Why the Leg Press?
Before you start droning on about how the leg press doesn't transfer to sports performance and how it doesn't build strength, let's draw some distinctions here.
There's a difference between strength and hypertrophy. There are plenty of guys who look perfectly average who can hoist enormous amounts of weight, relatively speaking. And there are also a fair share of muscular guys who have trouble opening the occasional pickle jar.
Strength is largely a manifestation of nervous system efficiency. The more muscle fibers you can recruit and how fast you can recruit them translates to the amount of stuff you can forklift off the ground.
Hypertrophy, on the other muscular hand, is largely a combination of increased muscle glycogen, protein synthesis, increased myofibril size, and hormonal milieu. Coaxing your muscles to grow involves an entirely different recipe than making them stronger.
That being said, the almighty squat is a great strength-building exercise, but it isn't necessarily the best muscle-building exercise. True, plenty of lifters would argue that point vociferously, but most of them are short-legged Hobbit-like fellows who need a stepstool to climb onto their high horse.
Leg presses, however, are an excellent tool for making the quads grow, but again, they're not that great for building overall strength.
Leg presses are a much better muscle builder for the following reasons:
- You don't have to stop a set prematurely because your lower back, feet, ankles, or wheezing lungs gave out before your legs did. When you stop a set of leg presses, you did it because your quads failed you.
- You can keep doing reps until you reach total exhaustion. (Hell, you're already kind of on the ground, so there's nowhere to fall.)
- Auto-forced reps. You can put your hands on your knees and push to give yourself some extra reps.
Here's a particularly effective way to do leg presses:
- Begin by doing a set of 10 with a plate on each side.
- Rest and then add a 25 to each side. Do a set of 10.
- Then remove the 25s and replace them with a pair of 45s and do another set of 10. (The first few ridiculously light sets serve as a warm-up.)
- Continue doing this (adding either a pair of 25s or 45s) until you fail to hit 10 reps. (Yes, it might take a while. Big deal.) Rest briefly. Attempt to do the eccentric or lowering part of the movement in a controlled manner. Lowering the weight slowly, at least some of the time, is what grows muscle. So lower the platform with control.
- You've gotten to a weight where you failed to hit 10-reps. Now begin your strip set. Do as many as you can with the weight on the platform. Lock the platform, drag your ass up, and quickly remove one 45-pound plate from each side. Do it within 10 seconds or so. Get back into the machine and rep out again.
- Keep removing plates and repping out. Keep rest to a bare minimum. When you've just repped out with one 45-pound plate on each side, you're done. Go home and grow.