Last Update  On January 17, 2012
Leg Press - Functional ?

by Vladi
The leg press is one of the most hated exercises by the functional crowd. If you wonder what's my take on the squat vs. leg press discussion read this article. This post will be dedicated to the “functional” and “nonfunctional” qualities of the famous leg exercise.

One of the reasons why so many famous coaches hate on the leg press is the fact that during the movement the legs extend but the hips don't. Technically they do to some point but never to full extension. The very same people consider this a “nonfunctional” movement. The same goes for the strength developed from the leg press - the legs are getting stronger but since your trunk is not involved in the exercise there is not real transfer to the squat because during a squat the legs transmit power to the bar through the spine. However to those very same people I would like to address this question: Is there any sport besides Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting and strongman where the legs are actually limited by the trunk? My favorite example is cycling which is not a strength sport but extremely leg dependent obviously. I don't see that much of a difference between cycling and leg press. Honestly, it's the same thing technically. Your legs move over the same range of motion and your torso is not upright (at least during most of the cycling).
So if the leg press is not functional because of the limited hip extension the same goes for cycling. You shouldn't do it if you want to be functional. Just perform frog jumps instead...kidding. Also while the hip extension is limited the glutes and the hamstrings are largely involved into the exercise provided that you go for full range of motion and put your feet high on the pad.

Another reason for criticizing the leg press is the lack of stabilization. This one is hard to deny. The weight is stabilized for you by the machine and since your back is taken out of the equation your abs and lumbars are not taxed that much. With that in mind people involved in sports like skating, skateboarding, balancing circus artists...etc don't  have business leg pressing if their goal is to test the stabilizers to the maximum. However since the same activities require a lot of shifting from one leg to the other the squat alone won't do it and some people may have to look into some kind of unilateral one leg work. To be honest I have a skating background and we didn't bother with that stuff and most of the better skaters didn't either. I think that if you want to get good at something you may benefit more from actual training rather than trying to poorly imitate it during your strength training.

In my eyes the leg press is a great leg exercise. It allows you to develop brute leg strength and size. Of course many of you will say: “Leg pressing 1000 pounds is easy. Try squatting half.” I agree on that point although I don't think leg pressing 1000 pounds is easy. The purpose of the leg press was never to replace the squat but rather to allow you to work your legs without the limitations caused by your upper body. Actually I like to compare the leg press to the bench press. The bench press like the leg press is done in sitting/lying position and most of the attention is placed on one half of the body while the other one is not helping that much. So while many people like training the upper body in lying position while the legs do close to nothing the very same people are against training your lower body while the upper body does close to nothing. It makes no sense. If you are going to glorify the bench press and hate on the leg press please replace the bench press with the dumbbell push press for maximal stabilization testing and full body work. How many of you are going to do it? 

"Hmm...bro...you failed again miserably. The leg press is not functional unless you were attacked by a bear while you were lying in the bed and you had to leg press it....mad?"

The purpose of the leg press is to develop leg strength while reducing the stress on your back. In very few sports your legs are limited by your upper body. When you kick somebody it's all legs, when you kick a ball it's all legs, when you jump it's all legs, when you run it's all legs...etc. It's not a crime to train your legs without upper body/trunk involvement. Leg press is one of the many ways to achieve exactly that. It also builds big and strong legs and if that's not functional I guess my time will better spend on bosu ball squats. What's you opinion?

Good luck. Have Fun.
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