In Defense Of The Leg Press: Reasons NOT To Squat

When I started visiting an actual gym, I was already under heavy influence coming from the functional online lifting community. Most of the information available to me was always promoting free weights as the best thing ever, and exercises done on machines were considered a complete joke and heresy. I didn’t know any better and believed the lies. I also took great pride in only doing functional free weight exercises during my first year of training.

One of the movements I was taught to hate the most was, of course, the leg press. I was convinced that anybody who does leg presses is a complete low life loser, too scared to do much more mainly exercises known as squats. The main rule was simple: If you don’t squat, you are no longer a real man. You are a moron who should uninstall a program called life.

Today, I know that similar thinking gets you nowhere and exercises are just tools one can use to get stronger, and that’s about it. You ain’t going to hell, if you are leg pressing. Well, you probably are, but only if 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.

People love to talk about how the knees and the hips could be injured during squats, and while that’s true, the real weak link will always be the spine and the lower back in particular. The spine acts as a middle man between the heavy bar and the legs and will always be in great danger.

The leg press essentially removes the middle man and connects the two main sides, lower body and weights, directly. However, the lower back is still under some stress when you leg press, especially if you allow it to round on the pad. You can still injure it pretty badly. However, if you make a conscious effort to keep it in proper anatomical position, the risk is greatly reduced, and you are able to work the lower body directly using heavy weights.

Some people are not built to squat

The people who suck at squatting are leggy individuals with short torsos. While such proportions are great for dancing and sprinting, they suck for heavy squats. The longer your legs are and the shorter your torso is, the more you have to bend over in order to be stable during squats. {more} As a result you will always use more hips and lower back. 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 ineffective for some people. 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 well before your legs. I personally see the front squat as even more spine strength dependent than the back squat.

Lunges?

I think lunges with barbells are a terrible exercise and extremely uncomfortable. With dumbbells they make much more sense, but this variation also comes with increased balance requirement. 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, which also makes it a unique leg movement, is that it allows you to develop raw leg pushing strength without being limited by your back and balance. When done correctly over full range of motion, it’s a pretty decent leg exercise and hard to match.

A lot of people like to talk about how leg pressing is a joke, but that’s not really the case. What’s a joke is how people choose to perform the lift – 1/5 reps plus a ton of weight. If you truly use full range of motion, you won’t be able to push nearly as much weight.

FAQ:

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

Yes, if we are strictly talking about lower body mass. The leg press is not limited by stabilizing muscles which allows the primary groups to lift some serious weights. Also, it’s a compound exercise that works the whole lower body. You can definitely reach your lower body potential with it.

However, if the squat is working for you, there is no need to complicate things and leg press. It’s better to stick to what’s already giving you results. Success is not measured by the number of exercise 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 for the attention, but I think you are the moron. If you are 5’5”, chances are your are built for the squat – short legs, long torso. In that case, be grateful and keep on squatting.

How come it’s fine to do all kinds of upper body exercises, but training your lower body using different than the norm methods is a crime?

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 – no stabilizing limitations. 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 (squats), you limit the weight 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.

I think people are getting this balance thing way too far. If you want to train balance, just train 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 small stabilizing muscle groups

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

Cool. I don’t care.

So, what are your reasons not to squats?

There are three mains reason not to squat.

  1. You are injured and it’s impossible to squat.

This one should be obvious, but far too many people use INSIGNIFICANT injuries as an excuse not to squat. I have heard it all. Many lifters are truly digging deep to find solid reasons not to do the exercise. Some even use childhood trauma as defense.

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 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 such as the above don’t really work. If you can leg press heavy weights using full range of motion, you probably have healthy enough knees and hips to squat too.

  1. You don’t want to.

There is nothing obligatory in this world. You are free to do any exercise you like. 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 try over the period of at least six months before giving up. Just learn how to do the exercise correctly and try to increase your numbers for at least half a year using solid programming. Even if you decide that the squat is not for you, the experience will be extremely beneficial.

  1. The squat is not developing your legs.

This may seem impossible to comprehend, but some people are just hip and lower back squatters, which leaves the quadriceps and other muscles surrounding the knees less dominant. 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.

Sorry, but 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 we live in era where 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

It’s not pretty, but that’s fine.

I understand that the leg press is not a sexy exercise. It’s not as aesthetic as a heavy squat. Nobody is claiming otherwise. However, it’s still one of the better leg movements there are. It allows you 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. If you don’t need it, that’s fine.

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *