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Best Leg Workouts and Exercises for a Strong Lower Body

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Though some people see the lower body as ‘all squats,’ there is much more to it. Like your upper body, the lower half consists of a range of muscle groups, each with unique functions.

For instance, we have the quads – a large four-headed muscle group situated on the front side of your thighs (1). Its primary function is knee extension. We also have the hamstrings – a large three-headed muscle that resides on the rear of your upper thighs (2). Its primary job is knee flexion. Then, we have your more minor and less noticeable muscles like the adductors and calves.

And finally, we have the glutes – the largest and most powerful muscle group in the body (3). Their primary job relates to hip extension, but they are essential for a range of activities like running, jumping, maintaining balance, and simply walking down the street. Your glutes also play a role in pelvic position and spinal alignment. A strong lower body is vital for your athletic performance, balance, posture, safety, and much more.

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Benefits of Having Strong Legs and Lower Body

1. Strength and General Athleticism

Your glutes and hamstrings are the strongest hip extensors and play a vital role in exercises like the deadlift and activities like running and jumping (2, 3). Your quadriceps are powerful knee extension muscles that also play a role in running, jumping, squatting, lunging, and more (1). Strengthening these muscles translates to improved athleticism, better sports performance, and greater overall strength. 

2. Muscle Symmetry and Aesthetics

A set of well-developed legs will always look good and contribute to your overall aesthetics and muscle symmetry. Even if your upper body lacks some development, a well-built lower body looks great.

3. It Contributes to Whole-Body Strength

It would be challenging to have a strong lower body without solid upper body musculature.

For example, the barbell back squat: Ask most people, and they would say it’s a leg exercise. While this is partially true, the squat is a whole-body activity that heavily taxes your core and upper body (5).

  1. Your core works hard to keep you stable and upright.
  2. Your back prevents you from folding underneath the load. 
  3. Your arms, shoulders, and chest work hard to keep the barbell in position.

10 Gym Leg Exercises 

1. Barbell Back Squat

The barbell back squat is the gold standard for lower body exercises. It has a fantastic overloading potential and strengthens your quads incredibly well while building whole-body stability and athleticism (5, 7).

upper lower split workout Leg workouts

Muscles trained: quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves, back, abs, chest, shoulders, and arms
Equipment: barbell, stand or power rack, and weight plates

  1. Set the barbell at collarbone height, grab it evenly, and bring your head in front of the bar.
  2. Place the barbell on your upper back, take a breath, and extend your knees to remove the bar from the rack.
  3. Take a couple of steps back, point your toes slightly out, take another breath, and squat until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  4. Once you’re ready to go back up, push through your heels and raise yourself to the starting position as you exhale near the top.

2. Deadlift

Like squats, the deadlift is another excellent movement that builds whole-body strength, muscle mass, and athleticism (8).

deadlift woman hat leg workouts

Muscles trained: hamstrings, glutes, entire back, quadriceps, abs, arms, chest, shoulders, and hands
Equipment: barbell and weight plates

  1. Position your shins a couple of inches from the bar, bend forward and grab it evenly with an overhand grip.
  2. Without moving the bar, bring your shins forward as you squeeze your back to straighten it and bring your chest out. Doing this will help pull the slack off the bar and place your shins against it.
  3. Take a breath, pull the bar as you dig your heels into the floor, and use your back strength to lift the bar.
  4. Finish the repetition by driving your hips forward without overextending.
  5. Lower the bar gradually as you exhale.

3. Leg Extension (Machine)

The leg extension is a fantastic isolation exercise that strengthens and develops the quadriceps thanks to its impressive overloading potential and great range of motion.

Muscles trained: quadriceps
Equipment: leg extension machine

  1. Sit down on a leg extension machine and adjust the back pad to allow for your knees to meet the edge of your seat. 
  2. Adjust the shin pad to come up right over your feet. 
  3. Grab onto the machine’s handles, take a breath, and extend both knees simultaneously to lift the weight until your knees are almost straight. 
  4. Lower the weight to the starting position in a controlled fashion and repeat.

4. Seated Leg Curl

Seated leg curls are fantastic for isolating and developing your hamstrings – the back thigh muscles. Similar to leg extensions, this machine also offers good overloading potential and an excellent range of motion.

Muscles trained: hamstrings
Equipment: seated leg curl machine

  1. Adjust the shin pad below your knees and the ankle pad right at your Achilles. Make sure your seat is comfortable and allows you to curl the weight safely. 
  2. Start with a lighter weight to get a good feel for the machine.
  3. Begin by grabbing onto the machine’s handles, taking a breath, and unpinning the weight. Then curl the weight with your hamstrings by bending your knees as much as possible. 
  4. Practice a controlled release of the weight, take another breath, and repeat.

5. Romanian Deadlift (RDL)

According to EMG data, the Romanian deadlift is one of the best exercises for hamstring activation (10). They emphasize our posterior significantly and allow us to overload these muscles with heavy weights.

man straight/stiff leg deadlift leg workouts

Muscles trained: upper and lower back, glutes, hamstrings, hands, and forearms
Equipment: barbell with weight plates or a pair of dumbbells

  1. Grab the barbell with an overhand grip and have your hands at a shoulder-width level. 
  2. Bring your chest out, maintain a slight bend in your knees, and take a breath. 
  3. Begin to lower the bar in a straight line by bringing your butt back and keeping your back neutral. 
  4. Lower as much as you can and extend your hips to get back to the starting position as you exhale.

6. Leg Press (Vertical)

Thanks to its excellent design and overloading capacity, the vertical leg press machine is perfect for developing the entire lower body and building strength in your quads, hamstrings, and glutes.

Muscles trained: quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves
Equipment: a vertical leg press machine 

  1. Adjust the weight on the machine and lie down with your butt firmly planted. Position your feet on the platform and have them slightly wider than your hips, with the toes pointing slightly out. 
  2. As soon as you unrack the weight, you should feel in a strong position for pressing. It might take some adjusting to find the optimal stance for you. 
  3. Take a breath and lower the weight by bringing your knees in. 
  4. Push through your heels to lift the platform to the starting position and exhale.

7. Hip Thrusts

Heavily popularized by Bret Contreras, the hip thrust is a fantastic exercise for overloading and developing your entire posterior chain – back, glutes, and hamstrings (9). 

man hip thrust barbell gluteus minimus exercises leg workouts

Muscles trained: glutes, hamstrings, back, calves, abs, and quads
Equipment:  bench, barbell, weight plates, and barbell pad (to avoid bruising your waist area)

  1. Set the barbell next to the bench. Move underneath the bar and have your upper back on the bench. Bring your upper thighs beneath the bar. 
  2. Bend your knees and plant your feet flat on the floor. At the same time, place both hands over the barbell and bring your elbows on top of the bench. 
  3. Take a breath, squeeze your glutes, brace your core, and drive through your heels to extend your hips up and lift the bar. 
  4. Slowly release it to the starting position as you exhale on the way down.

8. Bulgarian Split Squat 

The Bulgarian split squat is an excellent exercise for training one side at a time. Elevating one leg and supporting yourself on the other is effective for overloading your muscles if you don’t have access to heavy weights.

man bulgarian split squat dumbbell leg workouts

Muscles trained: glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, and midsection
Equipment: pair of dumbbells and a sturdy chair

  1. Grab a pair of dumbbells and face away from the chair.
  2. Bring one leg back and position the foot on top of the chair.
  3. Engage your abs and take a breath.
  4. Descend into a squat by bending your front knee. Move down until your front thigh is almost parallel to the floor.
  5. Press through your heel to bring yourself to the top. Exhale.
  6. Take another breath and repeat.
  7. Once finished, switch leg positions and do the same number of reps.

9. Standing Calf Raise

The standing calf raise is a superb movement for overloading your calves and emphasizing the two-headed gastrocnemius muscle.

Muscles trained: calves (particularly the gastroc, which crosses the knee joint)
Equipment: a standing calf raise machine

  1. Place your shoulders underneath the machine’s pads and position the balls of your feet on the platform with heels hanging loose. 
  2. Take a breath, bring your chest out and extend your knees to remove the weight from the rack. Lower down until you feel an intense stretch in your calves. 
  3. Push through your toes to contract your calves as you exhale.

10. Adductor Machine

An adductor machine effectively isolates the adductors (inner thigh muscles) and overloads the area with more weight.

Muscles trained: adductors and glutes
Equipment: adductor machine

  1. Select the appropriate weight and sit down on the machine.
  2. Place your inner thighs (just behind the knees) on the pads.
  3. Grab the handles to your sides for support.
  4. Bring your shoulders back into the supporting pad.
  5. Take a breath and squeeze your inner thigh muscles to bring your legs together.
  6. Hold a moment and allow your legs to return to the starting position. Exhale. 
  7. Take another breath and repeat.

Gym Leg Workout

We have put together this leg workout to provide a balanced stimulus for the entire lower body. Specifically, our idea was to train all of the major muscle groups of the lower body in a balanced way. To achieve this, we have set up the workout to go over the primary movements and gradually go down the list through assisting and isolation movements for your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves.

  • Barbell Back Squats – 4-5 sets – 6-12 reps
  • Romanian Deadlift – 3-4 sets – 8 to 12 reps
  • Bulgarian Split Squats – 3 sets – 8 to 15 reps per leg
  • Seated Leg Curl– 3 sets – 12 to 15 reps per leg
  • Adductor Machine – 2-3 sets – 12 to 20 reps
  • Standing Machine Calf Raises – 3-4 sets – 8 to 20 reps

Click here to find and log the ‘Gym Leg Workout’ routine on the Hevy app. 

15 Bodyweight or At-Home Leg Exercises 

1. Lunge (Dumbbell)

Lunges are a fantastic assistance exercise that emphasizes your quadriceps, builds single-leg strength, and develops your glutes and hamstrings.

Muscles trained: quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves
Equipment: pair of dumbbells

  1. Grab a pair of dumbbells and stand tall with your chest back, gaze forward, and arms to your sides. 
  2. Take a breath and extend your right leg forward as comfortably as you can. 
  3. As you plant it firmly, bend the knee and go down until your back knee taps the floor. 
  4. Push through the heel to bring yourself back to the starting position, exhaling on the way back. 
  5. Once you’re back to the starting position, extend your left leg and do the same thing. 
  6. Keep alternating until you finish the set.

2. Goblet Squat

Like front squats, Goblet squats are fantastic for reinforcing back activation while also working on your quads and glutes.

Women goblet squat dumbbell leg workouts

Muscles trained: back, arms, shoulders, glutes, hamstrings, and quads
Equipment: heavy enough dumbbell or kettlebell

  1. Grab a dumbbell and lift it to your chest. Position the dumbbell vertically and carefully place your palms firmly against the weight for support. Have your feet slightly outside hip-width level with your toes pointing slightly out. 
  2. Bring your chest out, take a breath, and squat until your elbows are near knee level. 
  3. Push through your heels to get back to the starting position.

3. Step-ups (Dumbbell) 

Step-ups are fantastic for overloading your entire lower body and placing specific emphasis on your glutes and quads.

step up leg workouts

Muscles trained: quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, calves, abs, back, and arms
Equipment: stool or plyo box and pair of dumbbells

  1. Stand in front of the stool or plyometric box with a dumbbell in each hand. Your feet should be close together, your back should be straight, and your chest should be out. 
  2. Take a breath, extend one foot forward and place it flat on the elevated surface. From there, push through the lead heel to raise yourself on the platform and exhale. 
  3. Get off the platform and extend your opposite foot to perform the same motion. Keep alternating between left and right until you finish the set.

4. Sprints

Sprinting is an all-out run that builds whole-body strength, coordination, speed, and explosiveness (13).

Muscles trained: upper and lower back, glutes, hamstrings, calves, quads, abs, shoulders, chest, and arms
Equipment: none

  1. Warm-up well, position yourself on the start line, and bolt off. You can start from a low or high position – whichever you prefer. 
  2. As you run, maintain good posture and have your gaze directed a few feet in front of you. As you run, make sure to land on your entire foot – avoid striking the ground with the balls of your feet or your heels. Also, keep your elbows at 90 degrees and avoid swinging them too far back or forward. Controlled motions save energy and make the run more efficient.

5. Wall Sit Hold

The wall sit is an effective isometric exercise that trains and develops your core and lower body musculature.

man wall sit leg workouts

Muscles trained: quads, hamstrings, glutes, back, and abs
Equipment: none

  1. Face away from a wall and place your back flat against it. 
  2. Squat until your knees form a 90-degree angle, and have them directly over your ankles with your shins vertical. Keep your back firmly against the wall and rest your arms atop your thighs. 
  3. Hold this position for as long as possible, breathing in and out as usual.

6. Romanian Deadlift (Dumbbell)

The Romanian deadlift is an effective exercise for developing your posterior chain: glutes, hamstrings, and lower back.

man deadlift dumbbell leg workouts

Muscles trained: glutes, hamstrings, and lower back
Equipment: pair of dumbbells

  1. Grab a pair of dumbbells and stand tall. Your arms should be straight with your palms facing your thighs.
  2. Have your feet hip-width apart or slightly wider.
  3. Bring your shoulders back, flex your abs, and take a breath.
  4. Hinge your hips by bringing your buttocks back
  5. Lower the dumbbells in a straight line, keeping them an inch from your body. Keep your knees almost fully extended.
  6. Descend until you feel an intense stretch in your posterior thighs, and hold for a moment.
  7. Extend your body by driving your hips forward.
  8. Squeeze your glutes as you stand tall and exhale.
  9. Take another breath and repeat.

7. Pistol Squats

The pistol squat is a challenging bodyweight movement that builds single-leg strength and balance incredibly well.

Pistol squat leg workouts

Muscles trained: quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, abs, and back
Equipment: none

  1. Stand tall with your feet together and chest out. 
  2. Raise one leg forward and keep it as straight as possible. Extend your arms forward for balance. 
  3. Take a breath, brace your core, and bend your supporting leg to descend into a squat. As you do this, ensure your hovering leg remains straight and in the air. 
  4. Go down as comfortably as you can and push through your heel to get back to the starting position. Exhale near the top.
  5. Once finished, do the same for your other leg.

** You can do this with or without the assistance of a wall ** 

8. Nordic Curls

The Nordic curl is a fantastic bodyweight hamstring exercise that builds up your posterior chain and reduces the risk of injuries.

Nordic curl leg workouts

Muscles trained: hamstrings, calves, glutes, back, and abs
Equipment: a bench, barbell with weights under which to secure your feet

  1. Kneel and secure your feet underneath a loaded barbell, gym bench, or something else. With your knees firmly planted and ankles secure, straighten your back, take a breath, and brace your core. 
  2. Begin to lower your torso forward, controlling the motion with the rear of your thighs. Go down as much as possible until your knees are almost straight. 
  3. From there, engage your hamstrings to curl your body back to the top as you exhale near the top.

9. Walking lunges

Walking lunges are a fun and versatile movement to improve whole-body balance and develop your lower body musculature. 

Muscles trained: quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and abs.
Equipment: a pair of dumbbells, weight plates, or kettlebells

  1. Grab a weight in each hand, stand tall, and have your feet close together. Take a breath and lunge with your right leg. 
  2. As you plant it firmly, bend the knee until your back knee almost taps the floor. Exhale. 
  3. Without moving your right leg, inhale again, extend your left leg forward into a lunge, and descend with it. 
  4. Keep alternating between your left and right leg, moving forward.

10. Jumping Squats

Jump squats are an excellent plyometric movement for strengthening your lower body and building power.

Muscles trained: quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, abs, and back
Equipment: none

  1. Stand tall with your hands to your sides, feet slightly wider than your hips, and toes pointed slightly out. 
  2. With your back neutral and chest out, take a breath, and begin to squat as you bring your arms in front of your body. 
  3. Once your thighs are almost parallel with the floor, explode through your heels to jump vertically and simultaneously bring your arms back. 
  4. Exhale in the air. As you land, take a breath and descend into your next squat repetition.

11. Frog Jumps

Frog jumps are an excellent full-body plyometric exercise that builds muscle, power, and overall athleticism.

man frog jump leg workouts

Muscles trained: Quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, adductors, calves, abs, and hip flexors
Equipment: none

  1. Bend forward with a wide foot stance and toes pointed slightly out. Place your palms on the floor and between your feet. 
  2. With weight on your heels, take a breath, brace your core and jump forward and up as high as you can.
  3. As you land, descend into another squat, place your palms flat on the floor again and prepare for your next repetition.

12. Glute Bridge

The glute bridge hold is an excellent isometric exercise that strengthens and develops your posterior chain musculature. 

man glute bridge floor leg workouts

Muscles trained: glutes, hamstrings, and lower back
Equipment: none

  1. Lie on the floor, bend your knees, and place your feet flat on the floor, about hip-width apart. 
  2. Have your arms to your sides for balance, take a breath, and push through your hips to lift your hips off the floor. Your neck, hips, and knees should be in a straight line. 
  3. Take a breath at the top, bring the hips back down, and repeat. 

13. Alternating Forward Lunges

Lunges are a fantastic assistance exercise that emphasizes your quadriceps, builds single-leg strength, and develops your glutes and hamstrings.

man lunge leg workouts

Muscles trained: quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves
Equipment: none

  1. Stand tall with your chest back, gaze forward, and arms to your sides. 
  2. Take a breath and extend your right leg forward as comfortably as you can. 
  3. As you plant it firmly, bend the knee and go down until your back knee taps the floor. 
  4. Push through the heel to bring yourself back to the starting position, exhaling on the way back. 
  5. Once you’re back to the starting position, extend your left leg and do the same thing. 
  6. Keep alternating until you finish the set.

14. Glute Bridge Curls

The glute bridge curl, also known as glute bridge and curl, is an effective variation of the traditional glute bridge. Adding a leg curl to the exercise allows you to train your hamstrings more effectively.

Muscles trained: glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, and midsection
Equipment: slider discs (gliding discs, core sliders, etc.)

  1. Lie on the floor, position your arms to your sides, and have your hands flat on the ground.
  2. Bend your knees and place your feet on the pair of slider discs.
  3. Engage your abs and take a breath.
  4. Flex your quadriceps to extend your legs, bringing your feet away from your buttocks.

15. Single Leg Standing Calf Raise

The standing single-leg calf raise is excellent for developing the soleus and gastrocnemius if you don’t have access to a machine. Training one side at a time is ideal for preventing side-to-side muscle imbalances.

man single leg calf raise leg workouts

Muscles trained: calves (soleus and gastrocnemius)
Equipment: none

  1. Place the ball of one foot on an elevated platform, such as one step of stairs. Straighten the knee.
  2. Bend your opposite knee to support yourself on one leg.
  3. Bring your shoulders back and grab onto something for balance.
  4. Take a breath and flex your ankle, feeling your calve stretch.
  5. Extend your ankle by contracting your calve and hold the top position for a moment. Exhale.
  6. Take another breath and repeat.
  7. Once finished, place the ball of the opposite foot on the elevated surface and do the same number of reps.

Leg At Home Workout 

Training at home might not seem beneficial because you don’t have access to the standard gym equipment: squat rack, machines, barbells, etc. Luckily, that isn’t the case. You can put together simple at-home workouts with nothing but dumbbells, kettlebells, and a sturdy chair. 

Here is a simple lower body home routine you can do to train all the major leg muscles:

  • Goblet Squat – 3 sets – 8 to 15 reps
  • Glute Bridge Curls – 3 sets – 5-15 reps
  • Dumbbell Step Up – 3 sets – 10-12 reps per leg 
  • Romanian Deadlift (Dumbbell) 2-3 sets – 8-10 reps
  • Single Leg Standing Calf Raise 2-3 – 12-20 reps per leg 
  • Wall Sit Hold 2-3 sets 30-60 second holds 

Click here to find and log the ‘Leg At home Workout’ routine on the Hevy app. 

Bodyweight Leg Workout (No Equipment)

The primary difference between this and the other workouts relates to convenience. Most notably, you don’t need any equipment for this workout, and you can do it at home or in a hotel room. Since you won’t be using weights, you will likely have to do more repetitions to challenge your muscles enough for them to grow (4).

Like the other workouts, we’ll start with main lifts and slowly move down to accessory exercises.

  • Pistol Squats – 3 sets -5 to 15 reps per leg
  • Glute Bridge Curls – 3 sets – 10 to 20 reps 
  • Bodyweight Jump Squats – 3 sets – 15 to 30 reps
  • Glute Bridges – 3 sets – 15 to 30 reps
  • Alternating Forward Lunges – 2-3 sets – 20 to 50 total reps
  • Single Leg Standing Calf Raise– 2-3 sets – 15 to 30 reps per leg

Click here to find and log the ‘Bodyweight Leg Workout (No Equipment)’ routine on the Hevy app. 

Final Thoughts 

Lower body training is not rocket science but isn’t as simple as just “Squating heavy.” There are plenty of unique exercises to choose from and many ways to organize your leg training within a training week.

The best part is that you can put together effective and balanced workouts in mere minutes, so long as you know the best leg-building activities. For instance, the “Gym Leg Workout” workout featured above is a fantastic example. It allows you to train and develop your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and adductors in a balanced way, not leaving any muscle group behind.

As far as exercises go, the deadlift and back squat are two amazing compound lifts. But you don’t have to do these because you can choose from many other great exercises like the leg press, hip thrust, lunge, and Romanian deadlift. Even if you have to train at home, you can still pick from great movements like pistol squats, Nordic curls, jump squats, and glute bridge holds.

Similar Articles:
Develop a Shelf Butt: 2 Upper Glute Workouts
Keep Inner Thighs Toned and Strong with these Exceptional Exercises
The Top Dumbbell Leg Workouts to Attain Powerful Legs

Frequently Asked Questions

 1. What is a good lower body or leg workout? 

A good lower body workout features unique movements that offer balanced growth for the major muscle groups. It also features a variety of repetition ranges that allow for a varied stimulus to the muscles.

2. How can I work out my legs at home?

Working out your legs at home is not that different from doing it at the gym. So long as you follow the basic principles of workout structure, progression, muscle activation, and good form, you will succeed.

3. How long should my workouts be?

The most straightforward answer here is: Your workouts should be as long as they need you to go through all movements and recover sufficiently between sets.

4. How long should I rest between leg workouts?

This answer depends on the intensity and training volume of each leg workout. You should give your legs at least 48 hours to recover before training them again.

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