In a New York Times Magazine interview last month, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright mentioned that she can leg press 400 pounds. Now evangelical sparkplug Pat Robertson is shilling protein shakes by claiming he can leg press 2,000 pounds. That’s right, one ton—about four-fifths the curb weight of a Mini Cooper.
Are America’s aging public intellectuals getting buffer? Possibly. But before they start shooting their mouths off, Albright and Robertson need a primer in gym etiquette. Only wusses brag about their leg press.
Dropping your leg-press numbers in casual conversation is like bragging about how fast you can do the TV Guide crossword puzzle. Simply put, the leg press is an ego boost for the beginner lifter. There’s no easier way to move a large amount of weight. When I was in college, I witnessed many a meathead pick up girls from the elliptical machines by inviting them over to the leg press machine, loading up four plates, and marveling at how easily they could do 180 pounds. Gosh, was this really your first time?
Let’s get Pat Robertson’s bonkers claims out of the way right now. As CBS Sportsline’s Clay Travis reported earlier this week, there’s no way the 76-year-old Robertson broke the leg press record—by more than 600 pounds—of a former Florida State quarterback. Check out this video, in which Robertson claims he’s legpressing 1,000 pounds. It appears as if 16 plates are loaded on the machine. Four of them look like 100-pound plates, and the rest are 45s. That adds up to 940 pounds. What else are you fibbing about, Pat?
Even when doing (what he claims to be) 1,000 pounds, Robertson’s form is wack. First, he helps his legs by pushing on his knees with his arms. That’s a no-no. He also achieves nowhere near the recommended full range of motion, which is to bring the knees to at least a 90-degree angle. And if he’s going to double the weight, where’s it going to fit? Neither Andrew Sullivan nor I have seen a machine capable of holding 20 plates of 100 pounds each.
Most telling is that Robertson has two staffers loading the machine for him. A big knock against the leg press is that it’s inefficient. Most leg press machines are constructed as either a sled angled at 45 degrees or a lever. (There are some that use cables, too.) In all cases, some of the weight gets borne by the machine. You may be loading 400 pounds, but your muscles are feeling only 200. In other words, eight plates on the machine are only four plates worth of effective weight. And by the time you’re finished loading and unloading, you could have done an extra set or two of squats.
The squat, of course, is the real man/woman’s lower-body workout. It’s such a crucial part of the basic regimen that it’s known as the “king of exercises.” While some consider the dead lift a rival to the throne, the leg press isn’t even close. It’s the zoning-board commissioner of exercises.
The squat not only works the quadriceps, as the leg press does, but it also works the muscles in the back of the thigh, the butt, and the back. When you’re doing squats with a barbell, keeping your balance requires the use of still more muscles. That’s not to mention that it’s a more efficient exercise, since your body supports all the weight you load on the bar.
Just as important, it’s impossible to look cool on a leg press machine. You’re sitting on your ass, making it hard to really show off. Much better, then, to step into a chrome cage, set a steel bar on your shoulders, recruit a spotter or three, and really show off your lower-body acumen.
Of course, the leg press does have a few advantages. It’s great for bodybuilders who want disgustingly huge quads. It’s also a good choice for older folks with back problems who want to take some stress off their lumbar muscles. Maybe that’s your excuse, Pat and Madge—but it’s a handy one. If you’re leg-pressing 400, that means you’re only squatting around 225. And that just doesn’t sound as good in the pages of the New York Times Magazine.
Correction, May 30: Because of a copy-editing error, an incorrect byline appeared on the piece when it was originally published. The author is Mike DeBonis.