Leg press vs squat: which is the king of leg day? Here’s what gym-goers should know about leg presses vs squats and what will help them build a strong, solid pair of wheels.
RELATED: How To Properly Execute Air Squats
In this article:
- What Are Leg Presses and Squats?
- How to Do Leg Press and Squats
- What’s Better: Leg Press or Squats?
- Why Is Leg Press Bad for the Knees?
- When to Do Leg Presses and Squats?
- Who Can Do Leg Presses and Squats?
Leg Press vs Squat: What Should Gym-Goers Do?
What Are Leg Presses and Squats?
Squats are compound exercises that engage the quads, glutes, calves, and hamstrings. Gym-goers can focus on specific muscle groups by shifting the positions of their feet.
Generally, wider squats place more stress on the inner thighs and hamstrings. Meanwhile, a shoulder-width apart foot stance primarily engages the quads.
The leg press is a machine exercise that isolates the quads. Unlike squats, it does not engage other lower body muscle groups.
How to Do Leg Press and Squats
The best way to maximize muscle gains and avoid injuries is to follow the proper squatting and leg press form. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do both exercises:
Muscles Worked: Quads
- Sit down on the leg press machine.
- Grab the bars on the side of the machine, rest the back flat on the machine, and place the feet on the platform in front. They should be about hip-width apart from each other.
- Remove any locks holding the weight up. By this time, the platform should be resting on the soles of the feet.
- Push the weight up until the legs are straight in front but make sure not to lock the knees. This is the starting position.
- Lower the weight down until the knees are bent in front of the chest. Take a deep breath and push the weight back up to the starting position. Again, do not lock the knees at the top. This is one rep.
Muscles worked: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves
- Stand upright with the arms crossed across the chest, feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, back straight, and eyes locked forward. This is the starting position.
- Next, slowly descend by bending the knees. Continue squatting until the knees hit a 90-degree angle.
- From there, push the body up to the starting position by driving the feet through the ground. Remember to keep the eyes locked forward. This is one rep.
Tip: If bodyweight squats are too easy, athletes and bodybuilders can try squatting with a barbell. Just place the bar across the shoulders behind the neck and then squat.
What’s Better: Leg Press or Squats?
Should fitness buffs prioritize the squats or leg press? Well, the answer depends on what one’s fitness goals are.
Goal #1: Muscle Hypertrophy
Muscular hypertrophy means the growth or enlargement of muscle cells. This is important for bodybuilders who want to improve their lean muscle mass.
Generally, squats provide better total body hypertrophy. In fact, bodybuilders might notice that squats engage almost every lower body muscle group including the quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves.
Also, they can further increase the muscular hypertrophy effects of squats by adding resistance like kettlebells, dumbbells, or barbells.
Meanwhile, bodybuilders can use the leg press to isolate the quads for a deeper, stronger pump. Plus, one can also stack more plates on a machine without worrying about falling flat on the ground.
But when it comes to hypertrophy, squats are the true champion. Just keep in mind that one can still notice a significant increase in muscle mass when using the leg press machine.
Goal #2: Overall Athletic Performance
Building a strong pair of legs is important for almost any sporting activity. Whether it’s boxing, football, basketball, or powerlifting, athletes need powerful lower body muscles to improve their sporting performance.
Now, when it comes to conditioning the body for jumping, sprinting, and pushing movements, squats are, without a doubt, superior. Without the help of machines, the body is forced to activate the stabilizer muscles, the same group of muscles responsible for functional strength.
To support this claim, the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research conducted an eight-week study on 39 participants and divided them into two groups. One group focused on back squats while the other exclusively did leg press exercises.
After the eight-week study, the group who performed squats showed great improvement in athletic activities such as jumping. Meanwhile, the leg press group did not improve at all.
Goal #3: Isolating Muscle Groups
Squats are compound exercises that engage multiple muscle groups. So while they may help increase muscle mass and strength, they’re not the best exercise to use for isolation movements.
Bodybuilders who want to solely focus on targeting their quads can try the leg press machine. It relaxes almost every other lower body muscle group and shifts the majority of the weight on the quads.
In fact, even the back and knees are more relaxed on the leg press machine. That’s also the reason why some gym-goers with joint problems opt for the leg press machine rather than bodyweight and barbell squats.
Champion: Leg Press
Why Is Leg Press Bad for the Knees?
One popular reason why some gym-goers skip leg day is they don’t want to hurt their knees. Since squats and leg presses do put a significant amount of stress on the joints, are they really bad? The answer is: no!
As long as fitness buffs follow the correct form, they shouldn’t experience any knee pain when squatting. The majority of gym-goers who complain about knee pain usually aren’t following the proper form.
Stopping just before the knees hit a 90-degree angles places an unnecessary amount of load on the knees. That’s why it’s very important to squat down at least until the thighs are parallel to the floor.
When it comes to leg presses, one can avoid injuries if they do not lock their knees at the top. In fact, one should never even attempt to lock their knees when pushing the weight to the top of the leg press machine.
Generally, neither the leg press or squat is bad for the joints. Fitness buffs who feel discomfort when doing them should check if they’re committing some of the common leg day mistakes.
When to Do Leg Presses and Squats?
Just like any other exercise, gym-goers should try to do leg presses and squats at least two to three times per week. Training these muscles any more might simply lead to overtraining and fatigue.
Who Can Do Leg Presses and Squats?
Generally, anyone can perform leg presses and squats. Although, fitness buffs suffering from specific injuries should consult with a professional before undergoing any form of physical training.
Check out this video from Lisette Howard as she shares her squat and leg press workout:
Overall, squats and leg presses are both great exercises that offer different benefits. Rather than choosing one over the other, fitness buffs should incorporate both of them into their workout routine.
Creating a healthy balance of compound and isolation lower body exercises is the key to building a good pair of legs. Also, one should follow a healthy diet plan and supplement program that will maximize the effects of his or her regimen.
Leg press vs squat: what’s your pick and why? Share your answers in the comments section below!