Many gym-goers dream of developed, defined and strong legs.
Whether you prefer using fixed resistance machines or free weights, there’s a wide variety of leg exercises out there to choose from.
Two very popular exercises are front squats and leg press.
In this article, we compare them in terms of the muscles they target, their difficulty levels, as well as looking at some of the safety considerations heavy leg exercises come with.
By the end of it, you’ll have a much better understanding of front squats and leg press and be in a strong position to know which one is best for you.
What’s The Difference Between Front Squats And Leg Press?
The main difference between front squats and leg press is that leg press is performed on a fixed resistance machine, whereas front squats are done using a weighted barbell.
This not only impacts some of the muscles that activate during each movement, but it also changes the stresses placed on your body.
For example, a free weights exercise, like front squats, will need stabilizing muscles to activate to keep you upright and stable throughout the exercise.
When using a fixed resistance machine, like a leg press, your body is kept stable and in the correct position by the machine.
This means that aside from the target muscles of the exercise, very few others are worked.
Which Exercise Is Best For Quad Development?
Both leg press and front squats work your quads very effectively.
Your quads are the primary muscles of both exercises so either of these will help with quad development.
Something to consider is that your body is under more stress during front squats than during leg press.
If you’re having to think about what other body parts are working (such as your upper back and shoulders in front squats), it can prevent you from focussing solely on technique resulting in errors and reduced effectiveness.
With that in mind, you could argue that leg press is actually best for quad development as your technique is enforced by the leg press machine.
If you have your technique correct though, front squats and leg press are equally as good when it comes to quad development.
Which Exercise Is Best For Hamstring Development?
As leg press does a better job of placing most of the focus on your quads (with minimal assistance from other muscles), front squats are slightly better for hamstring development.
The leg press machine keeps as much of the effort required as possible on your quads.
During front squats, your hamstrings (and other muscles) come into play much more to assist in the challenging movement.
Which Exercise Is Best For Glute Development?
Although your glutes will activate during leg press, they’re placed under more stress during front squats.
Free weight exercises (like front squats) are usually better at working multiple muscle groups at the same time.
This means that although quads are the primary target muscle, other muscles, including your glutes work hard during front squats.
Front squats have a reasonable level of variability.
Changing your arm position so they’re held out in front of you can adapt the front squat into a zombie squat.
This can be a useful variation if your wrists are uncomfortable during front squats.
Pausing during the lowest part of front squats can also make the exercise a tad more difficult.
Fixed resistance machines don’t tend to offer much variability and leg press is no different.
With the exception of doing the exercise with one leg instead of two, you don’t have many options when it comes to varying leg press.
When it comes to variability, front squats are much better than leg press.
Free weights exercises usually offer more variations as you aren’t restricted by the limited movement of a machine.
If you like to have good levels of variability in your training, front squats will be a better choice than leg press.
If you only look at the movement of front squats, the exercise seems to have a pretty low difficulty level.
It’s only when you consider the technique and the complexity of the exercise that you see that front squats are difficult.
Keeping your body in the correct position throughout can be tough, as can mastering the technique.
Front squats are better suited to more experienced gym users.
Fixed-resistance machines often have a low difficulty level.
As they’re designed to only move in a limited way, it’s quite difficult to get things wrong.
Leg press machines only move in a way that’s suitable for leg press to be performed.
That’s why leg press is a relatively straightforward exercise to do.
Leg press is an easier exercise to perform correctly compared to front squats.
The technique for front squats can be challenging to get exactly right whereas leg press tends to be much easier as the machine keeps things moving in the right way.
Front squats are aimed more at experienced gym-goers looking to make their training more challenging, but leg press can be added into beginner and advanced programs.
The biggest safety consideration for both front squats and leg press is to ensure that you’re lifting a suitable weight for your current fitness levels.
Lifting too much weight in front squats is particularly dangerous as there isn’t much preventing the weighted bar from falling or from causing an injury.
Even though leg press is done on a machine, too much weight can still lead to injury and training setbacks.
The technique used in both exercises is also important to ensure you’re not placing excessive stress on the working muscles or other body parts.
Front Squats vs Leg Press: Which Is Best?
Both these exercises are great and either would make fantastic additions to your leg workouts.
That being said, front squats provide a more challenging exercise that works more muscles at the same time.
They also offer greater variability.
Leg press is an easier exercise to get right and does a great job of placing more focus on your quads, without putting more stress on other parts of your body.
Ultimately, the one you actually prefer doing will likely be the one that’s best for you.
Hope this helped!
I’ve been in the fitness and strength training industry for nearly a decade. In that time, I’ve gained 30 pounds of muscle, written hundreds of articles, and reviewed dozens of fitness supplements. As for my educational background, I’m a currently studying for my Active IQ Level 3 Diploma in Personal Training.