For many athletes, being a CrossFitter is about group fitness. It means showing up at your box, having the WOD (workout of the day) explained to you by a coach, and getting after it with your fellow gym members. You’ll get stronger pretty quickly, but you won’t necessarily be designing your own workouts.
But you might be looking to supplement your WODs — or do CrossFit workouts at home or in your garage gym — with strength-building exercises. Specifically, CrossFitters need strong, powerful legs to keep up with everything from chippers to ladders and everything in between.
Here, you’ll find the best leg exercises for CrossFitters to boost their lower body strength, power, and endurance. Your WODs will thank you for the accessory work.
Best Leg Exercises for CrossFitters
- Back Squat
- Front Squat
- Overhead Squat
- Pistol Squat
- Walking Lunge
- Wall Ball
- Box Jump
- Double Under
- Sled Push
- Sled Pull
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Why Should CrossFitters Train Their Legs?
Generally speaking, if you consider yourself a CrossFitter, your legs endure a lot of hammering from your regularly-scheduled WODs. Sure enough, those intensive workouts — from Murph all the way through the famous CrossFit Total — are never short of leg-burning sensations.
But if you want to get better at your sport, you might want to consider giving your legs a little extra love. The name of the game in CrossFit is endurance. Yes, you have to be strong. Yes, you’ll usually develop a solid amount of muscle. But more than anything, you need to have the mental and physical endurance to push past muscular fatigue and even pain.
When your WOD is pushing your legs to the limit, it’ll help to have more generally powerful legs and a higher work capacity. The stronger you make your lower body outside of your WODs, the harder you’ll be able to push when it counts. Just like you work your core to improve the quality and strength of your big lifts, you need to train your legs for the bigger picture.
And it’s not just about getting stronger. Improve your form by racking up practice reps outside the high-pressure environment of a timed WOD. Leg exercises can help you improve on any technical weaknesses or lagging muscle groups so you can come back to your WODs ready to crush whatever’s put in front of you.
This doesn’t have to mean pushing yourself to the max with each leg exercise you do. Consider integrating extra leg training volume into your cool-downs, warm-ups, or even active recovery days. You might also choose to swap out a day or two of going hard in your WODs to focus entirely on your legs instead.
Leg Exercises for CrossFitters
You’ll get plenty of leg work in during your WODs, but that doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from a little extra lower body volume on the side. You’ll find the leg exercises for CrossFitters listed below to be familiar staples from classic CrossFit workouts. Separate them out to practice perfecting your form, adding leg strength, or improving weaknesses.
While many powerlifters opt to emphasize the low bar back squat in their programming, CrossFitters may instead opt for the high bar back squat. This version still allows you to load up extremely heavy, but the high bar squat is more directly applicable to the weightlifting-style movements that are so common in CrossFit.
That said, whichever form of the back squat you choose, know that certain WODs will call on you to bring your all to the floor in just one rep. The CrossFit Total, for example, will have you find your one-rep max for the back squat (and the shoulder press and deadlift).
Benefits of the Back Squat
- The king of leg exercises, the back squat will build total-body strength with a hefty emphasis on your lower body.
- You’ll need to build tremendous upper back strength to pull this lift off, especially if you’re opting for a low bar back squat.
- High bar back squats translate into increased strength in your Olympic lifts.
How to Do the Back Squat
To perform a high bar back squat, step under the barbell and rest it on your traps. Take a solid grasp of the bar with your hands, keeping your elbows down and tight. Exhale all your air, brace your core, then take a giant inhale. Stand up with the bar on your back and walk the bar out. Reestablish your footing and core brace as needed.
Sink into a squat. Keep the bar path directly above your midfoot. Once your thighs break parallel, push through your feet to come back up to standing.
The front squat is a classic squat variation that can help elevate your squat game to a whole new level. By holding the barbell in a front-rack position, you’re placing more emphasis on your core throughout the movement. You’ll also be emphasizing your quads. Both are essential for successful CrossFitters.
The front squat makes up the bottom component of cleans and thrusters, which makes it a key component to so many CrossFit workouts. This lift is also itself a variation that you often must perform in WODs. It pays to get very comfortable in this sometimes awkward position.
Benefits of the Front Squat
- The strength and postural integrity you develop with this lift will directly transfer into your Olympic lift strength and power.
- This move builds your entire lower body, with an emphasis on your quads and core.
- You’ll often perform front squats for your WODs, as well as moves like front-rack lunges.
How to Do the Front Squat
Clean the bar into a front rack position. Alternatively, step under the bar and sweep your elbows up and out in front of you. Place your fingertips under the bar at shoulder width. Rest the barbell on your front delts, keeping it somewhat against your neck. It’s normal for this position to be uncomfortable, especially at first.
Sink into a squat, keeping your elbows high and pointed away from you the entire time. Maintain an upright torso. Keep the bar path above your midfoot. Once your thighs break parallel, push the ground away with your feet and come back to standing.
The overhead squat is also a lift you’ll see in many CrossFit workouts of the day. Often, you’ll see this move programmed with a relatively light weight at high reps, meaning that you’ll need to get extremely comfortable with the mobility and strength requirements of this lift.
A huge benefit of adding the overhead squat to your CrossFit leg training is technique. This is a particularly difficult lift to master because it requires so much hip, ankle, shoulder, and thoracic mobility. It’s also the bottom component of the snatch, so it’s something you’ll want to get very strong and secure in.
Benefits of the Overhead Squat
- Practicing the overhead squat is bound to make your snatch a whole lot stronger, as this move comprises the bottom portion of that complex movement.
- You’ll develop a tremendous amount of mobility in your hips, ankles, shoulders, and thoracic spine.
- This move is found in a lot of CrossFit WODs, making it a tremendously important leg and back-building move to practice.
How to Do the Overhead Squat
If your snatch technique is on point, snatch the bar overhead. If you need a less energetically and technically demanding way to begin, get under the bar in the squat rack. Take a snatch grip on the bar. Unrack it, establish a strong lower body position, then push press it off your traps and into a snatch position overhead.
With the bar above your head and your elbows locked out, squat down. Maintain your balance. When you reach the bottom of the squat, press through your feet and through your hands to stand up. Repeat for reps.
The thruster is a favorite of many CrossFitters and a sworn enemy of others. This complex movement involves sinking into a front squat and then seamlessly transitioning into an overhead press as you come into standing.
Your feet will stay in the same place the whole time, and the idea is generally that you’ll perform this move for high reps. This recruits a tremendous amount of energy and muscle mass from your entire body. But the principal drivers here are — you guessed it — your legs.
Benefits of the Thruster
- This is a classic exercise found in many CrossFit WODs, so practicing your technique and building your strength here is essential.
- The thruster builds your lower body while also developing incredible upper body strength and endurance.
- You’ll get in an intense cardio workout from thrusters since you’ll be recruiting muscle mass from all over your body in such an explosive way.
How to Do the Thruster
Get into a front squat position. Sink into a front squat. Explode up out of the squat, using your leg drive to send the bar up and overhead in a push press. Catch the bar back in a front rack position and immediately transition back down into a squat. Repeat for reps.
Sometimes, you’ll find high-rep deadlifts in a CrossFit workout, while other times you’ll be pushing it to your max weight. Whichever type of deadlifting you come across, you’ve got to practice the lift itself to set yourself up for success.
Benefits of the Deadlift
- The deadlift is one of the ultimate builders of maximum strength, useful to everyone from weekend warriors to elite strongwoman athletes and — yes — CrossFitters.
- This move will build your posterior chain like no other, firing up your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back.
- You’ll require a lot of upper body strength for this, too — lats, anyone? — which is essential for CrossFitters.
How to Do the Deadlift
Step up to a loaded barbell with your feet roughly hip-width apart so that your shoelaces are underneath the bar. Hinge at your hips and bend your knees until your shins are touching the bar. Grasp the bar just outside your legs with the deadlift grip of your choice. CrossFitters may prefer a double overhand grip or hook grip.
Activate your lats by pulling your shoulders back and down. Exhale all your breath, brace your core, and take a big inhale. Press the floor away with your feet, dragging the bar up along your shins until you’re standing with your hips locked out. Repeat for reps.
The single-leg squat — popularly referred to as a pistol squat — is a tremendous test of unilateral leg strength, balance, coordination, and even core strength. You need to tick a lot of boxes to perform even one successful rep and replicate it on both sides.
Can’t do a pistol squat yet? That’s where modifications come in. You can grab a weight bench or a plyo box and perform box pistol squats. You can also stand on top of a plyo box and use one leg to sink down into a squat while the other hangs loose off the side.
Or, perform pistol squats while holding onto TRX bands or strong resistance bands to keep you stable and assist your lift. Either way, you’ll be building unilateral strength and technique as you build up to your first pistol squat.
Benefits of the Pistol Squat
- The one-legged squat develops a tremendous amount of leg strength, particularly in your quads and glutes.
- You’ll develop an extraordinary amount of balance, core strength, and full-body control by conquering this bodyweight squat variation.
- This move will help iron out any strength imbalances between your legs in no time.
How to Do the Pistol Squat
Set yourself up to perform a bodyweight squat. Brace your core and extend your arms out in front of you. Root through the ground with one leg and extend the other out in front of you. Sink down into a one-legged squat, maintaining your balance. Once you reach the bottom position, push up through your leg until you come back to standing.
You’ll want to use as many variations of this move as you can integrate into your program. Perform overhead walking lunges and front-rack walking lunges as regularly as your strength, mobility, and coordination allow.
Benefits of the Walking Lunge
- Variations of the walking lunge are found very often in CrossFit WODs, so giving yourself the opportunity to practice gives you a competitive edge.
- The walking lunge develops a tremendous amount of unilateral leg strength, which keeps your strength and muscle mass balanced on both sides of your body.
- This move demands a great deal of hip mobility, especially when you take your back knee all the way to the ground with each rep.
How to Do the Walking Lunge
Perform this move with your body weight or with free weights held at your sides, overhead, or in front rack position. Take a step forward, big enough that your knees will both reach 90 degrees when you bend them. Avoid stepping so far that your back leg will not be able to reach the ground by the time your front leg reaches 90 degrees.
When your back knee touches the ground, stand back up. Take another step forward immediately, or briefly pause with both feet underneath you before going again.
The dreaded CrossFit WOD Karen consists of only one movement — 150 wall ball shots for time. Even at an elite level, there are very few WODs that will leave you as sore as this torturous leg day to end all leg days.
Even if you’re not tackling Karen, learning to perfect wall balls will build a tremendous amount of leg strength and mental toughness. You’ll get a solid upper body and conditioning workout in the mix, too.
Benefits of the Wall Ball
- This explosive exercise will develop strength all across your body, taxing your legs and upper body all at once.
- You’ll get in an extremely effective conditioning workout any time you perform this move.
- Wall balls are found in many classic CrossFit WODs, so developing strength and skill here will serve you well.
How to Do the Wall Ball
Stand in front of a wall or a rig with a wall ball target. Hold a medicine ball in both hands at chest height. Sink into a squat. Explosively stand back up, using your leg drive to help you toss the ball either at the wall above your head or at the wall ball target. Catch the ball with both hands and immediately go back into a squat. Repeat for reps.
This move is also pretty advanced all on its own. You’ll build strength and power throughout your lower body. This power will come in handy when you’re nearing the end of a long, painful WOD and you need to keep jumping.
Benefits of the Box Jump
- This move is found in many CrossFit WODs, so building up the skills, strength, and endurance you need to pull this off will come in handy.
- The box jump is a power-building move that will also help you build leg muscle and strength.
- Performing the box jump will help you progress to advanced variations to develop your lower body’s explosive power even further.
How to Do the Box Jump
Set up a plyo box in front of you. Sink into an air squat with your arms sweeping back behind you. Swing your arms up and in front of you as you squat up explosively, using the momentum to jump up onto the box. Land softly with both feet. Step or hop down and repeat.
Jumping rope isn’t just for kids or boxers. There’s a reason CrossFit boxes have their pick of jump ropes along with bigger ticket items like power racks and rowing machines. The humble jump rope can yield not-so-humble results with moves like the double under.
With this move, the rope will be passing under your feet twice per rotation. This is a tremendously difficult move to accomplish. Learning to do so will challenge your coordination and conditioning all at once. You’ll also build up plenty of calf strength in the process.
Benefits of the Double Under
- Practicing this technically difficult and physically demanding move is a must for CrossFitters, who will often see this show up in high-intensity WODs.
- You’ll develop a tremendous amount of calf strength through this move, directly training a part of your body that is often overlooked.
- Double unders will tax your cardiovascular system tremendously, building your cardiovascular endurance and tolerance for performing technically demanding work under pressure.
How to Do the Double Under
Using a speed rope, warm up your feet and wrists with a few single unders if necessary. Keep your elbows close to your body and hold the handles at approximately a 45-degree angle. Jump higher than you need to when performing single unders. Pass the rope under your feet twice before landing.
The sled push is a versatile move that you can use to finish your legs off after an intense session. Alternatively, you can program sled pushes for active recovery days, since the concentric contractions can help your muscles recover from intense activity.
Benefits of the Sled Push
- Many variations of this move are found throughout CrossFit workouts, so developing the proper technique and strength is critical.
- The sled push develops a lot of lower body strength, endurance, and power all at once.
- You can deploy sled pushes to add some variety and conditioning to your active recovery days.
How to Do the Sled Push
Grasp the handles of the sled with your arms extended, but keep your elbows bent. Maintaining the same arm angle throughout your push, drive your legs into the ground and shove the implement forward. Keep your torso at an angle and make sure you’re breathing throughout your allocated time or distance.
The cousin of the sled push, the sled pull is going to tax you mentally and physically — but it’s a great option for building your entire posterior chain. Like the sled push, a variation of this move will occasionally rear its head in your local box or at the CrossFit Games themselves.
To prepare for as many types of sled pulls as possible, opt to keep your training varied. Hand-over-hand pulls will emphasize your upper back while keeping your lower body more or less isometrically braced. But backward sled pulls and forward-facing sled pulls will directly challenge your lower body and cardiovascular system.
Benefits of the Sled Pull
- Variations of this move are also found in different WODs, so it helps to get familiar with the demands and personalized techniques you can use.
- Lower body pulling is an often overlooked aspect of training, especially when you’re thinking beyond deadlift variations.
- Sled pulls are extremely demanding on your full body, including your cardiovascular system.
How to Do the Sled Pull
There are many different ways to perform a sled pull. One common method is to secure a battle rope around a weighted sled and hold each handle in your hands while facing the sled. Brace your core and lean back slightly. Keeping your upper back steady and your hands near your waist, walk backward for the prescribed amount of time or distance.
How to Program CrossFit Leg Exercises
Adding more leg work to your CrossFit repertoire can help you in a variety of ways. You might be looking to boost your strength, or maybe just improve those form imperfections in your overhead squat or double unders. Whatever the case may be, here’s how to work leg exercises into your routine.
It’s not necessary to go extra hard with your leg workouts. As a CrossFitter, you’re already giving yourself a lot of hard and heavy lower body volume with your usual WODs. You don’t necessarily need — or want — to add more full training sessions to your week.
Instead, try to integrate bodyweight or very light versions of certain leg exercises into your warm-ups. Walking lunges are particularly great for mobilizing your hips, which can be a huge asset to your upcoming workout. Overhead squats with a resistance band or an empty barbell will similarly get you ready for a heavy, leg-focused WOD.
Your cool-down isn’t the place to add a whole lot of intensive training volume. But adding a finisher to your workout is a classic way to boost training intensity and pack in a whole lot of volume in a small amount of time.
Consider adding a leg-intensive finisher to the back end of your WOD. This way, you’ll be giving the majority of your energy to the main course of your workout. You’ll still get to tack on leg-specific volume to help you build muscle, endurance, and strength — but it won’t take energy away from your WOD.
Swap Out Some WODs
Since WODs are often extremely intensive, you might not have the capacity to add any additional leg work to your program. But if a lack of sufficient leg strength is causing you to plateau, you might consider swapping out one or two WODs per week in favor of leg-focused strength training.
By switching a WOD for a more traditional leg day, you’ll give your body a chance to focus on getting your legs stronger for the next big effort. Stepping back to form that basis of strength or power can be helpful in the long run toward making you a better CrossFitter.
CrossFit Leg Training Tips
If you’re going to add leg-specific training into your CrossFit repertoire, make sure you’re doing it right. Check out these tips for training that leg power without accidentally doing more harm than good.
Use Tempo Training
Generally speaking, CrossFit workouts will have you moving more fast and furious than slow and steady. Yes, moving steadily and pacing yourself is often a huge part of the strategy of CrossFit. Still, there’s a difference between strategic pacing and moving physically slowly.
However, you might want to slow down your reps to prepare your body for that immense time under tension you’ll spend during longer WODs. You can integrate pause reps, 1 ½ reps, and even speed reps to manipulate your tempo during leg workouts. All of this will help spur leg muscle growth and strength — in turn, that all will help during your programming.
Allow for Recovery
It’s easy to get caught up in the never quit attitude of CrossFit and push yourself too hard. Make sure you’re putting enough emphasis on recovery to ensure that you can continue making progress in your sport. This involves eating and sleeping enough while making sure you’re committed to mobility training and programming both rest days and active recovery days.
Adding extra leg work to the mix might be tempting if you need to bump up your leg strength and endurance to improve your chipper time. But you still have to make sure you’re recovering between sessions.
To consolidate your recovery, consider adding your extra leg training right after your WOD as a finisher instead of trying to stack it onto another day when your legs are already sore. You can also integrate bodyweight or light weight leg exercises into your warm-up to give your legs extra volume at a much lower intensity.
Respect Your Form
Your biggest competition in CrossFit is often the clock. It’s tempting to cheat your form to get in those reps. As long as it’s kind of right, the allure of less-than-optimal form for the sake of moving faster is strong.
But especially if you’re not trying to compete at an elite level, the potential risks of compromising form for the sake of speed are likely not worth it. Taking a few extra seconds to ensure that your lifts are all performed with top-notch quality can go a long way toward helping you have more longevity in the sport.
Mastery Before Load
This one is related to form, but it’s got its own CrossFit spin. CrossFit — like powerlifting, weightlifting, and strongman competitions — has rules. If you’re a weightlifter adding walking lunges to your program, it’s not a form crime if your knee doesn’t touch the ground for each and every rep.
But as a CrossFitter, you’ll want to master each move according to the sport’s general rules. While each competition and each year may have different movement standards, there are some things you can typically count on — for example, that your knees should touch the ground during lunges to avoid a no-rep.
Train for that type of movement precision and mastery before hefting more weight onto the bar. Your progress might feel slower, but your total strength and mobility will benefit tremendously. This will give you a more efficient workout and holistically build your fitness.
Get a Leg Up on Your WODs
Your legs are no small part of each CrossFit workout you do. Even WODs that are slanted toward taxing your upper body tend to torch your lower body, too. Building strong legs is a cornerstone of any CrossFitter’s toolbox. Give yourself a competitive edge in your box, in the Open, or even in your own home gym by taking care of business on leg day.
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