4 Beginner-Friendly Leg Machines, and How to Use Them

man on a planet fitness machine
The legs are the biggest muscle group in the body. So, naturally, there are plenty of exercises you can do to improve leg strength — as well as a lot of exercise machines to choose from.

by Steven Auger

Did you know that the legs feature some of the biggest muscles in the human body? It makes sense, since they're used so often and for so many different activities. So, naturally, there are plenty of exercises you can do to improve leg strength — and a lot of exercise machines to choose from.

If you're new to the gym, it can be tough to determine which machine will benefit which part of your legs. To help you along your fitness journey and build strength in your upper legs, we've listed some of the best (beginner-friendly) leg machines to seek out at the gym. But first, let's cover the basics.

The Importance of Upper-Leg Muscles

Your upper leg features some of the most powerful muscles in your body. There are three main types of upper-leg muscles: quadriceps, hamstrings, and the gluteals. The four quads are located at the front of the thigh and are often the longest of any muscle in the body. Their function? They help extend the leg outward.

The three hamstring muscles are located at the back of the thigh. Their function is to help extend the hip and flex the knee. There are three glute muscles in your butt, and the gluteus maximus, in particular, is "regarded as one of the strongest muscles in the human body," according to Healthline. These muscles all help you sit, stand, climb stairs, and simply balance.

Upper-Leg Machines for Beginners

Suffice it to say, your leg muscles do a lot of work. If you're looking to build your upper-leg strength, here are four leg machines (and beginner-friendly exercises) to try.

1. Seated Leg Press

The seated leg press machine targets your quadriceps and hamstrings. Adjust the seat so that your knees have at least a 90-degree bend and your feet are hip-width apart. Your toes should point slightly outward, toward the 11 o'clock and 1 o'clock positions. Make sure your knees have a slight bend as you drive power through your feet to extend your legs. Aim to use a weight you feel comfortable performing 8–12 reps with.

2. Leg Extension

The quadriceps are the focal point of the leg extension machine. Take a seated position so your legs are under the rounded lever pad in front and your feet are pointing forward. Use your hands to hold the sidebars and stabilize yourself, if need be. Your legs should form a 90-degree angle while seated, and your knees should align with the pivot point of the machine. The lever pad should rest just above your feet. Using your quads, slowly extend your legs. During the movement, try to keep your upper body stationary. Exhale as you extend fully, and inhale as you slowly lower the weight to its original position. Perform 8–12 reps.

3. Angled Leg Curl

After working your quads, flip over for some lying leg curls to give those hamstrings a workout. Once you're face down on the angled leg curl machine, make sure the lever pad is a few inches below your calves. When you're ready to start, grip the sidebars with each hand and curl your legs as far back (toward your butt) as you can without raising your quads from the bench. Exhale as you curl your legs, and inhale when returning your legs to their starting position. Only use enough weight that allows you to make controlled movements. Too much weight increases your risk of a back injury. Perform 8–12 reps.

4. Smith Machine Squat

If you're new to squatting exercises, start off by using the Smith machine. Set the barbell at a height comfortable to you, so it lands comfortably across the top of your back and lower neck. It's a good idea to try a few reps without any added weight, so you get used to the motion. Now place a bench between your legs for guidance on how far to squat down and grip the bar so your hands are slightly more than shoulder-width apart.

When ready, slowly lower yourself to the squat position using the bench as your guide (your legs should form 90-degree angles and your thighs should be parallel with the floor) and then raise yourself back up to a standing position. Try to complete three sets of 10 reps.

Once you're comfortable with the basic movement, you can remove the bench and add some weight. If you overload the bar and can't complete a rep, lock the safety hooks by rotating the bar forward. As always, please consult with a physician prior to beginning any exercise program. See full medical disclaimer here.