Squats vs. Leg Press: Which Exercise Reigns Supreme?

Written by the Boostcamp staff
Last Updated: Mar 20,20236 min read

If you're a fitness enthusiast in search of the ultimate leg workout, you've likely pondered the age-old question: squats vs leg press, which is better? This leg exercise comparison aims to provide you with the knowledge and insight to choose the right exercise for your goals. As an expert, I'm here to help you navigate the pros and cons of each exercise so you can make an informed decision on whether to squat or leg press.

First, let's define the two exercises in question.


Squats are a compound, multi-joint exercise that primarily targets the quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings. To perform a squat, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes pointing slightly outward. Bend your knees and hips, lowering your body as if sitting in a chair, while keeping your chest up and back straight. Drive through your heels to return to the starting position.

How To: Deep Barbell Back Squat on Make a GIF

Leg Press

The leg press is a machine-based exercise that primarily targets the quadriceps, with secondary emphasis on the glutes and hamstrings. To perform a leg press, sit in the leg press machine with your back flat against the pad and your feet shoulder-width apart on the platform. Push the platform away from your body, extending your knees and hips until your legs are straight. Slowly return to the starting position by bending your knees and hips.

Leg Press GIFs | Tenor

Now that we've covered the basics, let's dive into the pros and cons of each exercise.

Squats: Pros and Cons

Pros of Squats:

  1. Functional Movement: Squats mimic a natural, functional movement that you perform in everyday life, such as sitting and standing.

  2. Core Strength: As a full-body exercise, squats engage your core muscles, which helps improve overall stability and balance.

  3. Versatility: Squats can be performed using various equipment, such as barbells, dumbbells, or your body weight, making them accessible to a wide range of fitness levels.

Cons of Squats:

  1. Technique: Squats require proper form to avoid injury, and mastering the technique can be challenging for beginners.

  2. Lower Back Stress: Incorrect form or excessive weight can place undue stress on the lower back, increasing the risk of injury.

Leg Press: Pros and Cons

Pros of Leg Press:

  1. Isolation: The leg press machine isolates the leg muscles, allowing you to focus on building strength and size in your quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings.

  2. Safety: Since the leg press is performed on a machine, there is less risk of injury due to improper form or balance issues.

Cons of Leg Press:

  1. Limited Functional Carryover: The leg press is a machine-based exercise and does not replicate the same functional movements as squats, reducing its real-world application.

  2. Less Core Engagement: The leg press does not engage the core muscles as effectively as squats, limiting overall core strength development.

Squat or leg press?

So, should you choose the squat or leg press? It ultimately depends on your goals and preferences. If you're seeking a functional, versatile exercise that builds overall strength, balance, and core stability, squats may be your go-to. However, if your primary focus is isolating and targeting your leg muscles for hypertrophy, the leg press could be the better choice.

Remember, the best leg exercise comparison is not an either-or proposition. Incorporating both squats and leg presses into your workout routine can help you achieve a balanced, well-rounded leg development while reaping the benefits of both exercises.

Getting the most out of squat and leg press

To get the most out of your leg workouts, consider incorporating both squats and leg presses into well-rounded programs that emphasize progressive overload and intelligent exercise selection.

It's crucial to remember that the most important aspect of any workout routine is following the principles of progressive overload and smart exercise selection. Progressive overload ensures that you gradually increase the stress on your muscles by adding weight, increasing reps, or changing the exercise's complexity. Smart exercise selection involves choosing exercises that effectively target the desired muscle groups and complement your specific goals.

Popular programs with squat and/or leg press

Here are a few popular programs that include these exercises:

r/Fitness Basic Beginner Routine (3x5): Another beginner-friendly program, StrongLifts 5x5, emphasizes compound lifts and linear progression. Like Starting Strength, this program includes squats in every workout, and you can add leg presses as an accessory movement to target your quadriceps and hamstrings further.

Starting Strength: A beginner-friendly program that focuses on building a strong foundation through compound exercises, including squats, deadlifts, and presses. This program incorporates squats in every workout and can be easily adapted to include leg presses as an accessory exercise.

PHUL (Power Hypertrophy Upper Lower): This intermediate-level program combines strength and hypertrophy training. The lower body workouts in the PHUL program include both squats and leg presses, ensuring a well-rounded approach to developing your leg muscles.

Alberto Nunez 4 Day Upper Lower: This 4-Day Upper Lower Program is designed by Alberto Nuñez, who is the head bodybuilding coach at 3D Muscle Journey. Alberto is an accomplished lifelong natural bodybuilder, having most recently won Mr. Universe at the 2022 WNBF.

Jim Wendler's 5/3/1 for Beginners: A versatile, intermediate to advanced program that focuses on long-term strength and muscle gains. Squats are a main lift in this program, and leg presses can be incorporated as an accessory exercise during hypertrophy-focused training blocks.

All of these programs are free on Boostcamp App.

Boostcamp App: the last lifting app you'll ever need

To find the best workout programs tailored to your individual needs and goals, check out the free Boostcamp App. Boostcamp offers a wide range of professionally-designed workout programs for all fitness levels, from beginners to advanced athletes. Whether you're looking to build strength, increase muscle size, or improve your overall fitness, Boostcamp App has you covered.

With the Boostcamp App, you'll have access to free exercise guidance, customizable routines, and progress tracking features that will help you optimize your workouts and stay on track with your fitness journey. So, give it a try and unlock the full potential of your leg workouts by incorporating both squats and leg presses into your routine. Happy lifting!