Most of the time, when you talk about leg workouts, leg exercises, and really just building leg muscle in general… it’s always about squats.
The leg press machine? Nope, that’s a useless machine for babies and little girls only. Squats on the other hand are the king of building big legs and all leg workouts should be built around them. And, anyone who disagrees with this is clearly a wimp or an idiot or both.
I’ve heard stuff like this a million times before, and I still hear it today. In fact, I may have even been one of the people saying it 5-10 years ago. Squats rule, the leg press machine sucks. Yup, that sounded just right to me for a long time.
That was until I realized that it’s actually wrong. And now years later, I love the leg press machine… even more than squats. Let me explain why.
How To Build Big Legs
See, building muscle (in this case, leg muscle) requires a few very specific things. You need to place a certain amount of stress on a muscle, and then gradually increase that stress over time. Meaning, you need to do things (exercises) that cause your muscles to work, and then slowly increase the amount of work (reps being done, weight being lifted, etc.) your muscles have to do.
Do this correctly and consistently with an intelligently designed workout routine and a proper diet, and you will build muscle.
Which brings us back to the leg press machine and squats and really any other exercise of any kind. As long as an exercise allows you to use the target muscle safely, through a full range of motion, AND you can gradually improve at it (by doing additional reps or adding additional weight) over time… then it’s a great exercise that will allow you to build muscle. Simple as that.
Leg Press vs Squats: They’re Equals
Now, when you understand what I just explained, it shouldn’t really come as any surprise that the leg press machine can (and does) work just fine for building leg muscle. I’m going to go a step further and say that the leg press machine works just as well as squats for building big legs. And get this… for some people… the leg press might even be BETTER than squats.
Am I crazy? No, I’m just realistic. Many of the “squats rule, the leg press machine sucks” type of people aren’t. They are too “manly” and “hardcore” and “pro-squats” to stop and realize that the leg press works the legs just fine, and as long as you progress at it consistently… your legs will grow exactly the same as they would if you did squats in their place. In terms of building leg muscle, they are practically equals.
This is usually the point when the anti-leg press people mention some nonsense about how squats cause a huge release of growth hormones that the leg press does not, and this causes not only more leg muscle growth, but more muscle growth across your entire body. And therefore… squats are better!
Here’s the problem with that argument. Most research shows that this release of growth hormones is so insignificant that it’s really not even worth mentioning in the first place.
Sometimes One Exercise Is Better Than The Other
Now how about an argument for why the leg press is better than squats? Okay, here goes. Say you are tall or have strange body mechanics or something that makes squats a lot more awkward and difficult for you than most people. However, you can use the leg press machine just fine.
Over the course of a year, which scenario do you think will allow a person like this to gain more leg muscle… struggling doing an exercise that is awkward and never feels right due to their body type and mechanics, or doing an exercise that is fine and without problem? Yup, I’d guess #2 as well. It’s not even a guess, because I have the first hand experience to prove it.
See, squatting has always been tough for me. I’m a fairly average height (about 6 feet even), but something about my body makes squatting a bit strange. It never feels right. It’s never comfortable. I always use more hamstrings and glutes than I do quads. But on the leg press machine, it’s the complete opposite.
And if my primary goal is adding muscle to my quads, the leg press ends up being the better exercise for me and my results prove it.
Don’t misunderstand me here, I still love squats and fully recommend them. I completely understand that tons and tons of people have built huge legs as a result of nothing but squats and that will never change. Squats are and will always be a fantastic leg exercise. However, this doesn’t negate the fact that the leg press machine can work just as well (and for some people, maybe even better) for building big legs.
So, by all means… keep on squatting if it’s an exercise that works well for you, your body, your goals, and your training preferences. However, don’t avoid the leg press because of incorrect or all around stupid information.
And, if your body happens to be built in a way that makes squatting less than ideal, you’d probably benefit from making the leg press machine a significant part of your leg workout in their place. I know I did.
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