Squats vs Leg Press

When it comes to leg day, people either love it or hate it. The love or hate though often comes from A) the pain of it all and B) the dislike of squats when it’s programmed in. Some people are just not great squatters, don’t feel comfortable doing them, or have imbalances, weaknesses or injuries that prevent them from performing them well. This is where you’ll find most will avoid squats all together and choose the leg press machine instead. But can you build just as much muscle on the leg press compared to squats, and why do people prefer one to another?

As you can see from the poll we ran above, people are often split on their preferred choice of exercises on leg day. The simple answer here doesn’t just relate to leg press, but any other exercise you can do…weight is weight! Your body doesn’t know if you’re squatting or leg pressing, it’s simply an applied force on the body, which under control and enough tension, can create a hypertrophic response (muscle building). It’s really what you do with the exercise that counts and how much damage you can cause in your muscle muscle fibers in order to grow.

In one study for example using EMG, a tool that measures how much muscle activity is going on with exercises you do. They found the following results:

EMG activity of the quadriceps during hack squat, leg press, squat and leg extension variations; data adapted from Boeckh-Behrens & Buskies. 2000

You can see that squats and leg press have very similar activation. Yes you’ll use more muscles in a squat as you’re standing with a free-weight, whereas you’re sitting isolated on a leg press. So what are the pro’s and cons of using leg press instead if you don’t like squatting?

Pro’s

  • You can isolate your quads a lot better on the leg press
  • You can use the seat to drive your body into, allowing you to press more weight
  • You can change your feet positioning on the board to target different areas of your legs

Con’s

  • You won’t get as big a growth hormone spike as you would on squats as it requires less stabilising muscle groups in one movement. Squats are a compound movement that require much more full body stability
  • You won’t work your core as hard on a seated leg press as you would on squats
  • You’ll not get as full-body strong as you would with squats
  • Depending on how you connect with certain exercises you may feel more growth in your glutes from squatting instead of leg press.

So can you build muscle with the leg press if you aren’t into squatting?

100%.

The fixed positioning of the leg press will help you isolate your legs a lot more while being able to use more weight too. But our honest advice if you’re able to?

Do Both!!! Variety of exercises will give you some serious results, especially if you’re using good form with them. So next time squats come up in your workout in the app, why not alternate workout-to-workout. Leg press one week, squats the next.

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