Leg Press vs. Squat – Which Is Better?

If you want to maximize your workout, should you do leg presses or squats? Find out what a new study revealed about the best way to get your legs in shape. 

Ben Greenfield
2-minute read


As I write this, my butt, legs, thighs, low back, and even my abs are feeling a little sore from yesterday’s workout. I did 10 sets of 10 squats with the trusty set of dumbbells I keep in my office. It’s no secret I’m a big fan of squatting, and I’ve written before about how squats are safe, and squats are healthy (especially in the bathroom!).

But what about the popular leg press machine at the gym? The one in which you sit, stand, or lie down and press with your legs against a platform - with resistance provided by a machine rather than free weights? Since you’re performing the same type of hip and knee movement, isn’t it just as good as the squat? Turns out that a recent study entitled  “The acute hormonal response to free weight and machine weight resistance exercise” looked into this exact question.

The study compared 6 sets of 10 repetitions of the leg press to the squat and then tested hormone response. The researchers reported the following:

“Free weight exercises seem to induce greater hormonal responses to resistance exercise than machine weight exercises using similar lower-body multijoint movements and primary movers.”

This means that for potent fat-burning and muscle-building hormones like testosterone, squats are superior.

And that’s not all. I’ve seen leg press machines cause far more knee, hip, and low back injuries compared to the squat – primarily because the squat doesn’t lock you into one range-of-motion like the leg press machine does. So the squat is ultimately better than the leg press!

Want more ideas about how to incorporate squats into your workouts? Here are 13 variations of the squat to get your creative wheels churning.  Do you have more questions about the difference between leg presses and squats? Leave your thoughts over at Facebook.com/GetFitGuy.

Squat image courtesy of Shutterstock.

About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.