7 Leg Workouts to Strengthen Your Lower Body

Top 7 Leg Exercises for All Fitness Levels

Are you someone who tends to skip leg day from time to time? If this sounds like you, it's time to reconsider your leg workouts (or lack thereof)! 

No matter what your training goals may be, we are here to provide you with the ultimate leg workout that can help you tone, tighten, strengthen, build muscle, and burn fat. 

Blending both compound exercises to maximize muscle activation with isolated movements to target specific areas, this killer leg workout is sure to transform your body. 

Why Training Legs is Beneficial

 

Leg day should be an essential part of a gym-goers workout routine, no matter what their fitness goals may be. Getting one or two quality leg workouts into your exercise program every week can offer a range of benefits. 

Leg exercises burn more calories 

Most leg exercises activate some of the major muscles in the lower body including the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves. The larger the muscle that’s being worked, the more blood is required to nourish it during exercise. As a result, we burn far more calories during a leg workout compared to a shoulder workout or cardio session. 

Leg workouts tend to release more testosterone and growth hormone 

When we train our muscles, we release small amounts of testosterone and growth hormone to assist with muscle recovery and building. An advantage of training larger muscle groups is the increased release of these hormones help boost metabolism and increase strength gains [1]. 

Leg exercises help to correct muscle weakness and imbalances

Adding a range of lower body exercises into your workout routine can help train any underworked or neglected muscle groups in your lower body that are needed for daily life, recreational activities, and competitive sports. With this, you’re more likely to correct for any weakness or imbalances that may otherwise result in injury. 

Training the legs can improve overall performance and quality of life 

A weekly leg workout can help with a range of daily activities. From sitting down and standing up from a chair, walking on uneven surfaces, climbing stairs, or picking something heavy off the floor, increased leg strength can help us move, balance, and carry out tasks with ease. 

7 Best Leg Exercises for All Fitness Levels

Whether you’re new to the gym routine or are looking for some fresh ideas for your next leg day, we’ve got you covered. 

Here are 7 of the best leg exercises that combine versatility with functional movement patterns to help you along your fitness journey. 

1. Barbell Back Squats

The classic barbell back squat is a staple exercise that should be added to any strength-based fitness routine. Compared to a front squat, back squats promote greater strength and power gains with increased lower body muscle activation. 

How to do it:

  • Begin by loading your squat rack with your desired number of weight plates then rest the barbell onto your traps and shoulders

  • Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, brace your core and keep your upper body relaxed with your chest open

  • With the weight of the loaded barbell on your back, initiate the movement by pushing your hips back while bending the knees until you reach a 45-degree squat position

  • At this angle, you’ll experience less compressive force on the lower body which helps with strengthening knee stability [2]

  • Push up through the heels of your feet as you extend through the knees and hips to return to the starting position

2. Romanian Deadlift 

The Romanian deadlift is an optimal variation of the traditional deadlift that focuses on the posterior chain muscles including the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. 

How to do it:

  • Starting with your feet hip-width apart, bend at your knees, pushing your hips back slightly while keeping your torso upright 

  • Grab the bar with an overhand grip (palms facing down)

  • With a firm grip, begin to pull the barbell up towards the top of your thighs by extending your hips and knees

  • Maintaining a neutral spine position throughout, inhale at the top while pushing your hips forward

  • Lower down to the middle of your shins in a slow and controlled movement, keeping your shoulder blades back and chest open

  • Exhale as you begin your next repetition  

3. Seated Leg Press 

The seated leg press is a functional movement pattern that helps build muscle primarily in the quads as well as developing the glutes, hamstrings, and calves. Simply by changing your foot position, you can activate different muscles. 

How to do it:

  • Using a seated leg press machine, extend your legs and rest your feet hip-width apart on the platform

  • Brace your abdominal muscles and push the platform away from your body by extending your hips and knees

  • With your feet flat on the platform, push through your heels and midfoot (never the toes)

  • Extend the legs straight and pause for a moment at the top while maintaining a slight bend in the knees (also known as “soft knees”)

  • Slowly allow the weight of the platform to move back towards you as you bend your hips and knees

  • If this is too easy, you can modify this exercise by either adding weight or performing the single leg press variation

4. Barbell Bulgarian Split Squat

The next leg exercise is known as the Bulgarian split squat. This lower body workout is incredibly beneficial for strengthening all major leg muscles, engaging the core, and improving stability throughout the entire body [3]. 

How to do it:

  • Begin with a loaded barbell on your back and raise one leg up behind you onto a bench, laces down

  • Starting with your left leg behind you, press your right foot firmly in front of your body with a slight bend in the knee

  • Squat down into a deep lunge position, bending your right knee without allowing it to move in front of your right foot

  • Continue squatting down until your trailing leg/ left knee nearly reaches the floor, keeping your shoulder blades back

  • From here, you’ll push up through your front foot to return back to your starting position

  • Switch legs and repeat steps

5. Barbell Side Lunge 

Lateral lunges are an underrated leg exercise that combines balance, stability, and strength all in one movement. Unlike many other leg exercises, the side lunge trains the body to move side to side by emphasizing the inner and outer thigh muscles (also known as adductors and abductors).

How to do it:

  • Begin in a standing position, feet shoulder-width apart with your barbell loaded onto your traps and shoulders

  • Step your right leg out to the side and lower your body with slight hip flexion while bending at the knee

  • Keep your left foot planted firmly on the floor, straightening your left leg while maintaining an upright torso position

  • Drive your right leg back in towards your body to assume the starting position 

  • Repeat on the other side

6. Standing Calf Raises

Calf raises are the first and only isolated leg exercise that is used to tone and strengthen the calf muscles. It’s especially helpful to target lower body muscle growth! Depending on the angle of the knee (seated vs. standing) this exercise can activate the gastrocnemius and deep soleus muscle too [4].

How to do it:

  • Using a standing calf raise machine, you will begin by loading the weight to a desirable amount 

  • In a standing position, rest your shoulders under the pads and allow the heels of your feet to drop off the back of the footrest 

  • Keeping your knees slightly bent, push up through the balls of your feet and raise up onto your toes 

  • Hold for a moment then slowly lower yourself down to drop your heels just below the level of the footrest to get a slight stretch in the calf muscles 

7. Sled Push

The sled push is by far one of the best leg exercises that is both high value and low risk — so long as you commit to excellent form. No matter if you’re looking to build power, grow functioning muscle, or boost endurance, the sled push has you covered in all three areas. 

How to do it:

  • Standing behind the sled (either with or without a weight plate), assume the “pushing position” by resting your hands on the sled handles, keeping your arms straight with your neck and back in a neutral straight line nearly parallel to the floor

  • As you walk or run, use your legs (driving primarily with your glutes) to push the sled forward

  • To progress, either add more weight or push the sled faster

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