How to optimize your exercise selection from the gang of nine - Part 6

Parallel-grip bar design — specifically the spacing between the gripping sites, and room inside the bar — affect stance, and stance affects technique. There isn't the same stance width freedom as in the squat, because the gripping sites' placement sets the limit on stance width. If you plan to get a parallel-grip bar, check with the manufacturer that the gripping sites will be spaced adequately for you — according to your physical size — or otherwise you could be so constrained that you may not be able to parallel-grip deadlift safely.

In my youth I had a blind devotion to the back squat that deflected me from serious pursuit of variations of the deadlift. With hindsight, I should have exploited the potential of the conventional deadlift, the parallel-grip deadlift, and the back squat (but with better form than I actually used). I inherited a physical structure more suited to deadlifting movements than barbell squatting.

Leg press

There are at least four possible ways of using the leg press:


As one of the major, multi-joint exercises in its own right, regardless of whether or not you squat well.


An alternative to the squat when a break from squatting is desired.


A squat alternative for trainees who have leverages that make the squat only a marginally effective if not dangerous exercise.


A substitute for the squat when it (the squat) can't be performed because of lower-back or knee limitations, or recovery issues.

The critical caveat is that the leg press is performed safely and effectively on a machine that suits you.

The leg press is technically simpler than the squat and the parallel-grip deadlift. It's easier to maintain correct technique while leg pressing intensively than it is while squatting or parallel-grip deadlifting.

Assuming that you use correct technique, the leg press enables you to work your thighs and hips hard while your lower back is involved only minimally, as a stabilizer. This is great for trainees who have lower-back problems, or lower backs that fail before their thighs, when squatting. With some leg press machines, because of the control over pressing depth and foot placement, knee stress may be lessened in the leg press relative to the squat. This may still enable trainees with knee limitations to work their thighs and hips hard and heavily.

Leg press machines

The major problem with the leg press is the need for a safe machine. There are several types of leg presses.

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