From Dork to Diva: Leg press

July 17th, 2008  |  Published in From dork to diva  |  16 Comments

The leg press, as I am fond of telling you, is a poor substitute for squats. You cannot learn to do squats by doing the leg press, nor should you leg press till you get “strong enough to squat”. Heresy and foolishness! However, if there’s some reason you can’t squat (for example, some cyclists don’t squat because their lower backs and legs get so beaten up during cycling season), the leg press is a good option.


Here is the wrong way to leg press (you thought because it was a machine you couldn’t screw it up didn’t you?).

Notice my feet on the bottom of the footplate, which means that as the sled comes down, my knees go way over my toes, and that spells knee problems.

In addition, I am curling upwards to help push the weight up, putting stress on my neck and upper back.

My pelvis is tucking under, which puts pressure on my lower back.


This is the bottom of the leg press rep. Notice that most importantly, my feet have moved to the top of the footplate. My head and neck are relaxed and I’m beginning to breathe out as I start the push upwards. By the way, I’m grimacing in this picture like I’m pressing a zillion pounds… the leg press actually has no weight on it at all. Remember that next time you see a lot of fitness pictorials that look like the athlete is about to burst a blood vessel! Ha ha…
As I push through the middle of the rep I am careful to keep pushing through my heels and not my toes. My head neither comes up or presses down into the pad.
This is the top of the rep, and for many leg press machines the starting point. My knees are never hyperextended when my legs are straightened.


  1. Die Pinguine says:

    August 4th, 2009at 5:36 am(#)

    How much is a diva supposed to be able to leg press? Because I leg press over 200 kg and I freak out a lot of guys at the gym because of it. (Then again, how often do you see guys at the gym training legs hahaha!)

    I’m not tall either – 1.62 m. I don’t think 200 kg is that much either. Had it not been for an injury that I’m healing I could easily do more!

  2. Mistress Krista says:

    August 4th, 2009at 8:12 am(#)

    Wellll… A diva would probably squat. *wink*

  3. Die Pinguine says:

    August 6th, 2009at 6:40 am(#)

    Hehe! Not allowed to for another few weeks :-P

  4. Mikkel says:

    August 27th, 2009at 9:59 am(#)

    hmm 200kg sounds like a lot .. thats the maximum on the leg press machine in my gym.. and i have never seen anyone lift that much ..

    im a guy and i lift uhm 120kg or well if i reeeally try hard i guess i could do 140 for 5 reps .. but then there is a loong way to 200kg … so i guess ur just the hulk or something :D ..

    or maybe the machine works diffrently somehow .. ? ..

  5. Die Pinguine says:

    August 31st, 2009at 4:28 am(#)

    No, it’s a standard leg press machine like the one pictured. The most annoying part about pressing 200+ kg is having to rack and unrack the bloody machine. I really need some gym elves!

  6. Esperanita says:

    November 14th, 2009at 1:12 pm(#)

    I commonly press in the 500+ lbs. I’ve gone as high at 720 lbs, but that was close to my limit.

  7. Abigail says:

    January 1st, 2010at 7:29 am(#)

    In response to Mikkel, I truly believe that when you can squat heavy kilos, you can almost double the weight in leg press. I back squat 110kilos and can easily do 200kilos on leg press (not condoning it here! ;-) ) Doing leg press instead of squats is the equivalent IMHO jogging straight for 30mins compared to 30min interval training.

    However it does bug me to see people jump on leg press only because they’re scared of bulking up on the squats or because it looks too hard. My hand is injured at the moment and I’m only doing leg press to keep some strength up and boy oh boy I feel the embarrassment when the buff women look at me, I feel like a cheat!!

  8. allie says:

    August 6th, 2010at 3:17 am(#)

    Different feeling on leg press compared to squat. I squat 95 lbs, and leg press 180 if I come ALL the way down. Sometimes I’ll throw on 270 but then, I do not come down as low; I stop at a 90 degree angle.

  9. Sharon says:

    June 22nd, 2011at 7:57 am(#)

    I absolutely can’t perform squats or dead lifts any more since my ACL tear a few years ago, and I have a bit of arthritis. In your opinion, is the leg press and Romanian DL a decent combination as a substitute for squats? I get terrible pain during and after any exercise involving a deep knee bend.

  10. Mistress Krista says:

    June 22nd, 2011at 7:49 pm(#)

    Sharon: do what you can with what you have. Find what movements you CAN do, whatever those are, and do them with progressive resistance. Practice some one-legged work as much as possible, as you’ll need to train stability more with compromised ACL. So do 1-leg press within your pain-free, stable range of motion and over time, expand that range, repertoire, and difficulty.

  11. Sharon says:

    June 23rd, 2011at 8:17 am(#)

    Thank you, Krista. As always, sane advice!!

  12. jess says:

    November 22nd, 2011at 10:31 pm(#)


    I am not sure why I can’t get my form right with squating…I can only do full range of motion with 70lbs however I can stiff leg deadlift 175lbs…. my friends say I should be able to squat more if I can deadlift that amount or that I could have a ratio problem with hams/quads… I’ve tried finding articles on what could be wrong… I’ve always heard women had stronger quads so I’m not sure why it seems like I can’t increase the weight when I go full range of motion….any suggestions?

  13. Mistress Krista says:

    November 25th, 2011at 5:09 am(#)

    @Jess: What happens when you try?

  14. simma says:

    November 26th, 2011at 7:01 am(#)

    Also, Jess, what is your definition of “full range of motion”?

  15. Beverley says:

    February 29th, 2012at 4:05 am(#)

    the leg press in the ladies room at my gym is horizontal, not vertical- does this make a difference?
    i’m sure there’ll be one like one in the pictures somewhere in the mixed part, i just prefer the ladies part because you don’t get gangs of men stood around the machine/weights you want to use talking to a guy doing one rep every five minutes!

  16. Mistress Krista says:

    February 29th, 2012at 7:19 am(#)

    @Beverley — it doesn’t really matter. The horizontal one may arguably be better because you’re not upside-down.

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