Does foot positioning for leg press make a difference for muscle growth?

Posted by Dayne Hudson in Muscle Building

Estimated reading time: 5mins

Does foot positioning for leg press make a difference for muscle growth?

What's the best foot positioning during leg training?

One of the oldest tips perpetually touted by gym-goers has been to have a narrow stance during leg presses and squats, with your toes pointing forward. "This will grow your quads faster!" they say.

But does science agree?

This study had trained subjects (just over ten years of squat experience and nine years of leg press experience) do eight different leg press testing sessions. They did every combination of:

  • Wide stance vs close stance (hip-width vs. twice hip-width)
  • Low foot position vs. high foot position
  • Feet pointed straight ahead vs. feet turned out 30 degrees.

So what did they find?

Utilising electromyography (which works by placing electrodes on a muscle and recording their activation), they found minor differences in the calves and hamstrings, but the average electromyography readings for the quads weren't significantly different between all eight variations!

Another study asked the same questions of squat stance amongst master lifters who had a squat of at least over 200 kilograms.

And the same conclusion was drawn: the width of a squatting stance makes basically no difference.

But some of the hardest and seasoned gym-goers still weren't convinced.

So just recently in 2021, another study was conducted into leg pressing in conjunction with trained subjects.

13 females and 15 males performed six reps of leg presses at 70 per cent of their one-rep max. And they did so using five different approaches:

  • Hip-width, feet pointed straight ahead
  • Hip-width, feet turned out 45 degrees
  • One and half times their hip-width, with feet pointed straight ahead
  • The two narrow stance techniques (1 and 2) were done at a controlled tempo (2 seconds on the way down and 2 seconds on the way up) AND by exploding on the way up for a rep
  • The wide stance technique was just performed with a controlled tempo.

So what did they find?

Again, utilising electromyography within all muscles of the quads and glutes, they concluded:

"The inclined leg press exercise produces the highest muscle activation in the vastus medialis, regardless of the velocity, feet stance, or gender."

The authors add that given there seems to be no difference in muscle activation regarding feet stance, then we should use whatever foot stance we prefer when we're leg pressing.

But as I've touched on before on this blog, electromyography isn't always the best indication of muscle growth, it's simply just a measurement of muscle activation. Other studies have utilised superior measurements like ultrasound (to directly measure muscle growth) which is a much better indication.

Foot stance doesn't seem to make a difference to quadricep growth
Foot stance doesn't seem to make a difference to quadricep growth

But this evidence is of course better than bro-science, whereby gym-goers simply guess as to what's assisting their gains and pass it down from generation to generation without a whole lot of investigation!

Focusing on things like foot stance it seems isn't going to make much difference to your leg growth.

But focusing on something like training frequency, can.

How many times can I train my quads per week?

Research states muscle protein synthesis levels (your body using protein to build and repair muscle) return to normal after 36 hours.

This means a particular muscle group (in this case, your quadriceps) are ready to be trained again!

Therefore, you're better off training your glutes on a Monday and Wednesday again when they're fully recovered, as opposed to once per week as seen in the traditional muscle growth workout split.

But women have it even better here than men!

A meta-analysis reviewing 24 studies here in Australia found that women can train their quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves two to four days per week!

Other research finds that women actually recover their strength faster than men after a taxing workout, meaning they're able to jump back in and train the same muscle group again.

So focusing on training frequency when it comes to your legs will yield better results than worrying about something trivial like feet stance during exercises.

Women can train quadriceps perhaps more frequently than men!
Women can train quadriceps perhaps more frequently than men!

The bottom line on foot stance and angles

Is that these are unlikely to make any difference for quadricep growth. We should just use the stance during leg press and squats that is most comfortable to us. Further research might utilise ultrasound to measure muscle growth after an extended period of leg training with nutritional intake (protein, especially) identical across the board. At this stage, the recommendations are to put your feet wherever you like during leg press and squats, as one particular stance is not likely to be superior to any other. Focusing on training frequency is a better strategy, at this stage, for optimal quadricep growth.

References:

  1. Escamilla RF, Fleisig GS, Zheng N, Lander JE, Barrentine SW, Andrews JR, Bergemann BW, Moorman CT 3rd. Effects of technique variations on knee biomechanics during the squat and leg press. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2001 Sep;33(9):1552-66. doi: 10.1097/00005768-200109000-00020. PMID: 11528346.
  2. Mills KR. The basics of electromyography. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2005;76 Suppl 2(Suppl 2):ii32-ii35. doi:10.1136/jnnp.2005.069211
  3. Escamilla RF, Fleisig GS, Lowry TM, Barrentine SW, Andrews JR. A three-dimensional biomechanical analysis of the squat during varying stance widths. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2001 Jun;33(6):984-98. doi: 10.1097/00005768-200106000-00019. PMID: 11404665.
  4. Martín-Fuentes I, Oliva-Lozano JM, Muyor JM. Influence of Feet Position and Execution Velocity on Muscle Activation and Kinematic Parameters During the Inclined Leg Press Exercise. Sports Health. 2021 Jun 4:19417381211016357. doi: 10.1177/19417381211016357. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 34085847.
  5. Vigotsky AD, Beardsley C, Contreras B, Steele J, Ogborn D, Phillips SM. Greater electromyographic responses do not imply greater motor unit recruitment and 'hypertrophic potential' cannot be inferred. J Strength Cond Res. 2017 Jan;31(1):e1-e4. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001249. Epub 2015 Dec 11. Erratum in: J Strength Cond Res. 2017 Feb;31(2):e66. PMID: 26670996.
  6. MacDougall JD, Gibala MJ, Tarnopolsky MA, MacDonald JR, Interisano SA, Yarasheski KE. The time course for elevated muscle protein synthesis following heavy resistance exercise. Can J Appl Physiol. 1995 Dec;20(4):480-6. doi: 10.1139/h95-038. PMID: 8563679.
  7. Judge LW, Burke JR. The effect of recovery time on strength performance following a high-intensity bench press workout in males and females. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2010 Jun;5(2):184-96. doi: 10.1123/ijspp.5.2.184. PMID: 20625191.
group of product images for proteins
group of product images for proteins