Is there a big difference between squats and leg presses in terms of engaged muscles ? Which one of the two exercises is a better choice for complete leg development ? Actually you need to do both of them because even though they almost engage the same big muscle groups, the involvement of those muscles in both exercises is very different, which in turn, makes the muscle development very different.
The Squat – the grandfather of all exercises
The barbell squat also known as the king of exercises, engages all the big leg muscles working together at the same time, more than every other exercise. The quadriceps, gluteus maximus and the hamstrings are the main muscles doing the work when squatting, while the pelvic and the other muscles of the body act as stabilizers and assistants to them. This is why many experts say that squats are a full body movement, despite the movement being done by the lower part of the body.
The stabilizing muscles are small and often unnoticeable, but they support and protect us from unwanted and unnatural movements. When doing squats, abs and spinal erectors should contract isometrically to keep the chest in an upright condition. At the same time pelvic muscles work to support the movement of quads, hams and glutes and to ensure that only the wanted movements will be performed..
The range of motion is also a lot greater in squats than leg presses, which creates much greater muscle activity. In a part the range of motion is what separates squats from presses.
The Good Old Leg Press
Because the range of motion is smaller compared to the squat’s, the involvement of hamstrings and gluteal muscles is considerably lower. At the same time the engagement of abductors of the thigh and stabilizing muscles is a lot lower. However you should not neglect leg presses and keep them in your workout routine as they have a great effect on the quadriceps development.
Like we said, while doing leg presses, the hams and glutes are doing very little work, which leaves the whole work for the quadriceps. That’s right – presses are mostly a quads exercise and they allow the trainee to work the quads with some really heavy weights. No matter how great the squat is it just can’t engage the quads more than the leg press.
This is why you should have both exercises included into your workout plan. You can do them both in one workout by doing the first exercise with heavy weights and the second with light weights, or you can alter them on different days.
Squats vs Leg Presses – which one should be your primary movement
So let’s summarize :
– Wide range of motion which helps the development of the glutes and hams besides quadriceps.
– Bigger involvement of the assistance and stabilizing muscles – better development of strength and muscle mass.
– The involvement of thigh abductors contributes to a full development of the thighs.
– No need of special equipment
– A full body movement – squats train multiple muscle groups, even in the upper body.
The Leg Press
– A safer exercise than the squats
– You can use heavy weight for a single muscle group – the quadriceps.
– The minimal engagement of stabilizing muscles increases the load over the quads.
– Different foot positions allow you to change the load.