If you want to build and strengthen your quads and glutes, then you probably know that squats and leg presses are both go-to moves that will deliver big-time results. Granted: If you have a shoulder or arm injury that limits your ability to squat with a barbell, then by all means, leg presses are better than nothing.
Otherwise, if you have to pick between these moves, choose squats. Squats are far more complex lifts, and—when you perform correctly—they'll deliver superior results.
Here are 5 reasons why:
1. Squats Engage More Muscle
Squats force the whole body to work during the lift. In a squat—whether it's a front squat, traditional back squat, or even an overhead squat—you'll engage not only your legs, but also your hip musculature, lower back, lats, and shoulders. That extra muscle work translates to more strength, power, and muscular gains throughout the body.
2. Squats Burn More Calories
Since you'll work more muscles during a squat than during a leg press, you'll burn more calories by doing squats, both during your workout and 24 hours afterward.
3. Squats Contribute to Better Balance
Most leg press machines focus primarily on the quads, eliminating the glutes from the lift altogether. Most people already have stronger quads than glutes and hamstrings, so training quads only will amplify the muscular imbalance between opposing muscles in front and back—and that can lead to potentially dangerous injuries in your lower back and your knees.
4. Squats Lead to a Stronger Core
Doing a squat rather than a leg press will place your core under considerable stress, causing it to work hard to support your body during the lift. The result: Your abs and core will get a better workout than they would even with a dedicated core exercise like crunches.
5. Squats Demand Greater Stabilization
Because the leg press machine basically forces you into position, you rely very little on stabilizing muscles. Squats, on the other hand, will force you to work your abductors, adductors and gluteus medius, adding to your overall lower body development while helping to prevent injuries.