The great thing about going to the gym is all the equipment that’s there to help you work out. Taking the hassle out of planning a comprehensive exercise routine, the machines are a handy way to target all the right muscle groups whilst supporting your form at the same time. Little risk of injury and lots of opportunity for progression.
And whilst exercise machines are often associated with the upper body, there’s plenty of options to support the lower body too. Here’s a run down of the best leg machines at the gym that will work your muscles effectively and help you progress in your training.
Why use the gym machines?
Gym machines let you emulate some of the most popular exercises people like to do in the gym. They work by giving you adjustable levels of resistance to perform the movement against. They usually come in two types. The type where you add weight plates to them yourself and the type where you move a pin to choose the weight you want. Sounds great. But it can be difficult to understand why you’d use them over grabbing a pair of dumbbells instead.
The biggest difference between gym machines and free weights is that with free weights, you can choose where and how you move with them. You’ve got complete freedom of movement. With gym machines, the pattern of movement is fixed. That means the muscles targeted are more specific.
More specific muscle targeting sounds great. Why wouldn’t you want to specifically target your muscles? Well, there’s a pretty good reason you might not want to.
It comes down to isolated versus compound exercises. Compound exercises are ones that involve multiple joints and multiple muscle groups. They engage key stabiliser muscles like your core to help perform the movement. Isolated exercises are much more targeted to a limited number of muscles.
When you exercise on a machine, you’re removing the need of stabiliser muscles like your core, back, and legs to support you. The machine is doing that for you. This means it’s not as compound in nature. Good if you’re looking to hone in on a particular muscle and build strength and mass there, bad if you’re aiming for a full body session with the minimum number of exercises.
It’s therefore easy to assume that gym machines are only for elite gym goers looking to specifically target a muscle. Not true. Because it supports you, machines are great for beginners who want help learning the motion of an exercise and who want to support their form before they’re ready to do it alone.
So, there are plenty of reasons to include exercise machines in your workouts. And if you’re looking to build strength in your legs, the leg gym machines are a handy tool to help you do that.
What machines are best for legs?
The leg press machine
This is a leg exercise machine that’s pretty intuitive to use. With your feet against the plate and your bum on the seat, you’re extending your legs to push the plate away from you. It’s important not to lock out at the top and keep the tension in your muscles throughout.
The leg press is a great addition to lower body day after you’ve done your squats, deadlifts, and other key compound moves. By doing this, you’re adding more training volume to the largest muscle groups and can really target them whilst the rest of your body is supported.
The leg press primarily works the quads, but also engages the glutes and the hamstrings.
The hack squat machine
It looks a little bit like a leg press, but it’s not. The hack squat machine has the weight on your shoulders, so you push up from the bottom of the movement with the resistance in the same way you would a normal squat.
The hack squat machine engages fewer muscles than the regular squat. The requirement of support from your core is removed. So, you’ll be able to lift more than you would when it’s just you and a barbell. It’s good for practising the movement and for targeting the quads a little better.
The leg extension machine
Another one for isolating the quads. Arguably the best machine for targeting that muscle group alone. The leg extension machine sees you lift your legs 90 degrees from a seated position. Looks a bit relaxing, but it’s not.
The resistance is all on the quads in the front of your thighs, meaning you’ll start to feel the burn pretty quickly. A fantastic finisher for leg day.
The hip adduction/abduction machine
There’s two movements here. Sometimes one machine can let you perform both. Other machines split the exercise up. Both are done from a seated position For a hip abduction you’re starting with your knees together and pushing them apart. For a hip adduction you’re starting with your knees apart and pushing them together.
These machines work a pretty small group of muscles on the inner and the outer thigh. It’s easy to think that working them is going to help your thighs look slimmer. Not really the case. Not only can you not choose where fat on your body sits, but most compound exercises work the exact same muscles.
If you want to work and build strength in these muscles so they can support and stabilise you better for key compound movements, then go for it. But if you’re looking to tone up your thighs, your efforts are best applied elsewhere.
The standing calf raise machine
The standing calf raise machine is, unlike lots of other machines, pretty similar to doing it with just weights. You’re unsupported, lifting up and down on your toes to engage the calf muscle. Both versions of the exercise aim to target the muscles at the back of the lower leg.
The muscles in the calves are needed for lots of different movements and can often lag behind in terms of strength than the quads or the hamstrings. That means standing calf raises might be just what’s needed to top up your efforts.
Are leg machines effective?
If you know what you’re using them for and why, leg exercise on machines can play a great part in your fitness routine.
Just know that as a general rule, they’re more isolated in nature. So first and foremost, focus on compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, hip thrusts, and lunges. Then top up your efforts and add training volume by using the leg exercise machines too.
Training in this way is efficient. Train smarter, not harder, as they say.
Also know that gym machines are super handy for helping to increase strength in a particular muscle group, which is an important part of ironing out imbalances and recovering from injury.
What is the best workout for your legs?
Squat. Squat again. And squat some more. Try different variations of squats to change the muscle focus.
Do the same with your deadlifts. Deadlift again, and then again.
Do some hip thrusts. Then lunges. There’s lots of variations of lunges you can do too.
Then, when you’ve done all of this. Turn your attention to some other exercises and maybe the machines to top up your efforts. Good mornings. Leg presses. Hack squats. Kettlebell swings. Calf raises.
Weight your training volume to the most important compound lifts, then add onto your routine with some other exercises that can help deliver more specific muscle targeting in all the right areas.
There’s no universal formula. It depends on your goals and preferences. But trying new things and making room for variety will help you find your flow. Plus, there’s no progression without change.
Ready to put it all into practice? That’s where Hussle comes in to help.