Leg Press vs Squats – How Do They Compare?
Leg press is obviously better for you than the squat. With squats, you can harm your knees, hips, neck, spine and all other parts of your body and with leg press, you get all of the benefits of squats without the risks.
If you have bad knees, you should not perform any variation of the squat. If you have a bad back, you should not perform any variation of the squat. If you are not a powerlifter you should not perform any variation of the squat. If…
Related: 44 Squat Quotes – Shut Up and Squat!
If you have heard this before and believed anything I said above, you are the victim of ignorance perpetuated by trainers who do not understand how the body functions. They do not understand the seven primal movements.
They do not understand… being human. This article is not meant to diss the leg press, quite the contrary. This article is meant to dispel the myths of the squat and its dangers and also to educate you on when and where the squat and leg press are best used.
If you want to get the most out of your muscle gains and get the most out of simply being a human, keep on reading. This article is long overdue to slap some common sense into the leg press loving, squat hating bros and to set show you how to best use the squat for your quest for greatness, both inside and outside of the gym.
We will do this by dissecting both the squat and the deadlift and what their benefits are. Starting with the leg press.
Leg Press Benefits
The leg press works the entire lower body. Quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves as stabilizers. And since there is no balance required, you can overload the muscles to a very high degree.
This means that instead of focusing on balance, one can focus on exerting maximal force onto the lift which will overload the muscles and we all know that progressive overload is the main variable in making progress in the gym.
Leg Press Disadvantages
As load is increased the stress and pressure on the lower back and hips is greatly exaggerated and the risk of injury intensifies.
Being in a fixed plane, the core cannot compensate for this leading to potential compression injury and the rounding of one’s back by going too low aka using full range of motion on the movement can lead to low back injury and even worse, disk irritation and/or injury. The lack of stability could give one false confidence in their ability to handle maximal weights and again, lead to increased risk of injury.
Squats, dubbed the king of all exercises, work the entire body putting extra emphasis on lower body development. By using free weights, one is forced to tighten the core, thus working the core otherwise known as the “pillar” to a great degree. Per Dr. Stuart Hui, owner of Paradigm Performance in Elgin, IL and creator of Machine Motion:
“We are human beings. Therefore, we must move. And, we must move well. This is efficient movement. If we don’t, then our bodies will break down faster. This is poor engineering.
The primal movement patterns are: Squat, bend, push, pull, lunge, gait, rotation (twist).”
As one of the primal movements, one should be able to squat. It is simply a part of being human. The squat works all of the muscles the leg press works in addition to everything else, and I mean EVERYTHING else. It truly is the king.
When I say squat, you are thinking back squat, right? The traditional squat. But the squat has many variations and I argue that there isn’t a variation that is right for you.
However, to squat, we must not walk before we crawl. So there are some things we might look into as things that can obstruct a proper squat:
Hip and Ankle Mobility: Tight ankles and hips will hinder a squat. But for this, starting with a Goblet squat is a great way to improve this.
Knee issues: This could be a huge issue but the goal of any physical therapist should be to get the patient back to doing primal movements. Thus, with this in mind, the goblet squat again is the way to go.
Weak Core: We address this again by starting with Goblet squats and also by working the core. One great move for this is the plank and one should be able to hold this position for one minute.
The thing about the squat is that you should be able to do one of the variations. In fact, I do not even do back squat anymore since I get better core stability and form from the front squat.
The front squat rests the bar on the front of your shoulders and forces you to keep an upright torso and tight core and lacks the spinal compression of a back squat. Thus, unless a powerlifter, you are perfectly fine doing front squats over back squats and will squash some of the potential issues with back squats by doing these instead. I still like to see a progression.
If just starting… Goblet squat first.
- Do goblet squats until you have mastered the Plank and can hold 1 minute.
- Try front squats and once those have been mastered with below-parallel depth.
- Try the back squat. If you do not like these, just stick to front squats. They will work just fine!
When and Where to Incorporate Leg Press vs. Squat
The squat needs to be done by everyone, period… The end. The leg press is a great movement as an ancillary to the squat due to its ability to overload the muscle and stimulate hypertrophy.
Thus, if after lean mass gains, make sure you stay tight and safe on leg press, never round your back, and keep your body tight to promote joint stability.
Time to Gain
In the great debate of leg press vs. squats, there is no winner, just a better candidate for a given scenario. If hypertrophy is your goal, then add leg press to your leg workout. If you’re just after functionality, strength and some lean mass, then I wouldn’t bother with the leg press since squat will do just fine for what you’re looking for.
As a professional bodybuilder I do both since I want maximal and optimal hypertrophy, but my wife just looking to be fit and lean and to feel great will avoid the leg press. Train for your goals, and that’s not a game!