6 Benefits of Using a Compact Leg Press vs. Barbell Squats for People with Back Pain

At 45 years old, my training has evolved and I don’t do heavy barbell squats anymore.

While barbell squats are often called the king of leg exercises because of their muscle engagement and functional benefits, they may not be the best option for everyone, especially those dealing with back pain.

And yes, I still work out my legs but now I do it smarter…

To top it off, this compact version doesn’t take up a ton of space in my garage gym.

Here are 7 benefits of why I use the Body-Solid compact leg press over barbell squats:

1. Less Load On My Spine

Barbell squats compress my spine, and as someone with disc injuries, this is something I don’t need at my age.

Although the squat is safe when done with proper form, I don’t want to deal with back pain if I can avoid it.

On the other hand, with the compact leg press, I can sit in a reclined position with my back supported by a padded seat. 

This significantly reduces the axial load on my spine, making it a safer option to workout my legs without putting too much strain on my lower back.

2. Controlled Form 

You and I know maintaining proper form when doing barbell squats is a must to avoid injury, but it can be challenging, especially as you go up in weight or if you don’t have good lower body mobility. 

With the compact leg press machine, I don’t have to worry much about form since the movement is in a fixed path.

This helps me maintain proper form, and I can focus on my legs rather than the stress on my lower back. 

3. Lower Body Isolation

To be fair, the barbell squat does engage more muscle groups than the leg press since it requires my core and other muscle groups to stabilize the weight on my shoulders.

But I’m ok with not involving all those muscle groups when I want to isolate my legs.

With the isolation I get from the compact leg press, I can continue to strengthen my legs in a way that doesn’t compromise my lower back.

4. Safety

Since I workout by myself at home, when I go heavy on the compact leg press, I can let go of the weight and it’ll stay safely on the machine.

I can’t do that with a barbell squat…

And yes, I can use spotter arms to save me at the bottom.

But it is much easier and safer to step out of a machine that locks in place versus getting stuck at the bottom with a heavy load on my back.

5. Joint Health

The compact leg press is much easier on my joints than a loaded barbell squat. 

Not only does my spine feel the load, but all other joints below it like my knees, hips, and ankles.

With the padded seat, big footplate, and smooth motion of the leg press, I can get in the best position to reduce the impact on my joints.


While barbell squats are the king of lower body training, at my age I prefer to use the compact leg press for a safer and more controlled movement to train my legs.

It reduces the load on my spine, I follow a fixed movement path like on a Smith machine, and I can isolate my legs without tweaking my lower back. 

For those with back pain, the compact leg press gives you an effective and safe way to continue strengthening your legs and keep you out of your doctor’s office.

About the Author

Shredded Dad

Hi! I’m Jose and I’m the proud owner of a Body-Solid Compact Leg Press.

I’m the founder of ShreddedDad.com, where I review home gym equipment, share fitness tips, and brainstorm home gym hacks.

You can connect with me on Instagram, where I share entertaining gym content from my garage gym.

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