You might be wondering whether the leg press is going to help you jump higher or not. Maybe you don’t have access to a squat rack or have trouble with squats and are wondering if you can replace those more traditional vertical jump lifts with the leg press.
Leg press can increase your vertical jump as it is able to increase your overall lower body strength. However it isn’t the most effective lower body strength exercise as it lacks specificity to the vertical jump movement.
This article looks at the strengths and weaknesses of the leg press as it relates to vertical jump training and how you can get the most out of this exercise if you choose to include it in your strength training.
Does Leg Press Help You Jump Higher?
Improving your vertical jump is about two things: maximizing your strength and maximizing how much of that strength you can convert into the sport specific movement of the vertical jump.
You can 100% use the leg press to increase your overall lower body size and strength. Why do you think it’s such a popular exercise for bodybuilders?
The leg press hits quads, glutes, hammies, and can be used to hit calves as well.
Back when my hips and knees weren’t in the best of health, I was having a lot of issues performing squats at all. I couldn’t manage more than a couple of sets before I was in a lot of pain.
But at the same time I had no issues on the leg press and so I chose that as one of my primary movements for lower body development.
So it can be useful temporarily, but I’d recommend against making it a staple in your vertical jump training routine for the reasons we’ll get into in the next section.
Why There Are Superior Options To The Leg Press
The reason most coaches don’t recommend leg press for vertical jump training is because there’s simply better alternatives. Leg pressing works and will get you results, but the carryover to the vertical jump specifically is not as good as some other movements.
Back Squat Vs Leg Press For Vertical Jump – What Does The Research Say?
The back squat is considered to be the holy grail of vertical jump strength training because it is biomechanically quite similar to the vertical jump movement.
There was a 2016 study which looked at the development of speed strength and maximal strength (both extremely important in the vertical jump) over the course of an eight week training program. Half of the participants were told to squat for eight weeks and the other half were told to leg press for eight weeks.
The squat group exhibited a statistically significant increase in jump performance in squat jump (12.4%) and countermovement jump (12.0%). Whereas, the changes in the leg press group did not reach statistical significance and amounted to improvements in squat jump of 3.5% and countermovement jump of 0.5%. The differences between groups were statistically significant.
There are also indications that the squat exercise is more effective to increase drop jump performance.
Therefore, the squat exercise increased the performance in SJ, CMJ, and reactive strength index more effectively compared with the leg-press in a short-term intervention. Consequently, if the strength training aims at improving jump performance, the squat should be preferred because of the better transfer effects.1https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26439782/
This study alone seems like a smoking gun when it comes to the question of leg press vs back squat for vertical jump performance.
Jump Specificity & Loading
The major difference between the back squat and leg press is that in the leg press there’s very minimal loading on the hip joint compared to the back squat. You never actually perform full hip extension when doing leg press.
From a mechanical perspective, since the load is above the hips in the back squat, in the same way that it is when jumping, it does a much better job on the specificity aspect than leg press does.
In addition, the leg press is a very ‘stable’ movement. Since you’re using a machine, you’re barely activating stabilizer muscles, and really don’t have to think much about coordination or balance. All of these are important when jumping and so a back squat will do a better job of converting to any athletic movement.
Jumping is a very dynamic movement and so it’s best to train it with more dynamic compound movements. Leg press is far more of a static isolation movement than the squat is.
3 Reasons To Still Use The Leg Press For Vertical Jump Training
Now just because the squat is unequivocally better for the vertical jump than the leg press is, that doesn’t mean you should never use a leg press machine ever again. There’s a few instances where it’s actually quite a good idea.
1. It’s A Great Way To Strengthen Your Calves
Quite possibly the best way to use the leg press machine is for doing calf raises. It can be used essentially as a standing calf raise machine which is going to hit the calves in a pretty jump-specific manner.
This is a pretty decent way to improve overall calf strength and size especially since a lot of gyms don’t have many great options for standing calf raises.
2. Use It When You Can’t Squat
The leg press is also a good alternative if you don’t have access to a squat rack or aren’t able to squat.
As I mentioned earlier, squatting for me has been unfeasible at times due to hip injuries. Although I see leg press as a step down from the squat in terms of VJ carryover, it’s still going to be the next best exercise when it comes to overall leg development with a focus on the quads.
If you can’t squat due to an injury, you should be doing your absolute best to remedy said injury so you can get back to squatting sooner.
Whatever’s stopping you from squatting is going to reduce your vertical jump performance, so don’t just ignore it. Actively seek out a fix.
3. Use It For General Hypertrophy Work
If you’re just looking to put some meat on your bones and don’t care about improving your vert in the near term, leg press is arguably the better choice, especially if you aren’t great at doing squats or have pain doing them.
It’s an unpopular opinion, but the reality is that machines allow you to perform more reps with far less strain on your joints than their alternatives. Doing a hack squat will allow you to get into position to put load on your thighs, without the additional strain on your back that a typical squat would, which allows you to do more work with your legs.
Before I began my jump training, I was in a detrained state and simply wanted to get back some of the muscle I’d lost during lockdown when the gym was closed. I was super stiff and had poor mobility and squats were out of the question. But I could still do leg press and hack squats to build up that base of muscle before I started transitioning into a jump-specific strength phase.
What’s The Verdict?
Put simply, avoid the leg press if you can. As a vertical jump aspiring athlete, you should strive to master the squat and perfect this exercise and several variations of it because it’s simply going to convert better to the vertical jump movement.
So you shouldn’t base any of your leg days around the leg press in an ideal world. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for it.
Personally I think it’s a great way to hit the calves and I use it all the time for that. It’s also a good way to get some volume in if you’re too injured to squat.
At the end of the day, when looking for strength exercises to incorporate into your vertical jump training, you want to select movements that have a high carryover to jumping. This means you want the load to be in the right place and for the exercise to properly train the triple extension movement pattern.
Squats are almost always going to be a better option when it comes to vertical jump strength training but if you have to use the leg press every so often, it’s definitely not the end of the world!