Tip: The 3-Cycle Leg Press Program

Pro bodybuilders depend on this much-maligned movement. Here's how to do it right and program it correctly.

Leg Press: Use and Abuse

How many times have you seen someone loading up the leg press with an ungodly amount of weight and then watched them push on their knees to perform some quarter reps?

Newsflash: No one cares about your leg press PR, real or imagined. This kind of behavior ought to be embarrassing. And besides, this wreaks havoc on your knees, hips, and lower back. It's also grossly ineffective in terms of growing serious muscle.

But the leg press can be a very valuable tool when performed properly. There are some who demonize the leg press and tell you to "just squat." Nonsense. In reality, the leg press is a huge part of a bodybuilder's arsenal and combining it with other leg exercises can be synergistic to muscle development.

So, forget about ego, stop playing the numbers game, and learn how to customize the leg press to fit your body. Then, I'll give you a solid leg press workout plan to bring your legs to the next level.

Customizing the Leg Press

Set yourself up in a way that accommodates your specific architecture. The goal is to be able to achieve a full stretch through the quadriceps and then a solid contraction at the top of the movement.

1 – Seat Position

Let's start with the adjustable back on the seat. Adjust it to a place where you can achieve maximum depth at the lowest part of the movement while maintaining contact on the seat with your glutes.

If your glutes come up off the seat during a rep, change the seat position. Play around with this until you find where the movement feels best. If the seat back isn't adjustable, you're just going to have to work with it.

2 – Foot Position

Most people don't know what to do with their feet. They don't really know how high on the platform they should go or how far apart the feet should be, so they just wing it. Part of the answer lies with something you just did as you approached the leg press: walking.

Take a good look at the angle your front foot is in when you place it on the ground when you take a step. The ball of your foot should be slightly outside and off center in relation to your heel, but this will vary from person to person. This is your natural foot angle and it's exactly the angle you should use when your feet are on the leg press.

Now you'll want to find how high or low you should place your feet on the sled. The goal is to find the spot that'll allow for the deepest quad stretch possible. Start in the middle of the plate with your heels just outside shoulder width and do a few reps with some light weight to see how it feels.

If you feel you can get a deeper stretch, lower your feet a little more. Don't worry if your knees drift past your toes; there's no evidence this will cause any damage to your knee joint.

3 – Directing Force

Push through your heels. If you're having trouble training yourself to apply pressure this way, try slightly picking up your big toes while pressing. This will force you to keep pressure on the heel.

4 – The Rep

Make sure you're initiating each rep with the purpose of stretching your quads as much as possible during the eccentric or lowering phase of the movement, and then squeezing your muscles as you push the sled to near lockout.

Don't lock your knees. Stop just before lockout and maintain tension.

Now you're ready to do some work.

The 3-Cycle Leg Press Program

You can slide this into almost any leg day along with your other lower-body exercises. The leg press progression method consists of three cycles:

Cycle One – First 3 Workouts

Vary your rep ranges with each workout. Run a rep rotation like this:

  • 3 x 5-7 reps one workout
  • 3 x 10-12 the next workout
  • 3 x 15-18 reps the next workout

These rep cycles will repeat throughout the program.

Cycle Two – Next 3 Workouts

Now add a 4th set and continue like this for another three workouts.

Cycle Three – Last 3 Workouts

Now start adding a drop set on the last set (4th set). Remove about 40% of the weight (ideally, your partner will remove some weight) and rep out.

Use a steady rep tempo – two seconds during both the concentric and eccentric phases while keeping constant tension. Rest 90-120 seconds between sets, depending on how you feel.

Here's how all looks:

  • Workout One: 3 x 5-7 reps
  • Workout Two: 3 x 10-12 reps
  • Workout Three: 3 x 15-18
  • Workout Four: 4 x 5-7
  • Workout Five: 4 x 10-12
  • Workout Six: 4 x 15-18
  • Workout Seven: 4 x 5-7. The 4th set is a drop set: finish your last rep of the 3rd set, quickly remove about 40% of the weight and rep out.
  • Workout Eight: 4 x 10-12 with drop set on last set.
  • Workout Nine: 4 x 15-18 with drop set on last set.

If you train legs every fifth day, it'll take you about 6 weeks to run through these three cycles. When you finish the nine workouts, you'll probably need to de-load your body for a week and then you can repeat the program.