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Leg Press vs Squat: Which is Better for Lower Body Gains?

Can you choose one over the other?

If there was a battle between leg press and squat to find out which one is the better option for lower body gains, which one would win? Keep scrolling to find out.

Determining the ultimate choice between leg press and squats for optimizing lower body gains has been a subject of exploration by fitness coach and author, Sean Nalewanyj. Known for his succinct and informative videos covering various training techniques and debunking fitness myths, he endeavours to provide clarity on this matter.

The leg press involves employing a machine to engage the quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings, while squats entail a bodyweight exercise targeting the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves. When examining the muscle groups involved, these exercises bear notable similarities.

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Woman does leg press at the gymSource: Scott Webb / Pexels

To delve into the arguments surrounding leg press versus squats for lower body gains, let us delve into Sean’s insights.

Leg Press vs Squat: Which is Better for Lower Body Gains?

Broadly speaking, most individuals achieve optimal results by incorporating a combination of both exercises. The answer is not as straightforward as it may initially seem. “Although both exercises share similarities, they each have their own specific benefits and drawbacks depending on the situation,” Sean elucidates.

For the majority of lifters in most situations, squats tend to be the most effective overall exercise. They efficiently build muscle, enhance total body strength, power, flexibility, and can help mitigate the risk of injuries.

Unless there are specific reasons preventing you from performing squats, this exercise should be an integral part of your comprehensive leg training regimen.

Source: Courtesy of CrossFit Inc.

However, it is crucial to note that leg presses are not inherently inferior. Quite the contrary, they can be beneficial for individuals with poor body mechanics during squats, particularly those with long femurs.

Leg presses do not impose excessive cardiovascular strain and yield favourable outcomes when employed within higher repetition ranges (12 or more). If you experience lower back discomfort while performing squats, incorporating leg presses can aid in strengthening the lower body without compromising yourself to potential injuries.

So, in the showdown between leg press vs squats for lower body gains, who emerges victorious? If compelled to choose just one, squats take the lead as they constitute a significant compound exercise that not only burns more calories but also engages the mechanics of the entire body. However, it is prudent not to completely disregard leg presses if your goal is to develop greater strength and fitness.

Check out the video from Sean to have his full in-depth expertise on the subject.

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Strengthening the legs and lower body through strength training holds significant importance for several reasons. Let’s explore the key reasons why focusing on lower body strength is crucial:

  1. Functional Movement: The legs and lower body play a fundamental role in our daily activities and movements. From walking and climbing stairs to lifting objects and maintaining balance, a strong lower body provides a solid foundation for performing these tasks efficiently and with reduced risk of injury.
  2. Enhancing Sports Performance: Many sports, such as running, soccer, basketball, and weightlifting, heavily rely on lower body strength and power. Strengthening the legs through targeted exercises can improve athletic performance, agility, speed, and jumping ability. It allows athletes to generate more force, accelerate quicker, and maintain stability during dynamic movements.
  3. Injury Prevention: Weakness or muscular imbalances in the lower body can contribute to a higher risk of injuries, especially in the knees, hips, and ankles. Building strength in the legs and lower body helps stabilize the joints, correct muscle imbalances, and improve overall biomechanics. This reduces the likelihood of sprains, strains, and other common lower-body injuries.
  4. Boosting Metabolism and Fat Loss: Engaging in strength training exercises for the lower body promotes the development of lean muscle mass. Increased muscle mass leads to a higher resting metabolic rate, meaning you burn more calories even at rest. A stronger lower body also allows for more intense workouts, resulting in increased energy expenditure and facilitating fat loss.
  5. Bone Health: Strength training exercises, particularly those involving resistance or weight-bearing, help stimulate bone growth and density. This is crucial for maintaining strong and healthy bones, reducing the risk of osteoporosis and fractures, especially as we age.
  6. Overall Balance and Posture: A well-developed lower body contributes to better balance, stability, and overall posture. Strong leg muscles provide the support necessary for maintaining an upright posture, preventing issues such as excessive curvature of the spine or poor alignment of the hips and knees.
  7. Everyday Functional Independence: As we age, maintaining strength and mobility in the legs becomes increasingly important for maintaining independence and performing daily activities. Strong leg muscles improve mobility, allow for greater ease of movement, and reduce the risk of falls.
Source: Anastasia Shuraeva on Pexels

In conclusion, strengthening the legs and lower body through targeted strength training exercises offers numerous benefits, including enhanced functional movement, improved sports performance, injury prevention, increased metabolism, better bone health, improved balance and posture, and greater everyday functional independence. Incorporating leg-focused exercises into your fitness routine can lead to a stronger, healthier, and more capable body.

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