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Benefits of true squats over leg press machines?(16 posts)

Benefits of true squats over leg press machines?Alex-in-Evanston
Sep 5, 2001 7:40 AM
I'm curious to hear about the advantages of true squats over the leg press machine. In the past I have used the Cybex leg press for power work, and while results have been OK, I don't think I'm maximizing my effort.

Please share any experience.


I use bothColnagoFE
Sep 5, 2001 8:34 AM
Form is EVERYTHING with free weight squats. Most people don't do it right and end up blowing out their knees or other problems. Some use way too much weight. I think you get more from the free weights as you need to use more stabilizing muscles than the press machine, but both are good IMHO.
Here is the SkinnyJoeSlow
Sep 5, 2001 8:49 AM
Hi Alex,
I'm a certified PT and this is the deal with leg press vs. squats. Squats are a very complex exercise. THey use over 200 muscles and its a mulitjoint movement...meaning when you are performing the exercise you are using your ankle, knee and hip joints...this means you are using alot more supporting muscles. Squats target the hips and glutes alot more than leg press. Leg press concentrates more on the quad muscles. Leg press is also a lot easier and alot less dangerous to perform than squats as well. Unless you are doing squats on a smith machine. As far as squats being stressful on the knees thats not true, leg press puts more stress on your knees. when you sit in a leg press machine the machine works on a fixed plane of motion so you are foreced to push the weight along that plane...when squating you push the weight along the plane of motion that your body naturally wants to move thus reducing stress on yoru knees...the only drawback when squatting is that you have 300 pounds of free weights across your shoulders which puts a ton of stress on your lower back. If done properly they are very safe. I think a combo of the both is best but if you have never squatted before stick with leg press. OR goto the gym and have a PT help you with your form. I can rant and rave about this stuff forever if you or anyone else have anymore questions feel free to email me at
Here is the SkinnyGiles
Sep 5, 2001 9:01 AM
Really great post. Smith machines for squats are bad for the same reason you mentioned as leg presses. They force your body to move in a fixed plain. Smith squats are not a good substitute for free weight squats.
Here is the REAL SkinnyJoeSlow
Sep 5, 2001 9:43 AM
Smith machine squats are a lot safer than free weight squats. Yet still recruit more trunk stabilizing muscles than leg presses ever I think it may be a better exercise for those looking to get into free weight squats. So as far as a transtitional movement for a novice to get them used to the feeling of having weight straddled over their shoulders and squating I feel it is a pretty good exercise.
have a nice day =)
Here is the REAL SkinnyGiles
Sep 5, 2001 10:57 AM
Are you saying that smith machine squats are safer from a balance and weight point of view or stress on the knee? I still think they lock you into a plane of motion and are worse long term for the knee.
Here is the REAL SkinnyJoeSlow
Sep 5, 2001 12:59 PM
The smith machine would put the same amount of stress on the knee as a leg press would. But as far as balance goes compared to squats they are a lot safer than free weights. And if you get stuck you can just twist the bar and rack the weight without a spotter. If you want an honest opinion I wouldnt want anyone to go into the gym blindly and get under a bar and start squating. the risk of injury is a lot greater than the reward. Goto the gym with someone that knows what they are doing and have them teach you the proper squatting techinique. I have been lifting weights for 10 yrs and whenever I look at someones form when they squat, 95% of the time its terrible
smith machine squats are a bad exercisepeloton
Sep 6, 2001 6:08 AM
I too have a background in kinesiology and exercise science, and the sport I coach is greatly dependent on leg strength so I have put a lot of thought and research into this area. What I have found and seen is that the the smith squat is an exercise that can put additional stresses on the body, and not achieve the results of similar exercises. The smith squat may provide the illusion of being safer than a traditional sqaut, as one can rotate the bar to prevent the weight from going forward. The problems with the exercise are these though-

1) Your body is forced into the limited range of motion of the machine, and not the natural range of motion of your body. The smith machine only moves vertically. Your shoulders (where weight would be supported) move both vertically and horizontally in a squating motion. The smith machine regulates your movement to something that is unnatural.

2) When the feet are placed under the body during a smith squat, knee flexion is exxagerated. The motion either becomes a quarter squat, or in a more full squat the knees are projected far out beyond the toes. The results of these movements are muscle imbalance from the former, and knee stress from the latter.

3) If the feet are placed far in front of the machine so that knee flexion is reduced from feet directly under the machine, then the back is placed in a weak position. Rounding of the back is common in this adaptation of the exercise, and stress is placed on the lumbar region of the spine.

The smith squat isn't the best choice as it places stress on either the knees or the back. It also doesn't allow the body to move in a natural range of motion. There are other exercises availible which can provide greater strength results and better safety for one's efforts.
Thanks - and another concern.Alex-in-Evanston
Sep 5, 2001 9:09 AM
I, like most of the folks here, have quad and glute strength that is totally out of whack with the rest of my body. I can press quite a bit of weight with my legs, but I haven't got the comparable back strength to support and stabilize. Even if I concentrate on gaining core strength to aid in safe leg work, my legs will always be comparably stronger than all the other supportive muscles.

Should I set my maximum squat set based on what my back can handle, or what my legs can push?


Starting PointJohn Evans
Sep 5, 2001 9:25 AM
Start with what you can do with good form, going deep for a full squat for at least 8 to 10 reps at first. Three points that keep me out of trouble. 1. look up, pick a point on the wall and look at it all the way down and back up. 2. take a deep breath and tighten your gut 3. start the movement with your knees, if you start lowering the bar from your back you'll end up with the weight over past your knees and that's not good. Try a belt if you go heavy and I wouldn't go heavy for 3 to 5 reps untill the form is second nature.
good adviceJoeSlow
Sep 5, 2001 9:51 AM
John has some good tips.
Keep yout feet shoulder width apart and on the upward movment make sure that your knees stay parallel, sometimes under strain it is very common to have your knees start to move toward each other, this puts a ton of stress on your knees. As far as your back getting tired before your legs I doubt that will happen. if you are performing the movement propery your lower back shouldnt be doing the brunt of the work. Also dont rush into squatting heavy...I am sure your leg strength is well above average but all the supporting muscles may not be up to par. so take it easy and ease into it. its better to train lighter and smartly than train heavier and end up with an injury.
Another reason .....pfw2
Sep 5, 2001 11:56 AM
to be careful with leg press IS the fact that it's "easier" to perform. Because there's ostensibly less to think about novices (and some who should know better) tend to pile on too much weight, lock their knees out, lower the weight too fast, lower the weight too far etc, etc.
Weight train the way you train on your bike. Variety and perfect form are vital; hard days/easy days/circuits/machines/freeweights etc.
My 2 cents...Ron B.
Sep 5, 2001 12:24 PM
There is some pretty good advice on this topic already listed but I thought I'd throw a few things your way.

First off, if you don't have anybody to teach you how to do a proper squat don't do them at all. There is just too much risk to the knees and back. Proper form is where it is at. I have seen many a person believe that they had good squat form, when in all reality it was terrible. I have also seen many people go way to heavy, way to quick. If you do decide to do squats keep it light and the reps higher for a while or don't even use weight other than the bar, try starting with a few light sets of 12-15 reps, maybe even higher, until you get very good squating form.

Second, if you are wanting to strengthen your legs for cycling they can both be good activities, but here I feel that the leg press is a better exersize overall. The reason for this is that you are in a more cycling specific position with leg presses (depending on the machine of course). On a leg press machine you are bent over a little more than you would be in a squat, such as you would be on the bike (you are not straight up and down while sitting on the bike. I am a big proponent of sport specific exersizes and here the leg press suits the position better.

Third, I'm assuming that you don't do much upper body work if your legs are a lot more powerful than other parts of your body. In this case you don't need the secondary strength that squats build. You can strengthen those areas by doing other exersizes such as leg extensions, leg curls, calf raises, aductor and abduction exersizes, glute exersizes, etc.

Me personally, I have done lots and lots of squats in my life and lots of leg presses as well as just about everything else in a weight room. I've been a personal trainer, competed in collegiate track and field (shot put, discus and hammer) and have spent the better part of half my life in a weight room. Now days that I am just concerned about cycling I stick to leg extensiton, leg curls, calf raises, leg presses (when I have access to it) and a little bit of upper body stuff (more body fat maintanence than anything) and time on the bike.

Good luck with you lifting
re: My 2 cents...pfw2
Sep 5, 2001 10:21 PM
I agree totally with Rob. (I had to cut short my earlier post in order to get some work done) If you're not really familiar with the gym don't even consider trying to squat without some very competent help. Not just because they're anymore dangerous than anything else in the gym (if started "gym horror stories" would be a lengthy thread indeed), but also, as Rob said, if your form sucks you'll gain very little from them.

I teach all of my clients to squat, it's just such a good exercise. Some of my clients squat ok after a month or two and beautifully after maybe 6 months, others don't have the kinetic awareness to perform squats safely by themselves (even with light weights) after a year, they just don't "get it".

There are great benefits to be gained in the gym, but treat it with the same respect you give to rush hour traffic, at anytime something can pop up and bite you.
Don't forget about developing both slow and fast twitch musclessprocket rocket
Sep 5, 2001 1:15 PM
It is important to develop slow twitch muscles for endurance and fast twitch for sprints.

To develop your fast twitch muscle fibers you should rest no longer than thirty seconds or so between sets. You will do less total poundage (nothing over 70% or so of your one rep max. One rep max is the max poundage you can press in one rep after a light warmup. Be very careful doing this. A trainer is highly recommended since it is easy to pop a gasket doing this).

Next to develop the long endurance slow twitch fibers, extend the recovery periods up to five minutes between sets when you reach your maximum poundage (around 85-95% of your one rep max. Once again be careful of the one rep max rule if you are just starting out. Use your common sense and listen to what your body tells you).

Finally and most essential is to take Whey protein supplements (I take 40mg two to three times a day with plenty of H20). Otherwise you are wasting your time.

This is how I remember it, but if you really want to follow this program effectively, read up on it.

And yes, you can become totally anal retentive about any sport or activity :-)
How about squat sleds?Alex-in-Evanston
Sep 6, 2001 8:17 AM
Is there a right and wrong way to use these things? I seem to be able to get my heart pounding on the sled in a way I can't on the leg press machine.