The aim of this study was to analyze the literature on muscle activation measured by surface electromyography (sEMG) of the muscles recruited when performing the leg press exercise and its variants. The Preferred Reporting Items of Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines were followed to report this review. The search was carried out using the PubMed, Scopus, and Web of Science electronic databases. The articles selected met the following inclusion criteria: (a) a cross-sectional or longitudinal study design; (b) neuromuscular activation assessed during the leg press exercise, or its variants; (c) muscle activation data collected using sEMG; and (d) study samples comprising healthy and trained participants. The main findings indicate that the leg press exercise elicited the greatest sEMG activity from the quadriceps muscle complex, which was shown to be greater as the knee flexion angle increased. In conclusion, (1) the vastus lateralis and vastus medialis elicited the greatest muscle activation during the leg press exercise, followed closely by the rectus femoris; (2) the biceps femoris and the gastrocnemius medialis showed greater muscular activity as the knee reached full extension, whereas the vastus lateralis and medialis, the rectus femoris, and the tibialis anterior showed a decreasing muscular activity pattern as the knee reached full extension; (3) evidence on the influence of kinematics modifications over sEMG during leg press variants is still not compelling as very few studies match their findings.
Keywords: electromyography; muscle activation; muscle activity; thigh muscles.