There are loads of ways you can train legs – they’re the biggest muscles in your body and you will need to do a variety of exercises to hit all the various muscles groups.
You have the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves; all big and powerful muscles that can lift a lot of weight and generate a lot of power.
These lower body muscles are the foundation of a strong, athletic body.
Below are my top 10 must do leg exercises.
You don’t need to – and probably don’t want to – do them all at once, but each should be cycled into your programme every couple of months, to ensure you’re hitting all the angles and maintaining balance in your lower body.
Often called the king of exercises, the deadlift is generally the strongest lift you can perform. There is something beautifully liberating about picking up the heaviest weight you possibly can from the ground.
Nothing will get the adrenaline surging quite like picking up heavy iron.
The deadlift is going to develop almost every muscle in the body. It’s predominantly working the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back; but you’re also using calves and quads. Not to mention the back, lats, shoulders, traps in the upper body; and the core for stabilizing yourself with a heavy weight.
No other exercise engages as much muscle mass as the deadlift, which is why people call it the king of exercises. It’s a total body challenge that will pack muscle and strength onto the entire body.
The back squat is another beautifully simple lift. Put a heavy weight on your back, sit down and stand back up.
It’s very functional and will work all the leg muscles. If you just did back squats and no other lower body exercise you would still end up with strong, well-developed legs.
You can do them for high reps, or pile on the weight and do low reps. Your body will respond to both.
Walking lunges are everybody’s least favorite, favorite exercise. They’re brutally effective, but brutally painful. Nothing will leave your glutes and hips as sore as some tough sets of walking lunges.
They’re great for challenging the glutes and adductors to stabilize the hips in a very functional, dynamic way. That makes walking lunges a great exercise to prevent injury.
If you include a couple of sets of walking lunges in every legs session, you’ll always be training the stabilizing muscles, while working out the bigger quads, hamstrings, and glutes. Ensuring you’re protecting from imbalances and potential injury.
Step ups offer a different challenge. Unlike a lot of leg exercises that focus on piling big weights on, the step up is a challenge of the strength and stability in smaller muscles around the knee and hips.
They can challenge your glutes and quads, without having to use big weights. This is great, as you don’t add too much total stress to your body that is hard to recover from.
You can keep the weights light, focus on stability, control, and put in reps. Put them at the end of your leg workouts to ‘finish off’ the muscles.
I believe the Romanian deadlift is the best glute development exercise available. While sideways walking with bands, or use the abductor machine, might give you more ‘burn’ at the time; nothing is putting as much weight through the butt muscles as a properly performed Romanian deadlift.
They’re much easier to recover from than the traditional deadlift, which can burn out your central nervous system – meaning you can include them more often in your training program. They will make your butt and hamstrings sore, but not lead to your overtraining.
Aim for a controlled lowering with tension in the glutes and hamstrings, then squeeze as hard as you can at the top to get a maximum contraction.
The side to side motion of the Cossack squat really adds a new dimension. You’re not going to use a lot of weight in this exercise, but it will challenge the adductor (inner thigh) muscles more than any other.
If you want to build or tone up the inner thighs, the Cossack squat is your friend.
It’s also great to increase the range of motion and mobility in the hips and thighs. For this purpose, you can include a couple of light sets in your warm up before going on to do other leg exercises.
The hamstring curl is the only machine exercise included in this list. Free weights are generally much more effective for lower body training, but this is the exception. You really cannot hit the hamstrings in their knee flexion function as well as you can on the hamstring curl machine.
The lying hamstring curl is best. These are strong muscles that can develop a lot of power. Put a heavy weight on and go for medium to high reps – just watch out for cramp!
The glute-ham raise is a pretty common piece of equipment you can find in most gyms. It’s a great way to engage the whole posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, lower back); while using both knee flexion and hip extension. This hits the hamstrings from both directions, making it one of the most effective exercises for the back of the legs.
The front squat is more quad dominant than the back squat. You will get more development of the quads, and less involvement from the lower back, hamstrings, and glutes. That means you will use less weight but actually put more tension through the quads – leading to more growth.
It’s not the simplest exercise to do – you need a good degree of mobility in your upper and lower body, but it is a great athletic exercise to develop muscle and power in the quads.
The calves are often the hardest body part to grow. They are hit when doing squats, deadlifts, lunges, and other lower body exercises; but to really get the best training effect you should train them directly.
The calves have a mixture of slow and fast twitch muscle fibers, meaning you should do both explosive work, and high rep work.
You can do calf raises with heavy weights, as well as slow tempo, focusing on the stretch and maximum squeeze of the muscle.
Use these 10 exercises in your lower body workouts and you’re sure to develop big, strong, and healthy legs. The biggest muscles in the body also create the most metabolic disruption, so many of these exercises are your best bet for fat burning workouts too.