By Jimmy Peña, MS, CSCS
A squat machine is a good addition to any repertoire, and if your gym has one, we strongly suggest you use it to bombard your legs. The squat machine allows for varying ranges of motion, helping you perform all sorts of intensity techniques like partials and rest-pause tactics without the need for a spotter. One important key is to keep your feet flat on the platform throughout the exercise. It’s also helpful if your shoes have flat surfaces to help prevent your feet from shifting or slipping. Often, the platforms on squat machines are a bit slippery, and if your shoes have jagged-edges on the soles, they can glide during the set.
One mistake bodybuilders make when using the squat press is to “lift” the machine with their upper body rather than pressing through the platform. It’s important to think of this exercise as a leg press in reverse. While keeping your upper body strong, with your abs in tight, back flat against the pad and chest big, all of the emphasis needs to be transferred to your legs. You do that best when you’re pressing “through” your feet. Avoid using your hands to press the apparatus off your shoulders, but rather allow the pads to rest comfortably upon your shoulders. Also avoid overextending or flexing your neck during the move, and instead try and keep your head neutral and your eyes focused forward. This will help protect your cervical spine from undue stress and strain.
Advantage: Feet Low
The squat machine is a multijoint, compound move that helps you blast your entire lower body. The hamstrings, glutes and quads are all called into play no matter the range of motion employed. If you want to stress your hamstrings and glutes to a greater degree, place your feet high and wide. The reason it brings in the hams and glutes better is because you have greater hip extension at the top of the move, making it easier to fully engage those powerful muscles. But if it’s your front quads you’re focusing on, keep your feet lower on the platform. With your feet low and slightly narrow, you can target the vastus lateralis and also blast the teardrop (or medialis) muscle with laserlike accuracy. In fact, its counterpart, the leg press, is the best exercise in the gym at targeting the teardrop and the squat machine is a good mimic of the leg press in many ways, making it this month’s winner.