If you are looking to build your leg muscles at the gym you most likely would have to do the leg press or squat, do you prefer to do one type of exercise or do you mix it up?
If you combine different lower body exercises like squats and leg presses but aren’t sure which one is better than the other, you are not alone.
There used to be a time when squats were the major exercise for the legs, not only for bodybuilders but for athletes who train with weights. Squats are recognized as the best exercise for building muscle mass and strength in the legs and glutes and as a great all around movement for lower body power and development.
There used to be a time when bodybuilders focused on aesthetically pleasing bodies that emphasized symmetry and proportion along with muscle size and definition. Unlike today’s bodybuilders, the aim was not extreme size over the beauty of the physique. Training the legs was important to keep the sizes of the body symmetrical and pleasing to the eye unlike most Johnny bravo looking kind of body builders today.
Basically what has changed in today’s bodybuilding and powerlifting world is that most of the focus now is on doing plenty reps and sets with heavy weights to force the muscles to move past their breaking point. After all, it seems to have worked for many others over the years, so how could it not work for you too? Mostly when the focus is to gain massive amounts of muscle to enable you to compete against other bodybuilders and powerlifters.
High reps & sets with heavy weights is a part of preparing for bodybuilding competitions. Also there wasn’t as much science back then to really help them determine the best way to workout to not only meet your goals, but also to perfect form and avoid injury. We can review studies and see what works for other people in the gym to focus and get massive muscle gains, and to be able to compete with the best in the world, if that’s your plan.
Whether you use leg press vs squat exercises, It will depend on your goals and any health concerns that you might have. People with certain back or knee injuries would want to choose something that is low impact so they don’t risk hurting themselves more.
Make sure you are working with your doctor to form a plan that you can stick to until you are ready to be able to work out fully again.
Leg Press Benefits
Leg press is a really great exercise to do when aiming for strength and leg development. Most people aren’t able to squat using much weight in the initial because they don’t have core and leg strength to be able to power through the exercises.
There are two different types of leg press machines:
With the diagonal or leg press machine – the user sits below the weighted sled and pushes up with their feet to complete the exercise
Seated leg press
With the seated leg press machine – the user sits upright and pushes the platform with their feet, with the weights attached to the plate by a long cable
These two types of leg press machines can seen at gyms and can be used as trainingfor strength. Due to the incline track design, more weight can typically be used on the diagonal sled machine compared to the seated leg press machine.
Using the leg press machine can assist you in maxing out heavy weighted reps to create well defined quads that are able to handle substantial weight without buckling and leading to knee injuries.
If you’ve ever been to the gym and seen someone who looked like they were going to be crushed by the weights on their back during a squat you can imagine the punishment their knees and lower back are taking as they tremble under that pressure?
If you are a beginner, it is very important to get a strong leg foundation before you start adding weights to your squat exercises. Because you can risk being thrown off balance, or causing back or knee injuries.
It is also very important to have proper form when doing the seated leg press exercises because it can lead to knee injuries due to the amount of weight added to the machine. Make sure you check look for a trainer or someone at the gym who performs this exercise flawlessly for tips on how to position your back, legs, and knees to ensure you are doing it correctly and get the best results.
Squats are a great full body workout and can be done with just bodyweight alone this makes it a great exercise to be done at home or anywhere you have a little bit of space to finish the exercise. If you want to squat with weights to gain muscle or to get ready to compete in your next competition, you have a choice between dumbbells, barbell, or kettlebells.
There are different variations of the squat that can be done, and they all have importance to the user. Here are just some of the squat variants:
Loaded squat jump
Trap bar squat
A body builder of the golden era Tom Platz believes in the power of the squat so much that he even holds lessons at his gym to show people how to complete the exercise effectively and safely.
Squats do not only develop core strength, but they also tone your back, thighs, and increase hip stability. They also increase your leg size and strength. It is considered a very flexible exercise because you can do it with just your own bodyweight or with a heavy weight load, like in bodybuilding and powerlifting competitions.
Leg Press vs Squat Weight
You see when it comes to how much weight an average person can handle when comparing the leg press to squats, the clear winner would always be the leg press.
The reason is that you are working on a slope with a seated leg press machine in a seated position,and with your lower back and the bench it is pressed against taking on some of the weight.
When you are in a seated position and you’re only using your legs to push the weight it allows you to increase the weight as much as three times the amount you can comfortably squat. This also applies to the sled leg press machine where the inclined track allows a greater weight load.
While squatting with free weights, you would have to work to hold the weight up when you are squatting down. Then, when coming back up, your muscles would have to not only push up your body weight, the added free weight, but would also have to fight against gravity pulling everything back down towards the floor.
If you compare how much you can leg press vs squat it should always show that you can leg press more, but that doesn’t indicate that leg press is superior to squats. It just means that you are able to take advantage of having a machine help you with the weight distribution, rather than it being all on you like when you are doing squats.
Squats vs Leg Press for Glutes
If you compare squats vs leg press and how well they work the glutes, there is no question that the winner would be squats.
The seated leg press is a good way to exercise all four muscle groups of the quads – rectus femoris, vastus medialis, vastus lateralis and vastus intermedius. But the muscles worked stop here with this type of workout.
The seated leg press is a good way to exercise all four muscle groups of the quads
But squats can work the entire body and provide a full workout, this depends on the type of squat exercise you are doing. The thighs, hips, glutes, quads, hamstrings, back, and core are all being activated and employed in order to perform the perfect squat maneuver.
Targeted muscles during squat
Proper squats activate thighs, hips, glutes, quads, hamstrings, back, & core.
Proper squats even help promote stability and protect the bones, ligaments, and tendons if done correctly.
Squat vs Leg Press Muscle Activation
A study was done to know the effect on knee biomechanics comparing different techniques during the squat and leg press on 10 experienced male lifters using different foot placements like
High foot placement leg press
Low foot placement leg press
And the results of the study proved that squats provided more quadricep and hamstring activation above all the techniques and foot placement than the leg press. The greater activation leads to a better muscle development in the quads and the hamstrings.
The study also found that the knee takes greater force with the squat, this is to be expected when using heavier free weights compared to the seated leg press machine. Foot placement also plays a part, as low foot placement focus more on the quad muscle and higher foot placement will exercise the glutes and hamstrings more.
A study done with 14 women supports that foot placement and stance alter the muscles activated when doing leg presses. It concluded that the following leg press types are best for certain muscle groups:
Glute activation was greatest during high leg press
Rectus Femoris and calf muscle activation was greatest during low leg press and a 45° angle leg press. Quad activation was the greatest during low leg press
High leg press
Position your feet high and wide on the 45 degree leg press for the full quad activation.
Hormonal Response Free Weight vs Machine Weight
As with any exercises, hormone levels can change depending on what you do and how you do it. Increased testosterone and growth hormone levels can help you with reducing body mass and fat while you’re increasing stamina, muscle size and strength.
Squat vs. Leg Press Maximal Strength and Speed Strength
In two months, 78 people were studied to determine how back squats compare to leg presses using a 45 degree machine. Half of the group was the control and the other half was then divided into groups. One subgroup focused on squats over the two month period and the other subgroup focused on leg press exercises.
The they were tested to determine their jump performance after the two month training period where both subgroups were tested prior to starting and after finishing.
The parallel squat group had a 12.4% increase in squat jump performance and a 12% increase in countermovement jump performance.
The leg press group had a much less notable difference in performance with squat jumps at 3.5% and countermovement jumps at 0.5%.
If it comes to maximal and speed strength, back squats offer a much higher performance increase compared to leg press.
Strength Training in Older Women
It is without doubt that strength training has real health benefits, and it is true that no matter how old you are by age or how old you feel.
When older women were studied on functional strength after completing different exercises, including the leg press, they saw encouraging results.
Forty five women finished a three month training program including leg presses which not only increased their functional capacity and muscle performance, but it increased their overall quality of life. They were split between a high-speed group and a low-speed group.
The two groups saw a significant improvement in ball throwing, 10 meter walking sprints, and the 8-foot-up-and-go test. The improvement was much higher in the high-speed group over the low-speed group.
Another study done on 58 women, all healthy and between the ages of 62 – 72, divided over three different groups agrees this theory. When compared to the traditional group and power group, the rapid strength group showed the most functional development among all the groups.
Clearly, the leg press provides some benefits when done correctly, and it seems that high intensity training can cause a better overall function.
Squats to Leg Press Formula
There is no specific and fixed formula to calculate weight from squats to leg press. There are different variables that come into play like weight, height, type of exercise, weight used, slope of leg press machine.
If you are a bodybuilder and aren’t already applying Strength Level, you should check it out. You can keep track of your results and also compare yourself to other bodybuilders doing the same.
You can actually calculate your strength based on your personal gender, weight and the type of exercise, weight and repetitions. There are even charts that show the average amount to leg press based on gender and weight to see how well you’re doing.
If you prefer squats or the leg press machine, both will provide you with health benefits, greater functional capacity, and help you gain muscles.
While there is a place for the leg press at the gym, it should be done combined with a squat routine so that you can experience the benefits of both ways to define your legs and increase muscle mass.
Squats will always win out because they provide proper full body workout compared to the leg press, which targets the lower part of the body. If you are looking for a faster gym session, doing some sets of squats will help you save more time.
However, don’t be economical with the leg press, especially if you are recovering from injury or haven’t gotten down the form of doing squats correctly. Practice makes perfect and if it means building up more leg muscles and stability to help you really perform at peak when doing squats, hit the leg press to build up and then go for it.