Leg Press Vs Squat (Benefits & Which Is Best For You?)

Developing a brilliant pair of legs is impressive. But, whether you’re male or female, beginner or advanced, if you’re looking to grow your legs, you need to use the leg press and squat.  

But, which exercise is the best? 

In this article, I'm pitting the leg press vs. squat and will show you which is the best exercise to develop your leg muscles.  

For Sports Performance 

When comparing leg press vs squat for sports performance, the squat comes out on top, in my opinion. I believe the squat is superior as it is a true compound exercise using almost every part of your body to help stabilize and move the weight you’re lifting.

The free weight nature of the squat has been proven to be superior for athletic performance in many studies. It helps increase running speed, jumping height, and power development.

However, while it is the better exercise between leg press vs squat, it's worth mentioning that the squat has a longer recovery rate. This is useful to know as the last thing you want to do is have a fatigued lower body on game day.

The leg press is a good option if you require a lower body exercise to develop your lower body while maintaining a fantastic recovery rate. Although, you will sacrifice some sports performance benefits.

Related Article - Hack Squat Vs Leg Press

barbell squats for sports performance

For Beginners 

If you’re a beginner looking to develop your lower body, you’re undoubtedly looking at the leg press vs squat.

The squat is a complex movement that can take a long time to figure out for some gym-goers. It uses multiple joints, and a lot of upper body stability, making it easy to get wrong. However, the leg press is a far simpler movement for beginners to pick up, and it doesn’t require upper body stability.

It’s also worth noting that men and women have different strength abilities. Most men will be able to squat an empty barbell without needing to build up to the weight, while I have experienced some women struggling to squat a 44lb barbell. Everyone’s circumstances are unique, and the best exercise for you will depend on numerous factors. Some beginners may find using dumbbells much easier on leg day.

Read our article on dumbbell squat vs barbell squat to see which is better for you.

For Hypertrophy Training 

Deciding which leg press or squat is best for hypertrophy is tough. The squat is a fantastic compound exercise that places huge amounts of stress across multiple muscles in your body. But, it doesn’t allow you to lift as much weight as the leg press does.

On the other hand, the leg press allows you to place a large amount of weight onto the leg press machine to overload your lower body. Ideally, I would suggest including both movements in your workout program. The squat will give your body an all-around workout, while the leg press will help you add volume. 

Body Composition  

Both the squat and leg press are brilliant for developing strength in your lower body, but which is the best for you?

The squat burns a significant amount of calories during the movement and is an excellent exercise for strength development. After all, it’s one of the main exercises included in strength competitions.

On the other hand, the leg press is effective at building the lower body and is adaptable to help you target specific areas by adjusting your foot placement. But, I don’t feel it has as significant an effect as the squat does on your body.  

See Also - Do Squats Make You Shorter?

Muscles Worked  

After comparing squatting vs leg press for the muscles worked, the squat comes out on top every time, and it works a significantly larger amount of muscles than the leg press.

But, most people think the squat is excellent for your glutes, and while it can be, the exercise uses more quads than glutes. On the other hand, the leg press is a brilliant glute developer.

To target your glutes using the leg press, move your feet high and wide and press as usual.

Equipment Used  

When it comes to squatting vs leg press for the equipment used, the squat is far easier to perform in a home gym and pretty much anywhere else. This is because the leg press requires a large specialist machine to perform the movement.  

However, if you’re concerned about safety, the leg press might be the best option for you. This is mainly because you don't need a spotter with the leg press. During the leg press, the machine can’t crush you as the weight stoppers would be hit before the weight reaches you.

But, during the squat, unless you have a squat rack with safety bars, you’ll need a spotter to ensure you don’t get stuck with a heavy barbell on your back. Spotters are essential when doing heavy lifts. 

We have an article dedicated to which lifts require a spotter, so you can stay safe while lifting.

Ease Of Movement  

In general, the leg press is far easier to perform when compared to the squat, and this is because it is a more straightforward movement with fewer pointers to remember.  

The leg press also requires less upper body stability as you’re sitting in a seat rather than standing up supporting a heavy barbell.  

Another reason the leg press is easier to perform is because it’s suitable for all shapes and sizes. Often, taller individuals struggle with the squat thanks to their long limbs and lower mobility.  

Leg Press Vs Squat

Leg Press Versus Squat Conversion Formula (How Much Weight To Do)

When it comes to the leg press, the seated position places the focus entirely on your lower body. Your upper body isn’t needed for stabilization, meaning you can lift more weight using the leg press.  

In general, most gym-goers can leg press around 2.5-3x the amount of weight they can squat. This is especially true when you use a 45-degree leg press. The angle decreases the difficulty of the leg press, applying the force in a different way (which makes it feel lighter).  

If you’re a beginner, you should always keep the weight relatively low to start with and focus on nailing your form. Intermediate gym-goers can start to increase the weight once they’ve perfected the leg press movement.  

Once you've been training for a while and feel confident, you should be able to lift 3x what you can squat. When you get to this point, you can increase the weight over time to help stimulate further muscle growth in your legs.  

In my experience, both men and women get fantastic results from using the leg press. However, men tend to want larger quadriceps while women prefer to have better glutes and hamstrings. If you’re looking to target a certain muscle group using the legs press, try adjusting your foot placement. 

Note: The placement of your feet will impact the amount you can leg press. For more information, read our guide on leg press foot placement!

Here are two tables showing the average weights you should be able to lift on the leg press and squat. 

Leg Press 

Cell

Male 

Female 

Beginner

1.5-1.7x bodyweight (1 rep)

1.2-1.3x bodyweight (1 rep)

Intermediate

2.6-2.8x bodyweight (1 rep)

2-2.2x bodyweight (1 rep)

Advanced

3.8-4x bodyweight (1 rep)

3.3-3.6x bodyweight (1 rep)

Squat 

Cell

Male 

Female 

Beginner

1-1.2x bodyweight (1 rep)

0.7-0.8x bodyweight (1 rep)

Intermediate

1.5-1.6x bodyweight (1 rep)

1.1-1.2x bodyweight (1 rep)

Advanced

2-2.1x bodyweight (1 rep)

1.5-1.8x bodyweight (1 rep)

Leg Press - Exercise Overview  

The leg press is a fantastic lower body exercise that works your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and adductors.  

It’s one of the best exercises for beginners as it’s easy to learn and doesn’t need a spotter. I often get my clients to start on the leg press to help develop base lower body strength before moving on to more complex movements like the squat.  

The leg press exercise requires a specialist machine which is available in multiple variations. The most popular is the 45-degree leg press, but the seated leg press and vertical leg press are also used. 

When it comes to your form, you should never lock your knees during the leg press. I can’t state this enough, I’ve seen far too many videos online of peoples legs inverting due to their knees over extending... it’s not a pretty sight. Other than that, it’s a brilliant exercise for all ability levels.

Related Article - Best Leg Press Machines

Pros

  • It doesn’t load your spine
    This is ideal for gym-goers with conditions or injuries that limit how much they can load their spines. The leg press removes the load from the spine, making it an excellent exercise for you.
  • Quicker recovery times
    The leg press is far less fatiguing than the squat, making the exercise easier to recover from. An increased recovery rate is ideal if you want to work your legs multiple times per week.
  • Great option for taller gym-goers
    The leg press is a much easier movement for taller lifters compared to the squat. Often, taller lifters find their longer limbs make it awkward to perform the squat; they don’t have this issue during the leg press.
  • Easier to learn
    The leg press is easier to learn and is the perfect option for beginners to strengthen their lower body before attempting squats. 
  • Lets you lift more weight
    Due to the seated position and 45-degree angle of the leg press (sometimes), you’ll find you can lift more weight using the legs press when compared to the squat.

Cons

  • Fewer sports performance carry over
    As the leg press doesn't use much stability, coordination, or balance, there won't be any transferrable benefits for athletic movements. E.g., Running, jumping, and even contact sports.
  • It’s difficult to tell if you’re using one side more than the other
    When you’re leg pressing, it’s difficult to know if you’re compensating with one side of your body.
  • False sense of security
    As the leg press is generally easier than the squat, it can lead you into a false sense of security. You end up loading the machine with more weight than you can handle.
Narrow Stance Leg Press

Squat - Exercise Overview  

The squat is a complex compound exercise that is commonly known as the king of all exercises. It’s highly regarded as one of the most impressive lifts as it requires raw strength, skill, and perfect technique to do it effectively. It’s one of the big three lifts in weightlifting competitions for good reason.  

During the squat, your body recruits a lot of muscle fibers, especially in your quads, hamstrings, and glutes, making it a fantastic lower body developer.  

While it’s one of the best exercises around, if you’re new to exercising, you might struggle with the traditional barbell back squat. If this is the case, try goblet squats as they place less load on the body and are a perfect place for beginners to learn the movement.

One of the best things about the squat is that it doesn’t require much equipment, all you need is a weight (barbell, dumbbells, kettlebells, etc.), and you’re good to go.

Pros

  • Excellent strength developer for sports
    Strength coaches in every sports discipline use the squat to strengthen their athletes and build lower body mass. 
  • Improves balance and coordination
    The squat uses free weights, which increases the amount of stabilization your body needs to perform through the movement. This increases your coordination, balance, and overall athleticism.
  • Uses minimal equipment
    The squat is a simple exercise that doesn’t require much equipment to perform, and all you need is a barbell and Olympic weight plates. Check out our guide to the different types of squat racks on the market before buying.
  • There are many variations
    The squat has many variations such as dumbbell, barbell, goblet, bodyweight, front-loaded, back squat, and many others. Each one targets specific leg muscles and acts on the body differently. 
  • Improves core strength
    During the squat, your core has to work extra hard to stabilize your upper body.

Cons

  • It’s a complex movement
    The squat is a complex movement that can be difficult for beginners to learn. To perfect your form, you need a lot of practice and sometimes expert advice from a coach. 
  • Requires a lot of mobility
    During the squat, your body needs a huge amount of ankle, knees, and hip mobility. If you’re lacking in any of these areas, you might find it difficult to squat correctly.
  • You need safety precautions
    If you’re looking at going heavy on squats, you’ll need a spotter or a power rack with safety bars. Failure during heavy sets is common, and you don’t want to be stuck at the bottom of a heavy squat with no help. 
woman doing barbell squats

Common Leg Press Vs Squat Questions 

Should you squat and leg press the same day? 

You can squat and leg press on the same day without a problem. Sure, you might be a little tired, but it’s an excellent way to add volume to your leg day.  

I’m a big fan of doing heavy squats and then moving on to the leg press to work my legs using a lower weight and higher rep range, and I’ve found it significantly improves my quadriceps development.  

How does a deadlift compare to squats and leg presses? 

The deadlift is an entirely different exercise from the squat and leg press. The deadlift is a hip hinge movement that uses your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back to move the weight.  

But, the squat and leg press is a knee dominant exercise that relies heavily on knee flexion to move the weight. During the squat and leg press, your quads, hamstrings, and glutes are worked. You can find a detailed breakdown of dumbbell deadlifts versus squats here.

Does leg press make your thighs bigger or reduce them? 

Unfortunately, working your leg muscles doesn’t mean they will reduce in size, and you can’t spot reduce an area of your body simply by working it.  

If you want to lose weight in a certain area, you need to lose weight all over, and this can be achieved through a calorie deficit and exercise.  

If you’re looking to increase your legs muscle mass, leg press and the correct diet will help you grow your quads.  

How many squats should I do a day? 

When it comes to squatting frequency, you want to ensure you don’t overdo it. Your legs are like any muscle in your body; they can get fatigued.  

Training your legs using squats can be done 2-3 times per week, depending on how many sets and how much volume you do. Always allow adequate recovery between squatting sessions.  


Conclusion

If you’ve been looking to grow your leg muscles but have been stuck trying to decide which is the best option, you’ve undoubtedly wondered which is best between the leg press vs. squat. 

In my opinion, the squat is a far superior movement that has numerous benefits you can benefit from. But, that doesn’t mean the leg press doesn’t have a place in your workout routine. Try adding either exercise to your workout program and watch your legs grow.