Fitness & Equipment Guides > ​Titans of Training: Leg Press VS Squats

​Titans of Training: Leg Press VS Squats

18th Sep 19

As far as leg exercises go, you are spoiled for choice. When you are thinking big lifts though, you’re probably talking about leg press vs squats. They are both classic heroes in the leg day legacy and are known by most people in the gym, from beginners to veterans.

So, which should be performed to see the best results, and which is better suited to you? Well, we’re here to answer just that. We’re looking at both exercises and what they do, and how they may have advantages over each other.

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Person performing a squat

Squats are a tried and tested strength exercise that recruits pretty much the entire upper leg muscle group.  They utilise the upper body too, such as the shoulders and arms for stabilisation. If variations are put into place such as the use of a barbell, this will also intergrate your core muscles into the squat.

It is undeniably one of the most effective general strength exercises in the gym for what it does for your body. It is also a fantastic compound exercise. Make sure you nail your form to get the biggest benefits though.

Better Strength

As we mentioned, very few exercises can boast as good a reputation in the exercise world as the squat. It is potentially the king of lower body exercises. This means that strength obviously goes hand in hand with it.

Few can argue that the squat is not the most effective exercise for strength building from a functional perspective for the lower body. It works everything from glutes and quads to hamstrings and calves, all in the same exercise.

This holds up when going against the leg press too. If performed enough, the squat will definitely pose a greater strength increase over time. It’s difficult to say otherwise.

Higher Muscle Activity

The squat has a much greater range of movement than the leg press, meaning that the muscles that are being recruited are all doing much more work than the leg press can offer.

The glutes in particular really get the extra benefit from this if the squat is low enough, but even other supporting areas like the calf muscles can be worked more effectively than they can on the leg press. To change the muscle activity during this exercise, the squat also has a far superior range of variation to offer that the leg press just can’t.

You can even choose where to add weight when performing your workout, like adding weight to the rear or centre using a barbell, to kettlebells and dumbbells, even through to a box or jumping squat. The possibilities mean that you can tailor your exercise to your goals. Essentially the squat can be a better fit for you, no matter what the goals of your workouts are.

Bigger Size

As a result of the points we’ve been through, the squat has also proven itself to be a better mass builder as well as strength. If size is your goal rather than functional strength, you’re in the right place.

You are very likely to see more muscle growth with the squat than you are with the leg press, however, it may well take a lot more effort for some people who are not used to the exercise.

Leg Press

Person performing leg press

It may sound like we have written off the leg press completely, but it is still a well-renowned exercise and definitely has its uses. In your lower body workout, if you utilise it in the right ways, it can still be incredibly effective and give you an edge.

Easier Form

We’ll start with one of the more beginner orientated points, which is that the leg press is much easier to do than the squat. It’s the case with all machine exercises. You don’t need to support yourself as much or need to balance or stabilise yourself because of the mechanics of the exercise and of the machine itself. You may find it drastically easier, especially if you’re starting out.

The form of the exercise is still very important. You can still injure yourself very easily with bad form. Worse still,  the horrific mistake of locking the knees which results in your legs doing something they really, really shouldn’t.  It’s still much easier to master than the squat, which many people perform wrong even after years of experience.

Different Areas

Because of fewer muscles being activated, this can also give another advantage to the use of the leg press. The mechanic of the leg press means that you can really focus on your quads and not have to worry about anything else! Isolation is great for muscle growth.

Studies have also given evidence to suggest that the quads are activated even more in a leg press than they are in a squat, so they can actually be more effective in terms of growth and strength than the squat!

This difference in areas used does also apply in a negative light. By not hitting as many muscles as the squat, people often think their legs are much stronger than they are and trying other feats that could cause them injury from instability.

Which is right for you?

The argument for the leg press vs the squat is a difficult one, to say the least. Both of the exercises are good at what they set out to do. They’re both great leg exercises and can give serious boosts to your strength and the size of your muscles. It just depends on what you need to target and what other exercises you are incorporating into your workouts.

The squat is a more effective overall exercise, hitting more muscles in less time and still having massive effects. The leg press is easier and safer to do however and can be much more comfortable for many people, due to the seated position and the support that the machine offers.

Ultimately though, why pick one when you can have both? Variation is crucial to your workouts in order to see the best results, so why not just use both.

Whatever you do, make sure you are doing it safely and with the correct technique. They can both result in serious injuries which may do damage to your health in the short and the long term, but they may also do damage to your progress. Be careful.

Before beginning any exercise or nutrition program, consult your physician, doctor or other professional. This is especially important for individuals over the age of 35 or persons with pre-existing health problems. assumes no responsibility for personal injury or property damage sustained using our advice.

If you experience dizziness, nausea, chest pain, or any other abnormal symptoms, stop the workout at once and consult a physician or doctor immediately.