So a friend and client of mine which I will let remain anonymous came to me tonight and said why does my IT band hurt really bad from the Leg Press machine? I thought I misheard her for a second so I asked her to repeat her question again because I was really hoping she knew better than using an archaic piece of equipment designed specifically to destroy the knees, hips, and lower back. By far the leg press could be the worst piece of equipment in the gym, right next to the leg extension machine. So just to clarify, it doesn’t really matter the angle of the machine. If it is a leg press that has you lying on your back pushing a weight, you probably shouldn’t be messing with it. I will NEVER put a client on one(I don’t even own one in my gym). And if you trained with me pre 2006 I am sorry if I ever placed you on one.
There are numerous versions of the leg press but really the more you are lying down the worse. Lets look at it this way to keep it simple. The leg press loads weight on one end and your body on the other. You are pretty much getting scrunched like an accordion. A lot of people have asked me what is the difference between a leg press and a weighted squat? Well there are a good few differences. First off the leg press gives the false sense of strength. If I hear one more person brag about leg pressing 500lbs I am going to kill a kitten. Seriously the leg press allows you to totally disengage your core and just use your legs. You really don’t have to earn the right to lift a heavy weight. You then put loads of stress on your hip joints and most people will allow the lower back to round up and it pushes the spine into major flexion which could also be disastrous for the lower back and discs. During a squat, whether you choose a barbell or kettlebell front squat or a back squat with a barbell you really have to earn the right to lift the weight. If you show me someone that brags about a 500lb leg press, I will show you someone that will struggle with a 95lb squat. In my misguided youth my best leg press was over a 1000lbs, my squat at the time was about 375. And by the way my back was shot, and not from the squatting either.
The leg press completely allows you to lift heavy weight without using your core at all. Actually it is very difficult or nearly impossible to engage your core musculature at all during a leg press. So all of the stress is distributed directly to your hips and relaxed back. This does not stimulate anything close to normal physiological movement. In most athletic or body movement the hips extend as well. During a leg extension there is no hip extension allowed, so now the knees are locked out on a hip that is flexed. This will also increase the chance for hyperextending a knee. It is would be very difficult to try and and hyperextend the knee while the hip is fully extended and glutes acitvated. The other horrible thing about the leg press is having the knees tucked all the way to the chest. This makes no sense in life, sport, strength, or even muscle hypertrophy.
In my professional opinion the Leg press is not an alternative to the squat. If someone has sore knees or lower back when they squat it is really an indication that there is an underlying issue that needs to be looked at more closely. The leg press is a cop out and will only make the situation worse in the long run since you now force an imbalanced body to push more weight than it has earned to push. If some just has a bad squat then the solution is to teach them how to squat.You can adjust the depth but teach the squat patterning. You would be surprised how many people come to me saying they can’t squat or it hurts when they squat, and when I look at their squat I understand why it hurts. After I teach them how to squat they are amazed on how low they can go and without pain. The only people I see a benefit for the leg press is possibly a body builder that is really looking for Vastus Lateralis development over the other quadracep muscles. If you are a professional trainer, I recommend teaching the squat as one of the first movements. I teach it on the first or second session, even on people that think they can squat. There are numerous tools to teach the squat, stay tuned for more videos.