Rob Pilger - Phone: 904.463.1668 .

The Leg Press a closer look.

By Rob Pilger

The scope of this article will be a brief overview of dissecting the leg press.

A measure of strength?

At a commercial gym I train clients. There is always a man or two who load the 45 degree leg press up with 45lb plates until it's full and press it like it is a great achievement. Impressive? maybe to the untrained eye. The fact of the matter is that you are ONLY pressing 71% of the weight!  This is to the distance the object is moved against gravity. So if you have 1000lbs of weight on the leg press you are in fact pressing 700lbs. On a 30 degree press you are lifting 50%, and on a 60 degree press you are lifting a better 87%. I am sure after reading this those of you reading this will think twice about how they take on this exercise.


Get your back into it.

The back is not involved in the leg press. Over time this could cause a muscle imbalance between the trunk erectors and the legs. What good is this? Why not do exercises that challenge the whole body? You are in a stabilized, fixed environment with the leg press, not near enough neurological challenge as there is in the squat.

A true measure of strength

People who have leg pressed there brains out and come back to the squat usually notice that they are not good at it. Muscle imbalances, motor engram, stabilizer issues are likely culprit. The squat should not be feared as it is often is by trainees that's why most stick to the leg press to inflate there egos with what they think are supra maximal loads. But we now know whats really happening. There technique and strength are terrible at true lifts like the squat, and dead-lift. Don't run from this exercises attack them and master them. These lifts are true measures of strength, and performance.

Is the leg press that bad?

The leg press is not bad. It can be used for hypertrophy gains. I do know several lifters who are very strong on the real lifts who use the press on occasion. Note occasion, not all the time. This is my rant and point of the article. Machines are tools use them accordingly in your program. Athletes concerned with performance need not use them. Judge a person’s strength in a free weight lift or unstable environment. That is the real world strength carryover.


RTS Manual  2004 Focus on Fitness

Is Doing Abs a Waste of Time?  -  by Mike Boyle

I can’t even tell you how often I hear someone at the end of the workout say something like “I need to do more abs, I want to get that six-pack.” The truth is that passing on a sixpack is a better way to get a six-pack than six hundred sit-ups. The key to abdominal definition is the visibility of the abdominal musculature, not the strength of the muscles. You can do one million sit-ups, crunches or whatever exercise you want and it will have no effect on abdominal definition. When people ask me the best exercise for abs I tell them table push-aways. It usually takes a few minutes for them to get it. It’s not a joke, it’s the truth. If you want better abs, eat less and train more but, don’t just train your abs. The idea of working abs to get abs is one of the oldest misconceptions in training. This goes back to the idea of spot reduction. Spot reduction has never worked and will never work. The research has been done over and over and the answer is always the same. You can’t decrease the fat layer on a particular area by working that area. That means that the guys doing sit-ups to lose abdominal fat and the lady sitting on the adductor (inner thigh) machine are both wasting their time. Good total body work is, was, and always will be the key to fat loss.

Want better abdominal definition? Finish every workout with some hard interval training instead of extra sit-ups or crunches. Interval training or what is currently called High Intensity Interval Training (abbreviated HIIT) is the real key to fat loss and the resulting definition. Interval training burns more calories than steady state aerobic training and because it is a sprint program you get a sprinters body.

Abdominal training may reduce the diameter of the waistline but, will not do anything to reduce body fat. The truth is there are lots of good reasons to do abdominal work or core training as we now like to call it. A strong core ( strong abs) is one of the keys in the prevention of back pain. A strong core will help you look better and improve performance in a host of sports but, sit-ups or any other abdominal exercise will not reduce body fat.

Another good tip: Don’t just do 100’s of crunches. A good abdominal or core program is a lot more than crunches. In fact a great deal of your core work should be isometric exercises like front planks and side planks. One of the major functions of the core musculature is the prevention of motion. What does that mean? It means that the abdominals are great stabilizers. Work on the stability function, not just on flexion and extension.

Choosing Functional Exercises - Michael Boyle


After twenty years in the field of strength and conditioning I have become a little bit of a cynic. I have tried to convince myself that coaches are always looking for the best programs and exercises that will both reduce the incidence of injury and improve performance. However, when I see the programs that many of our elite athletes are given I am both confused and disappointed. Coaches continue to prescribe exercises like leg extensions, leg curls and leg presses even when it appears that there is little or no science to support the prescription of these exercises. Functional anatomy is not a theory. What we know about function is factual and is based on science and research. The idea that we need to isolate a muscle or that we need certain single joint exercises for injury prevention has not been proven. Coaches need to move forward in their programming and begin to use exercises that make sense and will actually reduce injury potential.

The functional continuum was first introduced in "Functional Training for Sports" to illustrate exercise choices on a continuum from least functional to most functional. The chart groups exercises by category. Exercises are broken down into lower-body exercises, upper-body exercises, and torso or core strength exercises. The categories are then further broken down into knee dominant exercise, hip dominant exercise, upper body pushing exercises and upper body pulling exercises. The exercises progress on the continuum from primarily machine-based exercises to exercises done primarily in the standing position. Exercises also progress from a stable system that does not stress stabilizers or neutralizers to so-called functional exercises that are designed specifically to stress stabilizers or neutralizers. Remember, stabilizers provide stability while neutralizers prevent unwanted motion.

The first exercise sequence on the chart is of knee-dominant lower-body exercises. The continuum begins with the lying leg press as this is the least functional multi-joint lower body exercise I can envision. In a leg press, as with most machine exercises, the athlete simply functions as the engine or force producer. All of the stability is provide by the machine. The second exercise on the continuum would be a standing machine squat. We have progressed up the functional continuum to a standing position. The standing position is more sport specific than lying and may incorporate additional muscles not stressed in the leg press. However, stability is still provided by the machine. The third step up the functional continuum is to move to a standing squatting exercise. The athlete is again standing as in the machine squat but is self-stabilizing. This will obviously stress the core to a greater degree. Interestingly enough many coaches consider squatting to be a good core exercise even though there is no unilateral or rotational stress. In fact some coaches think that is enough core exercise. The standing two leg squat is the point that even good strength coaches often stop. Many coaches continue to brag about the use of "ground-based" exercises but neglect to think a step or two further. The next step in the progression and in the thought process should be to work on one leg.

From a functional anatomical standpoint it is absolutely critical to be on one leg. Why? Think about this for a moment. How many legs do you run on at a time? Just one. Have you ever had an athlete pull their hamstrings (bilaterally)? The muscles that support the lower leg in single leg stance (quadratus, glute medius, and adductors) are not nearly as active in double leg exercise. The final step up the continuum is to perform a one-leg squat while standing on an unstable surface. Now the athlete must engage the prime movers, stabilizers and neutralizers while dealing with the additional proprioceptive input provided by the instability of the pad.

The interesting thing about functional exercise is that it seems to make some old school coaches nervous. I don’t know why science or progress makes people nervous. Opponents of the concept of functional training are consistently trotting out poorly done studies that attempt to show functional training as a fad. Recently I was told that functional exercise is fine for rehab and will help restore proprioception but, that it doesn’t work with healthy athletes. I will tell you that my experience does not bear this out. In six years of professional or Olympic-level soccer (4 women’s, 2 men’s seasons) we had no ACL tears. This is obviously anecdotal but, powerful nonetheless.

The concepts described in the functional continuum can be applied to any region of the body. To use an overused cliché, "Think outside the box". Don’t do what you have always done. Don’t do what everyone else does. Don’t copy powerlifters or weightlifters, they are training for their sport, not yours. Many of the concepts of powerlifting or Olympic-style lifting can be applied to a sound strength program but, remember that sport is different because we so infrequently have two feet in contact with the ground. You don’t have to take exercises like squats or deadlifts out of your program but, compliment them with assistance exercises that are higher on the functional continuum. There is nothing wrong with good old two-legged strength training.

Some suggestions:

Instead of leg extensions try split squats or another single leg squat variation.

Why? Split squats incorporate balance, flexibility and single leg strength.

Instead of leg curls try a single leg straight leg deadlift.

Why? The hamstring is more of a hip extensor than a knee flexor. In fact

The hamstring is actually a resistor of leg extension in sprinting.

Instead of dumbbell bench press try an alternating dumbbell bench press where you stabilize the dumbbell at the top.

Why? You can develop core strength, shoulder stability and single arm strength.

When choosing exercises ask yourself "why do you do them". What is the reason? If the reason is because everyone else does or because that’s the way you have always done it, then think again.

SUMMARY: The functionality of an exercise should be a key factor in choosing exercises for athletic development. Functional exercises will, by definition, be specific to a sport or activity. Progression from double-leg to single leg exercises is important to most ground-based sports.

What Functional Training Really Is - Michael Boyle

Reprinted from Perform Better - The Magazine - Volume 1 #1 - April 2006

I am often confused when I encounter opponents of functional training. The concept of functional training seems so common sense and intuitive to me that I used to struggle to find what could be objectionable to others. It was not until I read Charles Staley's description of functional training in his new book that I realized why so many people seem so "anti" functional training. Staley describes functional training in his new book Muscle Logic as "exercises performed on various devices -such as exercise balls, foam rollers, and "wobble boards"- that are designed to create a more challenging environment for the purpose of involving more of the smaller and more deeply located stabilizer muscles." Staley goes on to state that "functional training advocates purport that greater stabilizer involvement is the key to enhanced performance and overall training results". As the author of Functional Training for Sports (Human Kinetics,2003), I can see that I obviously failed in my first attempt to describe functional training because an intelligent and well-read man like Charles Staley, himself a widely published author, does not appear understand the basic concept of functional training as I see it.

Function is, essentially, purpose. Functional training can therefore be described as purposeful training. I firmly believe many, both proponents and opponents, have misconstrued the essence of functional training.

Functional training and unstable surface training are not synonymous. Unstable surface training is one aspect of the larger thought process that makes up functional training. Unfortunately these unstable pieces have become so synonymous with functional training that many feel they are one and the same. Functional training is not so much about the gadgets used by physical therapists in rehab but, about the knowledge that physical therapists have gained in regard to why injuries occur. I think this is where people get confused. It's not about the gadgets, it's about the information. Functional training shifts the focus of exercises to incorporate stabilizer muscles because this is what physical therapists reported as the source of injury in my injured clients.

Let me explain my path to becoming a believer in functional training. Every time I sent a client to a physical therapist with an injury the report that came back was simple. Most often the injury occurred because a stabilizing muscle was weak and stress was shifted to another muscle. Most frequently, the weak muscles were stabilizers of the hip, spine or scapulo-thoracic joint. A trend became obvious. It always seemed to be the same muscles. Therapists frequently pointed at the deep abdominal muscles ( transverse abdominus and internal oblique), hip stabilizers ( gluteus medius, adductors and quadratus lumborum, and hip external rotators), and scapula retractors ( lower traps, and rhomboids) as being weak. Each weak group seemed to be the cause of a different problem.

Athletes or clients with low back pain were usually weak in the deep abdominals. Athletes or clients with knee problems usually had weak hip stabilizers. Lastly, those with rotator cuff issues seemed to universally have issues with scapula retractors and stabilizers. Common sense made me develop so called "functional training" protocols. We were seeing the same weaknesses over and over, why not address them? We didn't throw out the baby with the bathwater, we simply made a point of addressing muscles that our trainers and therapists were saying were consistently weak even though our athletes trained with the basic multi-joint

exercises we had always used. I didn't do this because it was trendy, I did this because I wanted results. My number one goal is to reduce my athletes incidence of injury. Even performance enhancement comes in second to injury reduction.

Interestingly enough after reading Charles Staley description of functional training I went back to my book to see how many exercises I had demonstrated that used "exercise balls, foam roller or wobble boards". I counted roughly one hundred and ten exercises depicted in the book. Four used unstable surfaces and ten used a stability ball. Most of the stability ball exercises were core training exercises. I was beginning to question myself. Had I given people the wrong impression? I felt better when I realized that less than fifteen percent of the exercises described in an entire book devoted entirely to functional training used unstable devices or for that matter, any devices at all. I felt even better when I realized that Staley's own book depicts approximately 56 exercises and three are

unstable in some way. Even Staley himself is over 5 percent. In fact the description of functional training in Functional Training for Sports is clear " Functional training is best described as a continuum of exercises that teach athletes to handle their own body weight in all planes of movement" the book goes on to state "In its simplest form, functional training teaches athletes how to handle their own body weight. The coach uses body weight as resistance and attempts to employ positions that make sense to the participant.”

How did we get so confused? I think we got confused because other so-called experts wanted to confuse us. One way to detract from something is to emphasize a perceived negative. Those who dislike functional training tend to be strength athletes who I believe fear change. When performance coaches no longer need to look to powerlifters, Olympic lifters or bodybuilders for their information these sports that are already struggling to maintain popularity slip further away from the public eye. I believe many of the opponents of functional training dislike it for the same reason I like It. It works and it makes sense. As a former powerlifter myself, I can tell you that watching collegiate or professional athletes train like powerlifters, Olympic lifters or bodybuilders began to make less and less sense to me as my knowledge base expanded. It was not that I didn't appreciate the contributions of these sports to our knowledge base, just that I realized there was so much more as I began to develop a deeper understanding of anatomy and of injury mechanisms.

What functional training really comes down to is the application of functional anatomy to training. It is taking what we know and using that information to help us select exercises that will reduce incidence of injury and improve performance. Instability is a potential progression but, not the fundamental driver.

  Rob Pilger - Phone: 904.463.1668 .