Two tried and tested exercises to work the lower body are the seated leg press machine and squats. Although both are different in execution, the equipment needed and where they can be performed, they both target the muscles of the lower body and are great for burning calories. They are both lower body exercises, but there are several differences and the question arises, which one is better?
Squats are performed by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and bending your knees as if you are about to sit in a chair. Keep your back straight and have your knees in line with your toes, stop when your thighs are parallel to the floor, then use your glutes and quadriceps to return to standing.
Usually a barbell is used across the back, but dumbbells, bands and kettlebells can all be used for resistance. By holding the weight in front of the body or overhead different muscles, partially the core is involved more.
The movement of the leg press machine is practically the opposite of the squat. Start in a seated position with your feet on a platform. Release the levers attached to the weight plates, allowing the weight to come down toward your body, and then extend your knees at the top of the movement. Because the leg press is a machine, regardless of design it has a preset movement pattern determined by the manufacturer. This movement pattern may not be ideal for your individual body type and depending on your size the machine may not fit you very well.
While both exercises primarily target the lower body, the leg press provides far more support to the back and core muscles, which allows you to focus your full attention on the thigh muscles. It is quite common for people to leg press much more weight than they can squat.
The machine takes the core muscles out of the equation. The problem is that core strength is important.
During squats the body has to resist gravity, balance and hold the upper body still, all while the lower body moves. This movement not only requires great lower body strength but core strength too. Core strength is important in sports and life.
Increasing core strength decreases the chance of injury in daily activities and sports. The squat increases core strength, but the leg press does not.
The squat exercise better mimics real life motion that is common in almost every sport. It extends the hips and knees as one. The seated leg press only allows for completed knee extension, which is great for the quadriceps, but the hip muscles that are so critical are largely left out.
Instead of treating the lower body as individual muscles, like the leg press, the squat is a compound movement that uses multiple joints and muscle groups. Whether jumping, running or swimming the body works together as one and the coordination acquired by training with squats will carry over.
The leg press isn't bad, though, and does have its place. One advantage is that it is relatively easy to learn, just get in and lower the weight. It is also a popular choice in rehabilitative settings and for people with certain disabilities.
However, for athletic development, gaining strength, increasing bone health and for toning up while burning a ton of calories, nothing can replace the classic squat.
- Kyler Crouse, BS, CSCS, FMS is a personal fitness coach that works out of Sierra Athletic Club and in the homes of clients in the greater Lake Tahoe area. Please visit www.KCstrenth.com for more information.