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Squats vs. Leg Press for Big Legs

While many take it as an article of faith that all trainees must squat, the reality is far different.   Only a handful of athletes truly must squat and that’s because the movement is part of their competition.  But for everyone else, squats are an optional movement.  And factually, some simply are not built to squat well.  And if their goal is simply getting bigger legs, in many cases it may be better for them to avoid squatting and choose a movement such as the leg press instead.

A properly done leg press exposes the legs to a similar range of motion as your typical parallel squat.  Certainly squats “feel” harder but does this mean it’s automatically a superior movement for growing the legs?  At least some of that feel is the technical involvement, balance, and the increased use of stabilizer muscles.  But this has nothing to do with the legs per se.

Because when the goal is building big legs, there are many ways that the leg press might actually be a superior movement.  So at the risk of offending most of the training world, let’s look at the issue.

Who Must Squat?

Ok, let’s get one issue out of the way quickly.  As I stated above, there are some trainees who must squat.  Powerlifters are one as the squat is part of their competition (unless they do bench only or push/pull).  Powerlifters have to bench press and deadlift as well since it’s part of their competition.

Strictly speaking Olympic lifters only need to front squat since it’s part of the clean recovery.  However, most do back squat to build general leg strength.   Strongmen competitors often have a squat event as part of their competition so it’s more common than not for them to squat.

Clearly anybody who simply wants to improve their squat for one reason or another will need to squat.  If you want to improve a movement, you need to practice it.  This is just a specificity issue.  To improve a movement means doing that movement.

But when you’re talking about muscle growth per se, you’re looking at a different set of issues.     Before I get into that,

The History of the Squat

Historically, the reason that squats probably became popular was that, early in the days of weight training, that’s all there was to do.  Leg presses didn’t exist (at least not in any form that wouldn’t injure you) and if you wanted to train your legs that pretty much meant squatting.  It’s all that was available.

As a historical oddity, this is how people used to “leg press” before machines became available.  You either had to roll the bar onto your feet or have two people lift it there for you.  Fun stuff.

Check out those boots
Check out those boots


As I stated above, the only people who must squat are powerlifters, for whom it’s a competition lift (except in the push/pull meets where it’s not), and Olympic lifters where it’s a key assistance exercise.  There is even some theorizing that modern Olympic lifting will get rid of the back squat with only the front squat being used to support recovery from the clean.  I don’t know if anybody has ever actually done it.  Strongmen competitors probably have to/need to/should squat.

But nobody else has to squat.

Don’t misread this.  I’m not anti-squat, I’m not against the squat.  It can be an excellent movement for some people.   If you’re built to do it well it can be a great movement.  If you’re not built to do it well, it won’t be and will be more or less a waste of time.

So what do I mean when I say that someone is or isn’t built to squat?

Individual Body Mechanics

The reality is that people who get a lot out of squatting in terms of leg growth tend to be built a certain way.  They frequently have shorter femurs and can stay very upright.  This makes it a fantastic leg movement for them.  But not everyone is built this way.

For those people with longer femurs, the squat usually looks like a modified good morning.  The lifter ends up so bent over that their low back will give out long before their legs get a training stimulus. Yes, this can be improved somewhat with shoes or certain squatting technique.  But people with poor squat mechanics will never get as much out of squatting for their legs as someone with better mechanics.

What Makes Muscle Grow?

While it was stated for decades that “we don’t know what makes muscle growth”, this was really incorrect.  In the 1970’s it was established that exposing a muscle to high tension was a key aspect of turning on protein synthesis.  There is also clearly a volume component as some number of high tension repetitions must be performed to active the protein synthesis pathways.

So if you perform some number of high tension repetitions, you end up training in some sort of effective hypertrophy zone.   But this is all about muscular physiology and has absolutely nothing to do with any specific exercise.

Rather, any given exercise is only good or bad for growth inasmuch as it lets the trainee expose a muscle to a sufficient number of high tension repetitions safely.  It should also allow them to progress over time.   And no exercise is required for any given trainee to make that occur.  What is right for one trainee may be wrong for another and vice versa.

And in the context of squats, the person with long femurs and poor squatting mechanics will have one or more things happen.  First and foremost, their low back will give out long before their legs.  This might give them a hellishly strong low back but it also means that their legs are never being exposed to an optimal combination tension/fatigue stimulus.

In addition, poor squat mechanics either means they won’t be able to add weight to the bar regularly or they will get injured doing the movement.  And in that situation, squats will be a bad exercise FOR THEM.

If in contrast, someone has good mechanics for squatting, meaning that they can add weight progressively in good form, that will make squatting a good exercise choice for them.  People for whom squats are a good exercise tend to have relatively short femurs and can stay very upright when they squat.  Their quads get a great stimulus, their low back doesn’t give out.  Squats are great for them.

The problem comes in when the people with good squat mechanics don’t realize that not everyone is built like them.

How Most Approach Exercise Selection

Tangentially, it’s worth noting that usually when people say things like “Exercise XXX is the best for growth” what that usually means is “I’m built to do exercise XXX effectively.”  People assume that since an exercise is good for them (since they are built well to do it), it must be the best for everyone.

By extension, when people say that “Exercise XXX is the worst for growth” it generally means that they aren’t built for it or never learned to do it properly.  The latter is especially true in the bench press where many never learned to use their pecs when they bench.

What both groups of people don’t seem capable of grasping is that their individual biomechanics are not everyone’s individual biomechanics.   If you’re built to squat, squats may be a great exercise FOR YOU.  If you’re not built to squat, it is unlikely to be a great exercise FOR YOU. Whether it’s a good or bad exercise for anybody else doesn’t make an iota of difference.

Which brings me to the leg press.

The Leg Press

Given the above reality, the simple fact is that the leg press may be superior to the squat for leg strength or growth for some people.  A big situation is the one I went on about above: people with poor mechanics.  If someone is so far tipped over that their low back gives out, the squat is not a good movement for their legs.

Even if it doesn’t, the forward tip tends to throw more stress to the glutes and hamstrings.   They may get a great big ass which is fine if that’s their goal. But they won’t get a good quad stimulus.    If they move to a leg press and take the low back out of the equation, they can now train their quads effectively.

In this vein, even for people built to squat, the leg press is an excellent secondary movement for the legs in hypertrophy program.  Eventually even the best squatter’s low back will become fatigued, limiting the leg stimulus they can generate.  Moving to the leg press at that point allows the legs to get a continued training stimulus while eliminating the weak point for them.

Is the Leg Press Safer?

It’s worth noting that your comment about the leg press being safer on the low back isn’t automatically true.  Done incorrectly, the leg press can be a low back death trap.  People with poor flexibility and/or who try to bring the sled too far back will round their low back terribly.

Under heavy compression load this is an excellent way to herniate a disk.  I dislike the old school vertical leg press for this reason. It starts the lifter with the hamstrings on nearly full stretch and is impossible to do without rounding the low back.

Vertical Leg Press, the Low Back Deathtrap

It’s worth mentioning that doing leg presses one leg at a time (with the other leg on the floor) makes it nearly impossible to round the low back and this may be the safest way of all to do them.  It also saves you a lot of time loading the machine since you won’t have to put as many plates on.  It also hits the gluteus medius and minimus more.

Ed Coan used the single leg press as one of his go-to squat assistance movements.  Who am I to argue with the greatest powerlifter of all time.

Who the hell do you think you are to dismiss the movement?

Comparing the Weights Used

One issue that people bring up regarding squats and leg presses is the poundages used.  Usually it’s to make fun of how your 600 lb leg press doesn’t matter since it’s not a 315 squat.  But here’s the reality: nobody but other lifters give a shit about either.

More importantly, comparing them in this fashion isn’t meaningful.  The leverages on a leg press will allow anyone to move more weight (in absolute terms) than they can lift in a squat.  But this is irrelevant.  Your muscles don’t care about how much weight is on the bar, they simply sense how much muscular tension they experience.

The mechanics of the leg press will let folks move more weight (in terms of plates on the machine) but that doesn’t automatically mean more tension on the target muscles.  Nor does it automatically mean less.

For example, people who put all the plates in the gym on the machine and move it through a tiny range of motion are actually generating very little muscular tension due to the short lever arm and biomechanical advantage.

In this situation, using a lighter weight but moving through a larger range of motion is less weight on the machine but more tension on the muscle.  If you pause the weight at the bottom, this will also limit the weight on the machine while increasing muscular tension since you’re not getting an elastic rebound.

Mind you, the same can be said for squats.  The guy partial squatting hundreds of pounds is exposing their legs to less muscular tension than the Olympic lifter full squatting half as much weight.  Range of motion, stretch, etc. all play a role.

Assuming the flexibility is there, I want people taking their leg presses to at least parallel (e.g. the angle between upper leg and shin should be a minimum of 90 degrees).  For most macho leg pressers, this will mean stripping about half the weight off the machine to get depth.

I guess I should mention the hormonal issue since this is often brought up in terms of the supposed superiority of the squat.  Yes, heavy squats can increase testosterone and growth hormone.   And the impact is absolutely irrelevant because raising those hormones by a few percent for 30 minutes doesn’t mean a damn thing.

Leg Presses vs. Squats for Leg Growth

As much as macho hardheads tend to think of the leg press as lame or useless the simple fact is that it is a compound movement that allows a major set of muscles to be trained intensely.  Trainees can apply progressive tension overload (THE key stimulus to growth) on a leg press just as in a squat.  For some people, they can more effectively progress the leg press than the squat.  For them, that will make the leg press the superior movement.  FOR THEM.

And for some people, usually those with mechanics that make squatting a problem, the leg press may actually be a superior choice because it takes limiting muscle groups (low-back is the common issue) out of the equation.   In a related vein, it is often the upper body that fails during squatting (especially higher repetition sets).  If the goal is to train the legs, it makes little sense to me to let an ancillary muscle group limit that goal.

Preparing for the Backlash

Finally, since I can only imagine the comments that this article will generate, I’m in no way anti-squatting. I happen to love squatting, I’m also built well for it (short with short femurs).  For people who can squat progressively and effectively, it’s an excellent exercise.  For those with poor mechanics it’s often not worth the time and effort because the results simply won’t be there.

The leg press, properly performed (meaning keeping your ego in check, taking the sled to parallel or slightly below) in a progressive fashion is an excellent way to train the lower body while avoiding some issues that can make squatting problematic for some trainees.

And for some real comedy make sure and read the comments.

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53 thoughts on “Squats vs. Leg Press for Big Legs

  1. UR so full of SHIIT…!!!!! gotta squat!!!!!!!

    Ok. Got that out of the way. What you didn’t seem to touch on is the question of which will make you stronger overall. I have awful squatting geometry, long legs, long arms, short torso and yet, squatting more is the thing that brings up most of my other lifts. I’m not built to front squat but I am built to box squat in a wide stance, and Shocker, a combo of front squats and box squats has made me all around strong in ways that a leg press never could.

    So isn’t the basic wisdom that in order to get big, you need to get strong have some bearing here? Squatting seems to carry over to almost all sports, at least for me. Leg press has never seemed to help anything except maybe when I was racing bikes, but I was pretty weak like most bike racers and stair bounding was every bit as effective.

  2. Lyle

    This is probably something you’ve been over in the past…..but given what you say there about the important thin being the tension in the muscles rather than the weight, what is your opinion of Superslow style training – really slow repetition speeds to maximise that tension but minimise force….

  3. but I thought squats are good for bigger arms ??!11

  4. I am just baffled at the retardation it had to take in order to leg press like that.

  5. Hi Lyle

    Just a quick question. The leg press machine I use allows for different back angles. There is the usual 90 degrees, then a 45 and then one that is almost flat, Id guess 10 degrees.

    What would be the differences in terms of muscles used, and which angle would you suggest?

  6. Nice article. I really don’t have a problem with people using the leg press, but I’m glad you pointed out it isn’t necessarily safer on your back (if performed incorrectly).

    I think a lot of us get irritated or amused with guys who load up the leg press and then do 1/4 reps (with their hands on their knees). But poor execution happens on other lifts, too.

    The first time I saw one-legged leg press was on an Ed Coan video. He likes it as an assist exercise to the squat.

  7. “In a related vein, it is often the upper body that fails during squatting (especially higher repetition sets); if the goal is to train the legs, it makes little sense to me to let an ancillary muscle group limit that goal.”

    Isn’t this then the exact reason why squatting should be preferred? The primary benefit to freeweights is that they train you under a system that is more widely applicable to real scenarios than machines can. Squatting is really a full body exercise that trains your body proportionately to actually be able to perform outside of fixed process.

    If your upper body is what’s failing first on squats, then your strength is disproportionate between your upper and lower body and you SHOULD be training it. For complete body performance, this is vastly preferred to training anything in isolation.

  8. Lyle,

    How are your legs man? Huge, I imagine… seems like it’s been a while since I have seen them.

    I appreciate your truth that leg press will to the trick–that squats are not necessary and in theory, I agree. That said, I think it’s important for a multitude of reasons, which I can share over coffee or in an article, that people that want to develop size and strength learn to squat. That they become comfortable with the uncomfortable.

    Squats are a right of passage, just the same as no self-respecting adult should ever leave their home without having read Atlas Shrugged, or at least try to dialogue with anyone, strength athletes should have mastered the squat… BEFORE they decide to replace it with leg press.

    After this, I allow them that right. But squatting is as much mental as physical. It develops true strength, from the inside out… it activates the entire body in a way leg press can not. It also is a practice in balance, flexibility and focus.

    That said, I am a fan of good leg presses (know there is a difference, please) and am especially fond of them for people, like myself, who are no longer 20-something… when the back starts to become less solid, squats can be an issue and I like the idea of leg press more and more.

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom dude… have to shoot me an email so I can send you some Full Strength man!

    In Strength,
    Shawn Phillips

  9. Nice to hear about some aussie innovation, I’ll have to give the one leg press a try.
    Now that I have a bulging disc in my lower back and getting closer to 40 I don’t want to risk injury, but I don’t want to get soft with training either.

    This may be an alternative that can still stress the muscles enough to develop. I would be interested in what alternatives you would suggest to deadlifts or hamstrings? I have heard feet placement on the leg press can change the stress from quads to hamstrings?

  10. Great post Lyle! You mention that “…it is often the upper body that fails during squatting (especially higher repetition sets); if the goal is to train the legs, it makes little sense to me to let an ancillary muscle group limit that goal.” I’ve always felt this was a major setback with the squat over hack squats, leg press etc. One pro bodybuilder I trained with many years ago used to always do leg presses before squats to “pre exhaust” the quads and not have the lower back and core fail before his quads. Anyway, love reading your stuff!

    Scott Welch

  11. What is your opinion on the Nautilus horizontal leg press. No matter how light i go after a while i can still feel it in my lower back,am i just giving it bad form or is it really just no good for you as some other strength coachs absolutely hate them 🙂

  12. If one has different leg lenght’s is leg press a better choice?

  13. This may be an outdated page but after finding it I have to correct many issues. First to the question asked, I assume when you mention hypertrophy you are refuring to sarcoplasctic hypertrophy and not sarcomere. The squat is a far superior exercise to the leg press, in fact I’d love to debate the need for leg presses at all. As mention the number of stabalizer muscles required far exceed any machine based exercise. The squat is only dangerous when I’ll informed meat heads load up the bar stoping before they even go parallel, and then call it an exercise if you cannot squat the weight past parrallel you cannot squat the weight! The number of muscle groups activated is directly related to the amount of HGH produced by the body during deep sleep cycles, this is just fact. When you damge more muscle the body produces more HGH to repair it, since the squat requires more muscle it then illicits a greater production of HGH.

  14. It’s amusing reading the comments: a lot of misconceptions, a lot of people hearing something I didn’t actually write and a lot of macho horseshit.

    Which is about what I expected.

    Goliath: if the goal is big LEGS, why do stabilizers matter? Also, GH is irrelevant to growth (as I actually stated specifically in the article) so who cares. Even injectable GH doesn’t increase muscle mass in humans, the spikes from training are triply irrelevant. And if you’re so damn concerned with stabilizers why don’t you squat standing on a Sitfit or a stability ball? More stabilizer function = better, right? But I’m glad folks like you and Cynthia are out there to ‘correct me’ when I go astray.

    Nicko: True leg length differences are fairly rare, it’s usually a pelvic issue (the pelvic is rotated and this shows up as a leg length difference). That said, if someone has a true leg length issue, isolateral (one legged movements) may be preferred to avoid spinal/pelvic issues.

    Jared: I’m not sure which machine you mean and without seeing what you’re doing can’t say. I will say that some leg presses I have seen are so badly built that they will make the low back round almost without exception; you might be using one of them. But if you feel it in your low back, don’t do it. Seems fairly simple.

    Shawn: Thanks for the macho horseshit, the comments section on this piece wouldn’t have been right without it. Blah, blah, rite of passage, blah, blah, gotta squat, blah, blah, strong as a person. Yeah, ok.

    Fred: The title of the article is squats vs. leg presses for BIG LEGS. Why are you asking me about whole body strength? That’s a different context, which means a different set of recommendations. Same comment to Dave. I titled this piece very specifically for a reason and that’s all I was talking about.

    Protein Review: The deadlift is used to work so many different muscles (not just focusing on legs which is the primary focus of squats in terms of hypertrophy) that I can’t see anything that would really ‘replace’ it meaningfully.

    Chris Highcock: The Superslow guys don’t understand basic physics which is why their arguments about tension are oh so very wrong. For example, I can assure you that an explosive concentric with bands will generate way more tension than pissing around with a pansy weight and a 10 second concentric. My point about tension in this piece was that just looking at weight on the bar (e.g. leg press will have a bunch more plates than back squat) doesn’t tell you what the muscle is experiencing.

    Johan: I can’t tell if you’re asking about the leg press as a whole or the seat adjustment so I can’t comment.

    Ezekial: That’s all guys had in the old days, they worked with the equipment available.

  15. Hi all,

    Great informative article. Additionally, the one exercise “vs” another argument is silly to begin with and is “macho” in itself.

    I also find the “stabilizer muscle” arguments lacking rigor. As if the Grey’s Anatomy specifically lists any “stabilizer” muscles. They don’t, since any muscle can be a stabilizer.



  16. One more thing, someone above asked about foot position and, yes, this does impact on proportional muscle use.

    In general, feet higher (pushing through the heels) is more glute and hamstring and somewhat less quads since there is more focus on hip extension than knee extension. The drawback is that this also makes it more likely to round the low back since the hamstrings are on a greater degree of stretch.

    Feet lower (pushing through the toes) tends to be more quad dominance since there is more focus on knee extension and less hip extension. The drawback is that it also tends to be harder on the knees in general.

    For general use, I have folks leg press pushing through the middle of the foot (neither heel nor toe) so it hits things fairly evenly with variations depends on need.

  17. thanks for the response

  18. Hi Lyle

    Sorry about being unclear. Yes, the question was regarding seat (backrest) position. If you have a choice of different angles (90, 45 and 10 degress), which would be the best, and why?

    Also, when I do squats my groins are normally the first area in my body to complain. Would that be becuae of hip flexors, and is there anything I can do to rectify it?

  19. Nice article!!!
    I have a question about one leg press.
    Does it make the movement dangerous since there is a screw force on back?

  20. Re: One-Legged Leg Press


    Lyle can answer this better than I, but here’s what I’ll tell you from personal experience: I’ve never felt any twisting in my back from one-legged press. I usually do it after other exercises, so I don’t go very heavy.

    I have to be much more careful with two-legged leg press. As Lyle mentioned, there’s a tendency for your lower back to round if you try to take the weights too low.

  21. Thanks, Kevin.

  22. Itotally agree,Squats are my favorite exercise but that being said,I don’t think they are the only way to get big legs.I have done both squats and leg press for well over 20 years now and I really like the burn I get from leg press much more.In my 20’s I would do as many as 30 sets of 8 of deep squats in a quad workout with 315 on the bar but I always preferred the leg press for my quad size which at that time was 30.5 inches.Now that I’m 45 with a few injuries I’m liking leg press even more.I have buddies at the gym with huge legs that never squat,they do a lot of leg press.

  23. i agree that freebar squats are not required to stimulate muscle growth. i have been involved in sport and exercise scice my whole carrer (i have even lectured in the subject)and i am currently a top natural bodybuilder and gym owner in york england. it is my personal and formose prefessional opinion that as long as the ass muscles to specific joint recieve the propper stimulation to trigger anabolic change then it make no difference if u free bar, smaith squat, leg press or ex.

    the fundamental issue to me is always do the safest, most comfortable exercise possible to get growth with the least wieght. in my 16 years of training i have never once completed a full working set of free bar squats and my development is very good……….the key is, know ur bodies mechanics and select the movememts that will develop you in the way you want, dont settle for hype or even tradition…challenge everything that is worth challenging.

    paul “BISON” lonsdale

  24. Squatting has actually been good for my back. I used to suffer from lower back pain and heavy squatting and deadlifting has fixed it. The key of course is proper form – not allowing the back to round at any stage of the movement. If your back hurts during squatting, get someone to watch you and make sure your back doesn’t round. You could also try hanging from a chin-up bar between sets for a couple seconds – this stretches out the spine quite nicely and alleviates any tightness.

    In my experience the leg press tends to aggravate the lower back, hip joints and knees much more than the squat. It’s very easy to round your back on the leg press, particularly if you lower the weight all the way down.

    The real culprit for knee problems, I believe, is the leg curl machine. I ditched leg curls on the recommendation of my physio and haven’t had any knee pain since.

    Having said all that, the author makes a valid point that the leg press may be better solely for the purpose of building bigger legs than the squat. But at the end of the day, who wants to have huge bumble bee legs with no real strength in them. The squat is still the king, long may he reign.

  25. Great article! Unfortunately I am one of those people who must never attempt squats, lunges or deadlifts due to an old hip injury. As long as I dont carry huge weights across the hip joint i am fine. This is why the leg press looks good for me. But does anyone have any suggestions for a replacement exercise for the deadlift – a mass builder for the upper body?

  26. Norman

    Consider rack pulls. The higher starting position avoids a lot of hte lower body stress but you still get the upper back building aspect of deadlifts.


  27. Squats are awesome, they strengthen your whole posterior chain. Unless you have something really wrong with you, they should be introduced, not forbidden..

  28. Gerard: the only appearance of the word ‘forbidden’ on this page is in your comment. You might also note the title since it wasn’t called squats vs. leg press for TRAINING THE POSTERIOR CHAIN.

  29. I’m not kidding you I saw a guy in Leeds London doing a a leg press crazy style like that. Everyone in the gym was waiting for the accident to happen. He was on a smith machine which made it better. Nice article, as a jump trainer I have successfully used the leg press to get incredible results for individuals vertical ( as well as the squat) and I am nearly always attacked in forums for it…. fact is it works very well. I particularly think it is great for building raw power in the legs… less worry about form, torso and core strength. Of course core strength is important to develop but it doesn’t necessarily have to be devloped during a squat. Good stuff….

  30. “As to the hormonal response, who cares. Nobody has ever shown that the small hormonal spikes to training mean a thing and recent research is starting to show that it is simply meaningless.”

    First off, I really like your site so far Lyle. Just a question about the above. If I’m understanding correctly, you’re saying that the GH spikes from training are negligible. However, it is said time and time again that squats and other such exercises that recruit the most muscle [deadlifts, I’m lookin’ at you] are the best mass builders precisely because they elicit the highest GH output. Are you saying the research you’ve read refutes this? Also, I’m a huge nerd, so I’d love to check out those studies if you have them offhand or could point me in the general direction.

  31. I’m saying that nobody has EVER shown that this miniscule little hormonal effects have jack squat of an impact on hypertrophy. First and foremost, GH isn’t even anabolic when you inject it, raising it for 10 minutes because of how you train does absolutely nothing.

    Same for small testosterone spikes. It usually takes about a doubling of testosterone to impact on much in terms of muscle growth. Raising testosterone for a few minutes by 20% does jack shit.


  32. After reading the article in the link below, I became convinced that isolating the legs with things like leg press/leg curls is a silly thing to do and it is much more beneficial to incorporate all the associating muscle groups when working the legs (glutes etc.), which is what the squat does.

  33. Like the others, Drew, I’d suggest you read the article I wrote again and pay attention to the words.

    Cuz it’s funny but nowhere in my article did I mention leg curl or leg extensions.

  34. Lyle is correct every time, its really amusing to read this article…

    Lyle I have a question that doesnt belong in this article because its not about leg sise ONLY, but im going to ask it anyway..

    Im a rugby/football player, thus squats is better for my allround puspose on the field, the ONE thing that holds my performance back is strength and size, can you pleas assist me with an appropriate gym program??


  35. Excellent article. I’ve squatted for years solely for the purpose of gaining quad mass because as you mention, the leg press was sneered at by bodybuilders . My glutes gained well but the legs only made small gains.
    Sick to death of meat-heads and poor advice from tattooed vest-monkeys, I tried out the leg press and exactly as you say, you can really focus on the leg burn rather than, as with the squat, have to give up due to upper body fatigue, back pain and/or nausea. Gains have been great and although I do still squat for practicality and arse-shape, leg press have been king for muscle gain (for me)

  36. After reading all these blogs it is probably safe to say if you incorporate both squats and leg presses into your workouts you will probably enhance your gains tremendously.

  37. If the leg press works for you, then by all means use it. However, it’s probably a good idea to also incorporate some free weight compound exercise for the legs, be it squats, deadlifts or lunges. Functional leg strength is dependent not only on the size of the leg muscles, but also on the way they interact with muscles in the back and hips. This is the value of the compound exercises, getting the different muscle groups to work together as a team.

    If you can’t go too heavy on the squats, it will still be beneficial to do them with a lighter weight. Front squats or dumbell squats may be easier on the back. Also consider deadlifts – people with poor mechanics for squats usually have excellent mechanics for deadlifts. Afterwards, you can knock yourself out with leg presses. My own preference is to do heavy squats first and then fry my quads with leg extensions. I prefer leg extensions over presses because the movement is very different to the squat and works the quads in a different way.

  38. Hey,

    Great article. I would like to see what your views are regarding which exercise is better for training your body, instead of focusing solely on the legs. From your article, you make pretty clear that for training the legs they’re pretty similar, with the squat (possibly) edging out if you can do it well and the leg press being better if you have issues with the rest of your body. I had thought that a major advantage for the squat was the work your whole body had to do to balance the bar, with its heavy resultant core involvement.

    Looking forward to reading your response on this, as it’s a major selling point of the squat.

  39. The ‘best’ exercise always depends on the goals, a point that this article was trying ot make but that all the squat centric folks missed. I was discussing one specific goal: leg hypertrophy. And lots of people tried to turn it into a different topic altogether by bringing up core strength and stuff that is irrelevant to the specific goal I was discussing. Clearly IF the goal is different, then the optimal exercise choice will be different.

    As to your question: squat or deadlift, take your pick.

  40. I would like to throw another exercise in that may be good for all round leg development – Smith Machine Lunges. I find lunges more effective than anything else for working the glutes and hamstrings. Verily, lunges shall give thee buns of steel. They’re also good for the quads.

    I hope I haven’t alienated my macho horseshit talking brethren by advocating the use of the Smith machine. Normally, I would advocate the use of free weights whenever possible. But if you use dumbells, your grip soon won’t be able to handle the heavy weights that your legs can lift. You could just put a barbell on your back, but it’s very hard to maintain balance during the lift. This is a good thing if you want to build strength in your ankles but a bad thing if you’re worried about toppling over with a huge weight on your back.

    Enter the Smith machine, it takes the balancing completely out of the equation. You can put on whatever weight your legs can handle without fear of falling over. Furthermore, if you go down and don’t have the strength to get back up, you can make a graceful exit. Form is very important as you can injure your back if you slouch during the lift.

  41. NO legg press is okay if your scared of being sore because when you squat you have to stabalize the weight throughout the push to keep it balanced and in this process you have workout 75%of the bodys mucles to do this and this means pain the next day and laying up in the bed and yes under the 75% includs back shoulders abss and legs

  42. I get plenty sore from leg press and so do others. Stabilization is irrelevant. Beyond that, I can’t parse your comment Arnold.

  43. Whoever wrote this article is not as qualified as they make themselves out to be. I don’t care what your proportions are you must squat. The leg press is the most overrated machine besides the smith machine. As a tall guy I have no problem squating and neither should you. For training the full body the squat beats the leg press hands down. For people who bitch about squatting, well yea no shit its harder and its harder for a reason because it does more for you than the leg press. People who dont think they can squat need to lower there weight and practice on form.

  44. I’m plenty qualified and can assure you that everything you wrote is not only addressed up above in the other comments but is simply wrong. The only person who MUST squat is a powerlifter. It’s negotiable for everybody else.

    So read the article again, pay attention to the words (they are the little black things on the white background) and then go do your macho chest thumping elsewhere.

  45. Leg presses are still quite viable because, like the squat, they’re still very compound and heavy. Comparing the squat to a leg press is not like comparing a squat/dead to a hammy curl or knee extension.

  46. Hey Lyle, I looked through these comments and couldn’t find mention of it, so pardon if this is a repeat question. What qualifies as a long femur? I.E. how would someone go about decided whether squats are a good idea for them based on body proportions? I’ve been a fan of the front squat for a few years now but if the press will git’er done better, thats awesome for someone with a history of lower-back problems.

  47. Excellent article – that’s a nice pic of powerlifting pioneer Wilbur Miller leg pressing. And what the hell is wrong with training in Army boots?

    My 57 year old wife fits the profile you describe for bad squatting mechanics: she’s 5’11 and has a short trunk coupled with legs a mile long. Even front squatting is problematic for her due to the forward lean she needs to keep the bar over the balls of her feet.

    The solution? Lunges… the kind where you rack the barbell in front on the clavicles and ft. delts just like with front squats. No forward leaning at all which spares the low back and it hits virtually every mucle group a well excecuted squat does including the glutes.


    John Sanchez

  48. I’m surprised no one mentioned this, so I’ll comment:

    If your training program/philosophy includes “going to complete failure,” it is really difficult to do that safely with a regular back squat.

  49. AC: people with long femurs are basically going to be those people with long legs in proportion to their height. I have this problem, and heavy squatting is a recipe for destroying my lower back. My long legs also causes problems with DL’ing, because I can’t drive the weight upward without bending forward in order to get the bar around my protruding knees…very bad for the lower back and the skin on my shins.

  50. Come on lads, quit making excuses why you can’t squat. I have long femurs as per jboy’s definition (long legs, small torso) and the squat is my best lift. Indeed the guys who seem to struggle most with the squat in my local gym are the tall guys with really long torsos. And going to complete failure with the back squat is pretty straightforward to do safely if you use a power rack. I do it sometimes with high rep breathing squats.

    Being weak in a lift is no reason to avoid doing it, just do it with a weight you can safely handle. I’m fairly weak in the bench and overhead press, but I make sure I do them at least once a week because they are fundamental lifts. Similarly, the squat is a meat and potatoes exercise for the legs. Leg presses and other machine exercises make a fine garnish.

  51. C’mon, Matty, find some basic literacy. Nobody said that long-femured people CAN’T squat, just that they don’t benefit from it as much as the favorably leveraged. Because, see, those words mean different things. And they aren’t really that complicated of concepts to differentiate although, by and large, the macho dipshits who think that squats are required as an exercise seem to be quite the reading impaired.

  52. Macho dipshit, moi? Just because I pity the fool who doesn’t squat.

    What I’m saying is that people may be making too much out of this whole leverage thing. I benefit greatly from squats even though the esteemed writers on this forum would tell me I am unfavourably leveraged. Pain in the back while squatting suggests a weak or injured back rather than poor leverages. Building up strength in the legs with leg presses while not addressing the underlying weakness in the back is a recipe for disaster.

    Squats are unfairly blamed for a whole range of maladies from bad backs and knees to a tendency to spout macho horseshit. It’s interesting that many physiotherapists use squats (albeit without weights) as a part of their back rehab program. Properly executed squats build strength in the back and knees.

    Human beings are built to squat. Toddlers will instinctively squat when picking up heavy objects off the floor. Go to a village in rural Asia and you will see many villagers squatting rather than sitting. I’ll wager these people have backs in excellent health.Try telling them to use a chair because they have long femurs.

  53. Ok, everything that need be said in the comments here has been said so I’m closing comments after I make the last one.

    This whole macho bullethead idea that one MUST squat is simply asinine. It’s a tool, a good tool but just a tool. IF I said you had to run to get into shape, you’d think me mad. If I said you had to ride a bike, you’d think me stupid. It’d be like saying that you MUST eat apples. Or some other random food. As if they held the secret of life and death. It’s idiotic.

    Yet people seem intent on making exactly that argument. I’d suggest you read The Importance of Context and try to get your head out of your ass.

    And comments are closed.

Comments are closed.