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The Leg Press Vs. the Squat — Who Wins the Battle for Leg Day?

When it comes to leg day, we all are conflicted at the Squat and Leg Press. Some say the Squat is the best for your lower body growth and some say the Leg press is better for long term gains. Keep reading to find out which exercise wins at the battle of The Leg Press Vs The Squat. 

Is the leg press or squat better? It depends. Find out more here.

Squat Vs Leg Press
The Leg Press Vs. the Squat — Who Wins the Battle for Leg Day? 5

The debate for Leg Press Or Squat for Leg day is a never ending one but we can definitely pin down important points for a beginner to take note of, for their fitness journey. The study of difference, similarities and the muscles targeted in both exercises will help us understand better whether the Squat or the Leg Press is better

Differences Between the Leg Press and Squat

The difference between Squat and Leg Press is essential to know what are you missing out on either one of them and they are as follows. 

Machine Versus Free Weight

The obvious difference between the Squat and The Leg Press is that Squat is a free weight exercise and the Leg Press is a Machine exercise. The basic understanding people have of both exercises is that free weights are better than machines unless you are recovering from injury or you just aim for muscle hypertrophy. 

Motor Control

Theajor muscles activated in both Leg Press and Squats are more or less the same but they way they are activated and the overall motor control is different. The entire nervous system is stressed while performing Squat, while the Leg Press is more of a lower body focus exercise with less stress. 

Muscles Trained

The Squat trains your quads, gulets, hamstring and to an extent your lower and upper back. The Leg Press also trains the same muscles as a squat but keeps the upper back out of equation at all times. 

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The Leg Press is Easier to Perform

Now it's a commonly known fact that Leg press is the easier variation among the Leg exercises. You can easily move a lot of weight without fatiguing. Even a beginner can push 1.2× their body weight on their first attempt on Leg Press. The easier intensity and low stress makes the Leg Press a beginner's favorite exercise. 

Weight Positioning

How the weight moves matters while doing a workout especially when you're training legs. The Squat is a top down pressure while the Leg Press is a bottom up pressure. They both offer resistance but from opposite directions, that is why even though they work similar muscles but feel very different. 

Similarities Between the Leg Press and Squat

The Squat and Leg Press aren't just opposites thay do share some similarities between them, similarities which are mentioned below. 

Joint Movements

The number of joints activated is the same in both Squats and in Leg Press. The bend of the knee and ankles is expected in both, while the back remains stiff and straight in Leg Press, the Squat also demands you to keep your back stiff and arched. 

Neither Isolates Your Hamstrings

The one thing both Squat and Leg Press consistently fail to do is isolate hamstrings, sure you can emphasize the hamstring more by choosing a wider stance in Squats and Leg Press but a major amount of work is still done by quads and glutes. 

Leg Press Vs. Squat Technique

It is apparent that the Squat and Leg Press use different techniques to execute. The Squat will injure your collar bone, lower back, wrists, knees and neck if you don't apply proper technique. The Leg Press is a machine workout which doesn't mean you are relieved of your technique requirement. A bad technique on Leg Press will hurt your knees, lower back and may cause hip impingement. 

Different Body Positions

The Squat position will require you to engage your back first, the way you hold and place the bar on your back matters a lot. The arch back is not required on the squat, you need to bend forward a little and that's enough from a mobility perspective. Depth is also another heated subject amongst squatters, you should let your body anatomy dictate how low you should go. A person with a long femur bone will struggle to hit depth in squats while a person with shorter femur will hit depth easily. 

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The Leg Press will slowly and steadily damage your lower back and one day will leave you with hip impingement, unless you use proper seat placement and angles while setting up the Leg Press. It is easy to push weight around the Leg Press so it is natural to put on more weight stack, but more weight doesn't mean more gains, with more weight you are exposing yourself to a lower back injury. You should also keep your legs from fully extending as this might lead you to E.R.

Lower Back

How lower back works in a Leg workout will dictate how well your Leg day will be. In a typical squat people use a belt to reduce impact on the lower back. Some advanced power lifters are able to do heavy squats without the use of a belt and they achieve this with a proper bracing and breathing technique. 

In a Leg Press workout you need to worry about your lower back as it is the highest risk injury area while performing Leg Press. To avoid lower back engagement you must try to avoid lifting your but during the entire movement. To do this hold the handlebars on the sides and press yourself into the seat. 

How to Do the Leg Press

leg Press
Leg Press
  • First setup the Leg Press machine according to your height. 
  • Stack enough plates for you to hit depth on every rep. 
  • Take a seat and place your foot on the platform. 
  • Now grab the handle bars, brace your core and push the platform and unrack the weight stack. 
  • This is your starting position. 
  • Slowly lower the platform while keeping your bottom on the seat. 
  • Once reached maximum stretch, you push the weight to the starting position without overextending your legs. 
  • Repeat for reps

How to Do the Squat

Barbell Back Squat
  • First you rack the bar to a comfortable height and stack enough weight for you to squat without breaking the form. 
  • Grab the bar and get underneath by engaging your back. 
  • Take a deep breath and unrack the bar. 
  • Take a few steps back and place your feet at a comfortable stance. 
  • This is your starting position. 
  • Take a deep breath, bend forward a little and lower down the weight till at least you reach 90° angle between your femur and tibia. 
  • Once reached the maximum depth you push the weight up with drive and speed to reach the starting position. 
  • Once back at the starting position you can exhale and take a deep breath. 
  • Repeat for reps. 
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When to Do the Leg Press Vs. Squat 

What to do on a typical Leg Day? Whether to do Squats or Leg Press Or both. We have gone through how to do it. Let's see in detail when to do them. 

Absolute Strength

The Strength athlete always tests themselves against how much they squat. A Leg Press is an easy task for most people and a strength athlete leaves easy tasks for others. If you want just strength gains you should look no further than a regular Squat. 

For Muscle-Building

If you wish to gain muscles then Leg Press might be a better option for you over a traditional Squat. Squats will also help you gain muscles without a doubt but it might also increase your glutes size and widen your hip circumference. If you don't mind that then Squat will help you gain muscles quickly. If you specifically want to keep your glutes and hips out of the equation then Leg Press will help you reach your goal. 

For Bodybuilders

The bodybuilding community has been clear about their goals from the golden era, you are in the gym for muscle hypertrophy not strength training. Hypertrophy doesn't demand a high joint tissue risk and high nervous system stress. Hypertrophy can be easily achieved on the Leg Press machine and heavy Squats will leave you fatigued enough so you don't have energy to do the isolation exercises. 

For Powerlifters and Functional Fitness Athletes

A Powerlifter's bread and butter are Bench, Deadlift and Squats. The average Powerlifter does not care for hypertrophy or aesthetics, their main goal is to lift heavier than they used to, Leg Press isn't going to help them reach there. Sure some tournaments do organize Leg Press for Powerlifters but the Olympic lifters are sticking to the basics. From a functional standpoint , Squats are better as they help you create deep connections between muscles and help develop the balancing aspect of lifting. 

For Beginners

If you are a beginner in lifting and you are finding your way through various disciplines and styles you should start with a light weight Squats and slowly progress to a Leg Press Machine and compare them yourself is the Squat or Leg Press giving you more returns. A big part of being fit is finding what works for you and you can still go through articles like this to clear up your mind about which exercise to choose. 

Leg Press Vs. Squat — Who Wins?

If you ask in a battle between Leg Press Vs Squats who wins, well the answer depends on who's asking.

If you are a beginner you should try both exercises and let your muscles get used to different movements, a beginner is going to lift light weight and low intensity anyway, so trying everything won't harm them. 

If you are a Bodybuilder or you choose aesthetic looks over strength then Leg Press is for you.

An average Powerlifter or Strength athlete will always opt for a traditional Squat over Leg press. 

So as a enthusiast which one do you prefer, The Leg Press Or Squat? 

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sandesh Khade
sandesh Khade

Hi I'm Sandesh khade and I am an electronics and telecommunications engineer, I have taught math to engineering, diploma and 10+2 students. I am also an avid fitness enthusiast and workout regularly. I love to analyze and write. I try to write about almost any event or make one up just for the sake of practicing writing.