To Leg Press or To Squat? That is The Question!

Jeff Baldelli
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To Leg Press or To Squat? That is The Question

Many people are confused about the difference between a squat and a leg press and aren’t really sure which one they do and how.

The leg press and squat are probably the most effective exercises for overall leg development. They target every part of the leg from the knees to the shoulders and have the added benefit of working the stabilizer muscles that will help prevent injury.

However, they also elicit very different movement patterns. The squat emphasizes the muscles of the hips and the lower leg (the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calf muscles), while the leg press focuses more on the muscles of the upper leg (the quadriceps).

Leg Presses

The leg press machine is one of the best tools for developing the quadriceps, and will also work the hamstrings and glutes to a lesser extent.

Most gyms have one of these machines, and although you may need to ask someone for help at first to set it up, once you get it down, you’ll be able to do it yourself.

Adjust the seat until your legs are firmly planted and you have a wide foot stance.

Gather the weights that you will be lifting and realize that failing to use adequate weights places you at risk for injury.

Once you are seated and have your weights in hand, you’re ready to begin.

The Leg Press

Versus the Squat, Which is Best?

The leg press and the squat are two very similar exercises targeting the same muscle groups. Both moves require the use of a bit of weight, but the amount of weight is going to vary just a bit. Both moves are very effective at developing your quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes, but the leg press is a little more efficient and easier on your knees with the extra support. The rep range on this exercise is unlimited, making it great for both hypertrophy and strength training. It is also recommended that you use a flat bench for this exercise. You can find more information about it here on Amazon:

To complete this move, lower the weight slowly into position, making sure that you don’t move the bench. Stop when you can go no further. Make sure that you return the weights to the starting position. As with any exercise, the difficulty level of a leg press is going to vary depending on the amount of weight used. The leg press is great because you can use it to target all of the muscle groups in your leg without causing injury to any of them.

How can You Choose?

This interview with Dr. John Rusin would be the ideal place to get these answers from an experienced coach.

Dr. Rusin is also a physique specialist himself that is also experienced in training people. So you are looking at someone who not only knows how the body works but is also able to look back at his statistics and see what worked and what didn’t.

Dr. Rusin argues that leg press machine is for three types of trainees:

  • Those that are just starting out and need to learn proper form
  • Those that are injured and can’t do squats
  • Those that have a bad back

He does add that you need to change the machine back and forth between squats and leg press so that you can target different muscles and lengthen the thighs and the quads. But, in all, his suggestion is to mostly stick to the squat.

Some Specific Risks

Injuries resulting from squats can range from pulled muscles to torn ligaments and even ruptured disks. It is important to remember that your body is not alike and you may experience different types of pain during the squat exercise.

It’s important to medically screen for any possible heart conditions before performing squats. Some muscle pains may be hard to distinguish from a heart condition, such as angina, which causes crushing pressure in the chest and/or arm pain.

One way to make sure this doesn’t happen is to make sure you are using the correct form. Many injuries can be avoided by following these steps:

First, you need to warm up properly. If you’re serious about gaining muscle mass, you need to warm up your body properly. Try doing some stretches first.

Second, make sure that your feet are placed hip-width apart, in line with your body. Your feet should not be turned out or pointed in any direction. Make sure that you’re holding a barbell that fits properly and you’re using the right type of squat for your body.

Third, keep your back straight the whole time.

When you execute your final squat, make sure that you are pushing out through your hard to keep your balance.

The Load Itself

One of the greatest advantages of the leg press is that it allows you to lift more weight. That is actually not the reason why I prefer it over squatting, however. You can easily adjust the weight of the machine to accommodate whatever your strength level is supposed to be. So for those who are just starting out it’s really not a big deal.

However, as you get stronger, the leg press begins to lose its appeal, as it eventually becomes very easy to lift a lot of weight on it. You can’t really push the limits with it, and if that is what you want from your workouts, then it’s time to consider the squat.

Squatting with a barbell puts you in the most natural position for your body and allows you to lift the most weight. It also helps you develop the strength and endurance that other exercises can’t give you. Leg extensions, for instance, build serious muscle and strength in your quads but they are almost useless for developing strength anywhere else.

Another great benefit for those who are bodybuilders is that squats not only work the muscles in your legs, they also work your glutes and back. Honestly, the squat is the best exercise you can do to get in better shape.

Common Mistakes that You Can Avoid

Most people will rule out leg press as a bad alternative to squat, but they are just wrong. Leg press is in fact easier to execute and a very useful tool when it comes to improving your overall strength. So what is the leg press machine? The leg press machine has a bench and a special platform which you step onto. It then slides out under you so you can go through a full range of motion and your foot stays in place. You then push the platform with your legs. You can also adjust the weight you push, just like with the squats, and in that way vary the resistance.

Why is leg press better than squat?

It is ideal if you are recovering from a lower back injury or some other skeletal injury. You can also continue exercising while recovering from an abdominal stroke or a knee injury. Squat does a lot more damage to your knees than leg press. If you have used them too much and now are trying to heal them, you should avoid squat.

Why do most people think squat is better than leg press?

People think that changing the leg press into a squat makes leg press superior. But the leg press when done correctly will be much more difficult than a back squat, meaning you will use more weight. There is nothing wrong with varying the weight or number of repetitions, or sets that you do.

The Squat

Vs. Leg Press Showdown

These two exercises are often considered to be the two that every body should focus on when they want to build the lower body, and while that is true, they are rarely done correctly.

Since they are both compound exercises, meaning that they work multiple muscles for the same movement, they are very effective and efficient. The compound movement is great for targeting the larger muscle groups but it comes at the cost of activating your smaller stabilizing muscles. That doesn’t mean that they are not useful, but it does mean that some of their impact can be negated.

Here’s a breakdown of the better and the worse exercises.

The Squat


  • You control the weight during the movement, so you have to strengthen your stabilizers more than when doubled.
  • The Squat is secondary to the Deadlift in terms of build strength as well as mass.


  • It is harder than a leg press to focus on the quadriceps and the hamstrings.
  • Since it is a barred movement, it could lead to injury because you have to be careful not to let the bar drift out.

The Leg Press


It does not involve the need for the use of a bar and is safer to curl.

Advantages of the Squat that You can Make the Most Out of

If you want to improve your performance and build strong and fit legs, squats should definitely be on your menu. There are many reasons for this and here we are going to discuss two of them.

Resistance to Lifting Heavy Objects

It is hard to imagine life without them… Heavy bags, sacks of goods, tackle boxes that can weigh up to 100lbs, even things such as cars, building materials and more.

If you are going to work as a labourer on a construction site, then you need to have strong thighs and lower back muscles to carry heavy things.

If you are a sportsman or a construction worker, you have to squat with heavy weights whenever you work because otherwise, you will not be able to earn your bread and butter.

Strong muscles that resist the pull downwards once you have been squatting with the bar on your back, they are also vital when you lift the heaviest of things.

This is why the bar simply does not want to get you in the area of the legs. You are more likely to be stuck because the muscles are strong and highly developed in your thighs. They are trained to resist the weight.

Of course, in order to do this, you have to practise this exercise. It is good to practise it in the real sense of the word.

In fact, the more you practise squats, the more you will get to know your body.

Common Mistakes

You should choose whichever exercise makes you feel comfortable. The muscles of the legs are often worked out together by both exercises making the choice a matter of personal preference rather than effectiveness.

Squats have now become a part of many fitness routines as it involves all the major muscles. Squats are also considered to be very effective at building and strengthening the glutes and hamstrings, while developing the quads and lower back. Squats are often considered to be the best exercise to build up the quadriceps which is even the reason why many people choose to do squats instead of leg presses.

On the other hand, the leg press goes a lot deeper than the squats due to the fact that it involves the hip flexors. The leg press also rely on a fixed path that follows the natural pattern of the human movement when walking. This is why most people who have suffered from leg injuries tend to choose the leg press over the squats because of the fact that the leg press has less variation than the squat and does not put pressure on the injured leg.

People who have had knee replacements are also recommended to use the leg press in order to get their knee working again. Squats involve a lot of pressure on the knees and this makes a lot of people avoid them. As an added incentive, squatting requires more muscle control compared to the leg press.


Who wins hands down: the simple leg press machine or the explosive, total leg workout of the squat?

To answer that, lets go over the differences between the two. The leg press machine is a fixed resistance exercise that can be loaded with plates. It’s a great choice when you can’t make it to the gym and have to rely on machines and dumbbells for resistance training.

Though people like them for the convenience, the leg press is far from ideal because:

  • They’re a single joint movement, which means you’re only strengthening the quads.
  • You can’t use near as much weight as you can squatting, so you get far less muscle building potential and strength training effect.
  • Your balance is unsteady.

The squat in the gym is a compound exercise so it has a greater range of motion and works several joints and several muscle groups at the same time.

Here’s how it breaks down:


  • This exercise utilizes all the muscles in the lower body at the same time to accomplish the desired goal.
  • It strengthens the entire network of