Do you want to learn how to get strong legs?
You are in the right place.
In this article, you will learn:
- The anatomy of the leg muscles,
- 9 terrific exercises to build strong legs,
- Leg exercises you can do at home (if you don’t have weights)
- A killer leg workout to get strong legs fast.
So if you have chicken legs, don’t fear. We did too.
* (well, we still kind of do, but much less chicken than before). Let’s get started.
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Okay, let’s get started.
How Can I Build Muscle In My Legs Fast?
The best way to build muscle in your legs is to do squats 1-2 times per week. Squats are a great exercise because they work many different muscles in your legs at once and train a functional movement pattern.
Aside from squats, there are other strength training exercises that you can do to help build muscle in your legs.
First, it’s important to know the muscles that you are targeting.
The Anatomy of the Leg Muscles
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)
Let’s go over these in more detail.
The quadriceps muscles are located in the front of your thigh. They connect your anterior pelvic bone to your knee. As the name implies, 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. (I have an entire post on adductor isolation exercises as well).
As you can see, each component of the leg works in different ways. Thankfully, you don’t have to train each of these muscle groups individually.
You can use compound exercises to target many of these muscle groups at the same time. Let’s go over them now.
The Best Exercises To Strengthen Weak Legs
Below are the best leg exercises of all time, in order of importance.
The best leg exercise is…
There are so many different variations of the squat exercise. Anyone can do this exercise, regardless of their skill level.
You can do squats with barbells, dumbbells, or just your own bodyweight.
If you cannot perform squats with your body weight, you can do them with support as we show in the video below.
Squats train your Quadriceps and your Adductors at the same time. In addition, they also activate your glute muscles throughout the entire movement.
Bodyweight Squat Variations:
Below are some barbell squat variations.
Back squats are probably the best exercise for building muscle in your legs, especially since you can load it with relatively heavy weight.
Front squats are a great variation to the traditional back squat that targets the quadriceps a bit more than the back squat.
You can also do squat-like movement patterns, such as the split squat and the lunge.
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, the leg extension does 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 quadriceps muscles.
The exercises listed above are more than sufficient for developing your quads.
Now let’s go over one 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.
If you cannot perform the deadlift with a barbell due to flexibility limitations, you can perform it with dumbbells.
Ball Leg Curls
The two prior exercises train your hamstring’s ability to extend the hip with the trunk flexed.
The ball leg curl trains your hamstring’s 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 to 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.
- Goblet Squats (holding the dumbbell at your chest)
- Lunges or Split Squats with Dumbbells (hold them at your side or on your shoulders)
- Romanian Deadlifts with Dumbbells (hold them out in front of you just like a barbell)
How Can I Get Strong Legs 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.
You can build leg muscles without weights.
All you have to do is harness the power of your own body weight.
However, you won’t be able to build as much muscle with just your body weight as you could with external weights.
Either way, here is a list of at-home leg exercises you can do without weights.
(The video below shows single-leg box squats and single-leg pistol squats).
If you cannot perform single-leg squats with a full range of motion, you could also do any of the bodyweight squats from above.
You can do split squats holding onto any heavy household item such as a textbook.
You can do lunges holding onto any heavy household item such as a textbook.
Single-Leg Glute Bridge
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 6 reps on leg exercises, and up to 12.
3-4 sets of each leg exercise per day will be sufficient.
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.
|Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift*||4||10|
|Lunges*||4||8 each leg|
*Superset the Romanian deadlifts and the lunges
|Ball Leg Curls||3||12|
As I describe in How Much Weight Should You 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.
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 men and women.
Women should train their legs 1 to 2 times a week, in the 6-12 rep range per exercise.
The key difference is that women can generally handle more volume than men. On average, women can usually perform more sets and more repetitions than 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.
A Complete Full-Body Workout
If you would like a complete workout that trains your entire body evenly, 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!
How Long Until My Legs Get Stronger?
You will notice an improvement in your leg strength in as little as four weeks after starting a leg-focused workout program. More significant improvements will become apparent after 12 weeks of consistent training.
What Are The Benefits of Stronger Legs?
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
- Training your legs can also help you lose weight. As we discuss in The 3 Best Exercises To Lose Weight Fast [And Build Muscle Too], increasing your muscle mass is a great way to 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?
Other Related Questions
Does running strengthen legs?
Yes, running will help build strength in your leg muscles, especially if you are new to running. Running will activate your quadriceps, adductors, hamstrings, and calves.
Does walking strengthen legs?
Yes, walking will help strengthen your legs, especially if you challenge yourself by climbing hills, walking up the stairs, or walking on the sand at the beach.
What should I eat to make my legs strong?
To build muscle in your legs, you should regularly consume foods that are high in protein in conjunction with regular resistance training.
High protein foods include:
- Lean chicken breast
- Wild-caught fish such as salmon
- Plain greek yogurt
- Beans and Lentils
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.
All joking aside, you can see great results training your legs just once a week.
You have to take care of your kids 7 days a week.
The Bottom Line On Getting Strong Legs
If you want to be the strongest and healthiest version of yourself, then your legs must be trained.
Use these exercises to develop and tone the biggest and most powerful muscles in your body.
Next, you should read
- The Best Compound Exercises Per Body Part
- The Best Exercises For the Glutes
- The Best Exercises for Arms
Now we turn it over to you.
What do you prefer?
Muscular legs? Toned legs? Neither?
Which of these exercises is your favorite?
Which do you enjoy the least?
Comment below and let us know!
Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH, CPT
Alex & Brittany Robles are physicians, NASM Certified Personal Trainers, and founders of The White Coat Trainer: a resource dedicated to improving the health and fitness of busy professionals using time-efficient strategies. Their advice has been featured in My Fitness Pal, Prevention, Livestrong, Reader’s Digest, Bustle, The Active Times, and more. Learn more about them here.