Leg day is either everyone’s favorite or everyone’s dreaded day of the week, but did you know that training your legs will actually help stimulate muscle growth in your upper body as well? If you want to make the most out of your leg workouts, you need to use equipment such as the leg press and squat rack.
There is a lot of advantages of using the leg press machine, such as less pressure on the back, making it easier to load more weights. Plus, if you change up your foot position you can work multiple muscles in your legs.
Squats are also one of the top exercises in the fitness industry. They are as functional as it gets, and if done correctly, you can strengthen more muscles such as your core.
So the problem is, which is better for your leg routine: leg press, squats, or both?
Keep on reading to learn more!
Squats vs. Leg Press Overview
Depending on what type of gym you are in and what kind of trainers you speak to, you will hear completely different opinions about whether doing squats or leg press is better.
This is like comparing apples to oranges, each one is very beneficial and it’s best to have both, not one or the other. That is unless you have mobility issues or injuries, then the real debate gets started.
Squats are one of the most, if not the most functional exercise in the world of fitness. However, if you hit up any bodybuilding gym you will see most of the bodybuilders lined up for the leg press machine, so what is this about and why?
This really comes down to your goals, your mobility, and your preferences of course. We will deep dive into both exercises and dissect the movements so you will know which exercise is best to add to your training program.
Leg Press Benefits
The leg press provides many benefits for you whether you are looking to pack on some serious muscle gains, or gaining some functional strength in your lower body.
Unlike squats, the leg press machine is in a seated position, that means that there is a lot less load on the spine and pressure on the body. This is safer if you have mobility issues because squats can put more stress on a body that is not moving in a functional way.
Big Hypertrophy Gains
Because of the positioning, the leg press allows for overloading the quads in a safer way. There are safety handles that stop the weight from going too low, basically making it foolproof for those looking to pack on some serious hypertrophy on the quads.
Because you are in a stable, seated position, your stabilizer muscles are not needing to be recruited, so there is more focus on the bigger muscles such as the quads, with some glutes and hamstrings.
The foot plate allows for different positioning, which helps you to target different muscles safely with different stances and seat angles:
- Wide Stance-helps to work more of the adductor muscles (inside of the thigh)
- Narrow Stance- works the abductor muscles (outside of the thigh)
- Higher placement- works the glutes and hamstrings
- Lower placement- primarily loads the quads
- Centered- works all the muscles in the legs, with a bit more focus on the quads
- Feet half on the plate at the bottom- this works like a calve raise, do this and you will never have chicken legs again!
As you can see, there is a ton of versatility with the leg press, as well as safety components, and an ability to really make some serious gains!
Leg Press Disadvantages
Even though you are in a safer position, there is still a possibility of overloading the spine, so know your body, only lift what you can and each time you train, you can gradually add more and more weight.
Because of the seated position, you are not working your stabilizer muscles, which leads to a weaker core and lower back. Make sure you are not lowering the weight too much and keeping the angle around 90 degrees to avoid lower back strain.
If you ask any fitness fanatic, they will tell you that the squats are the king of all exercises. Squats are the most functional and primal exercise in the book and if you do not perform them, there are many progressions so you better start learning!
While some say that a lack of mobility means you should not squat, this is actually more of the reason to perform a squat. There are many small movement exercises you can do with resistance bands to increase your mobility to perform a perfect squat.
If you look at any training plan for every sport in the book, you will notice that squats are the main focus for the leg portion of the program. There are so many variations to the squat, making it a perfect exercise for building strength, explosive power, speed, and hypertrophy.
Strengthen Your Core
Do you want to do an exercise that gives you defined legs and a rocking-strong core? Then you must add squats to your training routine. Because of the load on the spine, your core is forced to engage to protect your back.
While we are mainly speaking about the back squat in this squats vs. leg press comparison, there are many other ways to squat, each having different benefits.
- Sumo Squats- A killer exercise for the inner thighs (adductor muscles) =
- Front Squats- Primarily works the quadriceps.
- Goblet Squats- A great beginner workout for those who are not comfortable with the Olympic bar yet.
- Regular Back squats- All over leg workout, with the hypertrophy evenly displaced.
Optimally, performing squats in the squat rack allows for greater results. However, if you are not comfortable with that yet, there is other equipment that you can use until you get comfortable, even air squats will help you to gain that confidence!
Ironically enough, most of the disadvantages of performing squats actually require you to perform squats in order to improve! Another reason to choose functionality first.
If you have poor mobility in your ankles and hips, it will be hard for you to perform perfect back squats. Practice your movement by doing kettlebell goblet squats with a wider stance and work on placing your feet more narrow over time.
If you have a weak core, you could be putting a strain on your lower back while you perform squats. Work with slow and stable goblet squats while really focusing on engaging your core. You can also add other exercises to your training plan such as planks and V-ups for a stronger core.
Most physical therapists will actually get you to perform squats to overcome knee issues. This is essential for building strength in the tiny stabilizer muscles that surround the knees. Consult with your Physical therapist first, then slow and steady, you should be better in no time.
The Advantage of Doing Both
Performing both the squats and using the leg press machine will provide you with an overall dynamic strength training program. The leg press results in hypotrophy gains because of the ability to use heavier loads, while the squats work all over leg muscles, strengthens your core, and adds functional movement.
Leg Press Workouts
There are many different styles of training to incorporate with the leg press machine, each one leaving you basically crawling from such a great leg pump.
- Pyramids- Start with 60% of your one-rep-max, with higher reps, then gradually add weight each set until you reach your max, then lighten the weight and work back down.
- Performa heavy set, then immediately drop the weight by 50% and perform 20 quick pulses.
The possibilities are endless with squat training and it really depends on your goals, but here are a few fun exercises to get you started!
- Perform a set of 70% of your 1RM, then rack the weight and perform 20 jump squats
- Pyramid- Perform 60% of your 1RM, then add a bit of weight each set until you cannot lift any heavier.
- Alternate days of high rep, low weight with a low rep, high weight days.
- Perform 20 air squats, 20 sumo squats, and 20 jumping squats back to back, rest 1 minute and repeat for a major HIIT burn.
So, Leg Press or Squats, Which Is Really Better?
As explained above, there really is no way of telling you which exercise is better, because we are all different in terms of goals, abilities, and mobility. By adding both the leg press and squats to your training program, you will have a well-rounded and functional lifting program.
If you have any more questions about the leg press, squats, or high-intensity interval training, feel free to contact us at any time, we would be happy to help you achieve your fitness goals!
Proudly serving the Katy, Fulshear and Richmond Texas area, Beat Strong Fitness and Nutrition offers nutrition and group interval training classes based on high intensity interval training, or HIIT.