ou may have heard a lot of weightlifters promoting free weights to the detriment of machines. However, there seems to be more and more evidence lately that machine training can help you attain similar results. They are more comfortable and make working out seem easier, which can push you to exercise daily and for longer. In this context, many bodybuilders have complemented squats with legs presses after finding the best leg press machine for their needs and confess that their performance has improved considerably, especially as the apparatus allows them to keep working out when they are recuperating after an injury. In fact, the apparatus engages the same large muscle categories as barbell squats do, the difference arising in the small muscle groups that get activated.
In this article, we will go through the main elements that have to do with using a leg press: what is it good for, what action does it have on your body, and how big is the difference between leg pressing and squatting.
Fitness Coach Using Leg Press
What Is a Leg Press Machine Good for?
The legitimate question to ask is if you really need an apparatus to help you do some workouts you could basically do without it. While there are a few studies already that point out that using free weights when squatting results in engaging more muscles, there are situations in which this is not the final goal and in which it is more indicated to use a Smith machine or a press to keep your legs in good shape. Let’s take a look at the profits you can get by employing a controlled set of actions instead of a free one.
It makes you want to work out more – you are working out on the horizontal, and you are seated, which by default makes the exercise easier to execute. Plus, there is no peril that the weight may fall on the side if you are not maintaining a good balance. This allows you to press the same expanse of weight you would if you would be doing barbell squats, but it feels lighter. Since the effort is not that big, you are able to work out longer and maybe get better results in the long run.
It can help get you back on your feet after an injury – machine-assisted workouts have been confirmed to be efficient for individuals who have experienced a hip or knee injury and are in the recovery stage. In this situation, you will not be able to press the same weight you would normally, but you can gradually increase the difficulty of the exercise and keep your muscles moving to prevent from getting atrophied.
It helps prevent muscle loss – as you age, you start losing muscle mass, and this can lead, in time, to reduced mobility. If you are already struggling with the problem, going for free weights can be dangerous, as you may experience a sudden loss of strength. The press instead is safe in this situation due to the two protection features it offers: the movement path of the footplate is pre-established, and you have stopping points that don’t allow the weights to come crashing down on you if you feel that you cannot sustain them anymore.
It improves your performance in other sports – this research paper describes an improvement in speed and force for individuals who used a leg press. The same measurements were performed on individuals who did squats instead, and the results were indeed better, but for someone who finds it difficult to squat with a barbell, the machine can constitute an excellent alternative.
Working Out on a Leg Press: Muscles Engaged
The main difference between a Smith machine and a leg press is that the second allows you to use only your lower body muscles. However, the level of engagement is high, and you can build up great strength in your legs that will prove to be useful if you decide to add upper body exercises to your routine. The press puts in motion the following muscles:
Quads – the anterior section of your thigh contains two big muscles: the quadriceps femoris and the Sartorius. You use your quads every time you extend your foot for walking, running, or other movements as it is the one making the connection between your hip and your knee. It is also involved when you are flexing your thigh from your hip. The press requires you to do both flexion and extension, so your quads are working heavily to push and sustain the footplate.
Glutes – this is a massive muscle group located in your buttock area just above your femur. The muscles are divided between abductors/extenders and rotators. The first category allows your leg to push the footplate by extending itself and lower it by retracting while the second category allows your femur to rotate during the movement.
Adductors – they are placed in the hip area and are the ones you engage when you bring your thighs together. Since this is a part of the pressing movement, they are involved heavily, so your mobility in the hips is improved.
Hamstrings – this group has only a secondary involvement in the exercise. It is located on the posterior side of the thigh and gets engaged especially when a vertical press is used.
Sporty Woman Doing Squats Outdoors
Is the Leg Press Machine Better than Squatting?
When you go to the gym and want to work out your legs, you have many possibilities, but the most popular remain doing squats while sustaining a barbell or lifting a bar on a Smith machine or using the press machine. These options quickly divided bodybuilders into two teams: the team rooting for free weights and the one rooting for machine training. There is a third team, which claims that combining them brings the best results. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the differences between the two types of training to see if you indeed should invest in the apparatus.
Safety – if you are lifting a barbell, you need a spotter, no matter if you are doing deadlifts or squats. If you don’t follow this guideline, you are doing it at your own risk, but you should at least be aware of the accidents that can happen when lifting without assistance. On the other hand, the machine is extremely safe, and the risk of getting injured is minimal. This is why it is recommended to do leg presses when you cannot get someone to assist you when you are squatting with a barbell. You can try to use dumbbells instead, as this is deemed to be safer. Just make sure to convert the amount of weight you can lift with a barbell into the extent of weight you can lift with dumbbells as the value is different.
Stabilization – you are not working sufficiently to your balance when using the machine, and this is because the movement path is unchanging and the apparatus is the one keeping the footplate on track. When you are doing squats with free weights, you need to get more muscles involved so you can stabilize the bar. In time, this helps you gain better balance.
Strength development – your legs are getting stronger with squats, but the difference is not huge. You can keep training on the apparatus and see excellent results.
Cardio – the drive of strength exercises is not necessarily to increase your heart rate, but this can be a secondary effect. The apparatus allows you to do more reps per minute, so you will hear your heart pounding faster.
The leg press can be seen as a good starting point for everybody who is looking to start training for strength. The workouts are easier to execute than barbell squats, and the number of leg muscles involved is considerable, so the press can be used to efficiently increase leg power. The greatest advantage with it is that you can train closer to muscular failure without fearing that you may cease and hurt yourself. Furthermore, it is ideal if you are recovering after an injury that caused you to have mobility issues since you can gradually increase the intensity of your workouts and gain the strength you need to get well.
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