Using Leg Exercise Machines

A Simple Guide to All The Leg Machines At The Gym

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTPublished: September 25, 2023

Are you looking to build strength and define shape in your legs? Then head to any gym and you’ll find a range of machines you can use to target different muscles in your lower body.

This article will explore 15 leg exercise machines and show you how to incorporate them into your workouts. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced lifter, these machines can help you achieve your fitness goals.

So, let’s dive in and explore the benefits and uses of the best leg exercise machines!

Leg Exercise Machines

What Are Leg Machines?

Leg exercise machines are fitness equipment designed to target and train various muscle groups in the legs. Some machines work multiple muscles at once, while others target specific muscles such as the quadriceps, hamstrings, or glutes.

Leg machines control the movement path and require less coordination than free weights, which can make them appealing. However, machines are best used in conjunction with free weights to train the leg muscles from multiple angles and maximize results.

Benefits of Leg Exercise Machines

While machines cannot replace free weights in an effective resistance training program, they do offer several unique benefits over barbells and dumbbells.

First, leg machines provide a more controlled and guided movement, which can reduce the risk of injury and ensure proper form. For this reason, machines are very popular for novice weightlifters learning to control their muscles.

Additionally, machines often have adjustable settings to fit your body and allow you to change the resistance level quickly. More advanced lifters often use machines when performing intensity techniques such as drop sets.

On the other hand, free-weight exercises like squats and lunges require more stabilization and balance, which can engage more muscles. They also allow for more natural movements that mimic real-life activities like walking and running. 

Therefore, incorporating both types of exercises into your workout routine can help you achieve a well-rounded and effective leg workout.


  • Guided movement
  • Generally more safe
  • Adjustable to your body
  • Easy to change the weight


  • Fewer overall muscles are used
  • Less functional

Best Leg Exercise Machines At The Gym

Navigating the maze of equipment found in a large commercial gym can be quite a daunting task. With dozens of machines available, it can be challenging to learn what each machine does, let alone how to use it properly. 

I will alleviate that problem by showcasing the best leg exercise machines commonly found in most gyms. Then, guide you through each machine and explain how to use it correctly so you can decide whether or not to incorporate it into your workout routine.

First, here is a list of the 15 most common leg exercise machines:

  1. Smith Machine
  2. Leg Press
  3. Hack Squat
  4. Pivot Leg Press
  5. Pendulum Squat
  6. Belt Squat
  7. Leg Extension
  8. Seated Leg Curl
  9. Lying Leg Curl
  10. Standing Leg Curl
  11. Hip Thrust
  12. Hip Adductor
  13. Hip Abductor
  14. Standing Calf Raise
  15. Seated Calf Raise

As you can see, the list of leg machines is pretty extensive. So, I will break it down into smaller groups based on compound, isolation, and calf exercises.

Compound Leg Exercise Machines

In this section, I will show you machines that are appropriate for compound leg exercises. These exercises involve multi-joint movements that target two or more muscle groups simultaneously.

Essentially, these machines are designed to mimic free-weight exercises such as squats as closely as possible. So, they are excellent for overall strength and muscle growth.

1. Smith Machine

The Smith machine is a versatile piece of equipment that can be used for upper-body and lower-body exercises. When using the Smith machine for leg exercises, it functions similarly to a barbell with a fixed movement path.

Therefore, you can use the Smith machine to perform various leg exercises, including Romanian deadlifts, lunges, and good mornings. Also, the Smith machine allows you to perform several squat variations.

The video below shows how to perform Smith machine squats to target your glutes, hamstrings, and quads.

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2. Leg Press Machine

The leg press is another versatile machine that works the legs similarly to squats. However, leg press machines provide resistance either with a moving seat attached to a weight stack or a plate-loaded sled.

Also, the leg press allows you to adjust the backrest and your foot placement to target specific parts of your legs. For example, placing your feet lower on the platform works more quads, while higher works more glutes and hamstrings.

The video below shows a side-by-side comparison of leg press variations to help you determine which is best for your workout.

3. Hack Squat Machine

Hack squats are an exercise performed on a machine with a weighted sled that travels on angled rails resembling a leg press. However, you push the sled with your shoulders instead of your feet.

The hack squat machine places your torso in a more upright position, which results in less hip flexion and more knee flexion. As a result, it’s excellent for targeting the quads with less help from the glutes and hamstrings.

Related: 15 Hack Squat Alternatives Without a Machine

4. Pivot Leg Press Machine

The pivot leg press, also known as the squat press, is a plate-loaded machine that differs from the traditional leg press. Instead of the angled rail foot platform, the squat press has a platform that attaches to lever arms that rotate around a pivot point, creating a more natural movement path.

The machine’s pivot action also results in variable resistance, which gives the feeling of lighter weight at the bottom and heavier weight at the top. As a result, you will likely be able to push more weight on the pivot leg press, as demonstrated below.

5. Pendulum Squat Machine

The pendulum squat machine features a pivoting arm where one end sits on your shoulders, and the other end adds resistance via a weight stack or weight plates.

To use the machine, you position yourself with your feet shoulder-width apart on the platform. Then, perform the squatting movement with the weight on your shoulders.

The pivoting motion of the pendulum arm provides a more natural movement arc, which may be a safe option for those with lower back or knee injuries since it reduces the load on the spine and joints.

Leg Exercise Machines Pendulum Squat

6. Belt Squat Machine

The belt squat machine enables you to perform squat exercises without putting the weight on your shoulders. Instead, you wear a belt around your hips connected to a weight stack or plates.

To use the belt squat machine, step onto the platform and position and secure the belt around your hips. Start the exercise by squatting down and then standing back up, using your legs to lift the weight.

The belt squat machine is an excellent alternative to traditional squats, particularly for people with back or shoulder limitations.

Leg Exercise Machines Belt Squat

Isolation Leg Exercise Machines

In this section, you’ll find machines that are ideal for performing isolation leg exercises. These movements target a single muscle group at a time, making it easier to focus on specific areas such as your quads, hamstrings, glutes, or hip flexors.

7. Leg Extension Machine

Leg extensions are an isolation exercise that focuses on the knee joint. During this exercise, your lower leg extends from a bent position to a straight position by extending your knee. 

Compared to compound exercises like squats, leg extensions are more effective for targeting only the quads with no help from the hips.

Related: 16 Best Leg Extension Alternatives

Leg Exercise Machines for Quads

8. Seated Leg Curl Machine

The leg curl is the opposite of the leg extension, effectively targeting the hamstring muscles on the back of the thighs.

The seated leg curl machine is designed to strengthen and isolate the hamstring muscles. To perform this exercise, bend your knees while sitting on the machine, bringing your heels towards your butt.

Leg Exercise Machines Seated Leg Curl

9. Lying Leg Curl Machine

To work your hamstrings from a different angle than the seated leg curl, try the lying leg curl exercise. Instead of sitting down, you lay face down on the machine. This prone position keeps your hips straighter, which targets different parts of the hamstring muscles.

When performing leg curls, focus on lowering the weight slightly slower than you raise it. For example, count one second on the concentric and at least two seconds on the negative, as demonstrated in the video below.

10. Standing Leg Curl Machine

Standing leg curl machines are a less common but effective way to isolate hamstrings. They come in two general types: one where you’re bent over and the other where you’re almost standing straight up.

Depending on the orientation, standing leg curls can work the hamstrings in a similar way to seated leg curls or lying leg curls.

Related: How to Do Leg Curls On A Universal Home Gym Machine

Leg Exercise Machines Standing Leg Curl

11. Hip Thrust Machine

Some gyms have a hip thrust machine with a seat/backrest and a belt or pad that straps to your hips. In addition, you can increase resistance by adding weight plates on either side.

The benefit of the hip thrust machine is that it’s designed to target your gluteus maximus with less help from the quads or hamstrings.

Related: 14 Hip Thrust Machine Alternatives

Leg Exercise Machines Hip Thrust

12. Hip Abductor Machine

Hip abduction refers to lifting your upper leg to the side, away from your body. Moreover, it specifically targets the hip flexor muscles in your outer thighs as well as the gluteus medius.

The hip abduction machine enables you to perform this movement in the seated position with resistance from a weight stack.

Leg Exercise Machines Hip Abduction

13. Hip Adductor Machine

Hip adduction involves pulling your upper leg toward your body and is the opposite of abduction. This exercise targets the muscles of the inner thighs and groin area, and the hip adduction machine provides added resistance.

Related: Hip Adductor Stretches to Loosen Inner Thighs

Leg Exercise Machines Hip Adduction

Calf Machines

A list of leg workout machines wouldn’t be complete without a couple of exercises for the calves. So this section will show you the most common calf machines found in most gyms.

14. Standing Calf Raise Machine

The standing calf raise involves placing the balls of your feet on an elevated platform that enables you to lower and raise your heels. During this exercise, your legs remain relatively straight which specifically targets the upper part of your calves.

You can also perform standing calf raises on the Smith machine.

Leg Workout Machines Calf Raises

15. Seated Calf Raise Machine

The seated calf raise machine involves performing the exercise with your knees bent and the weight resting on top of your thighs. Unlike standing calf raises, the seated variation is better suited for working the soleus or lower calf.

More Leg Exercises & Workouts

Now that you have mastered the correct form for each leg exercise machine at the gym, your next leg workout is sure to be a success! But don’t forget, there are plenty of other effective leg exercises you can add to your routine.

To help you out, I’ve put together a list of articles that I think you’ll find helpful.

3 Example Leg and Shoulder Workouts to Get the Best Results

Chris Bumstead Leg Workout – Offseason vs. Contest Prep

12 Dumbbell Leg Exercises for At Home Leg Workout

Tom Platz Legs & Legendary Leg Workout

17 Best Resistance Band Exercises For Legs And Glutes

How Much Does A Leg Press Weigh Without Plates (Sled Only)?

Leg Press vs Squat Mechanics, Muscle Activation, Calories Burned & More

Top 10 Landmine Leg Exercises for Lower Body Workouts

Based on the information provided, you have a solid foundation for achieving your fitness goals. If you found this article helpful, I believe you may also find these additional resources to be valuable.

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By |September 25, 2023|Workouts|Comments Off on 15 Leg Exercise Machines & How to Use Them In Your Workout
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