Leg presses and deadlifts may seem like entirely different exercises. Leg presses are performed lying or sitting down on a machine, while deadlifts require that you stand up while lifting free-weights. If your deadlift stalls, however, leg presses can be an extremely useful exercise for helping you burst through that plateau and carry on your quest to become a deadlift queen.
Deadlifts focus on your posterior chain -- the hamstring, butt and lower back muscles -- but they also work your mid- and upper-back, quads, forearms, traps, biceps and core. Clearly, leg presses don't do much for your upper body as you're not using your arms at any time during the exercise and your core isn't involved as you're lying down. However, leg presses do work your quads, hamstrings, glutes and calves.
Both exercises can be classified as compound movements. These are exercises that work multiple muscle groups and joints, rather than isolating just one area. This means that leg presses have far more carryover to deadlift strength than lower body isolation moves, such as leg extensions, leg curls or calf raises.
Sets, Reps and Programming
Women are often afraid to lift heavy for fear of getting big and bulky, writes strength coach Nia Shanks in an article for TribeSports.com. However, by far the best way to increase strength is to lift in the five- to eight-reps range using a challenging weight. Perform leg presses after your deadlifts, or in a different session two to three days later in the week. Aim for three to four sets of five to eight reps.
While you can use leg presses to increase your deadlift strength, they may not be the best choice as an ancillary exercise. Deadlifts are a truly functional movement, claims Shanks, as they work virtually your whole body and require a great deal of core strength. Machine exercises such as leg presses, on the other hand, don't have as much carryover to functional strength as free-weights do, according to the McKinley Health Center at the University of Illinois. Therefore, you may be better off looking at exercises such as lunges, glute bridge raises and stiff-legged deadlifts to increase your regular deadlift before turning to the leg press.
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