The barbell squat is an exercise that has achieved iconic status in all weight-training circles. Squats deserve such a status due to the inherent difficulty of balancing heavy weight on your back, descending down into the crushing depths of a “full squat,” and then ascending triumphantly having overcome both the fear and pain of being crushed. This free-weight maneuver is unstable and is therefore inherently better than the leg press for improving balance.
It is true that balance is required to control a free weight resting on your shoulders as you drop and come up; nevertheless, the act of pressing with the legs is not all that different mechanically speaking compared with the leg press. Aside from the “skill” required for squatting, absolute strength and even balance may just as likely be achieved using the leg press.
- The compound pressing movement of the squat and leg press are equivalent at the hip and knee, differing only in range of motion.
- Recent research published in The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness compared the effects of squats, leg press, and a combination for increasing dynamic balance (i.e., balance during movement). Results demonstrated that the leg press had the greatest impact on improving balance, whether done alone or combined with squats.
Contrary to popular belief, strength-training exercises, such as the leg press, performed on fixed-plane machines are able to enhance dynamic balance, perhaps to an even greater extent than free-weight exercises such as squats.
Proponents of functional strength should not dismiss xed-plane exercises like the leg press out of hand. This study shows that these exercises not only contribute but also may be important for developing functional balance.