The Leg Press – Why So Hated?

By: Brian Carroll

Not really click bait, this is the truth. But now that I have your attention with such a bad word, I will go ahead and make my point. Leg presses are NOT for everyone. Many will go far too deep (knees to the chest which causes a very bad flexion of the spine) and is not good for your knees (shearing forces). This can end up being a folding bastardized hack squat with way more risk than reward potential. Also many will not have enough ROM to get much out of it.


That said, here are five things to things to consider with the leg press.

1. There are numerous studies showing how beneficial leg presses can be for your quad development, growth and stimulation. In fact, more than a few state the leg press may even be better than SQUATS?? I don’t really care either way honestly. Why? How valid are these studies? How valid are any studies? Who the hell knows if they are – I do know bodybuilders use them and have legs better than powerlifters. It’s a staple and always has been. When I first started training legs it went – warmup on extensions or leg curl then – squats/hacks/leg press. Once the loads got quite substantial, we alternated hack squats and leg presses each week. These do not replace your squats or deadlifts ever on the regular, but can really help bring up your quad and in my case, the leg press really helps my top end drive from the midway to the top. I can really tell a difference in looks (fullness and outer size) and power when I’m doing them regularly.

2. Leg presses are not useless, regardless of what the strength experts say, they can have a place in most people’s programming. I agree that they are not for everyone and every hard core gym wont have one. However, when one is available I would suggest using it,  especially if quad drive and/or size is an issue for the squat or deadlift. Just because the hardcore crowd is alive and awake these days and experts are coming out of the woodwork, does not mean that something that has been a staple of big and gigantic legs for decades is all of the sudden not necessary and obsolete. I’ve done tests of my own and my quad size and fullness (when doing them) directly carries over to a bigger squat. It’s always been this way for me and many of my clients and training partners. I always defer to the answer – maybe, sometimes and could.

3. Caution if you have a history of back or knee injury of course. With my back injury, I do leg press with a piston style (like the squats I advocate). I only come about ½ to 2/3 of the way down and then back up without lockout out totally or becoming motionless at any point. I rock back on my heels toward lockout and start the descent immediately. Again, all tension is on the legs (quads). If I come too far down and get into flexion (knees too close to the chest) it comes from my back and it defeats the purpose of doing these as I’m putting my back in jeopardy. I do get similar, although lesser, results with a lunge or Bulgarian split squat, but not quite the same. As with the leg press, I have to be very careful with the exercises I pick. See what works better for you.

4. Use them as a finisher – you don’t need to load 20 plates per side. YES, this is why they have such a bad rep. Because idiots use them as an ego boost, doing ¼ reps and not for some great quad work…but great ego work. With the 10/20/Life philosophy, everything we do has a purpose and that purpose is not Instagram or social media props. It’s to get better what what we suck at. I personally use about seven plates per side, keep all the emphasis on the quads and take short rest periods. Works like a charm. I don’t think you need a zillion reps – 3-6 sets of 8-15 with perfect form should work fine.


5. Do them on a different day other than squats and toward the end of your session (you don’t need much weight as stated above). Simple as that. Most of us do a form of a secondary day whether we use the 10/20/Life combo day ( day 1/squat & deadlift, day 2/bench, then assistance on day 3/squat and deadlift assistance), or we do a traditional split (squat day, bench day, deadlift day etc) and do some light lower body work on deadlift day. It’s a good idea to have a little bit of work for the lower body 2x a week IMO. I like having people get the leg press in on the squat and deadlift assistance day. Nothing too heavy, conditions the legs some but make sure to not push too hard and leave enough time to recover for squat day. Personally, when healthy and body allows, I do leg presses 2x a week (last on squat day and assistance day) and squat 2x per week (heavy on day 1 and day 3 light & in a piston style)

An interesting side point from when I was growing up, “deadlift is a standing leg press”. This is from the first guy, Skip Sylvester who got me into lifting, and that’s how I approached it. Now I teach the deadlift this way and the squat when one is in the bottom – “you drive your legs through the floor just like a leg press”.

Many things can be misused in the gym and unfortunately the leg press has gotten a bad rap, especially form the performance coaches over the last few years. I’ve seen many people deem the leg press useless – I beg to differ. Each athlete will need some type of quad stimulation, at least from time to time with something other than squats, deadlifts, and a form of lunge or dragging from time to time. Next time you go to program and you feel your quad size is lacking a little bit or your squat slows a little bit in the middle, give a cycle of leg presses a try and see if they work for you. Remember, we don’t only squat/bench/deadlift simply more to get better at these lifts if we have weak points in our lifts. We have to think outside the box and attack these weaknesses. Anyway, there is not such thing as his quads were too big and strong – that’s why he missed that squat!

Listen to people who have been there and done it, not people who only talk in theory.

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Brian Carroll

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Brian Carroll is committed to helping people overcome back pain and optimizing lifts and movement. After years of suffering, he met back specialist Prof. McGill in 2013, which led to a life-changing transformation. In 2017, they co-authored the best-selling book "Gift of Injury." On October 3, 2020, Carroll made history in powerlifting by squatting 1306 lbs, becoming the first person to break this record. He retired with a secure legacy and a life free from back pain.
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