Why Does My Lower Back Hurt When I Leg Press? (Solved!)

The leg press, whether seated or incline, is typically viewed as one of the best exercises for quad hypertrophy.

However, this doesn’t mean it comes without its problems, and lower back pain is quite common.

With that being said, if you adhere to a few “rules” you’ll be able to take the pressure off your lower back, while really focusing on your lower body muscular development.

Here’s what you need to know.

Why Does My Lower Back Hurt When I Leg Press?

The main reason that your lower back hurts when you leg press is that your pelvis has gone into posterior tilt and your lumbar spine has flattened. This can often be made worse if you allow your butt or lower back to come away from the seat. Unfortunately, due to the position of your pelvis and lumbar spine you will have placed the discs in your lower back into herniation position.

1. Your Butt’s Coming Off the Seat

As I’ve mentioned, the leg press is a fantastic exercise for hypertrophy.

However, it’s not exactly a functional movement.

What I mean by this is that squatting, as an example, is a basic human movement pattern.

In other words, we typically all squat in our everyday life, even without probably realising it.

Okay admittedly, you won’t often squat with a heavy load placed across your back, but you still squat on a daily basis.

With that being said, it’s not often, if ever, that you’ll need to push a heavy weight away from your body with your legs.

Yes, there are many exercises that you’ll perform in the gym that don’t transfer to your daily life, but they may not place as much stress on the body as leg presses.

The main issue with the leg press machine and lower back pain is the position that you get yourself into.

If you think about it, at the bottom of the movement your quads are more or less parallel to your torso.

So, this would be the equivalent of squatting and then allowing your torso to fall forwards until it’s almost parallel to the floor.

In effect, you’re squatting and performing a Good Morning at the same time.

This position immediately places the lower back under a lot of pressure.

Therefore, when it comes to the leg press you’ll generally find yourself in posterior pelvic tilt, as well as lumbar flexion.

This can be a very precarious position to be in, especially if your core isn’t activated properly (more on this in a moment).

To make matters worse, if you allow your butt or lower back to come away from the seat you’ll place even more stress on your lower back.

In fact, you will have placed the discs in your lower back into herniation position.

And it is for this reason that your lower back hurts when you leg press.

2. How to Position Yourself & Use the Leg Press Machine

3. Your Body Has No Internal Stability

I’ve just mentioned the importance of core activation when performing the leg press.

In truth, whenever you perform any exercise you should activate and stabilise your core first.

Basically, this provides you with a solid base, plus the fact that most movements originate from our core.

However, there are certain gym exercises when you may not activate your core.

This is especially true of the exercises that I would call “non-athletic” movements.

What I mean by this is exercises where you’re either sitting or lying down.

When it comes to the leg press, the machine itself will provide external stability.

In other words, your body isn’t challenged in a way that requires you stabilise anything.

If we look at squats again, then you’ll need to stabilise yourself internally.

By doing so you can squat with a heavy weight on your back without falling forwards or falling backwards.

Plus, not only will you need to activate your core during squats, but also many other smaller stabilising muscles.

Therefore, in order to protect your lower back when you leg press always ensure that you both activate and stabilise your core.

4. You’re Lowering the Weight Down Too Far

Something else to consider is how far you lower the weight down when you leg press.

Obviously, when performing any exercise you’d like to go through the full range of motion.

By doing so you give yourself the best chance of fully activating the target muscles, which in turn will lead to better muscle and strength gains.

With that being said, the further you lower the weight plate during leg presses, the more pressure you’re putting on your lower back.

I’ve already discussed that the leg press forces the body into a fairly unnatural position.

And unfortunately, this is made worse the lower you bring the weight down.

In fact, depending on your height and especially the length of your legs, you could in effect be completely doubled-over at the bottom of the leg press.

Plus, don’t forget that you’ll typically perform leg presses with more weight than just about any other exercise you do.

So, it makes a great deal of sense to not lower the weight plate too far down when doing leg presses.

4. Alternatives to Leg Press For Lower Back Pain

If you are struggling with lower back issues from the leg press then it’s probably best to avoid the exercise.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t ever perform leg presses again, but rather that you simply want to give your lower back a bit of a break.

If this is the case, there are a few alternatives that you could try.

Firstly, most gyms will have either an incline or seated leg press machine, or indeed both.

However, some gyms may also have a supine leg press machine.

This involves you lying down completely flat and then performing leg presses from this position.

This immediately places your spine in a more neutral position, so you won’t have to worry about forcing your discs into a herniated position.

If you don’t have access to a supine leg press then the hack squat is a great alternative.

Once more, your spine is allowed to stay in a neutral position, plus the hack squat is much more of an athletic movement.

Plus, the hack squat is awesome for quad hypertrophy.

Finally, you could focus on Swiss ball squats.

This involves placing a Swiss ball between your back and a wall, and then squatting from this position.

You can perform this movement with just bodyweight, dumbbells or kettlebells in either hand, or in the goblet position.

Your spine and lower back in general is far more protected in this position, and you’ll generally find that Swiss ball squats are extremely intense.

All these exercises can produce some fantastic results, while also protecting your lower back.

Stability Ball Squats

Final Thoughts

So, as you can see, there are a number of reasons why your lower back hurts when you leg press.

However, the most common reason is that you’ll generally end up in posterior pelvic tilt and lumbar flexion.

Unfortunately, this will place the disks in your lower back into a herniated position.

You can counteract this by ensuring that your butt and lower back stay against the seat, while also activating and stabilising your core.

Furthermore, if you don’t lower the weight too far down you can protect your lower back much better.

And if you’re still struggling with lower back pain then it may be time to try one of the leg press alternatives, e.g. supine leg press, hack squat, Swiss ball squats.

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