Most of your lower body training should be done with barbells or free weights, especially if you are training for muscle size and/ or strength.
However, sometimes a carpenter needs a specialty tool in order to perfect his project. In the case of training, sometimes you need gym machines to fix imbalances or weak points in your lower body.
The Leg Press
The leg press is a fantastic tool for hypertrophying, ie growing, your leg muscles. It makes it easy to overload weight, intuitive to use, and is generally very safe, provided you never lock out your legs under heavy load.
The best way to utilize the leg press is to add more training volume to your legs after you’ve done your main lifts, squats and deadlifts. If you have, say, three or four knee dominant exercises in your program, the leg press is a good second or third movement to do.
How to Do a Leg Press
To do a leg press, take a seat in the machine, and place your feet about hip distance apart, or where you feel like you can produce the most power. You can go slightly wider to train your inner thighs, or slightly narrower to train your outer thighs.
Press your feet into the platform and think about pushing your body away with your legs.
Unlock the machine with your legs and lower the weight slowly. Think about sitting between your feet and tracking your knees over your toes, pushing your knees out and away from one another.
Make sure to push yourself into the seat the entire rep while keeping an upright chest.
Lower the weight as far as you can without your butt tucking underneath you. Once you are as low as possible, push with your big toe, little toe, and heel to complete the rep
Hamstring Curl Machine
The debate of whether or no to do a seated hamstring curl or a lying hamstring curl is very similar to the debate of eating a hoagie or eating a sub sandwich, it’s pretty much the same thing.
The hamstring curl is the machine you use to train your hamstrings, or back of your legs. Most people indiscriminately throw in hamstring curls into their workouts just because it seems like the thing to do on a leg day. But if you have disproportionally strong hamstrings compared to your quads, you may just end up feeding an imbalance. If however, you have weak hamstrings, adding hamstring curls into your program is a no brainer.
How to Do Hamstring Curls
To do a lying hamstring curl, simply choose an appropriate weight and lie stomach-down on the machine with your bum in the air.
Grab the handles in front of you and place your ankles underneath the pad.
Keep your body still and pull yourself in with the handles as you squeeze your feet up towards your rump.
Careful not to kick and propel the weight, instead just use a controlled curl.
Briefly pause at the top of the motion before gently letting the weight back down.
Leg Extension Machine
The same logic we used for hamstring curls can be applied to your quads with leg extensions. If you have weak or undersized quads, then it makes sense to do leg extensions.
How to do a Leg Extension
To do a leg extension, simply sit in the machine and grab the handles.
Make sure that the foot pad is right above the ankles.
Lean back and keep a high chest as you squeeze the front of your legs until your shins are parallel with your quads. Do not rush this movement. A common mistake is to kick the pad instead of controlling the rep.
Make sure to keep your hips back, as some people have a bad habit of sliding hips forward to shorten the range of motion thus make the exercise easier, but less effective.
Hip Abduction Machine
This machine is the one that every gym has but looks like it would fit in better at a doctor’s office. The hip abduction machine is meant to target your glutes, specifically your glutes’ ability to abduct or push laterally away from the body.
This machine should be used by individuals who either are trying to grow the muscles of the butt, or who have relatively weak glutes compared to the rest of their lower body. If, for example, you struggle in the final part of a deadlift, or in the bottom part of a squat, you might benefit from some targeted glute training.
How to do a Hip Abduction
To properly perform this exercise, sit down on the machine and grip the handles.
Make sure that nothing moves besides your legs while you perform this exercise.
Slowly press against the padding with your thighs as they move away from the center.
Press your thighs outward against the weight and separate your knees as far as possible.
Then, bring them back together slowly. The way back should feel more like gently letting the weight down instead of just dropping it.
Hip Adduction Machine
Although the hip adduction machine looks similar to the hip abduction machine, not to mention the names are almost identical, they train completely different asymmetries of the lower body.
The adductor machine trains your hip adductors, which help stabilize the hip joints. So if hip stability is something you struggle with, this would be a good exercise to work into your program.
Say, for example, you notice your knees caving in when you squat, or your groin is always hurting after working your legs, then it makes sense to train your adductors.
The adductor machine works pretty much identically to the abductor machine, except your are pulling the weight in towards the body instead of pushing it away.