Leg Press vs. Squats and other things

by 7362 · February 05, 2014 at 06:19 PM

Hi! I've been reading here for a couple of weeks now. I've been doing paleo for about a year now, and it's been great. I've lost about 100 lbs, and packed on 20-30 in muscle.

For my exercise regimen, I walk 5 or more miles a day (I have two dogs), weight lift 3x a week, and cycle 10-15 miles on Saturday (this incorporates my sprint).

When I started at the gym last year, I started with compound movements, but then found myself slipping into isolation exercises. (What is it about the gym that makes isolation exercises so enticing?) I decided to concentrate on the compound exercises again, so I'm doing leg press, ball squats, dips, pullups, deadlifts, and planks. It's a faster, more efficient workout than all the isolation exercises.

I leg press 270, I weigh 225. My first question is whether the leg press and the squats are functionally the same exercise? My stance is wider with the squats than it is on the leg press. Is it worth it doing both? I really like doing the leg press. I'm a 43 year old woman, and part of it, honestly, is getting statements of admiration from other women (and some men), but the other part is just that I am from good Russian stock, and I have very strong legs. The leg press feels like honest exercise. Even though I dropped a forty-five pound weight on my toe loading the press 2 months ago (and yes, I destroyed it) I don't want to give it up. I don't mind the squats, but even with extra weight, it just isn't as...fulfilling?

The other part of this question is regarding muscle failure. I was reading up on Mentzer, and have been doing three sets of 10-15 reps, with more reps the last one to muscle failure, but I'm kind of afraid to go to muscle failure on the leg press. Any advice? I certainly DON'T want to do it doing squats with a barbell on my shoulders. (I'm a tad gun shy about dropping weights).

Finally, is there a way to measure body fat percentage without calipers?


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9 Replies

1495 · May 29, 2012 at 11:52 AM

Squats! Squats! Squats! It's functional - how do you sit in a chair or on the toilet??? By using a squat.

764 · May 29, 2012 at 10:23 AM

are they functionally the same excercise?

Are you asking about functionality from the perspective of best preparing you for an active life/ resilience/ surviving the zombie apocalypse? or are you asking about functionality in terms of muscle activation, aesthetic goals?

leg press is pushing weight up with your feet, squats are standing up with a weight across your shoulders. they both work the legs, but only one requires trunk stability and balance.

Regarding Muscle Failure. You dont need to reach failure to get the benifits of strength training, but you have to get reasonably close. about 2 or so reps left in the tank will get you the stimulus you need without risking injury as your form breaks down.

Why 10-15 reps? this makes for long boring training, and pumped up muscles. Try increasing the weight to something you can lift for 3-5 times. and each time you get three good sets out, increase the weight by a bit in the next session.

But mostly, best to stay away from reaching failure as this is when you are most likely to get hurt.

Hope this helps, Have fun

230 · May 29, 2012 at 01:59 PM

If your goal is healthy hips/knees/ankles, a strong core, and good posture, I would do squats. I really can't recommend squats enough, they're the ultimate functional exercise, and way better than a leg press machine in terms of functional movement. Master the two-legged squat, then master the one-legged squat, then master them on an unstable surface (i.e. bosu). Then add weight.

Regarding muscle failure, it depends on what your goals are. If you're training for hypertrophy (big muscles), do 6-12 reps at 75-85% of your maximum intensity. If your goal is maximal strength (lifting the most weight), do 1-5 reps at 85-100% of maximum intensity (i.e. until muscle failure).

EDIT: Just came across this article that probably has everything you need to know about leg presses and squats:

Looks like leg presses are not completely worthless, but I would still do squats as well :)

1579 · May 29, 2012 at 02:59 AM

Do squats, better in every way..including building bone density.

Body fat can be measured in a water tank or you can measure different body parts with a soft tape measure and there is a calculation…it's not exact but pretty close.

0 · February 05, 2014 at 06:18 PM

Age is key here. Over 35 I say squats get you into dangerous territory. Firstly lets assume you are going to squat enough to make a meaningful difference to your metabolism, in other words 200 pounds plus. As Jay15 points out this is a lot of compression on your spine, a spine that once you are 35 and over is not quite as springy as it used to be. Why risk this for a meesly 4 or 5 extra pounds of muscle? You are getting the results you want from the leg press, then don't mess with success. Just keep the reps on the low side and be sure to bring those legs to your chest nice and low to get a full range and you will be fine. Sure you wont activate as much core muscles used to balance since you are just lying back, but just make sure you're doing planks and some other kinds of standing work to compensate. The way i look at it, throwing your back out for a 4 months will set you back way further than the cons of a leg press will.

30 · May 29, 2012 at 05:26 AM

I just started working with a trainer at the gym who was highly recommended as someone who could help me learn proper form for all the major exercises.

The first session we worked on squats almost exclusively. I found that I was doing squats completely wrong. I was bending at the knees but not also at the waist. Because of that it turns out I was relying on my quads mostly and was barely getting my glutes or hamstrings into the movement. I used to do way more leg presses since they did feel a lot more satisfying but the trainer said in no uncertain terms that a squat done with proper form is superior in every way.

I understand your hesitation about having weights up high to drop, but maybe you can use some of those pinchy things on the end of the bar that hold the weights on?

2797 · May 29, 2012 at 03:33 AM

Good article on this...

I have inflexible ankles and a bad knee so I leg press. It annoys me when squat snobs imply that anyone who doesn't squat is a waste of space in the gym.

18427 · May 29, 2012 at 02:57 AM

My opinion based on experience and study:

Squats are not necessary. Top loading the spine in this manner COULD be dangerous.

Leg press and dead lifts (preferably trap bar dead lifts) are far more biomechanically sound. Your leg press machine should have safety measures like stop bars and such to let you go to failure without being injured.

Another large difference is the technique factors involved. The squat has to be mastered to be useful in any sense. I really don't think it adds much more to your muscle mass or overall functional capacity than doing a good leg press and other movements that will activate your core.

0 · May 29, 2012 at 02:50 AM

tl;dr. Squat is superior, but don't let that fool can get a great workout and great results from leg presses.

I like leg presses. I use them nearly all the time. For one thing, I can go really, really heavy with them and I like doing that. Though, I tend to use leg press after I've already done my squats for the day. I'm working up to really heavy squats, but I'm not there yet.

For people close to me, I recommend they try squats, but if they are not right for them to not feel bad if they are doing just leg presses or hack squats. If you are doing leg presses or hack squats, though, I think you should go as heavy as possible...and I think you should use single leg versions in conjunction with the dual leg standard.

Another way to make leg presses really work for you is to use different stances, different depth and raise/lower your feet (focus on the quads by having feet lower, hamstrings/glutes by having feet higher).

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