Hack Squat Vs Leg Press: Which Builds More Muscle? (Science-Based)

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The hack squat vs leg press debate has run rampant for years now, and it seems as though every fitness expert has their own opinion.  

But what does the science say? 

This is a good question, and it is one that we are going to take a look right into it.  

Let’s get right into it and take a look at the squat vs leg press.  

How Do Leg Presses And Squats Differ From Each Other? 

Leg presses and squats are two popular lower body exercises, but they differ in terms of movement, muscles used, and the overall training experience. 

While both leg presses and squats target the same muscles, that’s not to say they are both as effective as one another. 

To be forthright; squats are superior to leg presses in almost every way. 

Squats allow for a greater range of motion, higher muscle recruitment, the development of stabilisation muscles, and much more. 

Meanwhile, leg presses tend to be safer than squats and better for people with certain injuries or pain, so this is something to keep in mind. 

Hack Squat Vs Leg Press: Muscles Used  

In a leg press, the movement primarily targets the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. Since the movement is guided and stabilized by the machine, it allows you to focus on pushing heavy weights with less emphasis on stabilizing muscles. 

On the other hand, squats are compound movements that engage multiple muscle groups, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, core, and lower back. 

Squats also require greater stabilizing effort, making them more functional and effective for overall lower body development. 

Hack Squat Vs Leg Press: Hormonal Response  

When comparing the hormonal response between the two exercises, squats have been shown to produce higher levels of testosterone and growth hormone. 

These hormones play a crucial role in muscle growth and strength development, making squats more favorable for muscle building. 

Hack Squat Vs Leg Press: Sport Performance  

For athletes seeking enhanced sports performance, squats have the advantage. Squats improve functional strength, power, and explosiveness, translating well to various athletic movements and activities. 

The additional stabilization required during squats also mimics real-life situations better than leg presses. 

Hack Squat Vs Leg Press: Body Composition  

In terms of body composition changes, squats have the upper hand. Since squats engage more muscle groups and elevate heart rate, they burn more calories during and after the workout, contributing to fat loss and improved body composition. 

Hack Squat Vs Leg Press: Gaining Strength 

Both exercises can help build strength, but squats are generally more effective. The functional nature of squats recruits more muscle fibers and promotes greater strength gains compared to the leg press. 

Hack Squat Vs Leg Press The Pros and Cons 

Leg Press Pros 

  • Less stress on the lower back and knees compared to squats. 
  • Isolates and targets specific leg muscles for hypertrophy. (This is one of the best leg press benefits for ladies). 
  • Suitable for beginners or those with certain mobility limitations. 
  • Easier to load with heavier weights due to machine support. 

Leg Press Cons 

  • Lacks functional carryover to daily life and sports. 
  • May not fully engage stabilizing muscles and core. 
  • Potential for improper form if not properly adjusted or used. 

The Pros And Cons Of Squats 

Squat Pros 

  • Full-body engagement, targeting multiple muscle groups. 
  • Improves functional strength and stability. 
  • Enhances balance, coordination, and athleticism. 
  • Triggers a higher hormonal response for muscle growth. 

Squat Cons 

  • Requires proper form and technique to prevent injury. 
  • May be challenging for those with mobility or flexibility issues. 
  • Heavier loads can put significant stress on the lower back and knees. 

Which Exercise Is Best Suited To You? 

When To Use The Squat? 

Choose squats when: 

  • You want to build overall lower body strength and muscle mass. 
  • You aim to improve sports performance and functional strength. 
  • You have good mobility and flexibility to perform squats safely. 
  • You seek a more time-efficient full-body exercise. 

When To Use The Leg Press? 

Opt for leg presses when: 

  • You want to target specific leg muscles for isolated hypertrophy. 
  • You are recovering from an injury and need a gentler leg exercise. 
  • You have limited mobility or struggle with squat form. 
  • You want to supplement your overall leg training with additional volume. 

When To Use Both? 

Incorporate both leg presses and squats into your training regimen for a well-rounded lower body workout. 

Begin with squats to engage multiple muscle groups and promote functional strength, then follow up with leg presses to target specific muscles and add volume to your leg routine. 

Leg Press Variations 

One-leg Leg Press 

Performing leg presses one leg at a time offers several benefits. It addresses muscle imbalances by ensuring each leg works independently, promoting symmetry and balance in lower body development. Additionally, the unilateral nature of this exercise increases stability demands, engaging core muscles and enhancing overall stability.

Higher Foot Placement 

Placing your feet higher on the leg press platform shifts the emphasis to the glutes and hamstrings. This variation targets the posterior chain more effectively, helping to develop strength and muscle mass in the glutes and hamstrings. It also allows for a deeper stretch in these muscles, promoting greater muscle activation.

Lower Foot Placement 

Positioning your feet lower on the platform places greater emphasis on the quadriceps. This variation targets the vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, and vastus intermedius—the main muscles of the quadriceps group. By adjusting foot placement, you can tailor the exercise to focus on specific areas of the quadriceps for balanced leg development.

Squat variations 

Back squats 

Back squats are a fundamental lower body exercise performed with a barbell on the upper back. This compound movement pattern targets multiple lower body muscles, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and spinal erectors. Back squats promote overall leg development and strength while also engaging core muscles for stability.

Hack squats 

Hack squats can be performed using a hack squat machine or a barbell positioned behind the legs. This variation places greater emphasis on quad activation by altering the movement angle and reducing spinal loading. Hack squats are an excellent addition to leg day routines, targeting the vastus medialis and vastus lateralis for balanced leg development.

Smith machine squat 

Smith machine squats provide a controlled and guided squatting motion, making them suitable for individuals with weaker or painful joints. While the leg press vs. smith machine squat debate continues, smith machine squats are effective for building muscle mass and strength. The fixed barbell path reduces the need for stabilizing muscles, allowing for greater focus on the target muscles.

Front squats 

Front squats involve resting the barbell across the front shoulders, shifting the load to the anterior chain and emphasizing quad activation. This variation requires good posture and core stability to maintain the barbell position, making it an effective exercise for developing quad strength and muscle mass. Front squats also engage the core muscles and promote overall upper body and lower body strength.

How Much Should You Be Able To Leg Press? 

Male 

As a general guideline, an average male should be able to leg press around 2.5 times his body weight for one repetition. 

Female 

On average, a female should be able to leg press around 1.9 times her body weight for one repetition. 

How Much Should You Be Able To Back Squat?

An average male should be able to back squat around 1.5 times his body weight for one repetition. 

An average female should be able to back squat around 1.0 to 1.2 times her body weight for one repetition. 

The Tall Guy Conundrum 

Tall individuals may face challenges with both leg presses and squats due to their longer limb lengths. For squats, tall individuals may struggle with maintaining proper form and balance. 

On the other hand, the leg press machine may not be adequately adjusted for taller users, leading to discomfort and limited range of motion. 

To accommodate tall individuals, proper equipment setup and adjustments are crucial. Additionally, incorporating exercises that target leg muscles effectively with less reliance on equipment can be beneficial. 

Hack Squat Vs Leg Press Safety Tips 

Regardless of the exercise you choose, safety should always be a priority. Follow these tips to perform leg presses and squats safely: 

  • Warm-up adequately before starting your leg workout to prepare your muscles and joints. 
  • Use proper form and technique to avoid injury. Seek guidance from a qualified trainer if needed. 
  • Start with lighter weights and gradually progress to heavier loads to prevent overexertion. 
  • Use a spotter for squats and heavy leg press machine exercises, especially if you’re lifting near your maximum capacity. 
  • Listen to your body and avoid pushing through pain or discomfort. Rest and recover as needed. 

The Bottom Line 

Both leg presses and squats offer unique benefits and have their place in a well-rounded leg training routine. 

Squats are superior for overall strength, muscle engagement, and functional carryover, making them an essential compound exercise. 

Leg presses are effective for isolating specific leg muscles and can be valuable for individuals with certain limitations. 

To maximize leg muscle growth and strength development, consider incorporating both exercises into your workouts strategically. 

Combine compound movements like squats with targeted exercises like leg presses to achieve a balanced and effective leg training routine.

Remember to prioritize safety, proper form, and gradual progression to achieve the best results while minimizing the risk of injury. The real answer to which is better between hack squat vs leg press is whichever you prefer.

Hack Squat Vs Leg Press – FAQs  


Are Hack Squats Better Than Leg Press?

When comparing hack squats to the leg press, it’s essential to consider individual preferences and training goals. Hack squats typically involve a more upright body position and a slightly different movement pattern compared to the leg press.

While both exercises target the lower body muscles, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes, they may emphasize different muscle groups depending on factors such as foot placement and machine design. Some individuals may find hack squats more comfortable or effective due to the degree angle and range of motion, while others may prefer the leg press for its ease of use and versatility.

Ultimately, the effectiveness of each exercise depends on how well it aligns with your specific needs and preferences within your workout routine.

Is Hack Squat as Effective as Squat?

Hack squats can be an effective alternative to traditional squats for building lower body strength and muscle mass. While the movement pattern and muscle activation may differ slightly between hack squats and barbell squats, both exercises target similar muscle groups, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes.

The effectiveness of hack squats depends on factors such as foot placement, back support, and the amount of weight used. While some individuals may prefer the stability and ease of use provided by hack squat machines, others may prefer the challenge and whole-body engagement of barbell squats.

Incorporating both exercises into your workout routine can help ensure balanced muscle development and overall strength gains.

Is the Leg Press Better than Squats?

Whether the leg press is better than squats depends on individual preferences, training goals, and considerations such as injury history and equipment availability.

The leg press provides a guided movement pattern and may be more accessible for beginners or individuals with limited mobility. It also allows for greater control over the amount of weight lifted and reduces the axial loading on the spine compared to barbell squats.

However, squats are considered a compound exercise that engages multiple muscle groups simultaneously, including the core, back muscles, and stabilizers. Squats promote greater whole-body strength and muscle development compared to the leg press, making them a valuable addition to any strength training program.

Ultimately, the best exercise is the one that aligns with your specific needs, preferences, and training goals.

Can You Get Big Legs With Hack Squats?

Hack squats can be an excellent way to develop size and strength in the lower body, particularly the quadriceps muscles.

By adjusting foot placement, back support, and the amount of weight used, you can target different areas of the quadriceps, including the vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, and rectus femoris. The deep stretch provided by hack squats promotes muscle activation and hypertrophy, making them an effective exercise for building bigger legs.

However, it’s essential to incorporate a variety of lower body exercises into your workout routine to ensure balanced muscle development and prevent plateaus. Pairing hack squats with other compound movements, such as lunges, deadlifts, and leg curls, can help maximize leg size and strength gains over time.

Is It Okay To Replace Squats With Leg Press? 

Yes, it is okay to replace squats with leg press. 

Leg press targets all the same muscles as the squat, albeit to a lesser degree. 

Do Squats Or Leg Press Build More Muscle? 

Squats build more muscle than leg press. 

This is because a better range of motion can be achieved with squats, and it also targets stabiliser muscles that are not hit with leg press.  

Is Leg Press Good For Glutes? 

Yes, leg press is good for glutes. 

You can also increase glute hypertrophy even further by placing your feet higher up on the pad.  

Does Leg Press Build Your Squat? 

Yes, leg press does build your squat. 

Leg press primarily targets your quads and glutes, the same muscles that are activated during the leg press.  

Does Leg Press Work Glutes More Than Squats? 

No, leg press does not work glutes more than quads. 

While leg press does hit glutes, the quads take most of the load.  

Why Can I Leg Press More Than Squat? 

You can leg press more than you squat because the range of motion is much smaller with the leg press. 

In most cases, leg press vs squat weight differs drastically, with most people being able to leg press more than they can squat.  

Is Leg Press Bad For You?  

No, leg press isn’t bad for you when done with good form.  

It can, however, put excess strain on your knees if done with poor form. 

What Is A Good Weight For Leg Press?  

A good weight for leg press is around 50-75% of your bodyweight if you are new to the gym. This would mean that a 200lbs man should be able to leg press around 100-150lbs. 

Can You Leg Press And Squat On The Same Day?  

Yes, you can leg press and squat on the same day. 

However, you should make sure that you split your leg sets up evenly, sharing them between both the leg press and squat to ensure you are not accumulating junk volume.  

This is a common mistake that most other “experts” leave out when answering questions like “should I do squats and leg press on the same day”. 

No, leg presses are not better than squats. 

When it comes to muscle and strength development, squats are better than leg presses. 

Is Leg Press A Compound Exercise? 

Yes, leg press is a compound exercise. 

While it doesn’t recruit as many muscles as other compound exercises, it still recruits the quads, glutes, and hamstrings. 

We hope this article will be of use to you. 

While the hack squat vs leg press debate may be highly controversial, when it comes to the science, the squat is the winner by a landslide.  

For more fitness info, don’t be afraid to check out MovingForwards

See you next time.