensity movement to work your glutes.

CALVES

The calf raise isn’t the only exercise that works your calf muscles; the Smith machine leg press does a pretty good job training them too.

When you press your feet into the bar, you use your calves to stabilize the rest of your body. This results in a well-rounded workout that works multiple muscles in your calf.

BENEFITS OF THE SMITH MACHINE LEG PRESS

MUSCLE ISOLATION

Your upper body is not involved during this movement at all. This means your legs have to generate all the power for driving the weight on their own.

This helps tone and isolate your leg muscles, especially if you press into the bar to full extension.

NO NEED FOR A SPOTTER

Because of its safety catches, the Smith machine leg press allows you to work your calves without needing a spotter.

The safety catches also make the machine relatively safer as they minimize the risk of the occurrence of injury.

IMPROVES YOUR SQUATTING ABILITY

The Smith machine leg press works your quads, which are the most engaged muscles in squats.

In heavy squats, for example, you rely on the quads to hold the weight at the bottom position and push it back up  to the starting position.

Therefore, by strengthening your quads, this exercise also helps enhance your ability to perform squats of different variations.

IT IS BEGINNER FRIENDLY

The Smith machine leg press requires proper technique, but it does not require a complex form like other weighted leg press variations.

Additionally, the machine provides more stability than a free-weight leg press would, which makes it ideal for beginners.

ALTERNATIVES TO THE SMITH MACHINE LEG PRESS

 BARBELL FRONT SQUAT

The  barbell front squat uses only a barbell to work your quads, hamstrings, calves, core and glutes, with very minimal strain on your lower back.

You can use a slant board to help you lower yourself into a squat or in the alternative, weight plates placed under your heels.

Here are the steps to doing it properly:

  • Hold the bar on the rack with an open-hand grip.
  • Pull your shoulder blades towards each other to keep your chest up.
  • Inhale and tighten your core so you do not put pressure on your lower back.
  • With your chest still lifted, hinge your hips back and bend your knees, stopping only when your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  • Push your feet into the floor and get back to the starting position.
  • Repeat as many times as you wish to.

HACK SQUAT

The hack squat is a compound movement that engages similar muscle groups using the hack squat machine.

Since it is already stable on its own, it requires no extra stabilization; this helps you focus fully on working your leg muscles and glutes.

Here’s how to do it;

  • Step up onto the hack squat platform.
  • Press your shoulders into the shoulder pad to ensure minimum torso movement.
  • Grasp the machine handles and get into a regular squat stance.
  • Once you’ve settled into the starting position, begin to lower your body by bending your knees.
  • When you get to the depth you desire, stand up by pushing the platform away.
  • Repeat these steps until you complete your desired number of reps.

SMITH MACHINE LEG PRESS MISTAKES TO AVOID

LOWERING THE WEIGHT TOO FAR

Do not lower the weight so far that your hips tilt posteriorly; this can put you at risk of developing disc and vertebrae issues.

EXTENDING YOUR KNEES

If you want to focus as much tension in your quadriceps, make sure to stop just before you lock out and extend your knees fully.

FAILING TO WARM UP

This movement demands a lot of energy to perform.

So if you fail to warm up sufficiently before doing it, you may end up with aching muscles or in worse cases, muscle injuries.

USING FAST MOTIONS

Fast motions will not work well for you in this exercise.

You can only engage your muscles maximally if you use slow, steady and controlled motions that will keep your muscles tense the entire time.

MOVING YOUR HEAD

Once you lie down and begin the movement, make sure your head stays in one position until you are done with your reps.

Moving it around will do more than just ruin your alignment; it also puts you at risk of injuring your neck muscles.

FINAL WORD

If you are tired of doing the basic leg press everyday for your quads, this alternative right here will give you the same results while protecting your back and spine.

Give it a try next time for a change.

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