Should You Be Using the Leg Press Machine?

If you want to build functional (useful) strength that translates to athletics, day-to-day life and long term quality of life, ditch the leg press.


For many people, the leg press machine is a staple of their “leg day” workout.

“I used to leg press ___ lbs” is something I hear quite frequently from people trying to portray to me how strong their legs used to be.  Usually, I just bite my tongue because they’re just trying to tell me how they used to be in shape.

However, I do wish I can make the following points to them:

A functional movement is a movement pattern we are biomechanically designed to perform.

  • It translates to athletics, day-to-day life and “feels natural” when you do it correctly.
  • If you preform functional movements correctly, you actually lower your potential for aches, pain and injury.
  • Your skeletal muscles and joints are designed to work together to produce functional movements.
  • When preforming a squat with load, the weakest muscle group will be the limiting factor to how much you can squat

Squatting is one of the primary movement patterns


  • Squatting is a natural movement that is good for you if done correctly.
  • Every toddler I’ve ever seen has a great squat.
  • Saying squatting is bad for your knees is analogous to saying walking is bad for your ankles.  It could be…..but it’s not inherent.  The person is just not familiar with the mechanics of squatting.  Your joints are meant to bear stress.  It is just not meant to bear unbalanced stress (ie front loading stress on your knees)
  • I’d estimate 9 out of 10 newbies I coach are anterior dominant in their squat and have problems engaging their abductors (Glute min and med)
    • Being anterior dominant, they are more comfortable using their quads as opposed to their glutes and they shift their center of mass forward when they squat.  This puts extra stress on the knees in a way it is not designed to bear load.
    • Abductors are responsible for trunk stability (keeping the torso from collapsing).  When I have them squat properly using their glutes, they often can’t keep their chest up because the abductors are too weak or just aren’t firing.
    • However, if I have them do a few abductor activation exercises and then retest the squat, we usually see a noticeable difference.  If they work on it consistently for 2-3 weeks, there is usually a DRASTIC difference in their squat.
  • The most common limiting factor I see for someone going for a squat max is their abductors.

-The functional movement that the leg press is trying to mimic is the squat

  • The leg press is a simple machine to use.  You can just load weights on and press.
  • The simplicity actually takes away from vital components of squatting.
    • It significantly lowers the need to engage your core (to lock your spine in a neutral position).
    • It puts more load on the quads (anterior dominant) and takes away the need to engage your abductors.
    • You don’t have to worry about balance and stabilization through free space.
  • It trains a dysfunctional and dangerous squat while making people think they are getting stronger.

This principle applies to most other machines in a gym.  The seven basic movement patterns are meant to be done through free space with the proper mechanics.  For anyone interested in exercise, I’d highly recommend taking the time to learn these movements from a good trainer.  You don’t have to keep going to him/her, but getting the fundamentals down will have a profound impact on your physical health for the rest of your life.  If you are interested in learning the proper mechanics of these movements, we offer in depth one-on-one classes that are applicable to any fitness level.  Shoot me a message at 407-620-0929 to get started!