Not All Machines are Created Equal: The Leg Press

Posted: October 28, 2014 by TRU in Physique, Random, Rehab

Old School Leg Press

Ever wonder or hear that free weights are better than machines? In this series we’ll be taking a look at various machines you may stumble upon in your local gym and discuss whether or not they’re worthy of your time and the space they occupy. Ultimately, I hope to encourage you to think a bit more critically about why the machines vs. free weights argument isn’t so black and white…since not all machines are created equal.   

My criterion for a given machine goes well beyond polished steel and fancy upholstery, and more often than not, I’m thinking of ways a machine I’m using can be improved. This week I’ve decided to discuss the leg press, a new(er) leg press on the block, and whether or not either belong in your leg development too chest.

The Conventional Leg Press: LP

45 leg press

 

Most commonly a 45⁰ sled angle (the angle you push the weights relative to the floor)

Advantages:

  • Stabilization at the pelvis/hips = less compressive force through the spine
    • great for persons with low back considerations that may prevent squatting with sufficient load to maximally recruit the thigh muscles
      • Requires proper technique. No rounding of the low back!
  • Not limited by or dependent on core/trunk strength = greater demand on thigh muscles
    • great for those whose goal is to maximally develop the thighs, especially the quads
  • Plantar flexed position of footplate
    • allows greater ROM at hips and knees for those with limited ankle mobility
      • greater demand on thighs than this population can otherwise achieve =more leg development

Disadvantages:

  • Often limited hip extension range of motion due to placement of bottom pad
    • =less glute/hamstring recruitment (sorry ladies)
  • Single leg, leg pressing can be awkward/limited
  • Common tendency to round the lower back in bottom position, risking injury.
    • be especially aware of above for novices and persons with poor body awareness
  • Tendency to ride up the back pad with heavy loads
  • Inadequate and sometimes absent fail-safe/safety stop.
    • if you can’t successfully complete the lift, some of these LP’s won’t catch until well below maximum hip flexion, meaning you can still trap and injure yourself
    • may result in terminating a set prematurely due to fear of the above = less thigh muscle stimulation
  • Potentially higher blood pressure considerations from being in a more dependent position vs. upright

 

The Hoist Dual Action Leg Press: DALP

Hoist is a San Diego based fitness equipment company that’s been around since 1986. In 2002 they introduced their Roc-It line, which involves an element of “rocking” while you lift. While some find this rocking to be a little awkward, a few pieces of that line definitely got it right. Meet the Hoist Dual Action Leg Press.

Dual Action 2

Where was this thing during the filming of Total Recall?

Advantages:

  • Allows for full hip extension ROM
    • better glute/hamstring recruitment than 45⁰ LP
  • Dorsiflexed position of the ankle on footplate = better/more dynamic use of the gastrocs (calves.)
  • Conveniently placed platform at the foot of the back pad, lending itself to single leg, leg pressing…a very nice touch.
  • More places of adjustment for more individualized fit.
  • Shoulder harness to prevent riding up back pad (potentially also a disadvantage)

Disadvantages:

  • Greater load transfer through spine vs 45⁰ LP due to shoulder harness
    • persons with low back considerations may not tolerate as well as 45⁰ LP
  • Less intuitive setup and slightly awkward rocking movement
    • steeper learning curve/takes a bit more getting used to.
    • more points of adjustment may confuse less experienced users
    • standard weight plates tend to rattle excessively during use due to poor fit.
      • not a huge deal, but an annoying feature on this otherwise great piece of equipment
  • Similar if not greater blood pressure considerations as 45⁰LP, since pressing from a more dependent position

 

In summary, the leg press is generally most appropriate for those who desire maximal leg development and/or those who cannot tolerate heavy compressive loads through their spine, as in a barbell on the shoulders during a back squat.

Table

*Always remember to think of muscles you’re trying to engage regardless of what piece of equipment you’re using!

So to say which is best really depends…best for what and for whom? The DALP certainly does a nice job addressing some of the conventional leg press’s limitations and for that I give Hoist a well deserved fist pump. I’m lucky enough to belong to a gym that has one and as long as it’s there it’ll be a PART of my leg training arsenal. Fortunately if you belong to a large gym, it doesn’t (and shouldn’t) have to be one or the other. Depending on your goals you may decide to use one LP for a period of time and then switch, or perhaps use both concurrently. It all depends on the person and the goal…have I said that before?  And on a broader note, you should still be doing some free weight exercises for your legs (and body) on a regular basis as well, because while it’s fine to emphasize a certain muscle/muscle group from time to time, remember that no muscle is an island.

No muscle is an island,

TRU

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