Leg Press

I’m interested to hear everyones opinion on using the leg press as an alternative to squats.

The reason I ask is that I have recently come to the conclusion that when it comes to squats, the negatives outweigh the positives for someone with my body structure.

I am aiming to gain around 15-20lbs of muscle before my football season starts in 5 and a half months and I’m considering including the leg press in my training (in addition to bulgarian split squats, hypers, bench, rows etc).

I know that on a number of strength focused sites such as T-nation, everyone acts as if squats are the solution to everything and machine weights are the antichrist, but I would like to hear what people on this site think of the idea of including this lift in an athletes training.

Is this a stupid idea, or is the leg press a viable option for tall / long legged athletes?

My 2 cents: yes



Just remember that the leg press recruits less overall motor units and so you will perhaps require greater and more varied stimulation to attain the same degree of mu recruitment as squats.

If I had to remove squats I would make sure I did reverse hypers and glute/ham raises, hamstring curls, hypers and extra core along with the leg press lift. For some reason I’ve always thought that the leg press was more quad dominant then the squat, but I’ve never had any justification.

The squat is good because you get high mu recruitment for the movement that you’re doing. So you get the bang for your buck. To get the same stimulation you need to do more exercises. This could also be argued for cleans, but as charlie points out the coordinated action and proximity to sprinting on the f/v curve is in somewhat of a conflict with sprinting.

There are some decent options to replace squats with. Some people like the one legged step up squat, which is much easier to attain the positions required as a lanky athlete. Hack squats are good too. The bulgarian split squat is good as you listed. Lunges maybe. If your main goal is to gain mass there are definitely many ways to achieve that without squatting. I highly recommend reverse hypers and glute ham raises if you can’t squat.

Another option here, and I’m not saying that perhaps you havent tried it yet or should try it. But many athletes hate the squat because their form is terrible and havent been well instructed on how to perform it. Especially taller athletes where form is more exaggerated. I know when I first started I hated squats and sucked big time at them. I sucked up my ego, dropped down to 100lbs and said screw it, im going to build this up the right way. And so I never increased my weight until my form was solid, and eventually you build strength in key areas required to get into a good position.

With that said, I know that taller athletes are at somewhat of a disadvantage when it comes to lifting and technique. How tall are you if I may ask?

I would not completly remove squats, but there is no wrong in doing L. press to sub in on certain days. But no i would not neglect the squat. And as far as machines: in general, they tend to work to specifically as compared to free weights as stated above (fiber recruitment).

in my training squats are the main lower body exercise, but i also make progress on deadlifts, leg press, machine leg press.

What negatives are we talking about?

…squats are the solution to everything and machine weights are the antichrist, but I would like to hear what people on this site think of the idea of including this lift in an athletes training.

Is this a stupid idea, or is the leg press a viable option for tall / long legged athletes?
I like leg presses, but they are not a substitute for squats. They can and do compliment squats, but they cannot replace them. I curious to know exactly what issues you have with squats.

If anything, someone with poor leverages can probably overload the legs per se BETTER with a leg press because lower back/upper back weak points have been removed.

Which are usually what fail long before legs for those types of individuals (note: NOT all trainees).


I think you’re right. Those mu’s recruited can be potentially fatigued to a greater extent vs a squat where a person’s low back might be the limiting factor. Again this could be related to form as well as the nature of that fatigue.

Its still a matter of less mu involvement regardless of how well you can hit those mu’s.

besides the motor recruitment issue w/ leg press, ive always kind of felt that many leg press machines force your knees into a position that, if repeated, can cause knee problems (knees going past the toes), where as with squats i am able to keep my knees in the same place throughout the whole lift.

Yeah, I think you might be right about the leg press being more quad dominant. I was planning to include extra posterior chain work to counter this. Unfortunately I don’t have access to a glute ham raise or reverse hyper. Instead I will use RDL, Hypers, Ham curls and bulgarian squats. Good point about requiring extra core work.

I wouldn’t say my main goal is just to gain mass. My goal is to gain mass while improving or at the very least maintaining athleticism. I probably should have explained that in my first post.

I’m 6’5. It’s not so much my height that’s the biggest issue, but more the fact that my femurs are long compared to my torso.

My form is pretty good, but it still feels as though my lower back is the limiting factor in the lift.

Thanks for the detailed response

My biggest issue is that due to my body structure it becomes too much of a lower back exercise. This is despite the fact that my lower back is already relatively strong when compared to my legs.

My lower back also feels vulnerable when I squat. I have never injured it squating, but I have never built up to decent strength level in the squat. If I built up to a decent weight, I feel that there would be a much higher risk of a lower back injury compared to someone with a body type more suited to squats

I have tried doing more of an olympic style squat with a more upright stance, but this requires my knees to go way past my toes. I have previously had knee surgery (around 5 years ago) due to a sporting injury, so i’m not keen on letting my knees shoot too far forward.

I guess when I said negatives, I really just meant the injury risk and the fact that my legs aren’t the limiting factor.

Yeah, I wasn’t very clear in my first post, but this is a big part of what I was getting at.

I don’t really understand your point.

Why cant you just position your feet higher up so that your knees don’t have to go past your toes?

Are you talking about a type of leg press machine where you can’t adjust your foot position at all?

yes thats my point, many of the leg press machines i have tried to use didnt allow me to position my feet high enough to take the stress off my knees. i mean i guess if the machine does leave u with enough room to get ur feet in the rite position have at it, but like i said im yet to see one

If you’re using too much low back, it may be due to more than just body structure. I will admit some are much better suited to squats than others. I’m 6’4" and have never felt incredibly comfortable with squats. It won’t be the end of the world if you stop doing them, but you might not give up just yet.

I used the same arguments when I first started squatting again. But I found something that really helped, and also drastically limits forward knee movement. Box squats. You might try working some light box squats, working strictly on form, making sure your posture, and the position of your knee, is good. Then slowly work up in weight. Who cares if you never hit bigger numbers, its all relative anyway. Improve you own numbers, and if you feel the need add leg presses, step ups, whatever to supplement.

Just to update, I tried using leg presses in my routine, but the movement just didn’t feel right.

Over the past few months, my lower body workouts have just consisted of bulgarian squats followed by some posterior chain work.

What do you guys think of using the trap bar deadlift as a substitute for squats?

Here is what I was thinking for a lower body day:

Trap Bar Deads - 3x8
Bulgarian Squats - 2x8-12
Back extensions - 3x12-15
Hip Thrusts - 2x8-12
Core (planks, ab wheel etc)

Any full deadlift variation will stress the low back more than a correctly performed squat, with much less stress on the leg. Did you try the box squat?

I would have thought that the trap bar deadlift would have less stress on the lower back.

Yeah, I tried out box squats, but I still didn’t feel enough stress in my legs.

Unless you are really leaning forward in the box squat, you are stressing the legs. It may not feel that way, but if you are remaining upright, you MUST be stressing the legs. Try widening your stance and remaining as upright as possible.