The leg press is like Olive Penderghast in the movie, "Easy A" (or for you more classically educated meatheads, Hester Prynne in "The Scarlet Letter") in that her reputation has been sullied, perhaps unjustly and disproportionately.
For some reason, leg presses are regarded as a mediocre exercise with little direct application to sport. Plus, you have to admit those videos of Revered Pat Robertson leg-pressing over a thousand pounds didn't help much either (especially since his range of motion was about as long as an angel's hair is wide).
Here's the bottom line. If you're a professional athlete, then it's true, leg presses won't have much direct carryover to the athletic field. However, if you just want to pack muscle onto your legs, then the leg press is an important tool.
Here, courtesy of John Meadows, are 6 ways to use the leg press effectively, plus one bonus method to build up those sorry-ass calves of yours.
By far, my favorite exercise in the world is barbell squats.
They're the ultimate exercise for muscular hypertrophy. In fact they're so good for building leg size that it might be tempting for you to brush off other exercises that are extremely effective and label them as "second class."
Specifically, I'm referring to the leg press. I think many have also avoided the leg press because it's not nearly as "functional" as the squat, but make no mistake, it still has many cool hypertrophy applications, especially for bodybuilders!
The leg press is a beast of an exercise, too. You can use this machine to inflict pain like perhaps no other. If your goal is to gain muscle on your legs, this machine should be part of your regimen.
Let me first talk about what this article is NOT:
- This is not me debating which is better, squats or leg presses.
- This is not me teaching you how to use the leg press safely.
- This is not me teaching you basic anatomy.
- This is not me suggesting that if you don't do leg presses, your quads will shrivel up so they look like the pasty-white, blue-veined legs of old guys who sit around the pool in Miami.
Okay, so what is this article about?
It's about how you add size and thickness to your legs using brutally effective techniques and rep schemes on the leg press, period.
None of this is rocket science, but not many are willing to take their training to this level either.
Okay, so let's get going.
6 Techniques for Intensity
1 – The 3-Second Descent
Anybody who has read any of my stuff is familiar with this. It isn't enough to just know what a 3-second descent is. Actually DO IT! You'll feel more pain doing leg presses than ever before.
When you start to do your leg presses this way, it will lessen the amount of weight you use to a certain degree, but as your muscles adapt, they'll get stronger and your weight will come right back up, except now you'll be able to completely control the weight from start to finish.
I also find that people's adductors thicken up noticeably when using this style.
When you do these, have your partner count out loud – 1-2-3. No matter how tempting it is to drive up at 2 seconds, maintain your discipline. Take the full 3 seconds before driving back up.
Below is Brad Davis, a top national competitor and absolute beast using this technique while going to war in preparation for this year's Mr. North America. This is what Tom Platz means when he said, "Forget high weight low reps or low weight high reps; go high weight and high reps for ultimate intensity."
2 – Drop Sets
Most of you have probably toyed around with this one throughout your lifting careers. Most people I know are literally scared of the pain of a leg press drop set, though. You have to be a little off your rocker to enjoy these, if you know what I mean. I fit into this category perfectly.
Oh, and what about women using these techniques? Well, here's fitness model Victoria Felkar doing a monster drop set despite the fact she has no training partner for the day.
See if you can match this, guys!
3 – Teardrop finishers
As your thighs blow up with blood, a great way to further rock your vastus medialis/teardrop is to drop your feet down on the leg press platform a little bit (I still want you flat footed), but keeping them close and pumping out reps. The deeper these are done, the more ROM your teardrops will get, and thus more pain and gain.
An important part of doing these is ankle flexibility, specifically as it relates to dorsiflexion. Tony Gentilcore wrote a sweet article on squats last month where he mentioned this.
Unfortunately, a lot of people lack ankle flexibility, but luckily I picked up something from a Tom Platz seminar back when I was a 14-year-old teenager. He showed us how when you moved your feet down, the weight shifted to the balls of your feet and your heels would elevate off the platform.
Then we did some gentle stretching and lo and behold, on the second try, we could easily keep pushing with our heels as they stayed flat. This basic principal not only applies to squats, but leg presses, too.
What I'll have people do who are tight in their ankles is to sit on a seated leg press and let the weight of the carriage (no added weight) gently stretch them for a few seconds, after which they get up and do a few reps of standing calf raises. Be careful not to use any weight on these, though, as you'll overstretch and you'll get hurt, probably by way of a soleus strain or tear. So again, remember less is more...don't overdo it!
If you want to get really crazy like me, you can combine all of the above. Do 3-second descents, drop sets, and then the teardrop finisher, all in the same set!
At the end I do drop my feet all the way to the bottom and let my heels come up, but save that for when you have really thick teardrops. You don't need to use much weight either. I'm proud to say that in over 25 years of training, I've never once had a knee injury.
4 – Bandwork
Buying a few sets of bands from EliteFTS is a great investment to make in your legs as they're amazing at building strength and size in your legs. Louie Simmons has always said that if bodybuilders were ballsy enough to try something different, bands could produce great gains of size for certain exercises. I agree 100%.
The other thing I notice with bands is that they build quad sweep. It's kind of weird. I don't know why this is, but it's visually noticeable in just about everybody I work with after one 6-week plan of using bands on the leg press.
The way we use bands is to use one set of "monster minis," and then after a few weeks, add a second set. This makes the reps tough as hell. You can't stop fighting at any point throughout the rep.
Reps are kept around 8. I don't like high reps on these, but I don't like to take reps too low, either. The 7-8 rep range is where I've seen the best results.
As mentioned, I like to do 6-week intervals using bands. I also really like to push progression on these.
A successful 6-week program might look like this in terms of increases:
- Week 1: 410 x 8, 500 x 8, 590 x 8 – use 1 set of monster minis
- Week 2: 500 x 8, 590 x 8, 640 x 6 – use 1 set of monster minis
- Week 3: 500 x 8, 590 x 6, 640 x 6 – use 2 sets of monster minis
- Week 4: 500 x 8, 590 x 8, 640 x 8 – use 2 sets of monster minis
- Week 5: 590 x 6, 640 x 6, 690 x 6 – use 2 sets of monster minis
- Week 6: 640 x 8, 690 x 8, 740 x 6 – use 2 sets of monster minis
This is not unrealistic at all in terms of strength gains for most. Obviously there's a preceding warm up to this as well.
When doing these, really fire out of the hole. Train like a sprinter on these. In other words, EXPLODE!
The video below shows another animal you guys all know – Shelby Starnes – as he prepares for this year's USA. Shelby Starnes has seen some INSANE strength jumps doing these while dieting! Here's where he is currently after 4 weeks. Notice he's using a vertical leg press, too!
- Week 1: 2 doubled minis plus 270 (3 plates per side) x 3 x 8
- Week 2: doubled minis plus doubled monster minis + 290, 380, 450 x 8
- Week 3: doubled minis plus doubled monster minis + 470 x 3 x 8
- Week 4: doubled minis plus doubled monster minis + 470 x 3 x 10
Also check out last year's Team Universe Middleweight winner, Pam Wentz, grinding out double-banded heavy reps on a 45-degree leg press. I want you to watch how she fights to get through every inch of the range of motion, which is one of the great benefits of bands!
5 – Dead-Stop Machine leg Press
Of all the things we've talked about so far, this is probably the "sneakiest," as Dave Tate likes to put it. When I send the rep scheme to people, they often say this doesn't look bad. Ha! Famous last words. If I had to cast a vote on the most brutal way of using the leg press, this is it.
People also tend to see I've written machine in place of a free-weight leg press, and then assume it's going to be a cakewalk. The beauty of using a machine/selectorized stack is that you can dead stop the weight. You can't really do that on most leg presses.
The rep scheme and employment of dead stops is the key here.
Here's the rep scheme that I typically use:
- Warm up
- Set 1: Pick a weight that's a hard 20 reps using continuous tension. Go up and down and get them burning and drive the blood in there.
- Set 2: Go up in weight a bit. Now I want you to do 15 reps with continuous tension, THEN do 5 more reps, but employ the deadstop technique. Do as the name implies. Let the weight go all the way down in the hole and stop. Relax your legs for a split second, and then BAM! Drive up hard.
- Set 3: Go up in weight again. Now do 10 reps with continuous tension, and 10 deadstop reps.
- Set 4: Okay, this is it. This is the set where most people fall out of the machine nearly unconscious. Go up in weight again, and do 5 continuous tension reps, and 15 dead stops.
Let me re-iterate, on the "dead stop" reps, let the weight literally stop and rest. Take a deep breath and fire out of the hole; explode on these, too. Do not lock these out.
6 – Unilateral Leg Press
I actually prefer to use the leg press machine with the selectorized weight stack for unilateral leg presses as well. For whatever reason, these just don't feel as "natural" on my knees when I'm using a normal 45-degree leg press. Again, I'm not debating science here, just telling you how I feel about doing these.
They absolutely crush your hams, glutes, adductors, and teardrop all in one. I tend to like using short rest periods between sets on these. It pushes your pain tolerance just a wee bit as you'll see.
An example of how to do this would be to do 10 reps on one leg, then 10 on the other. Take a 45-second break and repeat. Then before your 3rd set, take 60 seconds before your last set of 10. Here's some video on this one so you can see form.
7 – Timed Toe Presses
We can't sign off without talking about these! If you have a leg press machine that allows you to do toe presses for your calves, try doing these timed. One scheme we like to do is 3 sets of 60-second straight toe pressing.
One non-stop minute on these will sting a bit. You may have some trouble walking the next day! Generally speaking we alternate our approach on these, pyramiding up to a very heavy weight for sets of 8-12 one week, then doing the timed sets the following week.
A challenge to you!
So if you've made it to this point in the article, great! And as a "reward," I want to offer a sort of challenge to you. Don't be one of those guys that sits around and says "Yeah, I know all that stuff," or, "Yeah, my legs would be big if it weren't for shitty genetics," and then does nothing.
Try the workout below and then let's talk about how it went on the Llivespill feed. I would love to see video of what you do as well!!
- Leg curls: 2 light warm up sets, then 4 sets of 10 reps with a weight that is tough, but still allows you to get all of the reps.
- Free weight Leg Press: Do as many warm-up sets as you need, working your way up. Once you get to a hard weight I want you to do:
- 1 set of 15 reps with a 3-second descent on each and every rep. Don't cheat! Take 3 seconds on the way down!
- Using the same weight, do 15 reps with a 3-second descent; drop the weight and do 10 more reps with a 3-second descent; and then drop the weight and do 25 normal-speed reps with your feet a little lower on the platform for your teardrop. I especially want to see Video of this one!
- Machine Leg Press: Here comes the deadstops! Do your warm up progression as described above. Go up in weight a bit on all sets!
- Set 1: 20 continuous tension reps (no locking out).
- Set 2: 15 continuous tension reps and 5 dead stop reps.
- Set 3: 10 continuous tension reps and 10 dead stop reps.
- Set 4: 5 continuous tension reps and 15 dead stop reps. VIDEO this one, too!
In between the 4 sets, feel free to rest 2-3 minutes to catch your breath. No rush here.
If you're feeling real froggy, I want you to do 3 sets of the single leg presses too, as well as 3 sets of toe presses (timed for 1 minute) for calves as your finisher.
Train like an animal!!