Before I can talk about having some fun of the leg press machine I feel the need first to defend it. With the rise of "functional training" hatin' on the old leg press machine has really become de rigueur amongst many functional trainers and top strength coaches. And not without reason. One of the chief reasons being skills acquired on the leg press don't transfer well to sports performance or everyday functional movement. And it's undeniable that the squat is a superior exercise, all things considered.
But, the leg press still has its advantages and I'm a lover of it. For bodybuilders and other gym-goers working on increased leg strength and musculature the leg press is an invaluable tool. It's stability, ability to isolate the lower body and relative safety make it an ideal tool for working with heavy loads, even without a spotter. I don't think I'll ever be able to squat 350 pounds but I can leg press that amount no sweat -- well, maybe a drop or two.
But there are some people who should avoid the leg press all together. Anyone will lower back problems, especially something like a herniated disc shouldn't even bother. The position of the movement can put a hell of a lot of stress on the lumbar spine. Even the strong and healthy should approach with caution. Form is paramount, make sure you know how to safely use the thing and how to position your pelvis in the seat. Also, add weight slowly and only when ready.
I usually only ever see people using the leg press is one particular way, and that's fine. But just as you can tweak your squat with different foot stances the same principles apply to the leg press. Small variations in stance can put more demand on specific leg muscles.
That standard way most people will do the leg press is with feet parallel in the middle of the platform, hip-width apart. If it's your first time using this machine do it this way. You can activate the quads more by pushing with the balls of the feet or engage the glutes more by pushing through the heels. This concept applys for all leg-pushing exercises.
By positioning the feel wide, with toes slightly flared out you can work more the abductors, inner hamstrings and inner quads. All to say this works your inner thighs.
This is a little known variation and a secret weapon of mine. You'll also feel this more in your inner thighs and right up into the glutes but also in your vastus medialis oblique. The VMO is the outter quad muscle responsible for the tear-drop shape much desired by bodybuilders.
Narrow Stance High Platform:
In this stance you can engage more of the muscles of the back of the leg: the hamstrings, claves and glutes. One can typically push a great deal more weight in this position. But shorties might find it difficult to stretch their legs all the way up there.
Narrow Stance Low Platform:
With feet together as low as you can go on the platform makes this move very quad dominant. You can get a very nice/nasty burn in the front of the legs. Some prefer to keep their heels on the platform but I like hang my heel off it, so that only the balls of my foot are in contact. From this position you can also do clave raises.
Single Leg Press:
Another big-time favourite of mine, if not my favourite way to use the leg press. For those with lower back concerns this is possibly the best and safest way to use the leg press machine as it keeps the pelvis in a more neutral position. Pushing with one leg at a time can aid with leg strength imbalances. But really, done right, this is an amazing glute workout. Push hard with the heel, to the point of the toes coming up, and feel that booty burn. Start this exercise with no weights at all on the machine -- it will likely be heavy enough. Also, have the other leg at the ready in case it's too heavy.
I hope you learnt something and are excited to try a new way of using the leg press machine. You will feel the difference.
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