Strong legs are keys for strength, power, and fitness sports. Acquiring strong legs takes arduous training, consistent effort, and an understanding of the various muscle groups and movements that should be prioritized within a mass training program.
In this article we set out to offer lifters and coaches the best lower body mass building exercises to develop the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and more. Throughout this article, we’re going to cover two major topics including,
- The Muscles of the Lower Body
- The 6 Best Lower Body Exercises for Mass
Muscles of the Lower Body
Below are some of the larger muscle groups that make up the lower body and are trained by the below lower body mass-building exercises.
The quadriceps are one of the strongest muscles of the body, and run along the anterior aspect of the thigh.The quadriceps are actually a group of muscles (4), each producing knee extension; vastus lateralis (outer quad), vastus medialis (inner quad), vastus intermedius (middle quad), and the rectus femoris. Depending on the foot positioning, foot width, and placement of the loads, certain movements will target different muscle groups of the quadriceps.
The hamstrings run along the posterior aspect of the thigh and are responsible for hip and knee extension. Like the quadriceps, the hamstrings are comprised of individual muscles; biceps femoris, semimembranosus, and semitendinosus.
The gluteal muscles (otherwise known as the glutes) are comprised of three individual muscles; gluteus maximus, gluteus minimis, and gluteus medius. The glute muscles are responsible for hip extension, abduction, external rotation, and internal rotation of the hip.
The calves are responsible for ankle plantarflexion (toes into the floor)t. There are two individual muscles that make up the calves; the gastrocnemius and the soleus, both of which are important for walking, running, jumping, and maximal force production.
6 Best Lower Body Exercises for Mass
Below are six (6) of the best mass-building lower body exercises you can do to add quality muscle mass, size, and strength to the lower body.
Squats, whether your goal is strength, mass gaining, or endurance training, are a foundational movement for nearly every lifter. The squat and its wide variety of variations; such as high bar, front, overhead, low bar, etc, all have a place in leg mass training programs.
The squat effectively targets the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, back, and core. Programming the squat for mass can come in a wide array of formats, from lower volume higher intensity programs, to moderate intensity and higher volume training. Squats can also be used as an accessory movement on leg training days.
2. Romanian / Stiff Leg Deadlift
While regular/conventional and sumo deadlifts are potent hamstring and glute builders, they can often be limited by lower back strength. Deadlift variations like Romanian deadlifts and stiff leg deadlifts, however, are two great variations to isolate hamstrings and glutes to a higher degree and minimize strain to the lower back.
These are great movements to perform with tempos, slow eccentrics, and higher volume training if your goall is mass building. As an accessory exercise, try performing 3-4 sets of 8-15 repetitions with a light to moderate load with a slow, focused tempo. If you want to use these as a main mass building movement on a hamstring/glute day, try performing 3-5 sets of 5-8 repetitions with a moderate to heavy load.
3. Lunges / Split Squats
Unilateral lower body exercises like lunges, split squats, and all their variations are excellent muscle building movements. Unilateral training has been shown to increase muscle activation and hypertrophy, making these great movements to integrate after main bilateral strength work and/or use as your primary lower body exercise of the day.
Unilateral movements like lunges and split squats allow lifters to build symmetry, establish greater contractions, and often manipulate angles based on the lifter’s anthropometrics.
4. Belt Squat
The belt squat is a great way to pattern the squat and build quadriceps and gluteal mass without having to load the back/spine.
This exercise can also be used to help lifters add more muscle mass to their quadriceps, as the angles mimic that of a front squat. Typically, this exercise is trained in higher volumes (10+ reps) for a few sets (2-4 sets).
5. Leg Press
The leg press, while no substitution for movements like squats and lunges, can be a great accessory exercise to add mass to the quadriceps without having to load the spine. Many lifters will look to the leg press as a way to lift heavy, however, this often then leads to knee and hip pain in those who lack foundational movement patterns and strength often developed by squatting.
If you want to mix leg pressing into your workout program, which could very well increase muscle growth — try adding in deep full ranges of motion leg presses, feeling the stretch on the thighs. You do not need to go heavy on these, but rather focus on getting a low leg muscle pump and engaging the muscles to their fullest extent. Once you have mastered this, you can add more loading to the leg press if needed.
6. Lying Hamstring Curl
Truly isolating the hamstring can be tricky, as most deadlift variations are still dependent on the lower back and glutes to an extent. The lying hamstring curl, which can be done with a machine, resistance bands, cables, or sliders is a great way to isolate the hamstrings.
This exercise can be done in higher volumes to increase muscle hypertrophy, enhance blood flow to the tissues, and as a finisher for a good deadlift or squat day. Try adding this exercise at the end of workouts for 2-4 sets of 12-20 repetitions with a controlled tempo with moderate loads.
Want More Lower Body Mass-Building Exercises?
Growing some tree trunk thighs and powerful hamstrings take hard work and an unwavering commitment to put up with the challenging workouts and sometimes inevitable soreness. Here are a few more articles that can shed some light on leg mass training, why you need it, and how to integrate those exercises within your current program.