Archive for the tag - squats

Squats Vs. Leg Press: Which is Better?

Which is more effective at building stronger, more muscular legs? The squat? Or the leg press machine? It’s a controversial question that has been debated for decades.

Like so many things in fitness, there’s no easy answer – and it really depends on the individual. Ability level, body type and injuries must all be taken into consideration.

The Leg Press

The leg press machine offers a few great advantages over traditional squats.

For one, it’s easy for beginners to understand the machine – and, with a little guidance from a trainer – to perform the exercise in good form. When using the leg press, it’s important for the lower back to stay flat against the machine. At the bottom position, a rounded lower back can leave the spine susceptible to dangerously large compression loads. The leg press certainly isn’t fool-proof, but it’s easier to master than a squat.

In addition, when performed properly – and unlike traditional squats – leg press machines take the lower back out of the equation. For people with lower back issues, this can be a huge benefit. When people with back issues perform a traditional squat, their lower back may give out before the leg muscle are fatigued.

Squats

While the leg press doesn’t offer adjustments for different body structures, a squat is unique to you. Instead of forcing your body to work within the confines of an apparatus designed by a manufacturer, a squat accommodates many different body structures. As a result, exercisers are able to avoid the postural or movement dysfunctions that can result from the leg press machine.

Moreover, squats require – and thus build – stabilization. In everyday activities and in sports, stabilization is hugely important. One of the reasons that people are able to work with more weight on the leg press machine is that it does the stabilizing work for you. While the leg press eliminates balance from the exercise, it’s not eliminated from our lives – and so it’s an important skill to develop. This gives squats an important advantage.

We also know that growth hormone and testosterone are important for building muscles. It’s believed that squats are one of the most effective resistance exercises (including leg presses) for increasing those hormone levels.

Conclusion

Both squats and leg presses can be important exercises in any leg workout. Each exercise offers unique benefits to different exercisers – and so it’s just a matter of finding which works best for you. Personally, I like to start my leg workout with squats – and then move to the leg press to fully fatigue the muscles.

And remember, if you’re trying to build muscle, then it’s important to push yourself to higher levels of resistance. If you’re doing the same amount of weight each week – be it on the leg press or in a squat – then you won’t see the muscle growth for which you’re looking.

Which do you prefer? The leg press? Or the squat? Let me know in the comments below!

Is the Smith Machine Good?

Dear Davey,

I am new to working out and recently joined Planet Fitness, but the free weights are very limited. A majority of the exercises that I want to perform use barbells and the closest thing they have is a Smith Machine. How do you feel about the Smith Machine?

From,
Jason

Hey Jason,

Congratulations on joining a gym and prioritizing fitness. The first step is always the hardest – and so you’re well on your way to achieving your fitness goals!

As it turns out, the Smith Machine was invented by fitness guru Jack LaLanne – and then later improved by fitness executive Rudy Smith in the 1950s. Basically, the Smith Machine is an apparatus with a barbell that runs vertically along two guided rods. By twisting your wrists, you can rack the barbell on any of the many joints that run along the frame.

Because the barbell runs along rods for guidance, the idea is that it’s a safer alternative to typical squats which are often performed in a power cage. Because the Smith Machine helps stabilize the barbell, lifters can generally use heavier weights – and no spotter is required.

It sounds good on paper, but the reality is quite different.

Proper Form and Bar Movement

Whether you are using the Smith Machine for squats, bench pressing or shoulder lifts, one must consider that – in real life – barbells rarely follow a straight vertical path. Our bodies are all different and we all have varying flexibility, imbalances and bodily dimensions. As we squat, for example, there is constant shifting and balancing as we perform the exercise.

Because the Smith Machine takes a one-size-fits-all approach, there is additional strain placed on joints, tendons and ligaments to accommodate the straight vertical path. Over time, this can create discomfort or even injury.

Stabilizer Muscles

A friend of mine switched from the bench press to the Smith Machine. On the bench press, he could lift 200 pounds. Within a month or two, he was up to 240 pounds on the Smith Machine’s chest press. This seemed like great progress – until he went back to the bench press. He could only lift 180 pounds, meaning he had actually lost real-world strength.

The Smith Machine gives a false sense of progress because it does all the stabilizing work for you. The bench press, for example, doesn’t just involve your chest muscles. Smaller stabilizer muscles must also work to help balance the bar – and this is a good thing. For real world strength, those stabilizer muscles are absolutely necessary. When using a Smith Machine, you cut them out of the picture.

Conclusion

I’d keep my distance from the Smith Machine and stick with free weights whenever possible. Though your gym may not have barbells, there are many effective dumbbell exercises that you can use to train your muscles effectively. Down the road, if you find that the lack of equipment is limiting your results, it may be time to find a new gym.

Love,
Davey

Boost Your Workout: A Few Inches Can Make a Big Difference!

Going a few inches lower can yield big results...

I break my muscle groups into different days at the gym; today was a leg day. My leg workouts are relatively strong, but they feel like they’ve lost some intensity in recent months. I’ve slowly been increasing the amount of resistance that I use, but to little avail. My leg workouts haven’t been kicking my ass. Doing more of the same will get more of the same – so something needed to change.

Today, I decided to do something a little different. I do a variety of leg exercises that involve squatting or pressing with my legs. Instead of stopping where I normally stop (when my thighs are parallel to the floor or apparatus), I squatted or pressed down a few inches lower. And the difference was unbelievable. Tomorrow, I’m going to be walking bow-legged; I can feel the soreness creeping in already.

Try going a few inches lower if you feel like you’ve reached a results plateau. It’s a simple tip that doesn’t involve changing much at all – you can continue with your same program, doing your same routine. Just go a little lower, and feel the burn.

I know what you’re thinking: How did Davey Wavey manage to go this whole post about inches without the obligatory penis size mention? Ooo… well, there it is.

P.S. The general recommendation when squatting or pressing with your legs is that your thighs should be parallel to the floor or apparatus. Higher than that, and you’re losing some of the benefit to your quads. Go lower, and you can reap additional gains.

Quick Tip: 2 Second Pause for Better Results.

Looks like we've got ourselves a screamer!

Have two seconds? Great – that’s all you’ll need for this super quick fitness tip.

Try pausing for two seconds between your movements during exercise. For example, if performing squats, pause when your butt is lowest to the ground before you press back up. During a curl, pause when you’ve fully contracted your bicep, and then again when your arm is fully extended. You can use the 2 second pause during any strength training exercise.

Pausing for just two seconds will release any of the momentum that you might otherwise have when reversing directions. The momentum helps us cheat; without it, you’re relying entirely on muscle power. Which, when you’re trying to build muscle, is a good thing.

Sure, it makes the exercise harder – and you may have to do fewer reps and/or sets. But it will give you better results and a harder workout. Besides, who is looking for shortcuts?