WHICH IS BEST; SQUAT OR LEG PRESS?
It depends on who you ask. Frankly, this debate has been going on for as long as I can remember and I’m older than dirt.
Right now the squat appears to be king. But you can find trainers, coaches and professional lifters on both sides. In my opinion, both have their advantages and disadvantages so let’s look at the differences.
The main difference is the amount of weight that be used in each. The 45 degree leg pres allows you to do some very impressive poundage. The difference in weight is a little deceiving though since the 45 degree leg press creates a sizable mechanical advantage.
I’ll spare you the mathematics involving sin’s and co-sins so let’s just simplify by saying that the 45 degree leg press generates resistance of about 71% of the weight loaded.
Still, at 71% of the weight loaded, most people (myself included) can press more weight on the leg press than I can squat. That would seem to give the advantage to the 45 degree leg press. Especially since the leg press puts the load almost exclusively on the legs.
But there’s one aspect of the squat that shouldn’t be ignored. The squat puts sizable stress on the legs, back, deltoids, hips and traps by having considerable weight sitting on your shoulders. This would provide more stimulation to the central nervous system (CNS). That’s a good thing. More stress on the CNS provides a stronger effect of the muscle growth process. The CNS manipulates the hormones (mainly Testosterone and HGH) that cause increased protein synthesis in the muscles involved. Medical testing indicates the protein systhasis is considerably higher with squats.
There is also some argument that the leg press concentrates more work on the quads while lessening the stimulus to glutes and hamstrings. I’m not sure I buy that argument. Emphasis can be shifted to quads or hamstrings/glutes by changing foot position on the plate.
There are many notable bodybuilders who always squat. There are also some who never squat! Strength athletes, of course, have to squat. The squat is one of the moves they are tested on.
For overall growth and strength the squat wins out. But the leg press’ stability allows you to do cool things for hypertrophy you wouldn’t, or shouldn’t, even consider while doing squats; drop sets, rest pause, cluster sets, eccentric overload sets (with a partner). Even unilateral presses.
The Bottom Line
Squats win for overall strength and hypertrophy if you do them properly.
If you don’t or can’t squat properly the leg press is the best alternative. The squat is still king but, as Jimmy Pena put it, “the leg press is definitely in the royal family”.
My solution is to simply do both.(I do) Use the advantages of both movements to your advantage
For the record; I don’t recommend the horizontal leg press you’ll find in many gyms and this discussion of advantages don’t apply to those machines.