Leg Press Versus the Barbell Squat
I’ve always looked forward to my strength training workouts but since March and the onset of the pandemic, I’ve anticipated with excitement and cherished my workouts more than ever. Since mid-November, I’ve performed my two weekly strength workouts rotating between our St. Louis Park location and our new Micro Studio in Edina. Starting in February, I’ll start rotating my workouts through all seven of our studios (I love the variety of training in all of our studios, on slightly different equipment, and with our array of trainers). But from November through February, 95% of my workouts will be in SLP and the Micro Studio (during our last shut-down, I was trained “virtually,” in one of these studios).
Below is a clip of the Micro workout that I did yesterday with David. Our equipment at this studio is a collection of one of my all-time favorite lines of equipment, Nautilus Nitro. This equipment is no longer manufactured but we sourced a full line of this equipment in Connecticut, had it completely rebuilt and refurbished, and it functions and looks like new. The design of the pec fly is one of my all-time favorite machines and I’ve wanted to own and train on one since 2002.
My workout was as follows:
- Horizontal Calf – 12 reps
- Prone Leg Curl – Lift with both legs for 2 seconds and lower with 1 leg for 8 seconds and continue to alternate legs.
- Leg Press – 20 reps (no rest)
- Leg Extension – 20 reps (as so many of you know, this is a brutally tough combination).
- Chest Press – 12 reps (no rest)
- Pec Fly – 12 reps (no rest)
- Dip – Negative Only
- Pullover – 12 reps (no rest)
- Chin-up – Negative Only
- “MSU Upper Body Finisher” – A series of biceps curl, shoulder press, and push-ups.
- Abdominal- 12 reps
- Back Extension- 12 reps
As always, the exact design of the workout is not what made it magical. This workout was awesome for the same reasons why all workouts are awesome: I was coached and instructed by a great trainer; I always record the workout and the looming pressure to match my last workouts performance or improve with perfect form is always looming; and most importantly; the intensity was high.
I realize that the workout is a means to an end, not an end in itself. That being said, my workout is still truly the highlight of my day. I hope you look forward to your next workout as much as I look forward to mine (and I encourage you to try a session at our Micro Studio).
Among free-weight exercises, the barbell squat is second in popularity only to the barbell bench press. Power lifters, athletes, and fitness enthusiasts have performed barbell squats for decades. Indeed, many fitness professionals contest that the barbell squat is the single most result producing strength-training exercise for those looking to increase the strength, endurance, and power in the muscles of the hips, buttocks, and thighs. However, a closer examination indicates that the barbell squat has some important limitations. In fact, it is one of the exercises we choose to avoid at Discover Strength.
Firstly, the “squatting motion,” that is, extending the hip joint while simultaneous extending the knee, is incredibly valuable.
This movement involves the large muscles of the lower body and is valuable not only for improving strength, but also for providing a cardio-respiratory stimulus and a powerful improvement in resting metabolic rate (the number of calories we burn while we are at rest). One of the primary problems with the barbell squat is this: The barbell squat involves placing a barbell on your back, which vertically compresses the spinal column. In all circumstances, this is dangerous and contributes to the long-term degradation of the spine. Many proponents of the squat contest, “the squat is safe as long as you maintain good form.” However, it is impossible to avoid this dangerous spinal compression; and form has nothing to do with it. The barbell squat is inherently dangerous, even with perfect form.
A properly designed leg press machine eliminates this spinal compression.
A second limitation of the barbell squat is that when training with a high level of intensity, as the trainee approaches muscle failure, the musculature of the lower back serves as a weak link and fatigues or “fails” before the powerful musculature of the buttocks and thighs.
This makes it virtually impossible to apply the intense strength-training stimulus that the glutes and quadriceps require. A properly designed leg press limits the involvement of the lower back and thus insures muscle fatigue of the glutes and quadriceps as the true cause of muscle failure (rather than the musculature of the lower back).
In summary, we prefer intelligently designed leg presses to barbell squats as a leg press insures safer and more intense training for the targeted musculature. And if a leg press isn’t available, a variety of squats or lunges that don’t involve vertically compressing the spine is always preferred.
This is a very interesting discussion. However, one thing both the squat and deadlift provide is a “whole body” stimulus stressing both the muscular system and the cardiovascular system. I also wonder if these movements produce a greater release of Myokines than any other resistance movement.