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I've seen incline, decline, and horizontal squat machines at the gym. Does each one activate different muscles or are they effectively the same?

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2 Answers 2

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These machines are both closer to leg press machines than anything else. They will both activate the quadriceps more than anything else, although the one that has you standing will activate a little more of your glutes.

Having switched to free weights for squats I can definitely tell you that the squat machines you listed here aren't going to give you the same benefits and are a lot easier than squatting to parallel with a barbell on your back. Even a Smith machine limits the amount of core work that the squats would normally have otherwise.

When I was working out with the machines, started with one similar to the one you have on the bottom and then switched to the one similar to the one pictured on the top (although it was more vertical). Here are my observations:

  • Seated squats are essentially leg presses. They hit your quads most, and barely anything else.
  • Standing squat machine got a little bit more glutes, although it forced my back into an unnatural position. I didn't feel good after "sqatting" 360lb with that machine (just two bars from the max it would go).
  • Both worked the hip flexors which limits your flexibility
  • The machines did not follow a natural rhythm for my body movement.

Squatting with a barbell to parallel performs the following work:

  • Work your glutes, hamstrings, and adductors as you launch out of the hole--this is after a nice stretch at the bottom which improves your flexibility
  • Work your quadriceps as you complete to lockout
  • Work your core as your body keeps the barbell steady (you lose this on a Smith machine, but keep the other two benefits)

Because the barbell squats hit a whole lot more muscle areas, and in the proportions your body was designed to handle stress, I can't get the same poundage up yet as I did with the machines.

The two squat machines you listed are very similar in the areas they hit.

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Machines are not bad. Advanced bodybuilders should use both free weights and machines. Read this. –  JoJo Jul 11 '11 at 2:04
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I suppose I should qualify that I am a strength trainer, so I am trying to recruit as many muscles into a lift as I can. I understand that body builders have different goals than I do, however, my observations about using the different tools still hold. You just aren't recruiting as many muscles in your lift as you would with a barbell. –  Berin Loritsch Jul 11 '11 at 12:25
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I have experienced knee problems using the squat machine at the top of the page when I do a full squat. No problems with the leg press machine. I used to squat 300lbs from a squat rack back in 1994, however, in 2012 I can only leg press basically 300 lbs. I do free squats in the squat cage with the Dave Draper top squat, but can only do about 115 lbs. i sometimes load up about 200 lbs on the squat machine and do quarter squats that are fun. Every apparatus in the gym helps. Still hope to at least squat 200 lbs again. I am 55 years old but still young for that age.

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Hi @Richard, good to see your answer and welcome to the site! Can you edit your answer and explain why and how these various machines activate your muscles and the differences between them? –  Matt Chan Mar 9 '12 at 17:59
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