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Squats vs Leg Press – Both Workouts Compared

If you are like me when you were starting your fitness journey, you were confused.

I was confused about every darn thing. Bicep curls with EZ bar or dumbbell?

Push-Ups or chin-ups?

Is it okay to do modified movements, or am I gonna get zero results?!

And the one I shall address today… Squats, or leg presses?

That’s what this article strives to focus on – comparing and contrasting the two.

During the ‘70s, when Arnold was in his bodybuilding days, squats were seen as the best exercise when it came to packing on muscle and strength in the glutes and legs. That era also focused on symmetry and proportion as well as muscle size. 

You could say they were more focused on form than function.

Today, bodybuilders want to put their muscles to the test and push themselves past the breaking point. 

Both of these moves have serious benefits when it comes to meeting your fitness goals, and in this article, we are going to talk about them both and how they can help you.

The Benefits of Leg Press

Leg press machine

Leg presses are a super exercise you can do when it is time to target your leg muscles for strength and development.

When we first start our fitness journeys, we aren’t able to squat a lot of weight in the early stages. We do not have adequate leg and core strength, thus making it impossible to work our way through the exercises.

At your gym, you may notice one of two – or both- types of leg press machines:

  • Diagonal/vertical sled style leg press machine in which the athlete sits under the weighted slide and uses feet to push the platform and complete the movement
  • 45-degree/seated leg press machine-the athlete sits up and pushes the weighted platform with feet. The weights are connected to the plate via cable.

Your gym may have one or both of these, as they are very common even in basic facilities. You can use them to build your strength, and thanks to the incline found on the diagonal machines, you can add more weights compared to the seated machine.

It’s no problem at all to use the leg press machine in aiding you to maximize your heaviest reps. It will help you grow quads that can really handle lots of weight without cracking under pressure and causing you injury to your knee.

How Can I Stay Safe With Leg Press Machine?

Leg press machine safety should be at the forefront of your mind when you work out, after all, you’re not going to get the gains if you’re benched. Watch the next time one of the athletes at your gym gets on-you might just see somebody who adds too much weight and looks like they might crumble under pressure.

The goal is not to look down on somebody, but to know that it’s okay to work up to heavyweights. Nobody started out squatting 300lbs. It’s not a race. You have to keep your knees and back in good shape if you’re going to work out.

Make sure you also practice good form when you do seated leg presses. Knee injuries can happen thanks to the large amount of weight that athletes add to this machine.

You can ask one of the trainers at the gym to show you how to perform this movement safely, or one of the other patrons at the gym with experience using the machine.

It’s especially important for beginners to do this because it helps you build up a solid foundation for your legs before you add weights to your squat bar. Without getting good, solid footing-both literally and figuratively-you open yourself up to injury.

Squats and Their Benefits

Man Doing Squats

Did you know that squats are a full-body workout? You can do them with just bodyweight to get started, and you can do it anywhere.

Once you have mastered this squat, you can move up to holding onto dumbbells and even the squat bar. Kettlebells also make a nice option, whether your goal is to gain muscle, compete in a figure competition or just feel good.

There are also TONS of different ways to perform the squat. The variations are basically endless, and they all benefit the person doing them. 

Let’s look at all these variations!

  • Split squat
  • Bulgarian split squat
  • Box squat
  • Back squat
  • Sumo squat
  • Front squat
  • Goblet squat
  • Hack squat
  • Bodyweight squat
  • Smith squat
  • Jump squat
  • Pistol squat
  • Overhead squat
  • Hindu squat
  • Bulgarian squat
  • Loaded squat jump

You can find Youtube videos of experienced athletes demonstrating all of these great squats-simply paste the one you want to see into the search bar and check them out. They can do amazing things for your body!

Squats, after all, do more than give you a great gluteus maximus. They will help you build core strength, tone up the thighs, back and keep hips stable.

Leg size and strength will increase. The exercise is beloved because it can be done anywhere, does not need equipment, and can be done using light or heavyweights.

Comparison: Squat Vs. Leg Press


So if the goal is to handle lots of weight, the big winner is the leg press.  The reasoning behind this is that you are working on an incline in a seated position. The bench helps support your lower back, and you can devote more of your power to pushing that platform back.

Having that seated position and using just the legs helps you increase the amount of weight you work with-in some cases, we’ve seen athletes work with three times the weight as compared to their squats.

The same rings true even if you are using a sled-style leg press machine.

On the other hand, doing squats with free weights means you’re going to have to hold the weight up when squatting down, which is LOTS of work and takes lots of energy. And after that, you have to raise yourself back up.

Muscles will not only have to get your body’s weight off the ground, but they also have to manage the free weight AND the gravity that seeks to pull you back down onto the flooring.

So when asking the question, “Which one helps me push more?”

The clear answer is always going to be the leg press.

However, this is NOT an indication that the leg press is any better than doing a squat.

Instead, it just means you have an advantage of a machine’s assistance in performing a movement. Meanwhile, everything is-quite literally-on your shoulders when doing a squat.

What About My Glutes?

When it comes to glutes, squats are gonna be the winner. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to tell you that!

Seated leg presses are fantastic to work all four of your main muscles of the quads; namely, the vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius, vastus lateralis and vastus medialis.

But that’s all they work-so you can’t just do leg presses with a machine and hope for the best.

Remember, squats work the whole body. They give you a total body workout with certain squat variants. You will feel quads, hips, thighs, glutes, and hamstrings working, not to mention your back and core.

If you are doing squats with good form, you will feel each and every one of these body parts activate.

Another benefit is that squats help you keep bones protected, boost your stability, and keep ligaments and tendons protected when you execute them the right way.

What Muscles Get Activated When I Do Squats V. Leg Press?

Squats result in more quad, and hamstring activation reported a study conducted in 2001.

The study involved ten male athletes and all used different foot placements.

More activation of said muscles brings you to better development of your quads and hammies.

The study also focused on the greater amount of force that happens when doing a squat, which is something we can really feel when using free weights versus a machine.

The placement of the foot also has a hand in how the move works. Low foot placement helps you put greater focus on the quads, whereas a higher foot placement aids you in working the glutes and hamstrings.

A study was also conducted with women.  This one indicated that foot placement and form changes the activated muscles when performing leg presses. The conclusion of the study was that leg presses work well for inner thigh muscles, calves, glutes (during high leg presses) and quads (when performing low leg presses).

Can I Do Leg Presses and Squats in the Same Workout?

You can if you want – there’s nobody holding you back! We advise against doing them in the same workout, however. The reason being is that they are what we call “complementary exercises.”

This just means that they work the same muscle groups, but with a different emphasis. That being said, you should balance it out, so you don’t overwork your muscles.

If you do plan on squatting, don’t put so much on your leg press that day.

In our opinion, it’s just best to break them up over different training days. They’re both quite valuable, so do make them part of your routine!

Conclusion

It may be tempting just to do the leg press or just the squat. We all have exercises we love and hate.

But don’t fall into that trap. Doing both will help you gain muscle, provide health benefits, and make you stronger.

Squats are the absolute winners, thanks to their full-body benefits. But, the leg press should not be abandoned. It’s a great tool for newbies to build their foundation.

Good luck, work hard, and be safe!

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