“Dude, to get jacked legs, you’ve gotta squat”
“You’re a sissy if you don’t squat”
“You don’t need to squat to get big legs”
These ^^ comments, you might of heard before, whether on the internet or to you personally.
But is there any validity to the claims?
What’s better for overall leg development?
Squats or leg press, and what’s the difference?
Enter the squat
The squat is claimed as the king of all exercises.
It doesn’t just hit the quads, it also involves the hamstrings, the glutes, the back, the delts and to an extent the abs too.
It’s not just a tough exercise to learn, but once you’re moving heavy weights about, it can also become psychologically challenging.
Historically, the reason that squats probably became popular was that, early in the days of weight training, that’s all there was to do to develop your legs, that and lunges.
There was no leg press.
If you wanted to do leg press, you had to do it this way.
This is not me saying squats aren’t a good exercise.
Far from it. They’re an excellent exercise, provided they’re done correctly.
I’m a powerlifter, so squats are kind of a staple exercise in my programs and many of my clients’ programs.
But, there is more than one way to skin a cat.
The main difference if you hadn’t guessed with squatting is the load is placed on a bar on your back.
Because the squat requires much more in the way of stability, balance, coordination and not to mention strength, it means in terms of getting progressively stronger on it, is a lot harder than if you were to jump on a leg press.
The only people who MUST squat, are powerlifters, and Olympic weightlifters.
There is no need to squat.
For people with certain mechanics (long femurs and short torso’s), they will end up so bent over back squatting that the load will just be on their lower back, assuming their ankles aren’t extremely flexible to counter this.
But, before you think, “Joe, you’ve convinced me, I’m not built to squat”; there are other variations of squat that could just as easy suit your mechanics and work your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and back.
- Front Squat
- Zercher Squat
- Belt Squat
- Low Bar Squat
- Goblet Squat
- Safety Bar Squat
All of the above variations will be effective at developing a decent set of wheels.
However, exercise selection isn’t the biggest determinant of growth, progressive tension overload is the biggest factor.
Exercise selection is secondary, all that it allows is for someone to apply progressive overload in a safe and effective manner.
Provided you can do that on any of the above variations, you’ll get bigger legs.
If you can’t?
Then welcome to the leg press.
Enter the leg press
The leg press is often used an accessory exercise for after squatting heavy.
Whilst this works incredibly well; for the guy who struggles to squat, sticking to the leg press and just doing a bit more volume instead is probably a better option.
As I stated earlier, the biggest determinant of muscle growth is progressive tension overload, so provided you either add more weight to the exercise, more repetitions, more sets, use tempo or some other variation to increase tension overload you’ll grow your legs.
For a lot of gym goers and novice trainee’s, it is far easier to continuously load the leg press than it is the squat, because it isn’t as mechanically demanding.
Because you only have to focus on controlling your legs during a leg press, the time spent learning the skill is FAR and away less than the time spent learning how to squat correctly, and if you can grow decent legs without it, why bother?
However, the leg press can be a lower back death trap for anyone that doesn’t have the required flexibility OR they’re bringing the sled too low down.
An easy way to remedy this, (whilst you work on your mobility), is to do single leg, leg press, with one leg on the floor, as it actually makes it far harder to round your lower back this way.
However, the key to building a decent set of legs, whilst it doesn’t heavily rely on exercise selection, it will rely on exercise variation.
Neglecting to move your legs in a certain range of motion, is neglecting the chance to tax muscle to their full capacity.
- Both of these movements are compound movement’s, they both work more than one muscle.
- Both can be used to grow your legs.
- Provided you’re built to squat, then have at ye and squat and leg press to achieve a decent set of wheels.
- There are plenty of variations of a squat that could be suited to your mobility level.
- Provided you apply progressive tension overload on the exercise you choose to use, then you will build muscle.
- If you can use both exercises (or a variation) in your training programme, then go for it. If you can’t, but still want decent legs, then opt for the leg press.