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Barbell squats vs leg press!

Barbell squats vs leg press!


There are many discussions on the Internet concerning the advantages of various forms of training or the use of special, isolated exercises. Unfortunately, the most common mistake of the disputants is that they don't take under consideration the real needs and possibilities of moderatly-trained people. The training of professionals has nothing to do with an average person's gym training. You should not copy the workouts of Ronnie Coleman, Kai Green or Scen Karlsen, or plans included in the bodybuilding magazines (30 sets for legs, only the hardest exercises, supersets). The most common discussion is that about “using leg press instead of barbell squats”. As it was stated tens of years ago, barbell squats are one of the irreplacable resistance exercises. You may not perform deadlift, but it's impossible to avoid squats (with full range of motion).

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Going back to the main point: well, most of all, leg press allows using absurd loads – a person doing squat with 200 kg is able to use (at least) twice as big load on the leg press. Additionally, during squats you also lift your body weight every time, and on the leg press it's only the load. Third of all – stabilisation – in squats you have to engage many different muscles (of deep and extrinsic layers) – in order to do the movement (back – among others, back extensions, abs – among others, rectus abdominis). On the leg press – well, you just push the load with your legs.

For example: Ronnie Coleman became famous with pressing the load of over 1,000 kg with his legs – with the use of squats plasters – which is absurd. Ronnie also used powerlifting costumes and squats plasters – which have nothing to do with bodybuilding (the typical equipment for powerlifters, which allows higher load).

Youtube film: Ronnie and leg press with the use of powerlifting plasters

Let's compare these two exercises.

Squats and their characteristics:

  • engaging the whole body,

  • building strength and mass of the most important muscle groups (back and front of thighs, adductors, glutes, back extensor, abs, deep muscles),

  • hard work of glutes (especially ladies should appreciate that, there's no other better exercise shaping buttocks),

  • great usability of the exercise – the movement of squat is also used in deadlift, jerk, clean and jerk, heel lifts, farmer's walk, yoke walk; that's why squats are the favourite exercise of weight lifters, powerlifters and strongmen,

  • huge hormonal impulse – lactic acid, testosterone and growth hormone are released in large amount,

  • heart rate gets really high – you can easily reach 200 beats per minute in squats – the same as during the hardest intervals, it may be a great body fat reduction workout (there's the reason why many crossfit workouts have squats in the core of their training!),

  • education of coordination, building power and dynamics, jumping ability,

  • there's the problem of security, if one doesn't have a rack.

Barbell squats – Ivan CHAKAROV – model weight lifer technique:

Leg press – characteristics:

  • safety for the exercising one, no necessity of security!

  • building mass and not that much strength in the front part of thighs,

  • isolated work, weak engagement of supporting muscles,

  • much less work of glutes, compared to squats,

  • this exercise may cause large overload in spine and knee joints, especially if it is done incorrectly,

  • lower hormonal impulse,

  • non-functional movement, finds no reflection in any other exercise – does not improve the movement of barbell squats,

  • ability of using absurd load.

The role of leg press should be light addition to the basic leg training – front and back squats, lunges, deadlift on straight legs or stepping on a platform. No matter what your training aim is, even in body fat reduction, squats are a better solution.

The recently published scientific studies confirm the facts known before.

Squats create stronger hormonal impulse than similarly hard workout on the leg press. The scientists from the North Texas University published similar data in “The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research”. It was stated that after the set of squats the amount of created testosterone and growth hormone is higher than after exercising on the leg press. It has been known for a while that training machines are rather poor replacements of free weights – the best results can be achieved with barbell and dumbbells. Additionally, we know that workouts with the use of free weights is better for developing coordination and it engages more muscle groups. What's more, many machines enforce unnatural, fixed movement – which may lead to injuries (e.g. Smith's machine).

The experiment:

  • participants: 10 well-trained resistance competitors, at the average age of 25,

  • on two different occasions the men did: Training 1 – squats or Training 2 – exercise on leg press,

  • volume: 6 sets of 10 repetitions of each exercise,

  • load: 80% of the maximal load (a person, who is able to do squat with the load of 175 kg used the load of 140 kg),

  • right after (IP), 15 and 30 minutes after workouts the scientists chacked the concentration of testosterone and growth hormone in the competitors' blood.


  1. On the leg press the volunteers used the load of 366 kg and the mass of the body was added, in total it was 395 kg, the range of motion was 22 cm,

  2. In squats the load of 140 kg (with the body mass it was 215 kg) was used, the range of motion was 58 cm (over 2.6 x bigger than on the leg press!),

  3. The scientists estimated that the session of squats was 42% harder than exercises on the leg press (the total work – 2.6 times bigger range of motion) despite using 2.6 x larger load on the leg press,

  4. The concentration of testosterone for squats was: 31.4 +/- 10.3 nmol*L,

  5. The concentration of testosterone for leg press was: 26.9 +/- 7.8 nmol*L,

  6. Growth hormone – squats: 9.5 +/- 7.3 µg*L,

  7. Growth hormone – leg press: 2.8 +/- 3.2 µg*L.

Conclusion? Do you want to build strong shape? Do the barbell squats, and treat the exercises on the leg press as a complement.

As you can see, the influence of squats on the excretion of growth hormone was three times higher, the influence on testosterone was noticeably higher. Yes, but Ronnie Coleman did exercises on the leg press! That's true, but he also did thousands of front and back squats, as well as thousands of lunges... You can draw conclusions yourself.

If you think that squats are not as exhausting as exercises on the leg press, well, you must have done squats inappropriately until now.

Watch this film – squat 20 x 180 kg (Jesse Marunde) – try to do this way 20 repetitions of squats with the load larger than 140% of your body mass (if you weight 100 kg, use 140 kg).

Another way: do 5 sets of squats with 10 repetitions (with the load of at least as big as your body weight), with the break of 45-60 seconds between the sets – you will find out how huge metabolic kick may the squats be.

If you are wondering about the kind of squats – which are correct – partial or full? You should read the following:

The tuning of exercises – squats – read it!

Sources: 1. J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Nov 22. The acute hormonal response to free weight and machine weight resistance exercise 2.

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