It’s an age old debate, and one that still rages today. Which exercise is better for building lower body strength and size, is it the traditional squat, or the leg press machine? Before we can answer that question, let’s take a look at the pros behind each exercise.
Pros of the leg press
Fixed pattern movement: The nature of a resistance machine such as the leg press is that of fixed pattern movement. This means that the machine restricts the movement of the body to a fixed path. This is great for training the body to move against resistance in a safe and controlled way, ideal for people new to working out or people recovering from injury.
Single leg training: The leg press allows you to train each leg independently. This is important for addressing any muscle imbalances you might have.
More weight: Due to the fixed pattern movement, the body is not required to use the stabilising muscles, which are generally the weak link, limiting the amount of weight which can be lifted. This means that theoretically you should be able to lift much heavier in a safer way – stimulating more muscle growth.
Drop sets: A great method of ensuring muscle hypertrophy is the drop set. Key to the drop is being able to reduce the weight and reengage the muscle as quickly as possible. This is much easier to do on a machine than it is when loading plates on and off a barbell.
No need for a spotter: Your state of mind is often just as important to physical performance as is physical ability. Standing with a barbell on your back, loaded with considerable weight can be quite an unnerving experience, even more so if you have no spotter to back you up. A leg machine takes away this sense of doubt, meaning you can confidently work to muscle failure.
Pros of the squat
Greater levels of testosterone and HGH: Research has shown that barbell squats result in significantly higher levels of testosterone and growth hormone being produced when compared to levels produced when using a leg press machine. A study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research showed that during a squat, testosterone levels are nearly 25% higher than during a leg press, and levels of growth hormone are almost 200% higher.
Improvement in core strength: When performing a squat, whether using a barbell or a pair of dumbbells, your core becomes fully engaged as it works hard to ensure your body structure remains stable and you maintain an upright position.
Reduce chances of injury: When you perform a squat, all of your stabilising muscles come into play. Ensuring that these muscles are strengthened correctly is going to considerably reduce your chances of getting an injury when exercising, play sports, or just about any time you move around. Of course, this is when squats are performed correctly and safely. Performing squats with bad form, or with loads that are far too heavy for your current ability to handle will undoubtedly increase your chance of injury.
Boost sports performance: Studies have shown that there is an undeniable correlation between squat strength and athletic performance, helping athletes run faster and jump higher.
So what is the conclusion? Which exercise is better? If you had to choose only one exercise, the squat would be more beneficial in the long run as it trains the entire body, including the smaller stabilising muscles which are often overlooked. However, it is very unlikely that you will be forced to choose only one exercise for legs for the rest of your life. The best answer is that both the leg press and the squat offer considerable advantages, and should both be part of your regular workout routine. Which exercise you place emphasis on will ultimately come down to what your specific goals are.
The squat is a great tool for building all around body strength which translates extremely well into functional movement. However, if you suffer from back pain, or have pre-existing problems with your knees or hips, it may be quite a challenge to perform squats with the weight necessary for effectively stimulating muscle growth.
The leg press is a great tool for beginners, and for people recovering from injury. It also allows you to train with greater loads as the stabilising muscles are not required. If your intent is to focus on muscle hypertrophy, increasing the size of the muscle, then the leg press is ideal.
*The views and/or opinions expressed in the blogs are not necessarily those of Training Nation, but of the author