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How to Avoid Back Injuries While Using a Leg Press Machine

by 
author image John Tavolacci
Based in New York, John Tavolacci has been a leading exercise physiologist for over 14 years. His resume includes stints in cardiac rehab, sports conditioning, physical therapy and corporate wellness. He is a certified health/fitness instructor and a certified strength and conditioning specialist. Tavolacci also holds a master's degree in exercise physiology from Queens College.
How to Avoid Back Injuries While Using a Leg Press Machine
How to Avoid Back Injuries While Using a Leg Press Machine Photo Credit: kzenon/iStock/GettyImages

The leg press is an essential part of a fitness regimen, especially if you have any interest in developing your legs or lower body muscles. While this resistance machine offers a lot of benefits, it poses potential danger if stability is not maintained throughout the workout. In particular, the spinal column can become compromised when the leg press isn't used appropriately or in an unsafe manner. Here are several factors that can cause spine or back pain during the leg press.

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Seat Position

Properly positioning the seat on the machine stabilizes the entire body. Full joint stabilization allows the target muscle group—quadriceps, gluteals and hamstrings— to engage through every resisted motion.

The seat-back of a leg press should be situated so that the legs sit just shy of a right angle, and not pushed too far forward. Sit up straight with your hips and spinal column pressed against the back pad of the machine. Your head and neck should both be straight and relaxed. Let your arms hang at your sides. Your feet should be hip-width apart and pressed flat against the platform; knees remain aligned with the tips of your shoes throughout the exercise.

Excessive Resistance

Too much resistance will also cause back strain when using the leg press. An appropriate level of resistance allows you to be challenged yet also operate the machine in a controlled fashion. When you exceed this reasonable amount of resistance, you lose control over the weight and this can create an imbalance in the joints. Common joint abnormalities include overarching the lower spine, hyperextending the knee, elevating the hips, and straining the neck. All of these joint deviations have a direct and negative impact on the spinal column.

Excessive Movement Speed

Steady, measured motions make a far more productive workout. Speeding up and going too fast can also cause injury. This happens when the weight is too heavy, so your body responds to the overwhelming resistance by accelerating through the weight. Think of it this way: your muscles are just trying to get it over with. Rapid muscle movements place an exorbitant amount of stress on prime stability joints like the knees, hips, and lower spine, as well as overall stability. Maintain a workable weight and you'll be able to perform the movements at an optimal speed.

Alternative Exercises

If this machine isn't ideal for your body, needs, or goals, alternative exercises exist for every resistance machine. Here are four dumbbell substitutions you can try. Or, ball squats recruit the same target muscles and replicate joint actions as the leg press. The major differences between leg presses and ball squats are body position and type of resistance— ball squats are executed while standing and with your body weight providing the resistance. You can progress this exercise by holding external resistance, such as dumbbells or a medicine ball.

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