Incorporating leg exercises into your workout plan can benefit your lower body strength in a number of ways. Whether you’re looking to improve your performance in sport, level up your leg press weight or improve overall functional fitness.
Simply put, leg strength matters. Which makes it even more crucial to know the right leg workouts to target major muscles, as well as core strength, balance and even grip strength.
So, what leg exercises should you be doing?
It’s easy to take your mind straight towards leg exercises such as squats, deadlifts and other variations. When in fact, there’s plenty more to a great leg workout than these obvious exercises. Plus, the benefits of working out your lower body can quickly overlap into other areas of fitness.
Yep, that’s right. Leg workouts go beyond feeling the burn in your calves and hamstrings. So much so, that most leg exercises are compound exercises, working out additional muscle groups at the same time (clever, huh?).
Of course, there’s gonna be a few squat variations in here somewhere, but rest assured, there’s plenty more to the perfect leg workout. So, if you’re looking for the best leg exercises around, buckle up.
1. Romanian deadlift
Grasp the bar of a barbell with both hands, shoulder width apart. Keep your feet hip width apart and bend your hips backward, as far as you can go.
Allow your knees to bend as required, while lowering the bar along your shins until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Remember to keep your lower back in its natural arched position throughout the move.
2. Barbell squat
Most comfortably done in a squat rack, grip the bar as far apart as is comfortable. Then, step under it, placing the barbell on your lower traps. To keep the movement controlled, squeeze your shoulder blades together, elbows up and nudge the barbell out of the rack.
Now, slowly take a step or two back, keeping your feet shoulder width apart, and your toes turned slightly outward.
Take a deep breath, bend your hips back and bend your knees to lower your body down, without losing the arch in your lower back. Don’t forget to push your knees out as you descend, before driving your body weight back up with your hips, keeping your knees pushed out.
3. Single leg Romanian deadlift
Grip a dumbbell in one hand and stand on the opposite leg. Bend your hips back, as you lower your torso, until the point where your lower back feels as though it’s going to lose its arch.
This single leg deadlift variation is often considered a key exercise of any leg day workout.
Squeeze those glutes and extend your hips to bring yourself back to the starting position.
4. Leg press
The leg press machine is one of the most popular leg exercises around, and for good reason. With an easy starting position, it’s easy to train your legs on the leg press and work your way up to heavier weights.
Adjust the seat to ensure you have a comfortable starting position, keeping your hips beneath your knees and your knees in line with your feet. Keep your feet flat on the leg press, lowering the weight towards you as your bend your knees.
As your knees reach a 90-degree angle, press the weight plate back up.
5. Bodyweight calf raise
One of the most common mistakes of leg day is forgetting about your calves! The bodyweight calf raise can be easily done pretty much anywhere, too. So there’s no excuse to not work out your calves, even when you’re not in the gym.
Simply stand with your toes on a block (or even a step at home), holding onto something nearby for support – then raise your heels, bringing your weight up onto the balls of your feet. Then lower, until your feel a stretch in your calves. Easy!
6. Swiss ball leg curl
Grab yourself a gym ball and get ready for a tough leg workout. Start by lying down on the floor, with your lower leg on the gym ball, and your butt off the floor, forming a straight line with your body.
Then, bend your knees and roll the ball back toward you. You can keep your arms flat on the floor on either side of you for some stability, and don’t forget to keep your hips elevated throughout.
7. Walking lunges
When it comes to your leg day workout, the walking lunge needs to be up there on your hit list! Easily one of the best leg exercises out there, it’s pretty simple to execute.
Start in a standing position, with your feet hip width apart, with a dumbbell in each hand. Then, step forward with one leg, lowering your body until the knee of your rear leg almost touches the floor, and your front thigh is parallel to the floor. Step forward with your rear leg and repeat.
8. Pause squat
Pretty similar to the barbell squat… But with a slight pause chucked in there too, for the ultimate leg day workout.
Yet again, set yourself up in a squat rack or cage, with the barbell resting on your upper back. Complete the squat move, then, when you reach the bottom of the squat position – hold for two seconds – before pushing back to the start.
9. Reverse lunge
If you’re looking for a new way to smash leg day, the reverse lunge has got to be on your leg workout list. Start the move standing upright with a dumbbell in each hand. Then, take a step back with your right foot, lowering your body until your front thigh is parallel to the floor. Don’t let your rear knee touch the floor, though!
Don’t forget to keep your upper body upright, then return to the start and repeat all reps on one leg, then switch legs and repeat.
10. Dumbbell squat
Grab a dumbbell in each hand, holding them at shoulder level. Keep your feet shoulder width apart, with your toes turned out slightly.
Lower your body into a squat position, without losing the arch in your lower back. Put your weight back up, and repeat.
11. Jump squat
While it may be tempting to skip leg day, when you feel the burn post-workout, and start to see those gains, you’ll be thanking yourself later on. A key leg day exercise – jump squat – is easy to do just about anywhere, with no need for gym equipment.
Simply start with your feet shoulder width apart, then squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor – then jump as high as you can go. Land with soft knees, and repeat.
12. Kettlebell swing
The kettlebell swing is a leg day must-do, as long as you can perfect your form! Start by standing with your feet hip width apart and the weight on the floor. Grasp the kettlebell with both hands, ensuring that your palms face towards you.
Now, keep your lower back flat, extend your hips and lift the kettlebell off the ground. Take a deep breath and bend your hips back, allowing it to swing back between your legs. As you extend your hips and exhale, allow the momentum to swing the kettlebell up to shoulder level.
It’s important to stay in control of the way on the descent and keep the momentum up!
13. Barbell calf raise
Exactly the same as the calf raise exercise we mentioned earlier, but this time with a barbell. You can complete this leg day move with a block, step or weight plate on the floor, placing your toes on the block to encourage the stretch in your calves. Raise up to move your weight onto the balls of your feet and repeat. You’ll be the king or queen of calf raises in no time.
14. Jumping calf raise
Start by standing with your torso upright, keeping your feet flat on the floor. Now, jump up, using just your calves to power the move (no throwing your arms around!). Land as softly as you can, absorbing the force by lowering your body into a half squat. Repeat.
15. Barbell hip thrust
The barbell hip thrust is a crucial move in any leg day workout. Start by resting your upper back on a bench, sitting on the floor with your legs extended. Place a tol or mat across your lap, before resting the barbell across you.
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Don’t forget to brace your abs as you drive your heels into floor, bringing the middle of your body up towards the ceiling. You need to extend your hips until your thighs and upper body are parallel to the floor.
Lower and repeat the move.
16. Bulgarian split squat
Easily one of the best leg exercises for smashing leg day… But it does require a little balance. Start by standing lunge distance in front of a bench, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Rest the top of your left foot on the bench behind you, before lowing your body until your left leg nearly touches the ground.
Stop when your right leg’s thigh is parallel to the floor. The Bulgarian split squat may not be the easiest leg exercise to do, but once you’ve got it nailed, you’ll be laughing on leg day.
17. Kneeling hip flexor stretch
If you’re feeling a little stiff, leg day or not, the kneeling hip flexor stretch can benefit your hips, glutes and overall mobility.
Start the move by kneeling down in a lunge position, with your right leg out in front, resting your leg day knee on a towel or mat behind. From here, extend your leg hand above your head in a straight line, allowing your right arm to hang at your side.
Contract your leg glute and put your hips forward until your feel a stretch in the front of your hip. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on your left leg.
18. Single leg glute bridge
The single leg glute bridge is a must-have on any leg day workout. This unilateral glute bridge variation targets muscle groups throughout your body like the hamstrings, hip flexors, lower back muscles, and gluteal muscles. So what’s not to love?
Start by lying on your back, with your knees bent, resting your feet on the floor close to your butt. Engage your abs and raise one leg up, bringing your knees toward your chest.
From here, drive the heel of your other foot into the floor, bridging up until your body forms a straight line. Repeat on the other leg.
Why is single leg training so important for leg day?
As well as promoting strength gains, single leg training can work to isolate the muscles on both the right and left side, increasing balance. While many of us may feel a strength advantage in one leg, single leg training (such as the single leg deadlift) can help to build up strength in both legs equally.
Why is leg day so important?
As well as promoting muscle growth, the best leg exercises engage major muscles in your body, helping to improve overall athletic performance as well as support your body’s daily movement.
Building a strong lower body can also help to prevent injury, as well as manage chronic conditions such as heart disease, arthritis and diabetes.
Don’t skip leg day
Aside from muscle growth, a solid leg day workout can help with strengthening knee stability, boost testosterone and build a strong posterior chain.
So, if you really want to work those leg muscles, the above leg exercises will play a key role in your muscle growth, athletic performance, knee joint health and much more.
The importance of variations on leg day
As you may have noticed above, there are often variations of leg workouts, allowing you to target leg muscles in certain ways, while utilizing different grips, motion, etc.
For example, when it comes to the calf raise, there are two more we should have probably mentioned in this hitlist of the best leg exercises:
Seated calf raise machine
Easy to do, with little knowledge of calf raises, the seated calf raise machine is used to isolate the muscles in your calves. Start by taking a seat and placing the balls of your feet on the platform, keeping your toes pointed forward and your heels hanging off.
Extend your ankles and release the safety bar, before lowering your heels until the calves are fully stretched. Extend the ankles and exhale as you flex your calves. Boom, leg day – Smashed!
Standing calf raise machine
Who knew there were so many ways to work out your calves on leg day? Yep, there’s also a standing calf raise machine to help your master those calf muscles.
Start by stepping into the calf raise machine, adjusting the shoulder pads according to your height. Step underneath the pad, placing the balls of your feet on the platform, with your toes pointed straight ahead. Naturally, your heels will hang off.
- Extend the hips and knees in order to raise the shoulder pad
- Lower the heels until the calves are fully stretched
- Extend the ankles and exhale as you flex your calves
Remember, no matter which of the above leg day exercises you’re doing, it’s important to keep the repetitions slow and controlled.
What else can you do to smash leg day?
Who are the top contenders for leg day gains?
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