I think everyone could agree that having a strong set of legs is important for health, fitness and overall functionality.
Your legs are your driving force.
Training your lower body will provide you with an enormous amount of benefits; benefits that training the upper body could never achieve.
Plus, well-developed legs look good!
Today’s post is going to teach you how to build strong legs (and provide a killer leg workout at the end!)
If you have chicken legs, don’t fear. We did too.
* (well, we still kind of do, but much less chicken than before)
Welcome to the third installment of the WCT Body Building series.
- In Part 1 The Best Arm Exercises (With A Killer Workout), we go over the best exercises to grow and develop your upper body.
- In Part 2, The Best Glute Exercises of All Time we discuss the best exercises to help strengthen and grow your butt muscles.
This post will go over the best leg exercises to build strength and tone your leg muscles.
You may need to sit down for this one…
This post is going to cover:
- The Anatomy of the Leg Muscles
- The Benefits of A Strong Lower Body
- The Best Leg Exercises
- Leg Exercises You Can Do At Home
- Leg Workouts For Men & Women
The Anatomy of the Leg Muscles
First, let’s go over the major muscle groups that make up the leg and what their functions are.
The legs are composed of three major muscle groups: The Flexors, The Extensors and the Adductors.
- Quadriceps: (Vastus Medialis, Vastus Lateralis, Vastus Intermedius and Rectus Femoris)
- Hamstrings: (Semitendinosis, Semimembranosis, and Biceps Femoris)
- Adductors: (Magnus, Brevis, Longus)
The quadriceps muscles are located in the front of your thigh. They connect your anterior pelvic bone to your knee. As you can guess, they are composed of 4 muscles.
They function to extend or straighten your knee.
The hamstring muscles are located in the back of your thigh. They connect your posterior pelvis to the back of your knee.
The hamstrings function to flex your knee, AND extend or straighten your hip when your trunk is flexed.
The adductor muscles are located on the inside part of your thigh.
They function to adduct, or bring your thigh back in towards your body
As you can see, each component of the leg works in different ways. Common belief would have you think that you must train each muscle individually, since their functions are so different.
Thankfully, thats where compound exercises shine. Below we will go over the best leg exercises that train more than one leg muscle at a time!
The Best Leg Exercises of All Time
Okay, now let’s cover what you’re here for. The best leg exercises ever.
If you have read any other WCT Post, you will probably know that best exercise is:
There are so many different variations of the squat exercise, there is no way that you cannot perform this exercise. You can do them with barbells, dumbbells, or just your own bodyweight.
If you cannot perform squats with your bodyweight, you can do them with support like we show in the video below.
Squats are a lot like BOGO. They train your Quadriceps and your Adductors at the same time. In addition, they also activate your glute muscles throughout the entire movement.
Here are some Bodyweight Variations:
Here are some Barbell Variations:
The Split Squat:
Split squats are the next best leg developer. They are hard, and they will burn.
This is probably one of the most difficult exercises ever.
You can perform this exercise with a dumbbell or with a barbell. Lunges are a close second.
The Leg Press is one of the few machine exercises that are useful. Do not go overboard with this exercise. Control the speed of the repetitions, and do not slam your knees at the lockout.
It is also important that you do not bring the weights so far down that your lower back begins to round. This is extremely dangerous and can lead to serious muscle damage.
Do the exercise correctly!
No, leg extensions do not make the list. Unless you are trying to compete at a bodybuilding show, or you are extremely injured, there is no need to completely isolate the quadricep muscles.
The exercises listed above are more than sufficient at developing your quads.
Now let’s go over on of the most forgotten muscle groups in the fitness realm- the hamstrings.
The Best Hamstring Exercises
All of the aforementioned exercises train your quadriceps and your adductors. We haven’t given the Hamstrings any love yet.
Neglecting your hamstrings can create a ‘quad dominant’ muscle imbalance. Excessive muscle imbalances have been postulated to play a major role in musculoskeletal injuries.
Either way, it is a good idea to train all of your major muscle groups evenly. The hamstrings and glutes together, are quite possibly the strongest muscles in your body.
Here are the three best hamstring exercises.
The Romanian Deadlift is one of the best hamstring exercises available.
The RDL isolates the hamstrings and glute muscles more than the conventional deadlift, and strengthens the important hip-hinge pattern. Just make sure that you are using weights that are appropriate to your level and you use good technique.
Keep your back completely neutral and focus all of your energy on driving your glutes and hips back!
The conventional deadlift is the next best exercise to develop the hamstring muscles. We have written ad nauseam about the deadlift as it is the second most important exercise you can perform.
We have an extensive tutorial on how to perform the deadlift, which can be found Here.
If you cannot perform the deadlift with a barbell due to flexibility limitations, you can perform it with dumbbells.
Ball Leg Curl
The two prior exercises train your hamstrings ability to extend the hip with the trunk flexed.
The ball leg curl trains your hamstrings ability to flex your knee.
As simple as this exercise looks, do not underestimate it. You will get a lot of burn in your hamstrings.
Position your heels on top of a bosu ball and then flex your glutes hard to extend your hips. From this position, curl the ball in towards you while maintaining your glutes activated.
Slowly return the starting position by straightening your legs. Keep your glutes on, and your hips extended the entire time.
This exercise is superior to the hamstring curl as it also activates your glutes and core muscles simultaneously.
Can I Perform A Leg Workout With Dumbbells?
Absolutely. The beauty of these exercises is that they can all be performed with dumbbells as well.
- Squats with Dumbbells (hold them at your side or resting on your shoulders)
- Lunges or Split Squats with Dumbbells (hold them at your side)
- Single Leg Squats onto a chair like we demonstrate here
- Romanian Deadlifts with Dumbbells (hold them out in front of you just like a barbell)
What About Leg Exercises at Home?
What if you don’t have time to make it to the gym? Or you don’t have access to any weights? No problem.
There are many variations you can perform from the comfort of your own home. You can harness the power of your own body weight.
All of these at home leg exercises will strengthen your legs adequately.
- Body Weight Squat Variation from Above
- Lunges without weight
- Split Squat without weight (use a chair or any other household item)
- Single Leg Glute Bridge
The Tremendous Benefits of Strong Legs
Performing these exercises are crucial for long term health.
The muscles of your legs are very large compared to the other muscles in your body. As such, working out your legs elicits the largest possible stimulus that exercise can provide.
Here are a few reasons why you should train your legs, and train them often.
Leg Workouts Increase Your Overall Muscle Mass
- The stimulation of these large muscles causes the release of several muscle building hormones, far more than any upper body workout could ever provide.
Leg Workouts Help You Lose Weight
- As such, training your legs will help you lose weight. As we discuss in The 3 Best Exercises To Lose Weight Fast [And Build Muscle Too], increasing your muscle mass will significantly ramp up your basal metabolic rate, which can help you burn more fat.
Leg Workouts Improve Your Functionality
- You need strong legs to walk. You need strong legs to run. You need strong legs to hike. You need strong legs to carry your groceries home. You need strong legs to go up flights of stairs. I can go on and on but I’ll stop there.
Leg Workouts Also Improve Your Core Strength
- Every exercise we described in this article is a compound exercise. They require a great deal of core strength and stability just to perform them. Why not kill multiple birds with one stone and train several muscle groups at once?
How Many Times a Week Should You Workout Legs?
As with all major muscle groups, 1 to 2 times a week is sufficient. Because the legs are so powerful, it is important to give them adequate rest. If it takes 1 week to recover, so be it.
You can perform as little as 5 reps on leg exercises, and up to 12. Anything beyond 12 provides diminishing returns.
3 sets of each leg exercise will be sufficient.
Is it OK To Skip Leg Day?
Is it ok to take a day off from taking care of your kids?
Didn’t think so.
Training legs is easy.
You only have to do it 1-2 times a week. You have to take care of your kids 7 days a week.
A Killer Leg Workout Routine at the gym
If you have access to a gym, here is a quick leg workout routine you can use for 8-12 weeks to help develop your lower body. There are two dedicated lower body days in this program.
This workout could be performed in 35 minutes.
A) Front Squat 3 x 6 reps
B1) Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift 3 x 10 reps
B2) Lunges 3 x 8 reps each leg
A) Back Squat 3 x 8 reps
B) Conventional Deadlift 2 x 6 reps
C) Ball Leg Curls 3 x 12 repetitions
As we describe in How Much Weight Should I Lift? you should use weights heavy enough that you cannot perform an endless amount of repetitions, but light enough that you can perform the desired exercise with good form.
Rotate the exercises every 8 weeks to a similar variation to continue to drive adaptations.
Or, if you would like a workout that trains the entire body evenly, feel free to check out The WCT Strength Program For Busy Professionals. It’s a ready-made 15 week template that gives you everything you need to build strong legs, and strong everything else too!
Leg Workouts for Women: How To Build Strong Legs As A Female
Women do not need any special considerations when working out their legs. All of the principles laid out above hold true for both and women.
Women should train their legs 1 to 2 times a week, for 5-12 repetitions per exercise.
As we mention in all of our bodybuilding posts, women can generally handle more volume than men. What this means is that they can usually perform more sets and more repetitions then men without as much fatigue.
If you are a woman and you haven’t noticed any substantial changes to your leg physique, try increasing your volume.
The Bottom Line On Leg Strengthening Exercises
If you want to be the strongest and healthiest version of yourself, then your legs must be trained.
Jogging will not do. You need to let your legs experience heavy resistance.
Use these exercises to develop and tone the biggest and most powerful muscles in your body.
Now we turn it over to you.
What do you prefer?
Muscular legs? Toned legs? Neither?
Which of these exercises are your favorite?
Which do you enjoy the least?
Comment below and let us know.
And don’t forget to check out our signature training template, The WCT Strength Program!
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