It’s like the bench press. It’s one of the first things you ever touched in weight room. You felt strong loading up those 45lb plates. Unfortunately, you became addicted and more effective exercises (e.g. the SQUAT!) stayed far from your training routine. Why? We like things easy. Why mess up a good thing? Well, I’m here to break down the squat and leg press to see who comes out on top.
Round 1 – Muscles Worked
Barbell Squat: It’s unstable which means more muscles have to work to control your body during a movement. Upper/mid/lower back, trunk, glutes, hamstrings, quads just to name a few.
Leg press: Mostly quads and a little bit of your glutes.
Just remember the greater the number of muscles worked the greater the exercise. Period. Leg press is stable meaning it’s easy.
Winner of round 1 goes to the Barbell Squat
Round 2 – Usefulness / Functionality
Barbell Squat: It translates to nearly every sport. Powerful, strong legs aid in nearly every leg based sport: soccer, football, baseball, basketball, hockey, etc. If you’re not an athlete then think of it as enhancing your ‘every day’ strength. Sure, you’re not going to have a nice evenly loaded weight stacked to the height of your shoulders every day but the act of sitting down and standing up happens all day long as well as carrying bags, groceries, and your kids.
Leg Press: Requires you sit in a completely unnatural position. How often are you sitting at a 45-degree incline with a loaded weight you need to push away from you? Probably never… except when you’re leg pressing.
Winner of round 2 goes to the Barbell Squat
Round 3 – Injury
Barbell Squat: A barbell squat can be very dangerous if certain precautions are not taken. For example, not using a rack with safety bars, not wearing a belt, etc. If you have solid squat mechanics then the risk of injuring yourself during a squat is very minimal if you take the proper standards of safety. Never squat OUTSIDE of the squat rack. Besides, you can always ‘bail out’ of a squat by dropping the bar off your back (again, if you know how to do it safely).
Leg Press: With a leg press you have 3 safeguards to not get injured: 1) Use light weight. 2) Don’t bend your knees past 90-degree knee flexion. Doing so will hyper ‘flex’ (round) your low back resulting in a possible slipped disc. You don’t want that. 3) Don’t lock out your knees.
Round 3 is a….tie! If you take the proper precautions then the risk of injury should be very low. However, if I had to give my biased opinion I’d say the leg press is more dangerous. I’ve never heard of a squat rack or barbell being accused of injuring someone because the equipment failed to work properly, unlike the leg press:
Overall Winner: Squat
You could probably tell from the way this article started that I’m a big fan of the squat and not so much of the leg press. I believe most people do themselves more harm than good when leg pressing. I don’t have a leg press in my gym and probably never will. We see so many new clients on a weekly basis that cannot complete a proper bodyweight squat and we are a functional training gym. A good portion of these clients have come from big box gyms (LA Fitness, Lifetime, Golds, etc) where they spent most of their time on the leg press and it was a TRAINER that put them there!!! It’s time to get back to the basics. Drop your ego, eat a slice of humble pie, and start squatting again.