5 Exercises Weightlifters Can Do to Improve Leg and Squat Strength

Leg strength, more specially your squatting (front and back) and pulling abilities, are key factors that affect weightlifting performance, aside from technique and power application. When progressing throughout training, leg strength may stall, for whatever reason, leaving many lifters (like myself at times) frustrated and compelled to squat their lives away.

While front and back squatting are critical movements in the training of maximal strength and muscular development, certain exercises can also play a complementary role in the overall progress of lower body strength capacities. Implementing such exercises within a training regimen in assistance training blocks can increase lead to improvements in:

  • Muscular Hypertrophy: Increases in lean muscle mass can result in a greater pool of motor units and tissue that can be trained to produce more force and explosiveness.
  • Neural Adaptations: Increased motor unit activity, synchronization, and rate of force development can offer when implementing the below exercises, which can result in more strength and explosiveness.
  • Maximal Performance: While there is a specific skill-set needed to perform well at near maximal or maximal levels, increases in lean muscle mass, neural activity, strength, and power output can significantly affect maximal performance.

Therefore, in this article we will offer five leg-specific assistance exercises that weightlifters, powerlifters, and functional fitness athletes can build into current training programs to improve leg and squat strength capacities. It is important to note that while back and front squats do not appear on this list, those two exercises should be primary movements to develop strength and muscle i.e. development, with the below supplemental exercises used to facilitate optimal development.

Walking Lunges

A video posted by Mike Dewar (@mikejdewar) on


This unilateral exercise can help athletes to overcome any asymmetries and imbalances that may be present in the loading of the hip, knee, and ankle joints while assuming a squat. Walking lunges, when done with a normal stride (when walking, have the front heel he nearly in line with the back knee to mimic best the high bar squat patterning) can increase muscle activation (see the science behind unilateral training here) and overall development of the quads, hamstrings, and glutes.

Deficit Stiff-Leg Deadlifts

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While this is a deadlift variation, it can offer hamstring, glutes, and erector strength and development. The development of the posterior chain will allow for greater hip strength and explosiveness, both keys to squatting and weightlifting.

Leg Press

A video posted by Julio G (@juliusmaximus24) on


In the event you have access to a leg press or hack squat machine, I highly recommend you include this training exercise within your training routine, even if only used every few weeks. While this may not translate directly to patterning of the squat, this exercise can be used to target the quads and hips while minimizing the load on the spine, making it a great way to add quality training volume and increase muscle hypertrophy.

Goodmornings


Hip, hamstring, and back strength (lower, middle, and upper) are necessary for stability and strength in the squat. Goodmornings are a great exercise to develop a stronger “packing” of the back similar to that needed while squatting, and can be programmed to increase a lifter’s ability to resist spinal and thoracic flexion under loads. The added benefit of hip and hamstring engagement can further facilitate improvements in overall leg and squat strength.

Jump Squats

A video posted by Mr. Rice Guy (@riisinkeitin) on


Jump squats are a plyometric-based exercise offering weightlifter the ability to train muscle fibers to recruit faster and fire in synchronization, which equates to greater force and power output. The additional development of the eccentric training (when jumps are done in cyclical fashion) can translate to increase control and stability under loads high velocities, similar to the receiving positions of the snatch and clean.

Additional Must-Reads

Increasing squat strength can be very straight forward (progressive overload) and/or a complicated matter (neural adaptations, addressing technical faults, or assistance training). The below articles can assist you on your pursuit of squatting ungodly numbers (relative to your abilities), each addressing various aspects for maximal development.

Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Featured Image: @juliusmaximus24 on Instagram

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Mike holds a Master's in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Mike has been with BarBend since 2016, where he covers Olympic weightlifting, sports performance training, and functional fitness. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at New York University, in which he works primarily with baseball, softball, track and field, cross country. Mike is also the Founder of J2FIT, a strength and conditioning brand in New York City that offers personal training, online programs for sports performance, and has an established USAW Olympic Weightlifting club.In his first two years writing with BarBend, Mike has published over 500+ articles related to strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, and fitness. Mike’s passion for fitness, strength training, and athletics was inspired by his athletic career in both football and baseball, in which he developed a deep respect for the barbell, speed training, and the acquisition on muscle.Mike has extensive education and real-world experience in the realms of strength development, advanced sports conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, and human movement. He has a deep passion for Olympic weightlifting as well as functional fitness, old-school bodybuilding, and strength sports.Outside of the gym, Mike is an avid outdoorsman and traveller, who takes annual hunting and fishing trips to Canada and other parts of the Midwest, and has made it a personal goal of his to travel to one new country, every year (he has made it to 10 in the past 3 years). Lastly, Mike runs Rugged Self, which is dedicated to enjoying the finer things in life; like a nice glass of whiskey (and a medium to full-bodied cigar) after a hard day of squatting with great conversations with his close friends and family.