How to optimize your exercise selection from the gang of nine - Part 7

Each can stress the thighs and hips differently, because of the different angles of body positioning.

Some leg presses, because of their design and insufficient adjustability, produce more compression of the lower back than others. Excessive compression must be avoided, because it can lead to injury.

There are vertical leg presses, including the Smith machine. This type puts great stress on the knees and lower back, and isn't recommended. Although these leg presses may not harm young, injury-free trainees, they can cause havoc for others.

There are 45-degree leg press machines. Some may reduce the knee and lower back stress relative to the vertical models. If used with caution and correct technique, by trainees with no injury limitations, the 45-degree leg presses can yield good results.

For most trainees, the leg press of choice will be from another category — the near-horizontal-movement type, such as the leverage-style models from Hammer Strength, and the Nautilus XP LOAD Leg Press, which are plate-loaded. Some other companies, such as Cybex and MedX, have selectorized models. These are convenient because they don't require any plate handling — leg presses typically require loading with many plates once the user is beyond the beginner stage.

A few leg press machines can be used one limb at a time, or alternately — the isolateral or unilateral models. These contrast with the usual bilateral machines that each have a single platform, which is moved by both feet together. The unilateral leg press machine gives you the option of working both limbs bilaterally, too, although each limb will have its own resistance to overcome.

A unilateral leg press applies asymmetrical and rotational stress to your lower back, because both limbs aren't pushing at the same time unless the machine is used bilaterally. Asymmetrical stress in the leg press is best avoided, because it increases the risk of injury. Because the unilateral model can be used bilaterally, be conservative and stick with using it in bilateral mode.

Front squat

If you can't back squat safely, don't have access to a parallel-grip deadlift bar or a good leg press machine, try the front squat.

Here are some advantages the front squat has over the back squat:


It produces a more upright torso, and thus less forward lean.


Comparing the same trainee, the lower back usually rounds at a greater depth in the front squat than the back squat. A deeper but still safe squat is usually possible in the front squat.

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