What’s the Best Way to do a Barbell Leg Press?

Leg PressOkay, so it has finally happened. I began this website in 2014 and, in that time, I have done my best to create useful content on the history of the iron game. I have promoted old-school exercises, republished forgotten articles and chapters, and, in many instances, written biographies or histories of cool events. Although my frequency has now changed due to new commitments (hello newborn son!), my love for this website continues.

I have, however, come to an impasse in my training. I began lifting weights at fourteen and, now at 30, I have spent the majority of that time doing traditional lifts. While this will continue to be the case, I have, over the past two years, begun to incorporate stranger exercises. Part of this development is to escape boredom in my training, and also that my home gym is awesome but sparse (seriously, I train in my back garden without a roof or walls).

This has meant incorporating Zercher squats, continental cleans, pinch grip deadlifts, crucifix curls, and pretty much anything I can get my hands on. Seriously – I have spent my fruitful hours going through the USAWA website looking for new things to do. This is my long-winded way of saying, expect a lot more weird and wonderful posts about strange exercises on this website. We’ll still do traditional posts but lets look at the head-turning exercises every now and then.

So, without further adieu. What is the barbell leg press and how can you do it?

What is the Barbell Leg Press?

Thankfully this is a very simple thing to answer. The barbell leg press is what trainees used to do when they had no access to the leg press. It was typically done in the first half of the twentieth-century and was, for some gyms, a popular exercise.

Imagine an inverted leg press wherein your back is flat on the ground and your legs are in the air with your feet flat. Now put a barbell across those feet. Voila!

How To Do The Barbell Leg Press

In our previous post on the creation of the leg press we noted that it was largely done in a time before machines made this exercise altogether easier and safer. So to study the best way to do a barbell leg press, we need to turn back to Harry L. Good’s 1940 pamphlet, The Keynote to Great Strength.

Written at a time when Olympic weightlifting was still the training norm, Good’s book combined Olympic lifts with bodybuilding and powerlifting movements. It was also, from my perspective, a book VERY kind to those with home gyms.

Obviously, this is a niche movement and the first question to ask is how can you get a loaded barbell onto your heels. So helpfully, Good’s answer to this question was to have a training partner or assistant there to help you.

For those who trained/train alone (like me), Good recommended the following

Lie on the floor, roll the bar over the head or up-over the legs to the mid-section then raise the barbell until supported on the eblows with the forearms vertical.

From this position, press the barbell to arm’s length using the lying press or shoulder bridge position. Now place the feet under the bar.

If this modified bench press to leg press scenario didn’t work, there was one last solution.

Have a couple of stands made or get some boxes to place the barbell on making sure they are high enough to allow one ot place the feet under the bar while lying on the back.

Modern trainees could also use a powerrack.

Extra Hints

This is a combination from Good’s book, and my own experiences. First Good recommended using a relatively heaver weight to begin with as, oddly, this can actually make balancing the barbell easier. Now Good recommended higher weights – 10 to 15 reps – so don’t go too heavy!

From my own experience, it can be helpful to try this first using a Smith Machine and then progress to a barbell. Bumper plates work best in my view – they are designed to be dropped and, more importantly, they are large enough to create some space between you and the barbell. In terms of footwear, it is largely a personal choice. I have seen people using bare feet/vibram five fingers, using shoes with a slight heel or using flat soles like Vans or Converse.

Final Thoughts

Yes this is an odd exercise. But it’s also fun! Have you tried this exercise? Let us know in the comments below!

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