This site may contain links to affiliate websites, and we receive an affiliate commission for any purchases made by you on the affiliate website using such links. Read Our Disclosures
Squats vs. leg press: which one is actually better? Is it ok to replace squats with a leg press?
Even though we wish that the answer was so simple, it really comes down to two main aspects: your individual needs and your fitness objectives.
Assuming that you’re a healthy person, don’t suffer from certain back conditions, and want to improve your balance and strength, squat exercises may have an edge, but they surely lack a few of the key benefits that leg presses offer.
Fortunately, whether you’re a gym pro or a total beginner starting out their fitness journey, you’ve come to the right place to learn the difference between the squat and the leg press.
We put together this article to help you learn everything there is to know about these two exercises and how they can help you get fit.
What Is A Leg Press?
Leg presses are one of the most popular machines at any gym. Although they primarily work your quadriceps (the muscles on the front of your thighs), a leg press can work your hamstrings too (the muscles on the back of your thighs).
A leg press can help you target a specific area of your body and carry out isolated exercises. If you’re looking to build muscle in the lower body area without having to master a specific technique, involve other body parts, or target other muscle groups, a leg press is a great option to consider.
Using a leg press should be one of your go-to home gym exercises, as they’re highly effective in any strength training routine and they offer a friendlier approach to leg workouts than squats.
Pro Tip: If you’re suffering from any back conditions, joint pain in the upper body area, or simply have trouble with balance and motion, a leg press is definitely the better alternative for you.
What Are Squats?
Squats are one of the most common lower-body exercises. A squat requires the activation of different muscle groups: your quads, hamstrings, glutes, core muscles, inner thighs, and calves, which makes it a great exercise for your leg day.
Unlike a leg press, squats target several muscle groups and require extensive body movement and a good sense of motion. Squats are not always a beginner-friendly exercise, given that even gym pros often struggle with mastering the perfect squat.
Squats have many alternatives, depending on the moving pattern and squat technique:
- Front squat
- Back squat
- Jump squats
And other types of compound exercises, such as performing the traditional back squat using free weights, the barbell squat, or walking squats.
Just like with any type of exercise, there are a few squat cons, such as:
- They load the spine, especially when you add too much weight on top of your body mass.
- They’re difficult to perform, especially if you’re looking to get the most out of this exercise which means performing the squat deep, almost all the way to the floor.
- Squats won’t help you isolate one muscle group.
Still, they are a great exercise for anyone who wants to master their leg strength or has a personal preference for less equipment (as you can perform them with just your body weight).
What Makes The Leg Press Different From Squats?
Squats and leg presses are two of the most popular exercises for building muscle. While they share many similarities, there are also some key differences between them.
- The leg press is a machine-based exercise that allows you to work your legs without having to balance your body weight. This makes it easier to focus on isolating and strengthening the muscles in your legs.
- Conversely, a squat is an exercise performed with free weights—usually barbells or dumbbells—and requires balance and coordination to perform correctly.
Because of this difference in equipment, squats tend to be more demanding than leg presses when it comes to overall fitness levels. In addition, squats require more flexibility than leg presses do since they require you to bend at the waist while extending your knees and hip joints simultaneously.
- The leg press does not require this degree of flexibility so it’s easier for individuals with joint pain or injury problems to perform this exercise safely than squats would be for them.
- When it comes to squats, you must know the proper technique to make the most out of your leg training. Performing squats is a challenge even for fitness pros, as many variations are available and it requires the entire body to be involved.
With a leg press, you can isolate your movement and target only the area you’re interested in. A seated leg press will help you build quad strength and achieve a compact lower-body workout.
A key thing to note about the leg press is that it’s not just for beginners—even people who have been working out for years can benefit from adding this exercise into their routine. Even if both target similar muscle groups, it’s best to add the leg press and squat alternatively to your workout.
The Benefits Of Both Exercises – Using a Leg Press Machine Vs. Doing Squats
The main similarity between squats and using a leg press is that they both target your lower body and activate the quad muscles. Still, there are certain differences that can significantly impact the outcome of your workout.
Most importantly, they both have significant health benefits and they’ll both improve your leg strength, but in different ways.
Here are the main benefits of doing squats:
- They target multiple muscle groups
- You won’t get bored of them quickly as there are many squat variations (barbell squats, back squats, etc.)
- They’re a compound movement exercise (as they involve parts of the upper body as well)
Now, let’s explore the leg press pros:
- Leg press exercises allow for an isolated and targeted movement
- You can always boost your workout by adding more weight plates
- Leg pressing doesn’t pressure the spine (especially important for people with back problems)
- Using a leg press is generally safer and more accessible than doing squats
This means that while squats are more effectively able to target different parts of your legs (e.g., glutes), they do so at the expense of safety.
Because of this risk factor, many fitness experts recommend sticking with squats only if you’re already experienced with them (e.g., if you’ve been doing them regularly).
When To Perform Leg Presses, And When To Perform Squats To Grow Leg Muscles
So, the question is: leg press vs squat? The short answer is both.
Both the squat and leg press offer some amazing benefits to your routine and serve their purpose.
If you’re a beginner just starting out, we recommend working out using the leg press and slowly increase your muscle mass gradually. Try adding lighter weight at first, then see how it feels on your body and work your way up from there.
Alternate this exercise with a few squats at first, and as you’re growing stronger and want to target more muscle groups simultaneously, implement other types of squats into your lower body workouts.
Some strength training programs recommend adding both exercises to your workout routine. As long as you don’t add too much weight, start off slowly and gradually increase the difficulty of the exercise, but also alternate days, your lower body strength will thrive.
If you want to target your backside, hamstrings, quads, and calf muscles, both leg presses and squats will help you achieve your fitness goals.
A leg press may be a better alternative if you’re just starting out, but if you’re really determined and ready to take charge of your body, you can definitely go for both leg presses and squats.
If you’re taking your fitness journey seriously and want to start targeting major muscles while building strength, add a leg press machine to your home gym today and start working on the legs of your dreams!
Nadia is a USA-HomeGym.com Senior Editor with 15 years+ experience in the health, supplement and nutrition niches. Nadia became a health & fitness evangelist after rebuilding her gut health in 2008 using the Weston A. Price method. She developed a Facebook group that grew to more than 15,000 members sharing information on diet for allergy reduction, eczema & psoriasis cessation. Since 2011, Nadia has been an avid stair climber, achieving race times in the top 5% of her age group and maintaining average times of 3’40 – 3’55 minutes per 12 floors.