Build Brutal Leg Thickness
6 Ways to Use the Leg Press
by John Meadows, CSCS
The leg press is like Olive Penderghast in the movie, "Easy A" (or for you more classically educated meatheads, Hester Prynne in "The Scarlet Letter") in that her reputation has been sullied, perhaps unjustly and disproportionately.
For some reason, leg presses are regarded as a mediocre exercise with little direct application to sport. Plus, you have to admit those videos of Revered Pat Robertson leg-pressing over a thousand pounds didn't help much either (especially since his range of motion was about as long as an angel's hair is wide).
Here's the bottom line. If you're a professional athlete, then it's true, leg presses won't have much direct carryover to the athletic field. However, if you just want to pack muscle onto your legs, then the leg press is an important tool.
Here, courtesy of John Meadows, are 6 ways to use the leg press effectively, plus one bonus method to build up those sorry-ass calves of yours.
By far, my favorite exercise in the world is barbell squats.
They're the ultimate exercise for muscular hypertrophy. In fact they're so good for building leg size that it might be tempting for you to brush off other exercises that are extremely effective and label them as "second class."
Specifically, I'm referring to the leg press. I think many have also avoided the leg press because it's not nearly as "functional" as the squat, but make no mistake, it still has many cool hypertrophy applications, especially for bodybuilders!
The leg press is a beast of an exercise, too. You can use this machine to inflict pain like perhaps no other. If your goal is to gain muscle on your legs, this machine should be part of your regimen.
Let me first talk about what this article is NOT:
1. This is not me debating which is better, squats or leg presses.
2. This is not me teaching you how to use the leg press safely.
3. This is not me teaching you basic anatomy.
4. This is not me suggesting that if you don't do leg presses, your quads will shrivel up so they look like the pasty-white, blue-veined legs of old guys who sit around the pool in Miami.
Okay, so what is this article about?
It's about how you add size and thickness to your legs using brutally effective techniques and rep schemes on the leg press, period.
None of this is rocket science, but not many are willing to take their training to this level either.
Okay, so let's get going.
6 Techniques for Intensity
1. The 3-second descent
Anybody who has read any of my stuff is familiar with this. It isn't enough to just know what a 3-second descent is. Actually DO IT! You'll feel more pain doing leg presses than ever before.
When you start to do your leg presses this way, it will lessen the amount of weight you use to a certain degree, but as your muscles adapt, they'll get stronger and your weight will come right back up, except now you'll be able to completely control the weight from start to finish.
I also find that people's adductors thicken up noticeably when using this style.
When you do these, have your partner count out loud – 1-2-3. No matter how tempting it is to drive up at 2 seconds, maintain your discipline. Take the full 3 seconds before driving back up.
Below is Brad Davis, a top national competitor and absolute beast using this technique while going to war in preparation for this year's Mr. North America. This is what Tom Platz means when he said, "Forget high weight low reps or low weight high reps; go high weight and high reps for ultimate intensity."
2. Drop sets
Most of you have probably toyed around with this one throughout your lifting careers. Most people I know are literally scared of the pain of a leg press drop set, though. You have to be a little off your rocker to enjoy these, if you know what I mean. I fit into this category perfectly.
Oh, and what about women using these techniques? Well, here's fitness model Victoria Felkar doing a monster drop set despite the fact she has no training partner for the day.
See if you can match this, guys!
3. Teardrop finishers
As your thighs blow up with blood, a great way to further rock your vastus medialis/teardrop is to drop your feet down on the leg press platform a little bit (I still want you flat footed), but keeping them close and pumping out reps. The deeper these are done, the more ROM your teardrops will get, and thus more pain and gain.
An important part of doing these is ankle flexibility, specifically as it relates to dorsiflexion. Tony Gentilcore wrote a sweet article on squats last month where he mentioned this.
Unfortunately, a lot of people lack ankle flexibility, but luckily I picked up something from a Tom Platz seminar back when I was a 14-year-old teenager. He showed us how when you moved your feet down, the weight shifted to the balls of your feet and your heels would elevate off the platform.
Then we did some gentle stretching and lo and behold, on the second try, we could easily keep pushing with our heels as they stayed flat. This basic principal not only applies to squats, but leg presses, too.
What I'll have people do who are tight in their ankles is to sit on a seated leg press and let the weight of the carriage (no added weight) gently stretch them for a few seconds, after which they get up and do a few reps of standing calf raises. Be careful not to use any weight on these, though, as you'll overstretch and you'll get hurt, probably by way of a soleus strain or tear. So again, remember less is more...don't overdo it!
If you want to get really crazy like me, you can combine all of the above. Do 3-second descents, drop sets, and then the teardrop finisher, all in the same set!
At the end I do drop my feet all the way to the bottom and let my heels come up, but save that for when you have really thick teardrops. You don't need to use much weight either. I'm proud to say that in over 25 years of training, I've never once had a knee injury.