This past weekend my wife texted me this Facebook video showing one of the most tragic leg press accidents I’ve ever seen. Syed Ahmad’s left leg snapped backwards as he was pushing a fully loaded leg press machine. Warning: The video is graphic.
Let me first say that on behalf of everyone at Men’s Health, we wish you a speedy recovery, Syed. And please keep us posted on your rehab as we’d like to feature your comeback down the road.
In addition, everyone has made mistakes in the gym, myself included. In fact, I had 4 knee surgeries by the time I was 22 from all the ego lifting I used to do back in the day. So what’s done is done and all you can do is learn from your mistakes and spread the word so others don’t make the same ones you did.
The leg press isn’t inherently a bad exercise or a dangerous piece of equipment. But like anything, if you load it up too much, bad things can happen to good people.
Believe it or not, you can actually get a better and safer training effect with the leg press while using much lighter weights. In fact, the quads and glutes actually consist of a relatively equal mix of fast- and slow-twitch muscle fibers so they are going to respond better to medium and high reps anyways. It’s actually the hamstrings that really need to be trained with lower reps and heavier loads since the muscle group consists of approximately 70 percent fast-twitch fibers. And even then you don’t really hit your hamstrings much with the leg press—hip hinge and leg curl variations are best for those hammies.
Here are 3 great examples of how to leg press safely:
1. Use a full range of motion.
Cut the load in half or more and use a full range of motion. You’ll activate more muscle, particularly in your glutes and hamstrings, and it won’t take 30 minutes to load and unload the machine. It will also instantly and dramatically reduce the injury risk with this exercise.
Much like with squatting, the ideal depth differs per individual. But ideally you want to get your thighs as close to your chest/belly as possible without rounding your lower back or letting your hips leave the back pad. In general, cut the depth at the point right before your lower back would start to round and set the stoppers on the leg press right at that height for safety.
2. Employ tempo training.
Instead of doing leg presses explosively for lower reps, try doing them at a slow, controlled tempo for higher reps. I like doing 2-minute time-under-tension sets where I lower the weight slowly for 3 to 4 seconds, pause for a second at the bottom, and then push up without fulling locking out my knees for an added constant tension stimulus. You’ll get a way better mind-muscle connection this way and it’s great for bulletproofing your joints.
3. Superset with competitive exercises.
One way to make a light weight feel heavy to your body is to pair competitive exercises that work similar muscle groups or movement patterns. For example, you could do 20 goblet squats and then immediately do leg presses for 20 reps or more. The burn will be savage and the muscle pump will be epic. This type of competitive superset or stack stimulates muscle growth via metabolic stress while using relatively light weights that spare your joints and are easy to recover from.
If you want to train hard, you need to train smart first. Please follow this advice to prevent this type of body or life-changing injury that can happen to any of us. And please swing by Syed’s Facebook page and wish him a speedy recovery. There’s no better way to elevate your day than by elevating someone else’s.