Legs Press Glute Soreness? Here’s Why & How to Fix it!

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There are various reasons why your glutes are sore from leg press. Firstly, if your glutes feel sore before you’ve even fatigued your quads, this points to a potential glute weakness, as there is no way you can perform leg press without mainly using your quads. Furthermore, the higher or wider your feet are on the foot plate, the more likely you will be to activate your glutes.

Your Glutes Are Weak

The most obvious reason that your glutes are sore from leg press is because you have weak glutes.

There is absolutely no way you can leg press without using your quads.

So, if you’re immediately feeling leg press in your glutes, this is a sign that your glutes have fatigued before your quads.

Admittedly, these are two of the largest and strongest muscle groups in the body.

However, your glutes should always be bigger and stronger than your quads.

So, the soreness that you’re feeling is likely to be that you’ve taken your glutes as far as they can go, and now they’re giving out.

If I’m honest, glute weakness is extremely common.

However, this appears to be a more likely occurrence amongst men than women.

I guess this has much to do with women focusing heavily on glutes workouts over the last few years.

In truth, we should all be working the glutes much more.

As I’ve mentioned, the glutes are the largest and strongest muscle group in the human body, so it makes perfect sense that you should train them regardless of your body composition goals.

Basically, if you want to be stronger, build muscle, lose weight, strip body fat, then make sure you work your glutes.

With that being said, there does seem to be a huge focus on the quads when it comes to lower-body training, especially for men.

And of course, this can eventually lead to muscle imbalances and muscle weaknesses.

Where Are Your Feet on the Leg Press Machine?

I’m sure you’re aware that foot position plays an important role when you leg press.

In fact, you can target certain muscles more effectively depending on where you place your feet on the foot plate.

The leg press machine will always work the quads, glutes, and hamstrings, as well as the calves to some extent.

Conventional Stance

You would typically have your feet in the middle of the foot plate and approximately shoulder-width apart for the conventional leg press.

The traditional version focuses mainly on your quads, but it will also activate the glutes and hamstrings.

You can actually work the glutes and hamstrings more by ensuring that you go through the full range of motion.

Additionally, irrespective of foot position, always ensure your back is firmly against the seat and that you don’t allow your butt to lift of the seat while you leg press.

Jim Wendler: "Most of the time, a neutral foot position (shoulder-width apart) on the leg press is a safe and effective way to target the entire quadriceps and hamstrings evenly."

Wide Stance

Next, there is the wide stance, which involves having your feet approximately 1.5 x shoulder-width apart.

You should also have your toes angled out slightly in much the same way as you do when you squat.

You’ll find that this stance puts you into slight hip abduction, which immediately means that you will have activated your glutes more.

Plus, you should feel the wide stance leg press in your hamstrings more too.

Narrow Stance

Then there is the narrow stance leg press, which focuses much more on the quads.

In fact, a narrow stance is a fantastic way to almost completely isolate the quadriceps.

Personally, I actually like to perform barbell back squats quite often with a narrow stance, as I know how fantastically well it hits the quads.

Feet High and Feet Low

You can also place your feet high or low on the foot plate.

The higher your feet are, the more hip extension that is required, which means that you’ll automatically activate your glutes and hamstrings more.

Whereas, the lower your feet are, the further your knees can travel past your toes, which obviously increases the range of motion for your knee.

And increased knee range of motion will mean that you’re working your quads harder.

I will also add that you can of course do single leg press, as well using the leg press machine for calf raises, thus giving you 7 different foot placement options.

So, make a note of exactly where you’re placing your feet next time you leg press, as this may explain your sore glutes.

You Have Anterior Pelvic Tilt

The final thing to consider is the possibility you have anterior pelvic tilt.

In fact, it may be very likely if your glutes are sore after leg press.

Research suggests that approximately 85% of men and 75% of women have anterior pelvic tilt.

And just to make matters worse, the vast majority of people don’t even realise they have this “condition”.

Anterior pelvic tilt can best be described as a change in posture which sees the front of your pelvis rotate forward, whereas the back of your pelvis rises up.

In effect, your posture makes it look as though your butt is sticking out and up into the air.

A Stethoscope and the Word "Anterior", Spelled with Colourful Block Letters

Now, I’ve mentioned that many people aren’t even aware that they have anterior pelvic tilt.

This clearly means you can live a normal and healthy life with anterior pelvic tilt.

However, any form of poor posture can eventually catch up with you and cause you issues in later life.

With that being said, anterior pelvic tilt will typically mean that you have tight pelvic and quad muscles.

Furthermore, it’s likely that your abs and glutes will be weak, all of this can cause you lower back pain.

And this can certainly be exasperated when you leg press.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it Okay to Train With Sore Glutes?

Training with sore glutes can be okay, but it largely depends on the level of soreness and its cause. 

If the soreness is due to Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), which typically occurs after a new or intense workout, it’s generally safe to continue training. 

However, it’s important to differentiate between normal muscle soreness and pain that could indicate an injury.

Mild to Moderate DOMS: If your glutes are sore due to DOMS, you can still train, but it’s advisable to reduce the intensity and volume of your workouts. Engaging in light exercise can actually help alleviate the soreness by increasing blood flow to the muscles and promoting mobility.

Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to your body’s signals. If the soreness diminishes as you warm up and move around, it’s likely okay to proceed with a workout, though at a lower intensity. If the soreness persists or worsens with activity, it’s a sign to rest.

Active Recovery: Incorporate activities like walking, light cycling, or yoga, which can serve as active recovery and help in reducing stiffness.

Avoid Overtraining: Ensure that you’re not overtraining a particular muscle group. Soreness can be a sign that the muscles haven’t fully recovered from a previous workout. Training the same muscle group too frequently without adequate recovery can increase the risk of injury.

Injury vs. Soreness: It’s crucial to distinguish between normal muscle soreness and pain from an injury. Sharp, intense pain, pain that doesn’t improve with rest, or pain accompanied by swelling or redness could indicate an injury that requires medical attention.

Proper Warm-Up and Cool-Down: Always start with a proper warm-up to prepare your muscles for exercise and finish with a cool-down to aid recovery. This can include light cardio and stretching.

Hydration and Nutrition: Stay hydrated and maintain a balanced diet to support muscle recovery. Proper nutrition can help reduce soreness and improve muscle repair.

Can You Build Big Legs Just With Leg Press?

Yes, it is possible to build substantial leg muscles using just the leg press, though it may not be the most optimal or comprehensive approach. Here’s a detailed explanation:

Muscle Engagement: The leg press effectively targets major muscle groups in the legs, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. By varying your foot placement (e.g., high, low, wide, narrow), you can emphasize different muscle groups.

Progressive Overload: To build muscle, it’s important to progressively increase the resistance or volume over time. This principle, known as progressive overload, can be effectively applied with the leg press by gradually increasing the weight or doing more repetitions.

Limitations of Leg Press: While the leg press is a powerful exercise for building leg muscle, it doesn’t provide the same level of functional or stabilizing muscle development as exercises like squats or deadlifts. These compound movements engage a broader range of muscles, including smaller stabilizing muscles, and they mimic everyday movements, improving overall functional strength.

Jim Wendler: "Don't neglect compound exercises like squats and deadlifts for the leg press. You need that functional strength."

Risk of Muscle Imbalance: Focusing solely on the leg press can lead to muscle imbalances. For example, it might not sufficiently work the stabilizing muscles around the ankles and hips or the smaller muscles that support joint health.

Safety and Technique: It’s important to use proper technique on the leg press to avoid injury, particularly to the lower back and knees. Avoid locking your knees and ensure your lower back remains flat against the seat.

Other Considerations

Variety: Incorporating a variety of exercises can lead to more balanced muscle development and reduce the risk of overuse injuries.

Nutrition and Recovery: Adequate protein intake and proper rest are crucial for muscle growth, regardless of the exercises you choose.

Genetics and Individual Response: Individual responses to exercise can vary based on genetics, so what works well for one person may not be as effective for another.

So, while you can build significant leg muscle with the leg press alone, it’s generally more effective to include a variety of leg exercises in your routine for balanced development and overall functional fitness. 

If you prefer or are limited to using the leg press due to constraints like equipment availability or injury, be mindful of technique, progressive overload, and balance in your fitness regimen.

Why Am I Good at Leg Press But Not Squats?

Being proficient in leg press but facing challenges with squats is a common experience for many, and there are several reasons why this might be the case:

Muscle Engagement: The leg press primarily targets your quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. Squats, on the other hand, are a more compound movement that requires engagement of a broader range of muscles, including the core, back, and stabilizing muscles. If these supporting muscles are weaker, it can make squats more challenging.

Stabilization and Balance: Squats require a significant amount of balance and stabilization, which is not as necessary in the leg press where the machine guides the movement. The need for balance and coordination in squats can make them more difficult, especially if these aspects haven’t been as developed in your training.

Ronnie Coleman: "I ain't gonna lie, squats used to kick my ass. But that's why I kept doing them until they didn't."

Form and Technique: Proper squat form is complex and requires good coordination, flexibility, and technique. Factors like hip mobility, ankle flexibility, and thoracic spine mobility play a significant role in performing a squat correctly. Limited mobility in any of these areas can make squatting properly more challenging.

Movement Pattern: The leg press is a linear, guided movement, while squats are a free-weight exercise requiring a more complex, three-dimensional movement pattern. This difference means you’re not just pushing against resistance in a squat; you’re also controlling the path of the barbell and your body through space.

Mental Aspect: There can be a psychological component as well. Some people may feel more confident and secure using a machine like the leg press, while the squat, especially with significant weight, can be more intimidating.

Experience and Practice: If you have more experience with the leg press and have spent less time practicing squats, this discrepancy in practice can contribute to a difference in proficiency. Like any skill, squats require consistent practice to improve.

Individual Physical Characteristics: Factors like limb length, torso length, and overall body proportions can influence how easy or difficult you find squats compared to the leg press. For example, individuals with longer legs might find squats more challenging.

How to Improve Your Squat Performance

Strengthen Supporting Muscles: Include exercises that strengthen your core, back, and stabilizing muscles.

Improve Flexibility and Mobility: Work on hip, ankle, and thoracic spine mobility.

Practice Technique: Focus on proper squat form and consider working with a trainer for personalized guidance.

Gradual Progression: Start with bodyweight or light squats and gradually increase resistance as your form and strength improve.

Mental Preparation: Build confidence with squats by practicing regularly and using safety equipment like squat racks with safety bars.

Remember, it’s normal for there to be a difference in performance between these two exercises due to their distinct nature. 

But, with focused training and practice, you can improve your squat performance over time.

Final Thoughts

So, I hope you understand that sore glutes from leg press may initially point to a glute weakness.

Basically, even though the leg press stimulates most of the lower body muscles, it is primarily a quad exercise.

Therefore, glute soreness typically means that your glutes are fatiguing before your quads.

So, it is likely that your glutes are weak in comparison to your quad strength.

Where you place your feet on the leg press machine will also make a difference.

Having your feet higher or wider on the foot plate will activate your glutes to far greater effect.

Finally, you may actually have anterior pelvic tilt, which is most commonly associated with weak abs and weak glutes.

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