The Squat Vs The Leg Press

aTefTsXjzB4What first drew me to the squat vs the leg press (and this is very likely the first of a series of posts pitting exercises against each other) was reading about many pro bodybuilders, whose quad development borders on disturbing, that don’t squat at all. They use the leg press as their main mass building movement. Now before you point out the whole steroid issue, one that gets used far too often as an excuse for many casual bodybuilders to justify their own lack of effort, might I point out that I highly doubt steroids have anything to do with the choice of leg press over squats. After all, steroids primarily help with the recovery of muscle and increase protein synthesis and nitrogen retention amongst other things but they do not make certain exercises more or less effective. If a steroid using bodybuilder is interested in building muscle, then he/she will use the exercises that will best promote muscle development. Now that I have that out of the way, let’s look at everything as if it’s a level playing field, at least in that regard from here on in.

Squats4The main reason that squats have always been known as the go to quad building exercise is simple; they were pretty much the only quad exercise that one could safely perform for a very long time. The leg press is a relatively modern invention in terms of weight training, as are the hack squat and the leg extension machine. If you wanted to grow your legs you performed squats and deadlifts. That still holds true today, I’m not going to argue that those two exercises in particular cannot be the core of ones leg training regimen, but I am going to suggest that you don’t have to squat in order to have huge quads and secondly the squat may not work well for everyone (in another instalment of this brand new Vs series I’ll be putting the deadlift through the ringer as well, so everyone get their torches and pitchforks handy for my sure to be imminent lynching).

The argument’s from the MUST squat camp are that the squat is a full body, multi-joint, compound muscle movement that relies heavily on core strength and balance as well as great coordination and mechanics to correctly complete. Agreed. As far as which movement is more athletic on its own, the squat wins hands down. No argument here. It is worthy of mention at this point that many athletes, including sprinters, speed skaters and cyclists, almost always favor the leg press as the movement to develop explosive power.  While the squat is the more athletic of the two movements, it isn’t necessarily the preferred movement of the athlete. Interesting. Quite simply because once you remove all of the mechanics, balance and coordination needed to effectively squat, the leg press can then be used to focus solely on leg strength, or in the case of the bodybuilder, to grow muscle.

If you are either a powerlifter or an Olympic lifter then you must squat. As a powerlifter you need to squat because it’s a competition lift. If you’re an Olympic lifter then the squat is a crucial assistance exercise for both the snatch and the clean and jerk. In the case of the Olympic lifters, the overhead squat is the exercise of choice to recover from the snatch and the front squat is the exercise that is used most often to recover from the clean. The back squat isn’t necessary at all. If you are neither a powerlifter nor an j9D5K2dOlympic lifter (even in the case of crossfit the squat clean and one legged squats are the squats used in competition) and your only concern is the development of the muscles of your quadriceps then you don’t need to squat at all.

Then there are the physiological reasons that make the squat a not very ideal exercise for some. Those of us who are relatively tall with long femurs have a lot of difficulty squatting with enough weight to challenge our quads adequately. The reason being is that we have to lean so far forward due to our long thigh bones which means that our back will give out long before our quads will. This also makes it impossible for me personally to drop all the way to the bottom without my back rounding. For this reason alone I prefer the front squat. I can drop all of the way to the bottom and maintain the natural curve in my low back. To those who argue that squatting to parallel is all that is required I have one question to ask you; do you only bench press until your elbow is 90 degrees, or do you work your chest muscles in their full range of motion knowing full well that any muscle worked in its full range will develop much more completely than a muscle worked in a partial range of motion? Make that two questions; are your quads any different in that regard than any other muscle? Then squat all the way down and all the way up as you would with an other exercise. Unless of course you are a competitive powerlifter where one only needs to squat to parallel.

img_1349964543This means that if you’re someone who isn’t built for squatting, meaning someone who is tall or has long femurs or even back issues, then you will never be able to add enough weight to the bar to challenge your quads and stimulate muscle hypertrophy. Does it not make sense then that the leg press would be your better option if you meet any of the above criterea? Assuming you aren’t rounding your back by going too deeply on the leg press (I mean way too deeply. Go as deeply as you possibly can while maintaining your spines natural shape) the leg press provides an excellent alternative as your primary quad mass builder.

Personally I have dropped back squats entirely and I don’t miss them at all. I still front squat as I can go all the way to the bottom and maintain a relatively upright torso and a straight back meaning I can go as heavy as I want without fear of injury. I do feel, however, that I could if I wanted to eliminate front squats as well and rely on the leg press exclusively. I don’t intend to as I feel variety is also important but my point still stands. There is no reason to squat if you are unable to do so maximally, safely. The leg press is the squats equal as far as building muscle is concerned, and if you were to look further on this subject (not something I’m choosing to cover in this particular article) you may discover that the leg press is arguably a more effective exercise for muscle-building. Until next time my friends,

Happy Lifting!

The Squat Vs The Leg Press

Traditional Vs Sumo Deadlift

The Pull Up Vs The Pulldown

The Bench Press Vs The Dumbbell Fly

The Standing Vs Seated Overhead Press

Crunches Vs Planks: The Best Exercise For Ripped Abs

The Deadlift Vs The Pull Up Vs The Barbell Row

EZ Curl Bar And Preacher Curls Vs Barbell And Dumbbell Curls

Compound Vs Isolation Movements

Free Weights Vs Machines

Dips Vs Bench Press: The Best Chest Building Exercise

The Romanian Vs Stiff Leg Deadlift

Whey Vs Casein

Dips Vs Close Grip Bench Press Vs Skullcrushers

Bench Press Vs Pull-Ups Vs Shoulder Press – The Best Upper Body Lift

Squats Vs Deadlifts – The BEST Lift

Squats Vs Deadlifts – The BEST Lift 2

Squats Vs Deadlifts – The Best Lift 3

This article was researched and written by Matt Taylor

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21 comments for “The Squat Vs The Leg Press

  1. Anonymous
    September 23, 2016 at 4:32 pm

    Thank you so much Matt!!!
    Your explanations, clarity and understanding really makes this an amazing and informative read.

  2. David L Schlabach
    May 14, 2016 at 5:12 pm

    Matt, as a volleyball player who has obsessed with improving my vertical (Squats, Olympic Lifts, Snatch Grip Deadlifts, Depth Jumps, Trap Bar lifts, jumps, etc.) I was interested in what you wrote about high level athletes using the leg press for explosive development in their legs. Any more information you can give me?


    • Matt Taylor
      May 15, 2016 at 7:34 am

      I don’t have the study handy, but skipping has been proven to increase vertical substantially. Other things you could try are jump squats with dumbells, or a medicine ball. Stair sprints are great as well. I hope this helps David. Let me know how this is working for you when you get the chance.

  3. September 25, 2014 at 7:43 pm

    Great stuff as always, Matt… Would be interesting to see a comparison of either of the above with heavy lunges… Your opinion of lunges?

    • Matt Taylor
      September 27, 2014 at 5:20 pm

      I put lunges into the same category as squats but with even more moving parts. Yes, they are a great exercise just like squats but also like squats they require much more than just quad/hamstring/glite strength due to the fact you’re using free weights and working one side of the lower body at a time. They are a great compliment to any leg building routine but arguably not necessary just like squats.

  4. Harpreet Singh
    August 19, 2014 at 8:37 am

    There is a lot of talk of Quad development. Does the press balance it with hamstrings as well like the squat does. I find my back rounding at the bottom and yes my back tends to give out before anything else.

    • Matt Taylor
      September 27, 2014 at 5:26 pm

      The leg press is equally effective at targeting hamstrings as well as quads. Finding the correct foot position is key. Try moving your legs higher up to hit more hamstring and lower to work more quad.

  5. Ant Mills
    November 26, 2013 at 2:51 pm

    Any suggestions to a person with somewhat bad knees?

    • Matt Taylor
      November 27, 2013 at 6:03 am

      A lot of time what I see with bad knees is actually weak glutes. That may be an issue that needs to be addressed with lots of hip thrusts, reverse hypers and of course deadlifts. Read the traditional vs sumo deadlifts follow up to this and see which suits your body best.

      Also, deep squatting is actually good for your knees. I suggest keeping the reps high as that’s how your legs will respond best and training your muscles to do the work is what will take the stress off of the knees.

  6. Anonymous
    November 21, 2013 at 9:49 pm

    I usually hit both in a leg day, I had a trainer tell me when I was younger that the squat was foundation for your power, and the leg press was an excellent compliment to the squat to keep pushing your legs after the rest of you gives out. Its worked well for me, but everybody is different. Excellent article glad I read it.

    • Matt Taylor
      November 23, 2013 at 5:29 pm

      Thank you, and if squats work for you then chances are you’re built for them and should keep doing them.

  7. Anonymous
    November 9, 2013 at 10:08 pm

    I’m pretty tall (6 foot 5) and quit doing back squats because just like in the article, my back gave out long before my quads or glutes did. I have a long torso and relatively short calves, so squats at full range of motion felt pretty damn close to doing good mornings. Switched over to doing leg press and never looked back. My legs have never looked better.

    I still do dead lifts, and I was able to lift a considerable amount more after I stopped doing back squats. I think it was because my lower back was no longer fatigued from the squats (always do deadlifts as a finisher). I also still do front squats and overhead squats, mostly for obliques. Nothing hits them like those exercises.

    • Matt Taylor
      November 10, 2013 at 9:02 am

      It sounds like you have a good alternative to back squats. It makes no sense to do them if you can’t get enough weight on the bar for them to be effective.

      I’m looking at deadlifts this week. I hope you stop by for that as well.

  8. Anonymous
    November 6, 2013 at 11:28 pm

    I’ve stopped doing squats, maybe not forever, in favor of more deadlifts (with a trap bar) and I’m liking the results so far. I’m tall and have long legs so don’t feel like squats are the best option for me. I’ve actually never tried front squats before but will have to give those a try also.

    • November 7, 2013 at 5:42 am

      I highly recommend front squats if you’re long legged as I am as well. It will feel pretty awkward at first and you may feel like you’re going to fall backwards but stick with it, it’s a great movement.

  9. Anonymous
    November 6, 2013 at 9:23 pm

    I agree. All dogma aside I think your statement below is dead on. Deads being another story, of course…

    If you are neither a powerlifter nor an Olympic lifter (even in the case of crossfit the squat clean and one legged squats are the squats used in competition) and your only concern is the development of the muscles of your quadriceps then you don’t need to squat at all.

    • November 7, 2013 at 5:41 am

      Thanks Anon, I appreciate your support. I’m looking at the deadlift next week so let’s see if we both agree on that Vs battle as well.

    November 6, 2013 at 5:37 pm

    How dare you challenge the orthodoxy! Outrageous and sacrilegious.
    Good for you.

    • November 6, 2013 at 7:32 pm

      I very much appreciate your support. I expected comments that were more like how yours started but I apparently am getting let off the hook, or maybe I converted a few. Wishful thinking possibly…

      • November 6, 2013 at 10:01 pm

        I’m a little shocked myself. Really looking forward to this series Matt, should be some good stuff! I gotta say, I love the leg press, favorite leg exercise. Squat I’ve learned to tolerate, pretty much always do both though.

        • November 7, 2013 at 5:39 am

          Thank you Colin, I’m having fun with this already and look forward to writing a few more – at least…

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