Legs Exercises


Purists might say that a top 10 list of leg exercises would consist only of squats. And they’re right – it’s devastatingly effective and simple, too! You just need to load a heavy weight onto the barbell, and put it over your shoulder. Slowly lower your body until you can feel your midsection bend toward the ground. Go down as far as possible, then stand back up. You might want to keep your head up so it doesn’t hit the ground.

This movement doesn’t just work your quads, hamstrings, and glutes. It also initiates a series of responses in your body that tighten and stabilize your upper body. While improving range of motion in your core throughout the duration of the exercise. Growth-promoting hormones are released in response to stress.


Portrait of athletic beautiful sportswoman stretching her leg while working out in athletic hall

In our opinion, the squat is the best exercise. But we’ll let you decide- it’s at No. 1 in this ranking. The other nine exercises are great for different reasons and are very deserving of praise as well. These exercises are proven muscle builders. So you need to work out different muscles in your legs with these exercises to maximize your development.

Here are our 10 favorite leg exercises of all time. Feel free to debate their merits, quibble over their placement, and lament those we’ve forgotten on the Muscle & Performance Facebook page. There are plenty of people who will tell you that the squat is overrated. They are much more convincing than any article you might find. But, if they’re avid squatters, their legs will be huge due to all that work. And it’s not a scenario where you want to be caught up in the middle of it.

Leg Press

One of the many things trainers hate about this leg exercises is that it can cause lower-back injury. When done incorrectly and being able to load some weight is a pre-requisite. You also need to be doing the reps cleanly and with good form. With their hamstrings and glutes not flexible enough, their back disengages from the floor during each exercise. It’s also true that this is one of the most abused exercises in a gym.

Leg presses are a great way to build up your quadriceps and get stronger without having to continuously squat. They can also help keep a variety of moves in your workout routine, too! Provided you use them in moderation, you should be able to continue using leg presses for many years.

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Sporty lady in gym doing leg exercises. Muscular bodybuilder works out in the gym

The majority of muscle use on the platform is in your quadriceps (with knees higher). As well as your glutes and hamstrings (with knees lower).

Strengths: Leg Presses are a closed kinetic chain exercise, which means your feet are on the ground rather than free. A closed chain provides for a stronger base of power and less pressure on the knee joint. Compared to an open-chain exercise, it would be easier and take less time to recover from. Which is why it wasn’t included.

How-To: Sit squarely in the leg press machine and place your feet shoulder-width apart on the sled. Keep your chest up, back pushed into pad and unhook the sled from its resting place. Bend your knees in order to lower the platform and stop before your butt lifts off of the pad. From there, apply pressure on your toes to lift up the weight. But don’t lock out your knees at the end.

Erin Says: “I don’t train my legs on the leg press, but the machine does have some benefits. It can target different muscles in your leg exercises depending on your foot placement, and it also eliminates using stabilizers. This could be a good choice if you want to increase your volume during a workout session.”


One of the more popular exercises at the gym is the ladder. It can be a functional leg exercises if you use it regularly. Do not rely on one leg too much. As each leg takes its turn feeling the full brunt of it.


Main Areas Targeted: Quadriceps, glutes

Strengths: The step-up exercise is a versatile exercise that can be used to challenge beginners. And those who are more advanced. It largely depends on how much weight the individual has. But they should typically hold onto a barbell, dumbbells or kettlebells. Try putting on a weight vest or using your own body weight.

Place your feet at a height from halfway to where the thigh is parallel to the floor. Then step up onto the platform. Leg Raises help you build strength in your glutes. Hips, thighs, and balance are improved while jumping force is increased. If you’re into sports that involve lots of jumping, this exercise can do wonders for both your physical health and performance.

How-To You can do squats to build your leg muscles and make them stronger. Stand on a bench, step or a platform in front of a knee- to hip-high step with your feet in a shoulder-width stance. Step forward with one foot onto the platform, then bend that supporting knee and lower yourself.

Until your trailing thigh is parallel to the floor and return to start position. Stand at the platform’s edge and bring your leading leg up. Then step back with either leg to return to the floor. Either repeat with the same trailing leg for all reps or switch every other rep.

Erin Says: “This is a fantastic unilateral exercise. I like performing the concentric portion of the exercise with explosiveness. It has built my quads, improved my balance, and increased my vertical leap.”

Pistol Squat

Learning this move takes patience, so don’t worry if you feel uncoordinated at first. With a bit of practice, you’ll be able to lean against the wall for balance and get back into your squat after getting up from the floor. We can only urge you to be careful when doing this! The key to mastering this exercise is not to give up. Those who manage to master it are rewarded with a leg workout technique that requires no equipment at all.


Main Areas Targeted: Quads, hamstrings, glutes

Strengths: Regardless of your goal, it’s important to have a well-rounded workout. No matter what your goal is, it’s important to keep your body in full working order. The more functional you are, the better you’ll be at mastering any exercise or physical activity. Pistol squats are hard, but they can pay off because you may find your quads burn deep for days after the first time you try them. This is a sign that traditional leg exercises may not be giving you enough range of motion.

How-To: This leg exercises consists of a specific pose where both feet are flat on the ground and one leg is out in front. Your arms need to also be positioned in an outstretched position for balance. The leg that begins standing up straight with one leg stretched out in front of you and the other foot on the ground.

From here, squat all the way down by lowering your hips and glutes towards the floor and bending your working knee, bringing it below your other knee. ot flat on the ground should be bent at the knee. You can then push through your heel and return to a standing position before repeating this sequence with your other leg

Erin Says: “The exercises we don’t like doing are often the most effective. I perform this non-dominant side first and let that dictate the number of reps I do on my dominant leg. It’s a great way to even out any asymmetries.”

Glute-Ham Raise

Chances are, your exercise center will not have Louie Simmons’ Westside Series glute-ham designer. It’s uncommon except if where you train is the sort watched by husky powerlifters and persistently foggy with chalk dust. However, in the event that it does, or then again assuming you can get your hands on one, do as such in light of the fact that the glute-ham raise on this mechanical assembly is one of everything strength-and muscle-building practices you can manage for your lower body.

“We do something like 600 [reps] each month only for support, and at different times we utilize 135 pounds of significant burden,” Simmons says, the “we” alluding to the select gathering of powerlifters and competitors who train at his restrictive Westside Barbell exercise center in Columbus, Ohio.

Physical athlete exercising with glute ham developer

Primary Areas Targeted: Glutes, hamstrings

Strengths: From a muscle-feeling point of view, the glute-ham raise has been viewed as comparable to an activity higher on our rundown, the loved Romanian deadlift, as detailed in a little relative investigation of hamstring practices distributed in the June 2014 issue of The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

With the exceptionally planned Westside seat you’ll get support in the appropriate spots, however don’t let an absence of gear prevent you. You can then again do glute-ham raises with an accomplice holding your legs (stoop on the floor and keep your hands out in front to get yourself as you bring down your middle to the floor) or bow on a lat-pulldown station seat so your heels are under the knee cushions, putting a free weight or a tough stick on the floor that you handle for balance (lower yourself by means of the force of your hams and glutes, then, at that point, invert).

Instructions to: Get into position on the seat, getting your lower legs between the rollers, your knees on the cushions and your feet on the stage. Begin with your middle and thighs adjusted and opposite to the floor. Get your hands over your chest. Gradually broaden your knees by bringing down your middle as far toward corresponding to the floor as you can go. Flex your hams to take your body back to vertical. Note that while performing reps accurately, the calf/lower leg region will switch back and forth between contacting the base and the top roller.

Erin Says: “This practice is best when the knees are the switch for the development. Keep your hips, back and bears in line, and pull yourself up with your hamstrings and glutes. To make the activity seriously testing, hold a plate or use opposition groups.”

Walking Lunge

Lunges are more versatile than Taylor Swift breakup songs. You can do both stationary lunges and walking lunges in any direction — front, side, or any point in between. Walking lunges ultimately made our list because they offer a great cardiovascular workout. too! They have an added level of functionality because you continually move forward instead of staying in the same place, and they provide the finishing touches to any leg workout. Ronnie Coleman did not rest after a strenuous leg workout with his legs twice as big as an average person’s. He went outside and performed lunges through the Metro flex Gym parking lot in Texas’ relentless heat, leaving spectators in awe.


Main Areas Targeted: Quads, hams, glutes

Strengths: The walking lunge is a dynamic movement that requires coordination and muscle recruitment to perform correctly. This leg exercises strengthens the muscles in your center of gravity as well as your hips and glutes. “Gene Flores, CSCS, a physical therapist and orthopedic clinical specialist at Vargo Physical Therapy, explains,” says Flores. “Outpatient health clinics such as this one in Reseda, California. They’ve found that they don’t have to give patients a complex multilateral exercise routine to help manage pain levels. Focusing on the front leg rather than the back leg will give your workout more co-contractions.From above and below the knee joint, to your hip and core, to your ankle and foot.

How-To: Hold a dumbbell in each hand and step forward with one foot. Bend both knees to lower your torso, but make sure your front knee stays behind your toes. When you reach the lowest point of the movement, step forward with the other foot, and return to the starting position. stop just short of your rear knee touching the floor. Starting from a standing position, step forward and on your toes towards the front foot with your rear leg, then bend that knee so that the thigh is parallel to floor.

Return to the starting position and repeat the same process with your other foot in front. Continuously alternate your feet down the floor. “The cues I utilize when teaching this movement are to always keep your core engaged, with a neutral spine or slight lordosis (extension),” Flores says. “Most important, don’t let the front knee twist in or out excessively.”

Erin Says: “I like this as a way to end your workout. Be sure to have your knees behind your toes, step evenly on the ground, and keep your upper body tall.”

Bulgarian Split Squat

Did Bulgarian strength athletes really use this movement as a training cornerstone? The myths may not match the reality, but the name has stuck to what is, all in all, a pretty solid exercise if you tweak the common variation (shown here).

As proposed by Charles Poliquin, a well-known Canadian strength coach. He believes that putting the back leg on a flat bench or even higher — Reducing the stability of the front leg limits how strong you can get and puts pressure on your spine, causing unnecessary injury risk. His prescription? The leg exercises that lands at No.5 on our list, a split squat in which you elevate the back leg only 6 inches from the floor.


Main Areas Targeted: Quadriceps, glutes

Strengths:  This move focuses on each leg individually, so you can pay full attention to each without one being stronger than the other. In other words, any weaknesses that you’re having in either your back development or thigh development will be revealed.

How-To: Holding a dumbbell in each hand, take a step forward and then place your back foot onto a bench or platform with the toes of your front foot facing down. Bend your front knee to lower yourself. Knee alignment is a delicate element in the technique. Make sure to follow through with the knee joint while maintaining a 90-degree angle.

Hack Squat

Thanks to the barbell hack squat it’s possible to train while on a basic home workout bench- especially if shoulder, neck or back issues rule out other options. However, machines are better for most aspiring athletes and bodybuilders in the modern gym setting.

The plate-loaded squat machine is the one that will angle your body slightly backward. It’s more stable than doing a free-weight squat and gives you more safety in the process., which is more crucial when you are tired during a workout. That means that quick and easy low-impact moves like squats can get you the break from your workout you need when mid-workout boredom sets in. For workouts that are so difficult that they leave you feeling worn out, advances in fitness such as yoga offer a healthy and achievable alternative.

Main Areas Targeted: Quads, glutes, and hamstrings primarily, and secondarily.

Strengths: “This leg exercises is done in a weight-bearing functional position just as a standing squat,” Flores points out. “The hack squat machine also allows you to go a little heavier without sacrificing too much form as you would performing bar squats since your back is supported, which decreases the chance of injury. When the goal is to increase mass and strength, that’s important.

How-To:To step into a hack squat machine, place the back and shoulders against the pads. Stand with your feet at mid-platform just inside shoulder width, keeping your feet flat throughout the leg exercises. With your chest up and core tight,, unhook the safety bars and slowly lower yourself, stopping when your thighs are just past parallel to the platform.

From here, powerfully press upward to the start position, keeping your knees bent slightly at the top to protect them from hyperextension. “When performing any squat movement, my cues are always to avoid any excessive internal or external rotation at the knees — think the ‘knock-knee’ position or knees and toes pointing out — along with keeping your knees about shoulder-width apart throughout the movement,” Flores instructs. “The weight should be felt in your heels, not your toes.”

Erin Says: “I use this primarily for targeting the quads. I put my feet high on the platform and keep them together. I’ll also perform partial reps at the top to get a good pump.”

Romanian Deadlift

The four-headed beast of a quadriceps muscle is powerful and needs to be balanced out with a similar level of strength by the hamstrings. Romanian dead positions are a great way to protect your knees from injury. They, it’s a safe alternative to regular squats. Or, RDL for short. This movement works the hamstrings from the hips, a necessary addition to a ham routine that might otherwise be dominated by variations of the leg curl (seated, lying and standing) that all work the muscle from the knee joint.

Main Areas Targeted: Hamstrings

Strengths: With Romanian deadlifts, you’ll notice a pattern: your back should be flat and your form should be on point for you to get the most out of them. Here’s what it should look like: your core should be tight and the bar should be sliding up your shins. with a different gait at the front of your legs can help put a Ferrari in your chiropractor’s garage. If you let your lower back collapse, you’ll encourage strong hamstrings to develop.

How-To: Stand with a barbell in front of your thighs with an overhand grip. Place feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, chest up, arms straight, and core tight to maintain a natural arch in your back. Lean back 45 degrees and lower down into a squat position, reaching the barbell down between your legs as you go. Lower your torso to get a good stretch in of your hamstrings. Keep your back straight and your neck neutral.

Your heels should be close to or touch the bar. Flexing your hamstrings and glutes will allow you to lift the bar up, reverse it, and bring it back down to the start position.“ The right way to squat is to control the movement with your hips and push them forward. Don’t try to force the lift by pressing with your back, arms, and chest.

Erin Says: “I love to do these leg exercises standing on a bumper plate or box, it feels more comfortable and gives my lower back a better stretch. If you’re less flexible, you can lower the weight instead and avoid rounding your back too much at the end of each movement. Always keep your back flat and shoulders square throughout the set.

Front Squat

There are many contenders for the runner-up spot. But, in our opinion #2 is the barbell back squat, which has been hailed as the “King of Lifts” by Pavel Tsatsouline. Stronger quadriceps and a more direct line of resistance is offered by “squatting” the barbell to the front rather than, say, across a shoulder.

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Main Areas Targeted: Workout time! Try to focus on quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves and your core.

Strengths: “On top of being a killer leg exercises, lifting weights can also affect your metabolism positively. Dustin Kirchofner’s strategy includes the barbell front squat and back squats, both which are great at building up back and leg muscles.. “It really depends on your specific needs and preferences.

For example, if you’re a bad at waving your arm behind your back then the back squat isn’t appropriate for you. Due to your shoulder and thoracic spine mobility, you may have some issues getting the bar racked and properly positioned on your back. Front squats are definitely an option, as they’re easier to get into position.

How-To: The safety bars should be set to a height that is close to your hips and just below your chest. Place the bar on this level and step up on it, crossing your arms in front of you to create a shelf and cradle the bar with your shoulders. Keep your chest high throughout the movement and don’t bang into the weights when you come down, Stand with your back & abs tight, and eyes forward as you step back into a shoulder-width stance.

Bend your knees & lower hips to bend in at the same time until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor, then reverse direction by driving through your heels and. “Keep your neck and back straight and elbows lifted high throughout the lift,” Kirchofner instructs. “Inhale to support the trunk and abdomen at the start of your descent, and keep your core engaged to avoid putting unnecessary strain on your lower lumbar vertebrae..”

Erin Says: “If you’re having trouble holding the bar in the clean position, try wrapping wrist wraps around it and holding them with your hands. This will help you keep the bar from moving – take care to not get it too tight.

Barbell Squat

We know, ranking barbell back squats No. 1 here is about as surprising as a Donald Trump publicity stunt. But what else can we do? It’s not the reigning “king of leg exercises” for nothing. No single exercise is arguably as effective, not only for the intended lower-body target muscles but for all the muscles from your shoulders, chest and back down to your core, all of which fire to maintain your posture and balance as you rep.

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Main Areas Targeted: Quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, calves, core

Strengths: “You need strong legs from the ankles to the hips, and back squats work the lower-body prime movers, stabilizers and synergists,” Kirchofner explains. “The quadriceps and hamstrings are the major muscle groups that affect knee stability and motion. Quads come into play during the straightening of the knees, while hamstrings are directly related to the bending of the knees and the pushing action against the ground, such as in a short sprint. At the end of the day, squats are beneficial in developing muscular growth, strength and power, all while strengthening stabilizers and the core.”

How-To: Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and hold a bar across your upper back. Your knees should be slightly bent and your toes turned out slightly. Keeping your head in a neutral position, abs tight and torso upright, bend at the knees and hips to slowly lower your body as if you were going to sit in a chair. Go as deep as you can handle, ideally to a point where your thighs come parallel to the floor or below while maintaining your natural lower-back arch, then forcefully drive through your heels and extend your hips and knees to return to a standing position.

Erin Says: “The benefit of free-weight exercises is the countless variations you can come up with. Experiment with bar placement on your back (high/low), foot placement (narrow/wide) and even with range of motion. I started doing rack squats, which target the top third of the movement. It allows me to go heavier and it mimics the range of motion used in jumping.”

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