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  1. #1
    Member krbprogrammer's Avatar
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    Question Leg Press: Vertical vs. Horizontal

    Due to a back injury consisting of a surgically fixed ruptured disk and an existing crack in my spine (L5,S1), I cannot perform squats. Nor do I want to. I have found little information on an equivelent to squats...for a back injury. I have found that some sites say horizontal leg press over vertical. My questions are as follows:
    1. Why horizontal is safer than vertical? What is the difference?
    2. Some horizontal machines have you sit and some have you lay down? Is there a difference?
    3. What about a hack squat machine at 45 degree angle, vs. horizontal or vertical.


    Any information or other sites to refer to would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks!!
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  2. #2
    Registered User Overload's Avatar
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    Hi. I have to damaged discs in my back and have had to switch from squats to leg press. I workout at home by the way so I purchased a vertical leg press. Mine actually has a 7 degree slant to it which makes it more natural feeling.

    I mainly got a vertical because it was small enough for my home gym and I prefer vertical because it's not as easy as 45 degree leg presses where you can do so much more weight. With a vertical the weight is coming right down on you. As long as you're careful they're both safe or both types can be dangerous.

    Here's some more info:

    Leg press machines come in many different varieties and each one has a different feel. If you workout in a fairly large commercial facility, there are likely to be several types available. Try them all and pick your poison.

    Some leg presses are quite versatile because you can place your feet in various positions on the platform. Others limit some foot positions due to their construction, i.e. some portion of the sled or support mechanism may prevent you from being able to place your feet in some way without getting caught in some part of the apparatus as you perform a full range of motion. This is truer of older models than newer ones.

    Realize that no matter how you place your feet on the platform, your glutes, hamstrings and quads will be worked, but you can place more emphasis on one than the other. You can also do very productive full range of motion calf exercises on some models.

    Although leg presses don't have the learning curve of squats, there are still some definite performance cautions:

    1) NEVER bring your legs so far back that your tail bone (sacrum) or lower back rises off the back of the seat. This puts unnecessary excessive pressure on your lower back and is a prescription for injury. Some people are very flexible in the hip area, women particularly. In fact, some are so limber that they can actually bring their knees in line with their ears but their sacrum is always off the back pad, even if they don't know it. This will not make leg presses any more productive although it will make them more dangerous.

    2) Always keep some play in your knees. Never lock your knees while your legs are straight and rest in this position while catching your breath. If you're out of breath or your quads are screaming then put the safety catches back on and take a rest. You can certainly perform leg presses in a tempo fashion, but make sure that when you're pausing in the extended position that your knees are not locked. This is asking for a knee injury.

    3) Leg presses are not an Olympic Lift, thus unlike the Snatch, you do NOT want to perform them in an explosive manner nor do you want to build momentum, nor do you want to bounce at the bottom or the top. Make sure that each rep is done in a smooth, controlled fashion.

    4) If you have high blood pressure, you would be much wiser to select a machine where you are sitting upright. Many leg press versions have people either lying flat on their backs or sitting with their heads below the platform. All resistance training creates a rise in blood pressure which is of no concern as long as you don't hold your breath or if your blood pressure is normal. Even if well controlled medically, it is recommended that you consult your doctor before using a machine other than one that puts you in a seated position.

    5) Don't hold your breath for long periods of time while you strain to press a heavy load. Your body will do this automatically but not for such long periods that you will pass out or create problems. This method is termed the Valsalva Maneuver defined as forced breath-holding against a closed glottis (in the lower larynx) which restricts blood flow. The Valsalva maneuver increases the pressure in the abdomen and supports the lower spine. Without breath-holding, far greater pressure is exerted on vulnerable structures of the lumbar spine, in particular the intervetebral discs and ligaments.

    However, prolonged breath-holding (of more than a few seconds) causes a dramatic increase in blood pressure, followed by a sudden drop in this pressure after exhalation, so it is definitely not advisable for anyone, particularly older folk and those with cardiovascular disease. Unlike standing free weight exercises, good leg pressing form demands you keep your back on the pad, thus your torso is supported and there is absolutely no need to use the Valsalva Maneuver.

    6) Take care that you DO NOT allow your ankles to roll inward or outward. This often happens when using too heavy a load or as a person fatigues. Like with squats, leg presses should be done with good form and with the knee tracking over the toes. You are better advised to do 4 sets of 5-6 reps with good form than 3 sets of 10 reps if your form starts to deteriorate during the last few reps.

    Like squats, you will need to experiment, using the empty sled, to determine whether you are personally more comfortable with your feet pointed straight ahead or slightly outward when your knees track over your toes.

    The position you decide upon is dependent on your personal anatomical structure. Never point your toes inward. Some articles in the muscle glossies may recommend this as a way to hit the outer quads, but all it will do is serve to tweak your knees, especially under heavy loads.

    Performing a Full Range of Motion Press

    Keeping the do's and don'ts listed above in mind, place your feet flat on the platform of the sled slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Depending on the machine, you may be starting with your legs in the extended position or bent in toward your chest.

    For machines where you begin with your legs extended, make sure there is a bit of play in your knees then release the safety catches. Slowly lower the sled as far as you can toward your body, making sure that your sacrum and back remain pressed against the backrest at all times and that your knees track over your toes. You will probably see trainees in commercial facilities using less than stellar form. Don't copy them unless you want to join them in the orthopedist's office.

    At the bottom of the rep, pause for a second, then press the sled back up, always keeping some play in your knees. Repeat for reps paying close attention to your form. As soon as it deteriorates, stop the set and take a rest.

    Seated presses usually start with the knees being close to the chest and can be somewhat of a struggle to get in to, especially if you are not particularly flexible. However they are safer as far as the sled is concerned because it cannot crash against you. If you are using a seated press, again make sure that the sled is not so close to you in the starting position that your sacrum is off the backrest and that you do not lock your knees when you push the sled forward.

    Two and One's are Not Recommended

    This method would mean pressing in one direction with both legs, then lifting one leg off the platform and proceeding in the other direction with one leg only. Legs are either alternated or a certain amount of reps done with one leg, then switching to the other. This is often done on leg extension and leg curl machines.

    This is not recommended as good training principle on any machine for people with back problems because it's very easy to see how the one-leg version is throwing your body off balance and twisting your spine unnaturally under load. It is especially detrimental when a load is pressing unevenly against one of your hips forcing the spine out of proper alignment.
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  3. #3
    Member krbprogrammer's Avatar
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    Leg Press: vertical vs. Horizontal

    Thank you for your reply. It is very informative. I too have a home gym with little space. I have not had any exposure to a commercial gym, but I will try to see what works best. My main concern is safety to my lower back. I do not want to relive back surgery! I am not concerned about improper form. I have been working out for 2 years on my own. I am not out to impress anyone so I strongly adhere to proper form. I guess I will have to try a few machines to see what fits me best. I was just curios as to why the horizontal was preferred to vertical for people with lower back problems. I was thinking it was force and compression differences between positions on the machines.

    Thanks again for your info!
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  4. #4
    Registered User Overload's Avatar
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    Well, there is more force coming down on you with the vertical vs. the horizontal but if caution is used, it's safe IMO. My thighs act as stoppers before my back raises off the pad. Once my thighs touch my chest/abs I push up. So far it's been fine with no pain in my back although I still have the bulging discs. And I am adding weight to the bar almost every week. So I am pushing myself as well. I wouldn't be able to do that with squats at this point.

    This is the one I have in case you ever look into a vertical for home. Very compact. I love it.
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    Last edited by Overload; 01-02-2004 at 07:23 PM.
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    Message Board King MiloMan's Avatar
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    Also remember that if you are doing a 45-degree (or any other less-than-vertical angle) leg press with (for instance) 1,000 lbs worth of plates, you aren't actually pushing 1,000 lbs. Because of the angle, you'd be pushing up (in the case of a 45-degree angle) a little over 700 lbs.
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    Member krbprogrammer's Avatar
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    Leg Press: Vertical vs. Horizontal

    Thanks for your input too. For me, it is about regaining strength in my lower body and rehabilitation. The lbs. do not matter right now. Safety is my only concern. A back injury is nothing to tinker with. I am not about impressing anyone. I just love working out and the feeling it gives me.
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  7. #7
    Registered User Overload's Avatar
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    Re: Leg Press: Vertical vs. Horizontal

    Originally posted by krbprogrammer
    Thanks for your input too. For me, it is about regaining strength in my lower body and rehabilitation. The lbs. do not matter right now. Safety is my only concern. A back injury is nothing to tinker with. I am not about impressing anyone. I just love working out and the feeling it gives me.
    Those are my feelings exactly. I have modified my workouts to be more back friendly. For example, I can't do bent over rows, so I do seated rows and 1 arm DB rows so I can support my back. I've made some good gains still with the modifications I've made.

    I'm not out to compete or impress so safety first. I also do lower back and lower ab exercises to help strengthen the core muscles. Things like leg raises and hyperextensions.

    I miss squatting but I don't miss the pain I felt when my discs originally bulged.

    Take care of yourself.
    "Franco is pretty smart, but Franco's a child, and when it comes to the day of the contest, I am his father. He comes to me for advices. So it's not that hard for me to give him the wrong advices." - Arnold Schwarzenegger - Pumping Iron
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    12 to go! Steveo31's Avatar
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    Originally posted by MiloMan
    Also remember that if you are doing a 45-degree (or any other less-than-vertical angle) leg press with (for instance) 1,000 lbs worth of plates, you aren't actually pushing 1,000 lbs. Because of the angle, you'd be pushing up (in the case of a 45-degree angle) a little over 700 lbs.
    So the equation for a slant vs straight is 70% of the loaded weight...?
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    Message Board King MiloMan's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Steveo31
    So the equation for a slant vs straight is 70% of the loaded weight...?
    No, it's the sine of the angle multiplied by the weight. There will, of course, be a little bit of friction added on there, but with a well-built machine it will be almost negligible.

    (we assume 0 degrees is horizontal and 90 degrees is vertical)
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  10. #10
    Train smarter not harder amusclehead's Avatar
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    out of curiousity can you do front squatting?
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    Registered User HoboWithaRolex's Avatar
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    i like leg pressing on a hip sled
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    I need a shower Douche_Nutz's Avatar
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    Originally posted by HoboWithaRolex
    i like leg pressing on a hip sled
    Same with me.
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