How to and Exercise Guide: Leg Press Smith Machine

leg press smith machine
Image via Muscle & Strength

The leg press done on the Smith machine offers greater back support. 

Are you searching for a method to enhance muscle size in your lower body? If so, consider incorporating the leg press Smith machine routine into your workout regimen. The leg press is a highly effective triple extension exercise that targets and strengthens your leg muscles. Typically, this exercise uses a horizontal, 45-degree, or vertical leg press machine.

There are slight variations to a leg press done on either of those three machines. The vertical leg press, in particular, is good for its complete back support and allows for many stance variations that you can use to target your muscles more intensely. However, what if your gym doesn’t have one? They likely have a Smith machine, and the Smith machine leg press mimics the same biomechanics.

The leg press Smith machine is an excellent exercise that can bring much-needed muscle growth to your legs. This exercise also improves your mobility and strength. Check out the proper way to do this exercise and why the leg press Smith machine should be part of your workout in this exercise guide.

Leg Press Smith Machine Technique and Muscles Worked

The leg press Smith machine works on your quadriceps, calves, glutes, and hamstrings. This exercise mainly targets your quads, but the other muscles also get recruited. Doing this exercise repeatedly is sure to give you great-looking legs. 

Just like all other exercises, to get the benefits of the leg press Smith machine, it has to be done in proper form. It’s best to do some warmup sets first, which is always important in preventing injury and improving your range of motion.  Here’s a step-by-step guide on properly doing the leg press on a Smith machine.

  1. Adjust the Smith machine to be the appropriate height of three feet off the ground. Set the weight that you intend to use on the machine.
  2. Lie supine with your back on the ground as you face up.
  3. Set your legs hip-width apart and put the balls of your feet on the underside of the bar. 
  4. Extend your feet to unrack the weight and slowly lower it by flexing your hips and bending the knees. This is your starting position.
  5. Brace your abs, then drive the weight up using your glutes and quads
  6. Lower the weight back slowly to the safety brackets to complete the rep.

*Note: Use gradual and show movements when lifting and lowering the weights to get the best results. You might need a spotter to help with the unracking. Don’t fully extend your knees for more tension on your quads, which could lead to injury. 

Leg Press Smith Machine Benefits

This exercise offers numerous benefits for those who want to build and strengthen their lower body. Let’s take a look at them below.

Better Posture, Mobility, and Flexibility

This movement targets the muscles of your legs with emphasis on the quads. Stronger quads improve posture, mobility, and flexibility (1).

Muscle Specific Variations 

Doing a leg press on the Smith machine can help you focus on and build specific muscles by changing your stance. This study shows how different stances can lead to more activation of certain leg muscles (2).

Back Support

You lie on your back and use your legs when doing this workout. This offers better support and reduces the risk of back pain, as you would get when doing routines like squats.

Great Results At Light to Medium Weight

Leg presses on the Smith machine have you move the weight with better control. This means more focus on using a proper stance and activating the right muscles. Your leg growth results could be phenomenal when paired with a high volume of reps and lighter weight. 

Leg Press Smith Machine Alternatives

leg press machine

Here are some other routines you can use to build your leg muscles.

Leg Extensions

This is another machine-assisted routine, but the difference is that it builds only your quads. So if your focus is to bulk up your thighs or correct an imbalance with your quads, this might be movement. 

Bulgarian Split Squats

Bulgarian split squats are a compound exercise that works on glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves. They also build the muscles in your core. This routine can be done with just your bodyweight, but you can do it with a barbell, dumbbells, or kettlebells to add intensity. 

Dumbbell Lunges 

Dumbbell lunges build your hip flexors, quads, hamstrings, calves, and glutes. This exercise uses dumbbells and also works on your coordination and balance.

Step Ups

Step-ups are an exercise that works on your hamstrings and quads. You can do this movement with your bodyweight or opt for dumbbells or kettlebells to increase resistance and muscle hypertrophy in your legs. 


Is leg press on Smith machine effective? 

A leg press on a Smith machine effectively builds leg muscles like quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves.

Can you build legs on Smith machine?

Yes, you can build your legs on a Smith machine. One great routine is the leg press Smith machine, which we discuss more in the article above.

How do you get big legs with a Smith machine?

Doing this lower body movement is a great way to build big legs. It targets the quads, one of the leg’s biggest muscles, and building your quads increases your leg size.

If your gym doesn’t have a vertical leg press machine (most don’t), try it on the Smith machine. You’ll reap the same benefits, including growing your legs while protecting your back.

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  1. Clayton, J. D., Kirkwood, R. N., & Gregory, D. E. (2019). The influence of hip mobility and quadriceps fatigue on sagittal spinal posture and muscle activation in rugby scrum performance. European journal of sport science, 19(5), 603–611. 
  2. Escamilla, R. F., Fleisig, G. S., Zheng, N., Lander, J. E., Barrentine, S. W., Andrews, J. R., Bergemann, B. W., & Moorman, C. T., 3rd (2001). Effects of technique variations on knee biomechanics during the squat and leg press. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 33(9), 1552–1566.
As a personal trainer and writer, Terry loves changing lives through coaching and the written word. Terry has a B.S. in Kinesiology and is an American College of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer. He enjoys playing music, reading, and watching films when he's not writing or training.