In Defense Of The Leg Press: Reasons NOT To Squat

In Defense Of The Leg Press: Reasons NOT To Squat

When I started visiting an actual gym, I was already under the heavy influence of the so-called functional lifting community. Most of the information that I found was promoting free weights as the best way to train. Exercises done on machines were described as a complete joke and heresy. I didn’t know any better and accepted the lies with the truths. I also took great pride in performing routines made only of free weight exercises during my first year of training.

One of the movements that I was told to hate with a passion was the leg press. I was convinced that anybody who does leg presses is a complete low life loser scared to do manly exercises like squats.

The rule was simple – if you don’t squat, you are no longer a real man. You are a moron who should uninstall the program called life.


Today, I know that similar thinking gets you nowhere. Exercises are just tools designed to make you stronger and improve your skills. The leg press will not take you to hell unless the horde of functional training gurus guards the doors to heaven. I seriously doubt that’s the case.

The leg press is constantly receiving tons of hate from the wannabe powerlifters, but the truth is that it could be a legit leg strengthener when done correctly and for the right reasons. The main benefit of the leg press is that it allows you to place your entire lower body under extremely heavy loads without being limited by your spine – a limitation experienced during squats.

The knees and the hips could be injured when you squat, but the real weak link will always be the spine because it acts as a middle man between the heavy bar and the legs. As you know, the middle is always in the most compromised position.

The leg press removes the middle man for the most part, but the lower back is still under stress, especially if you allow it to round on the pad.

Some people are not built to squat

Leggy individuals with short torsos have a hard time squatting. While such proportions are great for dancing and sprinting, they are not optimal for squats. The longer your legs are, and the shorter your torso is, the more you have to bend over to remain stable during squats. As a result, you will always use more hips and lower back than lifters with short legs. People with such proportions usually end up with weaker legs and bigger hips. It gets even worse if the squat of choice is the low bar.

So, what are those guys left with?

Front squats?

In a funny attempt to avoid all machines, the functional training community usually throws the front squat as a leg exercise of choice when back squatting turns out to be less optimal than expected. Those guys don’t seem to understand that the front squat is before all a weightlifting exercise meant to improve your clean. It sucks for high reps, and the upper back always fatigues before your legs.

Lunges?

Lunges with barbells are a terrible exercise and extremely uncomfortable. With dumbbells, they make more sense, but the balance requirement is still pretty high. That may be fine for conditioning and sports preparation, but as far as pure strength development is concerned squats and leg presses are much better.

The main advantage of the leg press is that it allows you to develop raw pushing strength without being limited by your back and balancing abilities. When done correctly over a full range of motion, it’s a pretty decent leg exercise.

Many label leg pressing as a joke, but that’s not really the case. It’s only a joke when people do partial reps just to lift a ton of weight.

FAQ

Can the leg press build as much muscle mass as the squat?

Yes, if we are strictly talking about lower body mass. You can definitely reach your quad potential thanks to the leg press.

However, if the squat is working for you, there is no need to complicate things. It’s better to stick to what’s already giving you results. Success is not measured by the number of exercises you do.

Hey! I see that you are a complete moron. I am 5’5” and have developed some sexy legs with squats. You mad?

Thanks, but I think you are the moron. If you are 5’5”, chances are that you are built for the squat – short legs, long torso. In that case, be grateful and keep on squatting.

But the leg press does not train your stabilizers as much as squats and lunges do!?

That’s actually the main benefit of the exercise. The goal of the leg press is to allow the main leg muscles (quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings) to exert as much force as possible. When you introduce variables such as balance and spine strength, you limit the weight that your legs can be pressing.

If unbalanced training was the key to pure strength and growth, people who train exclusively with bosu balls would be strongest humans on Earth.

If you want to train your balance, just do it directly. Don’t insert it in your strength training/hypertrophy program. It’s not meant to be there, at least not to the point where your weights are limited mainly by the small stabilizing muscle groups

I would be ashamed to leg press. I just can’t. They will laugh at me.

Tell someone who cares.

So, what are your reasons not to squats?

There are three main reasons not to squat.

1.You are injured.

Obviously, if an injury is stopping you from squatting, you shouldn’t do it. Yet many lifters come up with insignificant excuses not to squat. I‘ve heard it all. Many lifters are truly digging deep to find reasons not to do the exercise. My favorite is: “I used to do a lot of volleyball and basketball in high school and now my legs are shut down.”

Truth be told, if you can’t squat because of a severe leg trauma, you won’t be able to leg press heavy either. The leg press places a lot of stress on your hips and knees. Therefore, excuses like the one above don’t really work. If you can leg press heavy weights over a full range of motion, you probably have healthy enough knees and hips to squat too.

2.You don’t want to.

There is nothing obligatory in this world. If you want, you can build your entire routine around the bosu ball. You are free to do so.

However, I advise people to give the squat a fair run before giving up. Just learn how to do the exercise correctly and try to increase your numbers for at least half a year by using solid programming. Even if you decide that the squat is not for you, the experience will be extremely beneficial.

3.The squat is not developing your legs.

Some people are simply hip and lower back squatters, which leaves the quadriceps and other muscles surrounding the knees weaker. I don’t know about you, but for me, the quadriceps are harder to develop than the glutes. When you are tall, almost any leg exercise is hip dominant.

Honestly, I don’t want to be a “glute guy” living and breathing for my butt. I have nothing against the muscle group, I just think that it is receiving way too much attention. It’s like people have recently discovered the existence of that muscle, and all fitness gurus just can’t stop talking about it. Well, we get it – the glutes are the strongest muscle in the human body. Guess, what? There are other strong muscles too.

In conclusion

I understand that the leg press is not a sexy exercise. Nevertheless, it’s still one of the better leg movements. It gives you an opportunity to develop brute leg strength, which in my book can never be a bad thing.

Back in the day, people would probably kill for the modern leg press machines we have. Many old school lifters were trying to smash their heads in an attempt to leg press a barbell. Just use the leg press for what it’s worth.

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One comment

  1. dick

    Yeah, I can’t squat properly but my legs are strong as hell thanks to the good ol’ leg press. Cross-fit be damned.

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