Leg Press vs. Squat

The leg press and the squat are two leg exercises that are designed to build strength in and tone your quadriceps. Both exercises can be done at most gyms, and many weight lifters have a preference for one or the other. Although the exercises are similar in the muscles they target, the process to perform them is quite different.


Squat Mechanics

The squat is a popular strenght-training move for your legs. The standard muscle building way to perform a squat is with a barbell across your shoulders, loaded with weight plates. If you simply want to tone your legs you can also do squats with a dumbbell in each hand, with resistance bands or with just your own body weight. The squat is a very basic movement, where your feet are about shoulder-width apart or a bit wider, and you squat down. Your back remains straight and you should look straight ahead. Stop when your thighs are parallel to the floor and then push yourself back to the top.

Leg Press Mechanics

With the leg press, your body is essentially opposite to how it is with the squat. You sit in a seat at the bottom of a 45-degree sled. Your feet rest on a platform, and weight plates are added to posts sticking out on each side of the machine. To do the exercise, press the platform up a bit and release the lever with your hand, and then allow the weight to come down, bending your legs past parallel. Pause at the bottom for a moment and push the weight back up.

Muscles Worked

The targeted muscles with each exercise are the quadriceps, but your quads are not the only muscles worked with either exercise. The leg press uses mostly quadriceps with your hips to help support and lift the weight, but the squat involves many muscle groups. Due to the nature of the exercise with the weight on top of you body, the shoulders, trapezius and back muscles are also worked. Because you're required to balance, the squat may have a stronger effect on your central nervous system than the leg press, resulting in greater total body results.


Both the squat and leg press may be troublesome to your knees if you have prior problems, but the leg press should give a little more stability in that department. Form is important for both, but more important in the squat because of the position you are in with a high amount of weight on top of you.


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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.