Leg presses are a compound leg exercise because multiple joints move. Find out if this also means leg presses work your hamstrings.
One of the functions of the hamstrings is helping the glutes extend your hips (aka move them back).
On the one hand, the hip hinge movement pattern is somewhat present in leg presses which means you can say they work the hamstrings (and glutes) to some extent.
At the same time, this is not the main focus of the leg press. Unless your hamstrings are really weak, you should not expect too much growth and strength progress in this area from doing leg presses.
If you do absolutely dislike deadlifts, good mornings, and hip thrusts but still want to work your hamstrings a bit more, you can put your feet higher on the leg press plate instead of in the middle.
Functions of your hamstrings
The hamstrings, aka the muscles in your back thighs, have two main functions.
First of all, they are responsible for knee flexion, in simpler words folding your knees. A typical exercise for this movement is a hamstring gym machine called the leg curl
The second function which is more relevant for leg presses is that the hamstrings help the glutes extend your hips aka move them back.
Is leg press hamstring or quad dominant?
The leg press involves pushing a weighted sled away from you with your legs. This is a quad-dominant movement.
You can say that the leg press works your hamstrings and glutes to a small extent since there is a small hip hinge movement involved too.
However, the extent to which you work these muscles will be relatively small to their strengths.
Unless you have really weak hamstrings and glutes, you will likely not see great amounts of muscle growth and strength progress in these areas by doing leg presses. The challenge will just be too easy for them.
Where should legs be on a leg press for hamstrings?
Even if leg presses are not that good for training hamstrings, there is a way to place your feet that works this area just a bit more.
More specifically, by putting your feet higher on the leg press plate, you will slightly increase the amount of hip hinge taking place and in turn, to what extent you work your hamstrings and glutes with this exercise.
Similarly, you can put your feet lower on the plate to focus less on your hamstrings and glutes and more on your quadriceps.
What other muscles leg presses work out
By now, it should be clear that leg presses mainly focus on your quadriceps in your front thighs. Only in secondary ways, this gym machine works your glutes and hamstrings.
Besides these, leg presses also work muscles like your calves, hip adductors (inner thighs), and hip abductors (outer thighs) to some extent.
What exercises activate the hamstrings instead?
So if you should not really do compound leg exercises like leg presses and squats to work your hamstrings, you may wonder what options there are for really working these muscles.
Some examples include:
- Deadlifts (especially the Romanian variation)
- Leg curls
- Good morning
- Nordic curls
- Hip thrusts
- Cable pull throughs
- Back extensions
To round out your leg exercise routine and avoid muscle imbalances you want to implement both squat-like exercises like leg presses and hip hinge/leg curl movements like the ones above.