Leg Press vs Squats: Which Exercise is Best?

Whether you’ve just realized that you need to focus more on your lower body, or you’ve been doing leg days for a while and are looking for something to switch it up, you might find yourself comparing leg press vs squat and asking yourself which is better.

Both exercises are compound lifts, which can have huge benefits for lower body size and strength, and which also have their share of pros and cons. Keep reading and we’ll dive deeper into the squat vs leg press conversation, and help you choose the right one to include in your leg day plan.

What’s the Difference Between Squats vs Leg Press?

The movement pattern for squats and leg press is very similar, targeting many of the same muscle groups. But there are some distinct differences that change how they affect your body, and how you work them into your routine.


Squats generally begin from a standing position, from which you will hinge at the hips and the knees, slowly lowering yourself to a “squatting” position, with your knees making a 90-degree angle (or something close to it).

From there, you push through your feet and raise yourself back to the starting position.

Squats can be done unweighted, but are typically done by loading a weight on your upper body - for example, a barbell laying across your shoulders, or by holding a kettlebell or dumbbell in your hands.

The Leg press is a seated exercise done on a machine. You’ll start with your back at around a 45-degree angle, lower body contracted and knees bent, feet flat on a platform, which is loaded with plates on each side.

To do the exercises, you push with your feet and straighten your legs, then slowly return to the starting position, bringing your knees back towards your chest.

Muscles Worked

Both squats and leg press primarily target the quadriceps, along with the hamstrings and glutes. There are also some benefits for the calves, adductors and hip flexors in both exercises.

Though the primary muscles worked are the same for both, the squats hit a more diverse range of muscles, including the core muscles, lower back, and potentially the forearms, due to the additional work that goes into holding and steadying the weight throughout the movement.

Leg Press vs Squat: Pros and Cons

There are benefits and potential downsides to both squats and leg presses. Let’s dive into these now.

Pros and Cons of Leg Press


  • More benefits for the quads.
  • Safer, and easier to do without a spotter.
  • Better for people with back problems.
  • You’re able to do more weight, which means you may make faster lower body gains (especially for the quads, as mentioned above).


  • Requires a leg press machine to do.
  • Less versatile, with fewer variations available to mix it up.
  • Limited benefits outside of the lower body muscles.
  • The higher perceived safety can be dangerous. It’s easy to load too much weight and cause damage to your knees.

Pros and Cons of Squats


  • Great all-round benefits, not just for the lower body but for the back and core as well.
  • A functional exercise that translates well to other athletic activities.
  • Extremely versatile - can be done anywhere, with any kind of weight (or even unweighted).
  • Good for flexibility, mobility and posture, when done correctly.
  • Greater benefits for bone density, metabolism and hormone production (e.g. testosterone and HGH).
  • More mentally engaging.


  • High risk of injury if your form is incorrect.
  • High-weighted squats likely require a spotter.
  • Takes a large toll on the central nervous system, and can leave you drained afterwards.
  • Not suitable for people with certain health conditions or recovering from injuries.

What’s Better? Leg Press or Squats?

So, now we know about the similarities, pros and cons for leg press vs squats, which is the better choice for your workout?

Overall, we’d say that squats are a better exercise, as they have a wider range of benefits, more versatility, and they’re generally better for building functional strength.

However, there are circumstances where leg press is better. They’re better if you specifically want to build your quads, or if you have health conditions or injury risk that makes squats unsuitable.

Can You Build Muscle With Leg Press?

You can absolutely build muscle with the leg press. Pressing heavy weights is a great way to stimulate hypertrophy, and the isolated nature of leg press means they actually might be better than squats at building muscle in certain areas (most notably the quadriceps).

Can Leg Press Replace Squats?

You could replace squats with leg press and get many of the same benefits. However, it won’t be a direct replacement, and you can’t expect to fully replicate the results you get from squatting.

You should really only consider leg press as a replacement for squats if there is something that prevents you from safely squatting. Otherwise, consider them a complement rather than an alternative.

What’s a Good Weight for Leg Press?

The weight you can do with the leg press is typically a lot higher than what you’re able to squat.

According to Strength Level, the average leg press for a 177.5 lb man is 499.2 lb, 74% higher than the average squat.

For females (at an average body weight of 147.7 lb), the average leg press is 309.8 lb, 92% higher than the average squat.

Since you don’t have to load a weight on top of your shoulders, there’s more leeway to add more weight to your leg press. 

Based on the numbers above, you can aim to press 50% or more of what you usually squat. However, like with any exercise, there’s still a risk of injury if you do it wrong, or go too hard too fast, so start low and work on getting your form perfect before increasing the weight.

Are Squats Dangerous?

Squats can be dangerous, but the dangers of squats are largely overblown. When done with correct form, and manageable weight, they are perfectly safe and healthy.

It’s important to focus on not rounding your back, keeping your body balanced and aligned, and avoiding putting too much pressure on the knees. And, like everything, don’t try to lift more weight than you can handle.

Can You Do Leg Press and Squats in the Same Workout?

If you want a killer leg day, you can absolutely do both leg press and squat.

You might have trouble walking up stairs afterwards, but this is a great way to combine the all-round benefits of squats with the more isolated benefits of the leg press.

If you do include both in your workout, we’d advise you to do squats first, then leg press.

Tiring yourself out with the leg press first may heighten the dangers of squats, especially if you still try to lift heavy.

It’s better to do squats early, when you still have energy and can maintain perfect form, then get on the leg press machine later in your workout, where you can relax your upper body and really center in on working your quads and glutes.