I’ve been in or around the gym for nearly half of my life at this point.
I’ve seen a lot. Insane feats of strength. Absolutely brutal drop sets. Fanny packs. Stringer tank tops. So many stringer tank tops.
One day that will be forever etched into my memory was the day my “gym mentor” had us perform a drop set on the bench press. For me, the set started at 315 pounds — two partners stood at each side of the barbell, stripping the weight off in intervals of 20 pounds every time I’d approach failure, until I made it all the way down to the empty barbell.
By that point, that little 45 pound bar felt heavier to me than it did the first time I ever attempted to press it as a 14 year old child.
Refusing to give up in the middle of sets like that are what separate the mentally weak from the strong. It says a lot about your character.
For a long while, I considered that monster of a drop set to be the “man maker” (or woman) of all exercises I had performed up to that point.
Then I discovered the two minute leg press.
When performed with the proper intensity, I put this exercise up against anything else I have ever — EEEEEVER — encountered within the confines of a gym wall.
There are two ways that I like to utilize this movement.
Option #1: As a primer
One way I’ve experimented with this exercise is to use it as a primer for the rest of your training session.
By placing the movement first, you’ve got a few advantages going for you:
- You don’t have that psychological cloud hanging over your head throughout your workout. Some may tend to be much more conservative than necessary with the rest of their training session if they feel the need to “stay fresh” for the impending two-minute leg press. Or even worse, you may feel too mentally depleted by the end of your workout to even muster up the courage to give it a try at all. Getting it over with first won’t allow you to cop out at the end of your session when you’re already fatigued, tired, and chock full of excuses not to go for it.
- This works as a fantastic pre-fatiguing movement for the legs. After the two minute leg press, you can complete the rest of your workout as usual, but you’ll be able to achieve a training effect with considerably less weight than you’d normally need to use. This is a great benefit for lifters that are trying to work around an injury, and need to take advantage of as many ways as they can to make light weights feel heavy.
- If your legs weren’t thoroughly “warmed up” before, they sure are now.
Option #2: As a finisher
To me, the far more physically (and mentally) taxing of the two options is to place this movement at the tail end of your training session.
If you really want to test your mettle, utilize the two minute leg press as a final, all out effort to exhaust the legs as thoroughly as possible at the end of your regularly scheduled leg day.
This was the route my training partner and I took today, and it was the direct motivation behind my writing this article.
It should go without saying, but you’re not going to be handling the typical weight one may be accustomed to leg pressing for the traditional “3 sets of 8 to 12” here. Leave your ego at the door and embrace the burn. More on that later.
Where to place the feet on the leg press:
- To emphasize the quadriceps, place the feet lower on the sled.
- To emphasize the hamstrings, place the feet higher on the sled.
- Taking a wider-than-shoulder width stance will recruit more of the inner thigh musculature.
- Taking a narrower-than-shoulder width stance will recruit more of the outer thigh musculature.
A word on technique:
- Strive for full range of motion, but do not lower the weight so far that your lower back begins to round, losing contact with the leg press. Utilize the range of motion that you are most capable of maintaining good form with.
- Mobility issues at the hips or ankles may make any squatting motion — such as leg presses — feel very restricted and uncomfortable. This is something that can be addressed through proper mobility work.
- Even with great hip & ankle mobility, some people’s skeletal structures are simply not built to achieve “ass to grass” range of motion when performing a squat pattern, which would translate to “knees to chest” on the leg press. That’s fine. Use the ROM best suited for your specific body type.
- For an unforgiving quad blast, I find placing my feet low and close together on the sled to be blissfully torturous.
How much weight should I use?
Start with a very conservative weight. I recommend that you establish a weight that you can comfortably press for 20 high quality reps, then cut that weight in half to perform the two minute leg press.
Feel like you need to go even lighter than that? Go right ahead. You’re only going to cheat yourself and waste valuable time by performing half-assed reps with more weight than you can handle.
What do you consider “proper intensity”?
Rather I place this movement first or last, my goal here is CONSTANT time under tension. Two minutes. No rest. No pausing mid-set. The legs are constantly in motion from start to finish. (Did I mention this is why I advocate using really light weight?)
Towards the end of the two minutes, if I have to, I’ll place my hands on my thighs to perform some assisted reps. Oddly, I’ve found a psychological benefit in simply letting my hands lay dormant on my thighs throughout the set, providing no real assistance whatsoever; it’s one of those strange, placebo effect-like advantages — knowing that something is “there” to bail you out if you feel like you can’t take it anymore.
Allow me to state the obvious:
I know the following might be a bit of a “well, duh” statement for a lot of the people reading this. But my conscience will not allow me to create an article about pushing yourself to such extremes without reiterating that all exercises are not created equal
The leg press is a great, low risk tool to really push your legs & mental limitations to their threshold; however, I feel compelled to mention that I would NEVER advocate training in such a fashion when performing exercises such as barbell squats and deadlifts. I always recommend leaving 1–2 reps in the tank when it comes to lifts that create such shear force on the spine. It’s not worth the risk of serious injury.
How you do one thing is how you do everything …
Rather you place it first or last in your workout, I’ve found that the two minute leg press is very good at providing us with two things: really sore quads and a valuable life lesson.
Physiologically, it’s a tremendous challenge for the lower body, but perhaps more importantly than that, it instills within us the ability to get comfortable with things getting really, really uncomfortable in life.
Financial situation suck? Don’t give up.
Hating your job these days? Don’t give up.
Still searching for your true calling? Don’t give up.
Thighs feel like they’re being dipped in a scorching hot vat of melted butter by the 1:30 mark during the two minute leg press? Don’t give up.
Things do not always go the way we want them to in life. In fact, way more often than not, our situations are not what we consider to be “ideal”.
Whatever it is you may be facing, having the mental tenacity to see those tough times through to the end is what separates the overachievers from the mediocre.
You can do it. Just think of the two minute leg press.
Give it a try and let me know what you think.