In this article, we will compare Barbell Lunges and Leg Press, two popular choices for targeting the muscles of the lower body.
Both of these exercises can be a valuable addition to a workout routine, but they do have some differences in terms of muscle activation, range of motion, and overall effectiveness.
I will delve into the specifics of each exercise and provide a comparison of their benefits and drawbacks to help you decide which one is right for you.
Table of Contents
- Bumper Plates
- Squat Rack (Not completely necessary as you can clean and press a bar onto shoulders if needed, but a rack is going to make this a whole lot easier especially if lifting heavier weight)
- Core (stabilizers)
- Unrack the barbell similar to how you would unrack a bar for a back squat.
- Grab the bar with a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip.
- Squeeze the shoulder blades and engage the lats to create a stable shelf to sit the bar on
- Place the bar across the traps, brace the core and remove the bar from the rack by standing tall and then walking back out of the rack.
- Once you’ve created enough room for yourself from the rack you can begin the movement.
- Step forward with one leg, giving yourself enough room to drop into a lunge comfortably without feeling overextended.
- Keep the chest as upright as possible and drop the back knee to roughly one inch from the floor.
- Now drive through the heel and midfoot of the front foot to drive yourself back up tall.
- Repeat on the opposite leg and alternate back and forth until all reps have been completed.
When you step out, make sure to keep the feet shoulder-width apart. If you’re feeling very off-balance in your lunge there is a good chance that you are stepping the lead foot directly in front of the back foot (essentially placing yourself on a tight rope).
Keep the front foot flat on the floor when in the lunge position. One of the most common mistakes is raising up onto the ball of the front foot. One of the reasons for this is often the next most common mistake that I see with Barbell Lunges…
Make sure to take a big enough step. Often times I see athletes take way too small of a step. This leads to lunge being extremely cramped and can lead to a whole host of other issues.
Single Leg Movements like Barbell Lunges are an extremely important addition to any athlete’s workout regimen, regardless of sport.
Many (if not most) athletic movements are often done on one leg. This includes sprinting, jumping and cutting.
Single Leg Exercises help improve leg strength, balance, stability and also show any strength imbalances the lifter may have from one side to the other. Single Leg Exercises can also be part of the solution if and when an asymmetry is found.
For more single-leg exercises, check out these 9 Barbell Lunge alternatives.
- Leg Press Machine
How To / Coaching Points
Instructions on how to do Leg Presses are going to be extremely dependent on the machine itself. All Leg Press machines do not function in the same way. It’s actually quite the opposite. I would guess there are at least a dozen different designs that all work differently.
With that being said, instead of specific instructions, I’m going to give you some somewhat universal tips when it comes to Leg Press.
- If using a Leg Press Machine you’re unfamiliar with, always start with no weight on the machine.
- Make sure you know how to unrack and rack the safeties as well as do a full rep before adding weight to the machine.
- Go up in weight slowly. No need to make a big jump and get yourself pinned and potentially hurt.
- Do NOT overextend your knees. Learn how to fully extend your legs without locking out your knees.
The main benefit of a Leg Press is that you can build leg strength without having to load weight on your back (axial load). This is extremely beneficial for anyone who may have back issues that prevent them from being able to Back Squat or even Front Squat.
Leg Press can also be beneficial for beginner lifters who are not yet comfortable with their Back Squat technique. I would rather have a beginner Leg Press safely rather than Back Squat with improper form.
Barbell Lunges vs Leg Press: Which is Better?
Now, let’s take a side-by-side comparison to see which exercise is better for a few common lifting goals.
Better For Building Size and Strength: Barbell Lunge
Barbell Lunges are an excellent single-leg exercise for developing strength and building muscle mass. In fact, they may be the best single-leg exercise in that regard.
On the other hand, I’m just not a fan of the Leg Press. Yes, it has its place if you’re unable (due to physical limitation or lack of technique) squat, but otherwise squatting dwarfs Leg Press in the number of benefits it can provide.
In addition, Barbell Lunges are done on the feet with the core having to work to maintain posture. The core, as well as the knees and ankles, are working throughout the movement to balance and stabilize the body. Leg Press is generally done sitting down with the weight moving along a track.
Better For Beginners: Dumbbell Lunge
You thought for sure I was going to say Leg Press, didn’t you?
Again, sitting down on a machine simply doesn’t provide the same benefits as so many lower body exercises done on the feet.
As for Barbell Lunges, they also can have a bit of a learning curve and could take a new lifter a little bit of time to learn how to perform correctly.
This is why I’m opting for option C: Dumbbell Lunges.
Dumbbell Lunges are safer for a beginner to start with and will allow them to learn proper technique before moving onto the barbell. Just make sure to start off with light weight (or even just bodyweight) and slowly progress as you become proficient with your technique.
I’ve just spent the last section of this article comparing which is better – Barbell Lunges vs Leg Press. I love Barbell Lunges and if you’re unable to squat then there is no reason you shouldn’t have both exercises in your strength training program.
Both are excellent exercises for developing lower body strength and muscle mass. Incorporating both exercises into your training program can also add variety and keep your workouts from getting stale.
So, my suggestion would be instead of trying to decide between the two exercises, figure out how you can utilize both Barbell Lunges and Leg Press in your training plan.