Arguably one of the most popular leg exercises at the gym is the leg press. A fairly seldom seen version of this is the single leg press. By using only one leg at a time, you can improve your mind-muscle connection and even make up for muscular imbalances. Below are a few ideas on how to use this seldom seen exercise to improve your leg press workout.
If you’re going to add singles to your leg press workout, it should be noted that you need to use your head when performing them. Too many gym goers treat the leg press as an ego lift, loading entirely too much weight onto the machine and using a very short range of motion. While this might make for a great social media picture, it’s horrible for strength and muscular development. Don’t do it.
Instead, the single leg press should actually be thought of as a muscle size and quality builder. Don’t worry about going super-heavy. Instead, keep the weight and volume more moderate. 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps is more than enough.
Because you’re interested in muscle quality and density with this movement, use a little bit slower rep cadence. Have each eccentric and concentric last 2-3 seconds with minimal pause at the bottom. Holding the contraction at the top can improve muscle quality even more, but see the below on keeping the knee safe.
It would seem like the form for this exercise should be fairly straightforward. However, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind to maximize your leg press workout. The first is foot placement. With a standard leg press, you’d want your feet to be roughly shoulder-width apart. However, because you’re only using one leg, place your foot closer to the middle of the platform so as to maintain balance of the unit.
It bears mentioning that this can vary, depending on the type of leg press you’re using. A machine with a selectorized weight stack will usually be smoother than a free standing unit that you load weight plates onto.
What type of machine you’re using will also dictate how low you descend. Since every machine is different, there’s no one specific prescription on how far down you should go. Just know that you don’t want to lower so much that your lower back starts to round and your butt possibly even comes up off the bench/pad.
Placing your foot higher or lower on the platform can also alter how it hits your leg. This is important because your leg press workout should be as much about improving muscle quality as it is anything else. Going lower on the platform focuses more on the quads, while going higher on the platform can actually put a good bit of emphasis on the hamstrings. Similarly, rotating your foot outward will focus more on the inner quad, while pointing your toes inward will hit the outer quad.
Lastly, you don’t want to push all the way to lockout. Instead, stop just before full extension and consciously try to squeeze your quads hard. Going all the way to lockout facilitates a better contraction, but can easily open yourself up to hyperextending the knee, too. This is especially true if you’re on a 45-degree leg press using a lot of weight.
In the end, you just have to use your head. The ideal leg press workout would better focus on muscle quality than it would strength. You can do extra sets of this single leg variation for your weaker/smaller leg to balance out your quads, and moving your foot around on the platform can alter exactly how the quad is hit. Intelligent addition of this exercise to your leg press workout can bolster your quad development much more and much faster than you very well might think.