But is the leg press really safer than the squat? Which has more transference to athletics, the leg press or the squat? Let’s find out what common sense, science, and anecdotal evidence have to say.
The leg press has been shown to make athletes more prone to lower-back problems, because at the bottom position, they are deep into flexion.
The knees get close to the chest, and many times the back is raised off the pad. This is common, and leaves the spine susceptible to large compressive forces. Because the leg press is built to optimize leverage and there is no stabilization involved, much more weight is used than with a squat, making the compressive forces in this unnatural position with heavier weights potentially much more dangerous.
An athlete is required to balance on his or her own two feet while performing the squat. Transference of ground force through the body is exactly what is required of an athlete on the court or on the field of play.
The leg press completely eliminates the balance aspect of the equation, an aspect that will never be eliminated from sport. The leg press has nowhere near the same level of muscle recruitment as the squat, and lacks the degree of intramuscular coordination of the squat.
Although both exercises work the quads effectively, a squat engages your gluteus maximus more effectively as a hip extensor. Your hamstrings are also engaged in both exercises, but to a greater extent in a squat.
Squats also involve your shoulders, back and arms to stabilize your upper body and balance the weight, making squats a whole-body exercise. The seated leg press provides far more support for your back and core muscles, allowing you to focus your full attention on your leg work. Good form is important in both exercises, but poorly performed squats pose a greater potential for injury.
Both squats and seated leg presses are multiple-joint exercises that engage muscles at the hip, knee and ankle joints. Both exercises are effective for developing strength, size and definition in the quadriceps, hamstrings and gluteal muscles. Strong leg muscles increase coordination, improve performance and boost your metabolism.