10 Best Leg Strengthening Exercises

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Building strength in your lower half is important for literally carrying you¬†through life. It’s also important if you’re training for a race or just want to improve your gym performance or daily functional fitness. Unfortunately, many people skip leg day and end up with a ripped upper body and lacking lower part. However, you should include a leg day into your workout routine at least once a week. So in this article, we’ll share the 10 best leg strengthening exercises and how to do them.

1. Back Squat

best leg exercises for massSquats are the king of leg exercises as they are the most effective at building the overall size and strength. However, it’s also the most challenging leg movement you can do, especially if you’re doing it with a load. That’s why it’s important to first learn proper form.

It’s mainly intended for lower body but also engages all the muscles of your shoulders, chest and core.

You can use just your bodyweight for this exercise but as you master the moves, add some a barbell with weight to make the exercise more effective.

How To Do It:

  1. Stand with your feet roughly shoulder-width apart and toes turned out as needed. Keep the chest up and the face facing forward.
  2. Squeeze your shoulder blades and set the barbell across your upper back. Squeeze your shoulder blades together. Keep your body tight for the entire movement. The spine should be in a neutral position and not rounded.
  3. Take a deep breath and start to sit back as you squat down. Think of the movement as if you’re sitting back into a chair. Keep your heels planted and make sure that your knees don’t go beyond your feet.
  4. Go down till your hips are at or below your knees.
  5. Breathe out and drive through your heels to return to the top.

2. Front Squat

best leg exercises

The front squat is similar to the back squat. The only difference is that you hold the bar across the front of your shoulders instead of the back. This puts more emphasis on quads and less emphasis on glutes and hams. It also places less stress on the knees and lower back, so it’s good for those who are struggling with back or knee problems.

How To Do It:

  1. Start by setting the bar on a rack, level with the middle of your chest. Next, bring your arms up under the bar and grab with about shoulder-width hold. Keep your elbows forward and as high as possible.
  2. Unrack the bar and place it on top of your front deltoids and collarbone. Take one step backward from the rack and position your feet shoulder-width apart.
  3. Take a deep breath, brace your core and pull back your shoulder blades. Begin to slowly lower into a squat by first flexing the hips back and then bending your knees. Keep your heels down, knees wide apart and the torso strong. Lower until your upper legs are at least parallel to the floor.
  4. Drive through the midfoot to get back up. About halfway up, breathe out.

3. Romanian Deadlift

best leg strengthening exercises

The Romanian deadlift is a rather simple move that works your hamstrings, glutes and lower back. Additionally, the movement engages your forearms, core, spinal erectors and upper back. Of all these, hower, the main target is the hamstrings.

The exercise also teaches you how to maintain proper spinal position when lifting a heavy object.

How To Do It:

  1. You can start with the barbell either set up in the power rack level with your outstretched arms or you can start with it on the floor.
  2. Stand straight with feet hip-width apart and your shins almost touching the bar.
  3. Grab the bar with arms just outside of your knees and hold it at your hip level. Your arms should be straight, the knees slightly bent.
  4. Take a deep breath, tighten your core and start lowering the bar. Initiate the movement by breaking at the hip and maintaining the back flat and chest high. Imagine as if you’re trying to touch a wall behind you with your butt.
  5. At the bottom, your torso should be roughly parallel to the floor and you should feel a good stretch in the hamstrings.
  6. Flex your hamstrings and drive your hips forward to return the bar to the starting position.

4. Bulgarian Split Squat

best exercise to tone legs

The Bulgarian split squat is similar to the traditional split squat. The only difference is that you do it with the elevated the rear foot. It’s a small change but it does make the exercise a lot more difficult as it tests your balance and puts a greater load on your front leg.

You can do a Bulgarian split squat with either dumbbells or a barbell. If you find it difficult keeping balance during the movement, try using the Smith machine. Just keep in mind that it’s better not to use here as much weight as with the standard split squat because it can overburden your front leg.

How To Do It:

  1. Find an elevated platform, a bench or anything else that you can rest your rear foot on. It should be about knee height or lower. But if you’re going heavy, try a lower platform as it will require less balance.
  2. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, elevate your rear foot and place your front leg at about lunge-length in front of the bench. Most of the weight should be on your front leg.
  3. Keep your core braced, the hips square and start descending until your front thigh is almost horizontal and until your rear knee is almost touching the ground. Keep your chest up and make sure that your front knee doesn’t travel beyond your toes.
  4. Press through your front heel and ascend back to the starting position.

5. Lunges

leg toning exercises

The lunges are another popular leg exercise. It engages your entire lower body and also works your hip flexors and helps you improve your balance.

There are a lot of variations of this exercise. There are stationary lunges that you can do either forward, to the side or backward. And there’re also walking lunges, which make the exercise more functional. For best results, you can use a combination of these variations.

You can also do the exercise either with your bodyweight or add weights, such as dumbbells or a barbell.

How To Do It:

  1. Stand up straight with a bit narrower than shoulder-width stance. Grab two dumbbells and hold them by your sides.
  2. Take a step forward with one of the legs, while keeping the rear foot in a stationary position. Bend at the knees and lower your hips until your front thigh is parallel to the ground. The rear knee should be almost touching the ground and the front knee should be above your ankle.
  3. Press through your right foot and bring the body back up to standing.

6. Step-Up

good leg exercises

The step-ups are some of the most functional leg exercises. It works primarily your quadriceps but also engages your glutes, calves and hamstrings. It can also help you develop balance and jumping force.

If you’re a beginner, you can start doing the exercise with just your bodyweight. But if you want to make it a bit more difficult, you can use a barbell, dumbbells or put on a weight vest.

How To Do It:

  1. Find a step, bench, chair or any other sturdy elevated platform. Place your foot on it, so that your knee is bent at a 90-degree angle.
  2. Push through your front foot to propel your body upward until you’re standing with both feet on top of the bench.
  3. Return to the starting position by first bringing one foot down and then the other.

7. Hack Squat

great lower body exercises

Hack squats are some of the best quad building exercise that you can do. For this exercise, you can either use a barbell or a specialized machine. The advantage of the machine is that it will help you maintain proper form, so you can concentrate on moving weights. However, the downside is that the stabilizing muscles take a back seat.

If you’re using the machine, you can try different foot placements. For example, if you place them higher, it will put more emphasis on the glutes and hamstrings. And if you place them lower, that will put more load on the quads.

How To Do It:

  1. Start by loading the machine with the weight that is right for you.
  2. Step inside and position yourself with the back flat against the main pad and the shoulders hooked under the shoulder pads provided. Place your feet flat on the foot platform and keep them shoulder-width apart.
  3. Put your arms on the handlebars, brace your core and unhook the safety bars. Straighten your legs without locking your knees.
  4. Slowly lower the weight by bending at the knees but keeping a straight posture. Go down until your thighs are about parallel to the foot platform.
  5. Push through mainly your heels to go upward until you reach the starting position.

8. Leg Press

leg strengthening exercises at home

The leg press works the quads, glutes and hamstrings. However, the same as with the hack squat, you can put more emphasis on one or the other by choosing different foot placements. With feet lower on the platform, your quads will be doing most of the work. With feet higher, on the other hand, you put more emphasis on the glutes and hamstrings.

How To Do It:

  1. Start by choosing the proper weight on the machine.
  2. Sit on the machine and rest your back against the padded support. Place your feet (shoulder-width apart) on the footplate.
  3. Bend your knees and lower the platform, stopping before your heels start lifting off the pad.
  4. Brace your core and fire back to the starting position in one explosive move. Remember to keep your back flat against the seat pad and never fully lock out your knees when you’re in the starting position.

9. Calf Raise

leg exercises with weights

This is the best exercise for building strong calves. It particularly targets the larger, outermost muscle, which creates the shape and size of your calves.

Add dumbbells or a barbell to make the exercise more difficult.

How To Do It:

  1. You can either just stand on the floor or use a low platform, such as a step-aerobics platform.
  2. Stand tall with the balls of one foot planted firmly on the platform and the heel hanging over the edge. Raise the other leg and bend it at a 90-degree angle. Keep a tall spine and the core tight.
  3. Rise up on the balls of the foot until the heel is above the edge of the step and you’re standing on your tiptoes.
  4. Hold the position for a moment, squeeze your calf muscles and then lower your heel below the platform.
  5. Do a number of reps and then do the same with the other leg.

10. Box Jumps

great leg workouts

The box jumps are a plyometric move that trains all your lower body muscles, which include the glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves. On top of that, they also help you build speed and improve cardio endurance.

You can make the exercise easier or more difficult by choosing a lower or higher box. Start with a lower one so you can learn the form first. Then you can progress to a higher box.

How To Do It:

  1. Stand straight facing the box, your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Lower yourself into a quarter squat and swing your arms down to get into the takeoff position. Jump as high as you can and land in the center of the box.
  3. Jump back down trying to land as softly as possible.

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