Squats are the king of all leg exercises right? Not for everyone. I have seen many people obtain faster quad and hamstring development by emphasizing leg press over squats. I am not talking about glutes in this discussion, squats are definitely better for that but we’re talking quadriceps and hamstrings.
Squats can cause problems due to mobility. One major issue I have hit is my ability to hold the bar comfortably due to poor shoulder mobility and past injuries to my chest and biceps. During that time squats were out of the question but leg press was always an option. Lower back issues often keep people out of the rack and not to mention hip muscle imbalances and tightness issues.
Many people grow best from high volume training, including multiple high volume leg workouts a week. Squats will tax the central nervous system highly due to the nature of the lift. While this can increase the rate of growth it also can cause “burnout” or plateaus. The leg press has many variations to emphasize different muscles.
One of my favorites is the vertical leg press. This variation is great to replace squats for those that have lower back tightness while getting low in a squat. With a wide stance, the glutes and inner thigh are highly activated as well as the hamstrings. While quads can be emphasized with a closer stance this machine is not the best for that.
The standard leg press is the most versatile and found in almost every gym, unlike the vertical leg press. For quads to be emphasized the feet should be placed low. A wide stance will target inner thigh causing a wider leg look. A close stance will target the lateralis or outer sweep. To get the most strength place the feet shoulder width for overall development and strength.
Now to hit the hamstrings, the best foot placement must be high and you must push through your heel but always keep your feet flat on the surface. With your feet high and wide, this will act much like the vertical leg press but with less depth. Now my favorite for the hamstrings is a single leg press or unilateral leg press. With the foot placement high and shoulder width, you’ll feel a massive recruitment of the hamstrings.
Here is an example of a leg press emphasized leg workout.
- Leg Extensions 4 x 20
- Seated Leg Curls 4 x 16
- Standard Leg Press (feet low & close, toes slightly angled out) 30, 20, 16, 16, 16 (last 3 sets are banded)
- Single Leg Press (foot high & shoulder width) 4 x 12
- Vertical Leg Press (feet high & wide) 16, 16, 12, 12
- Walking DB Lunges 3 x 20
*weight should be increased each set until complete failure of last set of each exercise
** bands are used for increased tension at the top of the motion while mobility is still achieved at the bottom
If you find yourself stuck increasing your weight on squats take a break and give the leg press a shot to shock your body as well as give it a break from the onslaught of squats. Beware, volume kills.