If you’re reading this article you’re probably wondering whether the belt squat or leg press better for building muscle/strength.
You might also want to know if you’re better off decking out your home gym with a belt squat machine or leg press machine…
I’m going to address both of these subjects so you know which of these machines is worth spending your time and/or money on.
What Does The Science Say?
Let’s start with the first question: which machine is more effective for building muscle, which is better for strength, and which is better for overall athleticism.
Unfortunately there’s no data which discusses things like whether the leg press or belt squat activates more muscle fibers or is better for hypertrophy etc.
So we’re going to be largely guessing here and extrapolating from other similar studies.
One such study compared typical barbell back squats to the leg press machine and found it activated significantly more muscle fibers in the lower body prime movers.1https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11528346/
I think it would therefore stand to reason that the belt squat, despite there being no spinal load, would also activate more muscle fibers in the glutes, hamstrings, and quads than the leg press does.
Belt Squat Vs Leg Press: Hypertrophy
So we know that the squat activates more leg muscle fibers than the leg press and we’re guessing that the belt squat also does because it’s basically the movement, but does this make it better for hypertrophy?
One argument in favor of the leg press machine is that it’s far less taxing to perform reps than a typical squat is.
Since the leg press is an isolation exercise, it really only involves the muscles of the legs (and a little bit of core), which means you can pump out more reps and get more time under tension per set.
A squat, on the other hand, is a compound movement which puts a brutal load on your spine, making it much harder to complete sets of 15-20 reps.
Some athletes believe the leg press is therefore more effective for isolating the quadriceps and getting great big legs.
But since the belt squat completely removes any spinal load (which is the main factor preventing us from doing lots of reps), pumping out high volume sets ideal for hypertrophy should be no problem.
Since we assume the belt squat will activate more muscle fibers and since there’s no spinal load, we can still perform lots of high quality reps which is why I believe the belt squat machine is slightly superior for hypertrophy overall.
I go into more detail on this subject in my article discussing the benefits of doing belt squats.
Of course if you’re trying to bring up individual quad muscles using alternating stances on the leg press, then yeah this might be a better option but for 99% of people, this isn’t going to move the needle.
Whether my hypothesis is correct or not, the difference between the two machines so far as hypertrophy goes is likely negligible, and I don’t think either method is going to build significantly more muscle mass than the other.
Belt Squat Vs Leg Press: Strength & Athleticism
You probably don’t need me to tell you that belt squats are superior when it comes to building strength and everyone knows that compound movements are better for athleticism.
There’s no shortage of studies you can find showing squats reigning supreme over leg press when it comes to overall strength development as well as athletic movements like the vertical jump.
If you’re a home gym owner, chances are you’re less interested in pure bodybuilding anyway and are more concerned with ‘powerbuilding’.
Bodybuilders tend to hang out in proper gyms, whereas home gym owners tend to care more about building overall or sport specific strength. That, or a mixture of that and hypertrophy.
So the belt squat is, at least in my opinion, not only possibly superior to leg press for hypertrophy but definitely for strength and athleticism and will be the better choice for 95% of athletes.
Which Is The Better Machine For A Home Gym?
Perhaps you’re tossing up between getting a belt squat machine or a leg press machine for your home gym and aren’t sure which would be a better purchase.
Below are the factors you need to think about when deciding which machine is best for your individual setup.
Belt Squat Vs Leg Press Machine Price Comparison
Price is going to be a pretty big factor for a lot of home gym owners.
As for leg press machines, you won’t really find anything under $1,500 and that’s pretty bottom of the barrel stuff.
You could get something decent for $2-3k and your best leg press machines will set you back north of $5-6k!
Belt squat machines are significantly cheaper overall with the Titan machine going for just $700 as well as the Bells Of Steel machine for $1,000.
Both of these machines make excellent additions to any home gym.
You’ve also got the Rogue Rhino which is closer to the $2,500 mark.
Basically, a bottom of the range leg press machine will cost almost as much as a top of the range belt squat machine! Kind of.
For more pricing information, be sure to check out my list of the best belt squat machines in 2023.
Cheapest Option: Belt Squat Attachment
If you wanted to save even more cash, you can get a belt squat attachment that’ll work with your power rack or landmine setup.
These will usually cost less than $300 and are definitely the cheapest way to get going with belt squats.
Second Hand Leg Press Machine
If your heart’s set on the leg press machine, you can have a look around for some second hand commercial leg press machines that are going for cheap.
You might be able to get one for under a thousand dollars if you live in a fairly busy area.
This is a great way to save a ton of money and really only works for leg press machines.
If you get a belt squat machine, it’s probably going to be a new purchase since it’s a much less common item.
How Much Room Do You Have?
One very important factor to consider is the footprint each of these machines will take up in your gym.
On average, leg press machines are significantly bigger and will take up a lot more space than belt squat machines which are actually not as big as you’d imagine.
If you’ve got a 4.5″x4.5″ space free in your home gym, you’ve got room for a belt squat machine.
To fit a leg press machine in you’re looking at closer to 7′ in length.
They can also be pretty annoying to get into/out of, especially if you’re working in a small room.
If you’re really stretched on space, a belt squat attachment is going to be your best option.
If you already have a power rack, these attachments take up virtually no space.
Belt Squat Machine Is More Versatile
Generally speaking you can do quite a bit more with a belt squat machine than you can with a leg press machine.
This includes exercises like marches, rows, RDLs, calf raises, and a few more.
Be sure to check out my full list of exercises you can do on a belt squat machine to see just how versatile they can be.
With a leg press machine, you’re pretty much stuck training your quads but you can of course throw in some calf raises as well.
Yes you do get the benefit of being able to target your quads in certain ways by altering your foot stance, which can be useful for some bodybuilders.
How Much Weight Do You Have?
Weight plates are stupid expensive and so you have to take into consideration how much weight you’re planning on moving and whether you’ve got enough or are going to have to invest in more.
If you like to lift heavy, you’re going to end up moving far more weight on a leg press machine than you will on a belt squat machine.
Do you really want to have to buy 700lbs of weight just for a couple sets of leg press each week?
Which One Do You Actually Like More?
At the end of the day, by far the biggest factor you need to consider is which exercise you actually enjoy performing more.
Some people absolutely love the feeling they get when leg pressing and for others the same is true of the belt squat.
Regardless of whether you’re trying to build muscle or strength, the best exercise is going to be the one you can do with no discomfort that actually excites you to train each week.
There’s no sense in spending thousands on a piece of equipment because you think it might be fun to try…
You might absolutely hate it.
If you love belt squats, get a belt squat machine.
If deep down you really want a leg press machine, get a leg press machine!