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Today, I’m going to tell you all about the best leg machines at the gym.
Whether you’re new to the gym or have been training for a while, leg machines are critical to building a strong lower body.
But which is the best fit to build lean mass?
As a personal trainer for over a decade, I’ve had many clients share this confusion. Let me assure you that the answer is simpler than you think!
Keep reading to learn the 10 best leg machines at the gym for building a strong, toned lower body. We’ll talk about anatomy, benefits, and professional tips to help you safely maximize your results.
Let’s dive in.
Anatomy of Leg Muscles
First, let’s go over the anatomy of the lower body. This will help you understand the muscles, their function, and the machine best suited to target the muscle fibers.
|Quadriceps||Knee Extension, Hip Flexion||Leg Press, Hack Squat, Belt Squat|
|Hamstrings||Knee Flexion||Lying Leg Curl|
|Calves||Plantar flexion||Seated Calf Raise, Machine Calf Raises|
|Glutes||Hip extension and external rotation||Machine Hip Thrust, Belt Squat, Hack Squat|
Main Benefits of Using Leg Machines at the Gym
Leg machines are an incredible tool for building muscle and strengthening the lower body. Here are even more reasons why you should focus on leg muscles at the gym.
Many leg machines offer a mechanical rail-based system that guides you through the movement.
While free weights such as dumbbells, kettlebells, and barbells require you to steady and control the weight, a leg machine will take you through the range of motion.
This makes them great for adding into the later parts of your programming once you are fatigued from free weights. It lets you simply sit down and pump out reps to maximize growth.
Leg machines are a safer alternative to barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells.
When you use free weights, a degree of caution must be taken to ensure you don’t drop the weight.
When using leg machines, the weight will be loaded off to the side. In machines such as the leg press or belt squat, there are safety lockout mechanisms.
This means that if you fail during your set, the weight will drop down to the stack or you can lock off using the safety lock, greatly reducing the chance of injury.
Great for Beginners
Leg machines are excellent for beginners as they guide the lifter through the range of motion and offer an added level of safety.
Due to the above mentioned safety locks and rail-based systems beginners can easily try out the machines and be guided through the movement.
This also reduces the learning curve to perform new movements, making it a great way to build up strength and confidence before branching out into free lifts such as back squats and lunges.
Improved Muscle Imbalances
Leg machines can be an invaluable tool for training muscle imbalances. With free weights, technique and balance are very important.
However, when we use leg machines, we can perform movement with a single leg and still be guided through the range of motion.
This allows us to focus on the quality of movement and contraction, helping us to build up unilateral strength.
Naturally, leg machines at the gym can be an invaluable tool for developing lower body strength.
Exercises such as the leg press, belt squat, and machine hip thrust can be used to develop strength.
Research suggests that performing sets of one to five reps at 80%-100% of your one repetition maximum (1RM) is beneficial for improving strength.
While free weight lifts such as the back squat have a great capacity for load and requirement of stability, leg machines can be used to build lower body strength.
One of the great things about leg machines at the gym is their ability to build lean muscle mass.
Studies indicate that performing sets of eight to 12 repetitions at 60%-80% of your 1RM is ideal for promoting muscle hypertrophy.
The programming of leg machines is beneficial for both beginners and advanced lifters, providing a variety of stimuli for muscle growth.
Great for Volume
Using leg machines at the gym is an awesome way to add variety to your workouts and increase training volume.
Research has identified that increasing volume enhances muscle hypertrophy.
What this means is that by adding a variety of exercises to your leg training and filling out your programming, you will improve your chance of building lean mass.
10 Best Leg Machines at the Gym
So, with the anatomy and benefits covered, it’s time to go through the 10 best leg machines at the gym.
Here, we will cover the machine, target muscles, how to perform the exercise, benefits, and professional tips to help build a strong and toned lower body.
1. Leg Press
When people think of leg machines at the gym, the leg press is one of the first that comes to mind.
The leg press is designed to target the leg using a rail-based system, which allows you to jump on and load up the weight, making it great for growth.
How To Use the Leg Press
- Sit down on the leg press and place your feet on the platform.
- Position your feet shoulder-width apart in the middle of the platform.
- Push the carriage up with your legs and unlock the safety bars.
- Bend your knees and lower the carriage down until your knees are bent at 90°.
- Then, push the carriage back up to the starting position.
- Once your set is complete, lock off with the safety and remove legs.
- Rail-based systems guides your through the correct range of motion
- Great for building lower body mass
- When you are performing the leg press with heavier loads, have your hand on the lockout mechanism. This will help lock off in the occurrence of failure.
- For beginners, start with a lighter weight and familiarize yourself with the movement. Once you are comfortable with the movement, then you can load up the weight.
2. Hack Squat
The hack squat is a leg machine that replicates a squat movement and is known for its ability to challenge the legs.
It also comes with the added benefit of being on rails. Having a safety mechanism means you can lock out in the occurrence of failure.
How To Use the Hack Squat
- Step into the hack squat and lie back with your shoulders under pads.
- Place your feet on the platform shoulder-width apart in the middle of the platform.
- Push up with your legs and unlatch the safety mechanism.
- Start by bending your knees and lower yourself down to the platform.
- Lower until your knees are bent at 90°.
- Push yourself back up to the starting position.
- Repeat for the remaining reps, then lock out the safety and step off the machine.
- Great for building lower body
- Rail-based system and lock out mechanism for added safety
- Start by performing a set with just the carriage, as squatting on rails can take some getting used to.
- Focus on breathing, inhaling and tensing core before lowering and exhaling as you push back up.
3. Seated Leg Press
The seated leg press is a horizontal variation of the leg machine with the same name that is often used for beginners.
This is due to the build of the machine, offering a slight incline with the weight stack off to the side, which is far less daunting to new lifters.
How To Use the Horizontal Leg Press
- Sit down on the seat and place your feet on the platform shoulder-width apart.
- Push up with your legs and unlock the safety.
- Begin by bending your knees and lowering yourself down toward the platform.
- Lower until your hips are flexed at 90°.
- Push yourself back up until your legs are straight.
- Perform for the rest of the set.
- Lock off and take your feet off to rest.
- Slight incline is less daunting for beginners
- Weight stack to the side for added safety
- Place feet midway up the platform. This will give you the perfect angle for depth and the ability to generate the force required to push yourself back up.
- Concentrate on breathing, inhaling as you lower and exhaling as you push yourself back up.
4. Belt Squat
The belt squat is an amazing machine that allows you to target the legs using a belt wrapped around the waist.
This is great for loading up the legs without compressing the spine.
How To Use the Belt Squat
- Step up onto the platform and wrap the belt around your waist.
- Push up with your legs and remove the safety bar.
- Start by leading back with your hips.
- Lower your hips until they are flexed at 90°.
- Then, push yourself back up to the starting position.
- Engage the safety lock and remove the belt to complete sets.
- Loads up legs without spinal compression
- Great for building mass
- Have one hand on the safety lock at all times in case of failure during your set.
- Begin each rep by unhinging at the hips. This will help you perform the perfect squat.
5. Pendulum Squat
The pendulum squat might just be the sleeper of all leg machines in the gym, with an unassuming mechanical hinge system.
However, what this machine lacks in flash it makes up for with its ability to burn and build your lower body. This is due to its angular squatting mechanics that perfectly light up your legs with even the smallest weight.
How To Use a Pendulum Squat
- Step under the pendulum squat and position your shoulders under the pads.
- Place your feet on the platform.
- Push up with your legs to take the weight of the pendulum and disengage the safety lock.
- Start by bending your knees and lowering your hips down to the platform.
- Lower until your knees are bent at 90°.
- Push yourself back up until your legs are straight. Repeat for reps.
- Lock out the pendulum and step off of the machine.
- Great for targeting quads and glutes
- Provides incredible challenge at lighter weight
- Start with a lighter weight as the movement can be difficult to perform for beginners.
- Progress in small increments as the movement is already challenging with little to no weight.
6. Lying Leg Curl
Lying leg curls are designed to isolate and target the hamstrings, which is great for building the lower body and improving your physique.
How To Use the Lying Leg Curl
- Lie face down on the pad and place your ankle below the leg pad.
- Grab the handles under the pad for additional support.
- Begin by curling the leg pad up toward your glutes until your knee is flexed at 30°.
- Lower back to the starting position. Repeat.
- Isolate the hamstrings
- Improves leg mass and physique
- When performing the leg curl, focus on lifting with each leg evenly.
- Concentrate on breathing, exhaling as you curl and inhaling as your lower.
7. Leg Extension
The leg extension is another excellent leg machine for targeting and defining your quads.
How To Use a Leg Extension
- Sit down on the leg extension and place your ankle under the leg pad.
- Start by lifting your leg up until it is parallel with the floor.
- Carefully lower it back to the starting position. Repeat.
- Isolates the quadriceps
- Improve definition
- Perform the leg extension with a controlled movement, lifting and gradually lowering. This will improve contraction.
- Focus on lifting evenly with both legs.
8. Machine Calf Raise
The machine calf raise offers a simple and effective way to load up your calves with the use of shoulder pads and weight stack.
By loading up the shoulders, you can get the right angle for targeting your calves and getting the perfect contraction with each rep.
How To Do a Machine Calf Raise
- Step under the machine and position your shoulders under pads.
- Step onto the platform with your weight resting on the balls of your feet and your heels hanging off.
- Push down with the balls of your feet and lift heels up.
- Lower all the way down for a full calf stretch. Repeat.
- Increase calf mass
- Easy to use pin-based system
- At the top of each rep, hold and squeeze the calf muscle. This will improve contraction and results.
- Focus on breathing, exhaling as you lift and inhaling as you lower.
9. Seated Calf Raise
The seated calf raise is designed to build width through the lower leg. By performing a calf raise in the seated position you target the soleus, the broad flat calf muscle. This will give you serious growth for monster calves.
How To Use the Seated Calf Raise
- Sit down on the machine and place the balls of your feet on the platform.
- Position your knees under pads.
- Push up, unhook the safety bar, and lower your heels to a full calf stretch.
- Push down with your toes and lift heels all the way to the top.
- Then, lower back to the starting position slowly and with control.
- Once the set is complete, lock safety and remove feet from the platform. Rest.
- Target soleus
- Improve physique
- Focus on performing through a full range of motion.
- Squeeze the calf at the top of lift to increase contraction.
10. Machine Hip Thrust
Last on this list by likely the most important is the machine hip thrust. Why? Because this machine is incredible for strengthening the glutes and hip hinge. It improves all of your hip-based movement in the gym.
How To Do a Machine Hip Thrust
- Lie down on the platform and place your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Fasten the belt around your waist.
- Push up with your hips and unlock the safety mechanism.
- Lower your hips until they are flexed at 90°.
- Thrust up until hips are parallel with the floor.
- Lower back to the starting position. Repeat.
- Builds and tones glutes
- Improves glute function and strength
- When performing the hip thrust, focus on lifting the hip rather than pushing with your legs. This will improve your glute contraction.
- For your initial sets, start with a lighter weight and focus on squeezing the glute. This will improve your mind-muscle connection and your ability to target the glutes with your heavier sets.
Things To Consider When Choosing the Leg Machines
When it comes to choosing the leg machines, the following points can help you get the most out of your training.
Your Fitness Goals
Like most things in the gym, understanding your goals is essential.
For example, if you want to improve your hip strength or build a bigger booty, then the hip thrust is your machine.
Or, if you need to get rid of chicken legs, both the machine and seated calf raise will meet your needs.
While many leg machines will target the bulk of your leg muscles, elements such as building symmetry, unilateral strength, and improving your physique may take more consideration.
Your Experience Level
Your experience level plays a vital role in what leg machine you choose during your programming.
For beginners, movements such as seated leg press, the lying leg curl, and the leg extension are safe and effective machines for building muscles.
However, advanced lifters may require a great challenge, employing the brutality of the hack squat, belt squat, and pendulum squat to really push for substantial growth.
One thing that is not often not spoken about with machine selection is adjustability.
Leg machines in the gym all come with a variety of different pins and handles that help you set the hinges and rails to match your joints.
However, when these don’t match up with your joints, no matter what you do, it is likely time to move to a machine better suited to your body’s proportions.
While it may be frustrating to leave a movement out of your routine, it beats working against immovable mechanical joints that will not only lead to discomfort, but potential injury.
When you are selecting your leg machines in the gym it is essential that you use a variety of different machines to get the job done.
Variety will not only help you increase your training volume and increase stimulus to the leg, it will also help you target different parts of the legs to maximize growth.
A good example of this is training with a leg press.
It is great for targeting the quads and glutes. But if you want serious gains, including movements such as the belt squat and pendulum squat will increase overall stimulus and growth.
Combining this with the lying leg curl and calf raise leg machines will help fill out your hamstrings and calves. This gives you thicker and more toned legs.
Trainer or Expert Guidance
If you are serious about building lean muscle and toning your lower body, consider the assistance of a trainer for expert guidance.
Getting a professional to advise is an incredible way to jump start your training. They can help you clean up your technique and give nuanced tips about biomechanics.
These small elements can make a big difference in your lifting and lean muscle building.
Pro Tips for Using Leg Machines at the Gym Safely
Here are additional professional tips to give you the boost towards building lean, muscular legs.
Start With a Warm-Up
When you’re about to hit a workout using leg machines, you should ensure that you’re warmed up.
Research suggests that performing a warm up before engaging in your workout can improve performance.
This is due to increase in blood flow, warming the muscle and tendon tissue.
To do this, we suggest performing a brief session on the treadmill or bike, followed by a light set of the upcoming exercise.
This will not only improve your mobility for your lifts, but your performance and ability to move serious weight during your session.
Use Proper Form
Using correct form can make a huge difference to your training and the development of your lower body muscle tissue.
Often, we can be tempted to bump up the weight at the cost of technique. However, this is rarely sustainable.
When we use incorrect technique, we’re putting our muscles and joints in unfavorable positions. We may also find ourselves performing to move the weight rather than to stimulate the muscle.
By using proper form, we will ensure the safety of the movement. It’s key to the steady growth that results in huge gains over time.
Adjust the Machine to Your Body
While it can be tempting to get on, get it done, and get out. But you will likely not be performing the movement to the best of your ability if you don;t adjust the machine.
By setting the pins and hinges to your body type, you will match the machine to your mechanics. This can give you the perfect contractions on your way to building solid, lean muscle.
Start With Light Weight
You probably aren’t going to want to hear this, but before hitting your heavy sets, you should start with light weights.
Much like any good warm-up, starting with lighter weights can prepare the body.
It not only increases blood flow, but prepares your joints and nervous system. It allows you to focus on contracting and building that mind-muscle connection, leading to greater results.
Keep Your Hand on the Safety Lock
When you are using a leg machine in the gym, you need to keep your hand on the safety bar.
While not all leg machines in the gym have a safety lockout mechanism, the ones such as the leg press, belt squat, and pendulum squat all do, and for good reason. They often have us lifting to capacity.
Having your hand on standby for a quick lockout gives us the confidence to push on our heavier lifts, knowing we are in control for the duration of the set.
There you have it, the 10 best leg machines at the gym for building a strong, toned lower body.
As I said, they are simple but incredibly effective for pushing your legs to the limit.
When you are using leg machines in the gym, remember to use proper form, and don’t be afraid to get a trainer’s help. You should always adjust the machine to your body, keep your hands on the safety, and seek expert advice.
Doing these things will help ensure a successful training block, building your way to lean, muscular legs.
So, which of these machines are you currently using, and which are you thinking of adding to your program?
Let us know in the comments.
What is the best gym equipment for legs?
The best equipment for legs is the barbell in the form of the barbell back squat for building strength and lean muscle. While this is considered to be the standard exercise for leg day routines, the best machine will likely come down to the individual and their personal preference.
What is the #1 leg exercise?
The number one leg exercise is the back squat, as it has the ability to build strength and mass while performing an everyday functional movement.
What machine works all leg muscles?
The hack squat and belt squat are excellent machines that target nearly all muscles of the legs, while allowing for optimal hip hinge movement.
How do I tone my legs with gym equipment?
To get toned legs at the gym, you need to perform a variety of free weight and machine-based exercises while consuming a protein-rich, nutrient-dense diet, with a calorie deficit.
This will help you build lean mass and lose body fat to reveal the muscle beneath.
Are leg weight machines effective?
Yes, leg weight machines are highly effective at building strength and lean muscle mass.