Don’t Skip Leg Day. The 16 Best Leg Exercises for Muscle and Strength

Love it or hate it, leg day is non-negotiable. Use these 16 moves to get the most out of your leg training

Expert Verified By: Dr. Mike T. Nelson

You did not hear it here first, but it bears repeating: train your legs. Leg day can be a painful, DOMS-inducing experience, but ignoring your lower half also robs the body of more muscle, enhanced movement, and increased calorie burn. Also, do you want to look like Hercules upstairs and Chicken Little from the waist down?

To further enlighten you to the benefits and, dare we say, the fun of training your legs, we compiled a list of the best leg exercises. Further down, we also dive into the benefits of leg training, how to train them, and more.

Best Leg Exercises

  1. Back Squat
  2. Front Squat
  3. Bulgarian Split Squat
  4. Leg Press
  5. Hack Squat
  6. Romanian Deadlift
  7. Nordic Hamstring Curl
  8. Landmine Goblet Squat
  9. Reverse Lunge
  10. Barbell Hip Thrust
  11. Leg Extension
  12. Seated Leg Curl
  13. Lying Leg Curl
  14. Standing Calf Raise
  15. Prowler Push
  16. Assault Bike

Back Squat

The Back Squat — often referred to as the king of lower body exercises — is a compound exercise that challenges every muscle in the legs. It also requires muscles in the upper body to stabilize the load and protect the spine — making it one of the most effective full-body exercises you can do. The back squat leads to strength and muscle gain and reinforces movement patterns we engage in daily, awarding it the triple crown when choosing an ideal exercise.

Benefits of the Back Squat

  • The back squat allows for more loading compared to many other leg movements.
  • The back squat recruits the core and strengthens your postural muscles.
  • This exercise leads to a gain in functional strength, allowing lifters of all ages to reap the benefits.

How to Do the Back Squat

Set a barbell in a power rack to shoulder height, loaded with an appropriate amount of weight. Get under the barbell, set the bar across your upper traps, or set the bar across your shoulder blades if you’re performing low-bar squats. Brace your core and lift the weight out of the rack. Take small steps back one foot at a time to get yourself into position. With your chest up, squat down until the bottoms of your thighs are parallel to the floor. Now, drive back up by pushing your feet through the floor.

Front Squat

The front squat can be a tremendous substitute for the traditional back squat. If you find that the barbell back squat aggravates your lower back or you have a shoulder injury, this front squat variation may suit you instead. Because you hold the barbell in front of you, this squat variation challenges the upper back and torso muscles — shifting the load from the back to the front. This also requires more thoracic stability and forces the lifter to be upright, better for core recruitment and posture.

Benefits of the Front Squat

  • The front squat can be more comfortable on the back for some lifters than a back squat as the weight is loaded in front of the body. 
  • The front-loaded position recruits more of your core and strengthens your upper back muscles to help improve your posture, too.
  • This move does not allow lifters to load the exercise too heavy, improving their ability to focus on proper technique.

How to Do the Front Squat

Set a barbell in a power rack to shoulder height, loaded with an appropriate weight. Extend your arms directly out in front of you so that your hands are touching the bar. Place your middle three fingers on the bar, and then drive your palms up. Bring your elbows underneath the bar so that they’re pointing straight forward. The bar should be resting across your upper chest. For lifters who lack the mobility to get into this position, another alternative starting position is to rest the bar on your collarbone (which hurts, yes) and cross your arms so they’re touching the opposite shoulder. This position is called the genie rack position. Step back, so the bar is out of the rack, and keep your elbows pointing forward. With your chest up, squat down until the bottoms of your thighs are parallel to the floor and drive through the floor with your feet to the top.

Bulgarian Split Squat

Elevating your leg on a bench creates instability and increases the exercise’s range of motion. The Bulgarian split squat’s instability forces you to balance, which recruits smaller stabilizing muscles in your hips and quads. Squatting with a more extended range of motion increases the muscle’s stretch — enhancing your mobility and the muscle-building tension placed on the glutes, hamstrings, and quads.

Benefits of the Bulgarian Split Squat

  • The increased range of motion for better mobility and more muscle recruitment.
  • The unilateral (single-sided) setup helps build coordination and improves balance.
  • The Bulgarian split squat creates instability, which recruits smaller stabilizing muscles.

How to Do the Bulgarian Split Squat

Hold a dumbbell in each hand and stand about a foot in front of a bench. Place one foot, laces down, on a bench. Brace your core and squat down until both of your legs bend to 90 degrees. You can squat down a little further, but don’t let your knee touch the floor. Hold this down position for a beat and then drive back up. 

Leg Press

The leg press doesn’t have you load your torso with weight and your back braces against a pad, which gives you more driving force. As a result, you can load this exercise up with more weight relative to most leg exercises. This factor makes the leg press a great accessory to getting bigger and stronger thighs. It’s also safer as you can rack the sled simply by turning the handles in and out. As a bonus, you can load and unload the leg press more quickly, making it useful for drop sets. You can perform a high-rep set, strip the weight plates, do another set, strip the plates, and so forth.

Benefits of the Leg Press

  • You can press heavier weights with just your legs.
  • The leg press allows you to essentially perform a squat but without the weight bearing down on your spine or torso. 
  • This is a great movement for high-rep sets and drop sets. 

How to Do the Leg Press

Sit in the leg press seat, and place your feet in the middle of the sled, about shoulder-width apart. Press the sled out of the rack, lower the safety bars, and then slowly lower the sled towards your chest until your thighs break 90 degrees. Press the sled back up but do not lock out your knees. If your lower back or hips lift off the seat as you drive the weight back up, you’re going too far down.

Hack Squat

The beloved brainchild of George Hackenschmidt, the hack squat has evolved to become one of the most popular and effective machine variations to add serious strength and muscle to your legs. Sharing attributes with the back squat, this exercise reinforces the squat movement pattern to build strength that translates into countless other lifts. As a bonus, the machine creates external stability, safeguarding against injury and helping work around pre-existing injuries as it has a predefined movement pattern.

Benefits of the Hack Squat

  • Because it’s a machine, the hack squat provides more stability compared to free-weight squat variations.
  • This move’s predefined path safeguards against injury and helps work around pre-existing injuries.

How to Do the Hack Squat

Your stance on the foot platform will closely mimic that of your back squat stance. You want your feet slightly outside shoulder width with feet angled slightly outward — they should be in line with the knee as it tracks forward during the descent. Your torso should be stable with your abdominals engaged and your lower back flat on the back pad. Maintain a neutral head position as you lower your body until the bottoms of your thighs are parallel to the foot platform and drive through your feet to the top.

Romanian Deadlift

This deadlift variation is nearly identical to the standard deadlift, except that you lower the barbell to mid-shin level by driving your hips back while keeping your core engaged with tension on your hamstrings and glutes. The Romanian deadlift is regarded as one of the best physique development variations, helping you build muscle, improve your regular deadlift, and strengthen your hips and lower back, resulting in a lesser chance of injury performing similar movements. 

Benefits of the Romanian Deadlift

  • The Romanian deadlift specifically targets the hamstrings, a muscle that flexes the knee joint.
  • The Romanian deadlift forces you to lift lighter weight with more control, strengthening your hips and lower back.
  • This move will carry over to your traditional deadlift.
  • The slow and controlled movement will help to build more hamstring muscle and strength. 

How to Do the Romanian Deadlift

Load a barbell up with less weight than you would for a traditional deadlift, but get in the same deadlift position — feet shoulder-width apart and hands gripping the bar just outside the knees. Raise your chest up and then drop your hips and pull-up on the bar until your hips are fully locked out. Now, push your hips back and lower the bar until it’s in the middle of your shins. You should feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Finish by driving your hips forward, bringing the weight back up to the starting position.

Nordic Hamstring Curl

This bodyweight hamstring curl has you kneel, with your feet anchored behind you, and lower your body towards the ground by flexing only your knees. This puts the onus on the hamstrings, and the hamstrings alone, to support your body weight. The Nordic hamstring curl is an excellent move to build muscle and prevent injury. One study in the Journal Physiotherapy had 50 elite soccer teams in Denmark complete their usual hamstring training for 10 weeks during a mid-season break. Half of the teams added two to three sets of five to 12 reps of Nordic hamstring curls one to three sessions per week. During that season, the group that added the Nordic curls had 15 total hamstring injuries compared to 52 in the non-Nordic curl group. (1)

Benefits of the Nordic Hamstring Curl

  • More muscle as you’re targeting your hamstrings primarily with your body weight.
  • Less risk of hamstring injury as eccentric (or lowering) strength has been linked to healthier hamstrings.
  • It can be performed anywhere you can anchor the foot.

How to Do the Nordic Hamstring Curl

Anchor your feet underneath something sturdy — a loaded barbell, a bench, the legs of a cable machine — and kneel on an exercise mat. Extend your arms out in front of you, keep your torso straight, and bend at the knees to slowly lower yourself towards the floor. The lower you get, the harder the move will feel as you’re further from the anchor point. Catch yourself with your hands, and then push your body back up to the starting position.

Landmine Goblet Squat

The landmine goblet squat is a great beginner-friendly squat variation that can be done anywhere you can access a barbell. The weight is loaded in the front, which forces your back to stay upright (otherwise, you’d collapse forward). The arc that the bar travels allows you to get into the bottom of the squat easier while staying upright in the torso, building and strengthening the quads. These are great for liters with mobility issues or for adding volume without the compressive load of the barbell on your back.

Benefits of the Landmine Goblet Squat

  • The arc of the barbell and the anterior load allow lifters with mobility issues to get into a good squat position.
  • Less compressive load on the spine allows the lifter to accumulate more volume with a lower risk of injury.
  • The upright position takes some pressure off the low back.

How to Do the Landmine Goblet Squat

Set one end of a barbell into a landmine base and rest the other end on a training bench or a plyo box. Load the elevated end with 45-pound plates. Ensure that the box is low enough so that you can squat to at least parallel without the plates bumping into the box or bench. Do not start this exercise from the floor; it’ll strain your lower back. Grab the barbell’s sleeve in both hands, stand up so that it’s off the box, and then perform a standard squat.

Reverse Lunge

Like any lunge, the reverse lunge is a unilateral exercise, which means it works one side of the body at a time. This alone is useful as it allows the target muscles (glute, hamstrings, and quads) of your body to catch up to another if right or left side dominant. The reverse lunge is also more stable than the forward or walking lunge as you’re not being thrown off balance by forward momentum. Instead, the reverse lunge is generally a more controlled move. The stability of this lunge makes it great for both beginners and advanced trainees who want to add weight to the movement — you’ll have an easier time loading a reverse lunge.

Benefits of the Reverse Lunge

  • It’s easier to control compared to other lunge variations, making it beginner-friendly. 
  • You’ll work one side of the body simultaneously, allowing lagging muscles to play catch up.
  • Advanced lifters can load up this lunge variation more safely than others as it’s stable.

How to Do the Reverse Lunge

Stand with your feet together, and keep your hands at your sides or on your hips. Take a step back with one leg until it’s behind you and your knee is an inch or so above the floor. Your front leg should bend at a 90-degree angle as well. Keep your chest up and facing forward. Now, drive through the balls of your front foot and stand back up with control. 

Barbell Hip Thrust

There are a few major benefits to the barbell hip thrust. For one, you can directly target your glutes, which are usually an auxiliary player in moves like the lunge, squat, and deadlift. Also, it helps strengthen your hip extension mechanics since that’s the primary function of the movement. Lastly, stronger glutes mean you’ll rely less heavily on your lower back for most related exercises, and so you should reduce your chance of low back injury.

Benefits of the Barbell Hip Thrust

  • You can directly target your glutes, more so than any other exercise, which will carry over to other exercises that require glute strength.
  • Stronger glutes will take some of the mechanical stress off of your lower back, which can reduce the chance of injury.
  • Seeing as the barbell hip thrust is a hip extension exercise, you’ll get far better at hip extension — and that also benefits other moves like the deadlift and squat.

How to Do the Barbell Hip Thrust

Load a barbell with rubber bumper plates (if possible), as you want the bar higher up off of the ground. Now, roll the barbell towards you, so it’s sitting on your hips. Place your upper back on a bench and bend your knees with your feet flat on the floor. Squeeze your glutes and drive your hips up, holding onto the barbell with both hands to prevent it from falling until your body is in a straight line from knee to chin. Hold this position for a beat and then lower the weight back down.

Leg Extension

The leg extension gets a lot of hate. Some people think it creates too much force on the knee and that it’s harmful. The leg extension is a stellar exercise to hone in on your quads when performed with control and proper form. Other benefits: It’s easy to learn and execute (there’s practically no learning curve), it doesn’t load your spine in any way, it requires less weight to be effective, and it targets the rectus femoris muscle in its shortened position — a quadriceps muscle that crosses the hip joint and plays an important role in helping stabilize the pelvis in other strength training exercises.

Benefits of the Leg Extension

  • You can directly target your quadriceps while avoiding adding more volume to other tissues.
  • Beneficial for training the quadriceps without the need to load the spine.
  • It loads the rectus femoris.

How to Do the Leg Extension

Adjust the back pad on the machine and line your knee up with the axis of rotation (signified by a dot or marker on the machine) and adjust the ankle pad, so it rests on your shoelaces to touch just above the shoe. Extend the knee to move the ankle pad, then accelerate into the rep until you reach the end range of the knee extension. Ensure your ankle is in dorsiflexion — toes pointed straight ahead or slightly up. Lower weight back down with control.

Prowler Push

You probably think that the prowler push is strictly for conditioning. At the very least, even if you know of its lower-body benefits, you’re probably wondering what it’s doing on our best leg exercises list. The driving force behind a prowler push is your legs. If you load up a prowler with heavy weight, you’re taxing your legs and eliciting a strength and hypertrophy response. It’s also less taxing on your back, as you’re bracing against the prowler with your upper body — nothing is sitting on you. Pushing a prowler also translates directly to your ability to sprint and run as you’re in the same position while pushing the prowler.

Benefits of the Prowler Push

  • Allows you to tax your legs with heavy weight without stressing your lower back. 
  • Improves your sprinting mechanics as you’re strengthening your legs in a more natural running position and practicing a powerful leg drive.

How to Do the Prowler Push

Load a prowler up with as much weight as you can handle for multiple sets of pushes. Stand in front of the poles, extend your arms, and grab them with your hands. Now, lean into the prowler with your arms bent to around 90 degrees. Your body should be at an angle with your feet behind you as if you were leaning into a sprint. Drive the prowler forward by pushing with your legs, and continue to move your legs in a slow and rhythmic motion.

Seated Leg Curl

This seated leg curl variation is a great way to challenge the hamstrings and calves. The pad on the machine helps create external stability — increasing stabilization of the pelvis — making it a great option for beginners. The increased stability allows for lower rep sets with a lot of weight. It’s also viable for higher rep sets that are taken deep into fatigue.

Benefits of the Seated Leg Curl

  • Creates a safe environment for beginners to accumulate volume on the hamstrings.
  • Increased stability allows for sets to be taken deeper into fatigue while maintaining form.
  • Challenges the hamstrings in a stretched position (hip flexion and knee extension).
  • Trains the calves in their role of knee flexion.

How to Do the Seated Leg Curl

Adjust the back pad on the machine and line your knee up with the axis of rotation (signified by a dot or marker on the machine). Adjust the thigh pad to touch just above the knee. The lower leg pad should be just above the shoe on the back of the leg. Start the movement by flexing at the knee. Continue the repetition until you reach the end position. Ensure your ankle is in dorsiflexion — toes pointed straight ahead or slightly up. Control the weight as you return to the starting position.

Lying Leg Curl

The lying leg curl offers a unique benefit: It allows you to fully isolate your hamstrings, allowing you to isolate the hamstrings — which can be great for additional muscle gains. Keeping your abs and lats engaged throughout the range of motion helps stabilize your upper body, making it easier to create more force in the lower body and keep the focus on the hamstrings. 

Benefits of the Lying Leg Curl

  • Allows beginners to accumulate volume on their hamstrings.
  • Challenges the hamstrings in their fully contracted position (hip extension and knee flexion).
  • Trains the calves in their role of knee flexion.

How to Do the Lying Leg Curl

Adjust the leg pad on the machine and line your knee up with the axis of rotation (signified by a dot or marker on the machine) and adjust the ankle pad to touch just behind the ankle. Engage the hamstrings and bring your heels to your butt. Ensure your ankle is in dorsiflexion — toes pointed straight ahead or slightly up. Control the weight as you return to the starting position.

Standing Calf Raise

The standing calf raise can be done using a machine, standing with a barbell on the back, or holding a pair of weights to the sides. Since the lifter is standing, the knees are extended (not locked out), which targets the gastrocnemius and soleus in their role of flexing the ankle. Strengthening the calves can help bring more stability around the ankle and knee and translate into compound exercises like the back squat and walking lunge.

Benefits of the Standing Calf Raise

  • Strengthens and adds size to the calves.
  • Stronger calves add stability around the ankle and knee.
  • Easy to load and perform.

How to Do the Standing Calf Raise

Stand up straight with your legs extended (slight bend at the knee) with the balls of your feet on the step and the load atop the shoulders. Unrack the weight and slowly lower your heels as far as possible to the floor. Then lift your heels as far as possible, squeezing your calves at the top of the movement. Slowly lower down and repeat.

Assault Bike

The machine that everyone loves to hate. Take one good look at sprint cyclists like Robert Förstemann, and you’ll realize how effective biking can be for building lower body strength and muscle size. When used in conjunction with the rest of the exercises on this list, sprints on the Assault bike add more direct training volume to the quadriceps, glutes, and calves. This movement is also great for building up aerobic endurance and increasing how much lactic acid your body can handle during training — also known as your lactic threshold.

Benefits of the Assault Bike

  • Low impact way of building muscle, power, and endurance.
  • Builds muscle in quadriceps, glutes, and calves.
  • Easy to set up and perform for are ages and skill levels.

How to Do the Assault Bike

To set your seat up, place the ball of your foot on the pedal. After adjusting your seat height, sit down on the seat, placing both feet on the pedals with hands grasping the handles. Do not lock out your legs at the bottom of a revolution. Pedal and drive your arms back and forth in sync with your leg drive. The legs are what should be producing the most power, not your arms.

About the Leg Muscles

Knowing about the muscles in your legs and their functions may help you understand how to better train your lower body. 

Glutes

The glutes are key players in hip stability and strength during walking, jumping, sprinting, and strength training. The gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus help the hip extend, externally and internally rotate, and abduct (moving thigh away from the body). Strong and functional glutes can help alleviate lower back pain and make everyday movements, such as standing, walking, and climbing the stairs, that much easier. (2)

Adductors

The muscles of the inner thigh — known as the adductors — adduct the thigh (moving thigh toward the body) and act as important stabilizers of the pelvis during any movements. (3) Less known, the adductor magnus (the largest muscle in this group and sometimes referred to as the “mini hamstrings”) is a powerful hip extensor that contributes to movements like the back squat and Romanian deadlift. (3)

Hamstrings

The hamstrings attach to the pelvis and run down the back of the leg. These important muscles play a prominent role in hip extension, knee flexion, extension, and knee stability. If you’re training the lower body, they are involved in one way or another, even if you are not dynamically flexing and extending at the hip or knee. (4)

Calves

The calf muscles — most notably the gastrocnemius and soleus — flex the foot and ankle. Functionally, the calf muscle assists in knee flexion in movements like the leg curl and is an important muscle in stabilizing the knee during loaded carries and sled pushes, like the farmer’s carry and prowler push. (5)(6)

Quadriceps

The quadriceps — made up of rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius — flex and stabilize the knee and play a role in hip stability. During walking exercises like the farmer’s carry and prowler push, the quadriceps work double-time to help stabilize the hips while also extending the knee during the carrying stage. (7)

The Benefits of Training Your Legs

There are plenty of reasons to train your legs: Leg training improves one’s ability to explode; leg exercises burn more calories; leg muscle is aesthetic, and all of the movements on this list will help you move better overall. Here, we’ll dig deeper into the reasons why one shouldn’t skip leg days.

You’ll Become More Powerful

Almost every full-body movement starts from the ground up — sprinting, jumping, even throwing a punch. So it reasons that strengthening your legs will result in more effective movement all around. One study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine had 20 athletes perform four sets of 10-rep max back squats twice a week for six weeks to see how it affected their strength and power output. After six weeks, the subjects improved their leg press strength, countermovement squat jump performance, and sprint. (8

You’ll Burn More Calories

There are many factors in play when determining how many calories a person burns per exercise — like their weight, height, body fat percentage, how hard they’re working, and so on. It turns out, which exercise you choose matters, too. A 2017 study in the journal PLOS One measured the calorie-burning effect of eight exercises (three lower-body moves and five upper-body moves). The researchers divided 58 males into four groups and assigned two exercises per group.

The subjects performed a five-minute-long constant intensity set with as much as 24% of their one-rep max. They then performed “exhaustive bouts” with 80% of their one-rep max. The results showed that the leg exercises (half-squats, leg press, and leg extensions) performed with 80% of one’s one-rep max produced up to 20 calories burned per minute. (9)

You’ll Be More Symmetrical 

You don’t need a fancy study to tell you that if you don’t train your legs, they won’t grow — and then, what, you’ll be the guy with biceps the size of his thighs? Even if you never plan to compete in a bodybuilding show, there’s an aesthetic benefit to having muscular legs to go along with your chest, back, shoulders…you get the idea. 

Leg Training Can Improve Your Ability to Move

Aside from moving more quickly and powerfully, training your legs can improve your everyday mobility. Though you think you’re only hip-hinging or squatting when you’re in the gym, that’s not the case. Any time you bend over to pick something up, you’re hinging at the hips. If you get up and down from a chair, you’re squatting. Heck, walking down the stairs is essentially a lunge. See the point?

The squats, lunges, and deadlifts you perform in the gym will, over time, make you stronger and more proficient at the movements we engage in daily. This is especially true as we age. The older one gets, the weaker they can become and, as a result, less coordinated and mobile. An analysis of studies on PubMed that explored the effects of strength training in the elderly concluded that strength training in the senior population could reduce sarcopenia (or muscle loss) and retain motor function. (10)

How to Train Your Legs

The leg muscles give strength and structure to the lower body. As such, you’ll either want to train your legs on their own or paired with a couple of your upper body workouts. Here are three benchmarks for leg training — it’s up to you to decide how to integrate them into your routine.

Sets and Reps

Performing 12 to 18 sets per week is likely a great starting point for anyone looking to grow their legs. More advanced trainees could potentially exceed 18 sets per week if their goal is to grow a specific part of the legs over another. Choose three to four exercises from this list and divvy up your training sets equally among them. Try to balance movements that focus on hip flexion/extension and knee flexion/extension for equalized development and stimulus.

Man on leg press
K-STUDIO/Shutterstock

Remember, there is a limit to how much you can do per workout while still being productive. If you notice your performance dropping off, it may help to split up some of the training volume to a day later in the week. A training frequency of two to three sessions a week has been recommended to help maximize muscle growth. (11)

Exercise Selection

The exercises you choose play a significant role in the muscles being worked. Muscles of the leg work in synchronicity to achieve a wide range of movement patterns. Therefore, different muscles will be biased more depending on the actions being performed. When choosing exercises to perform, you want to pick exercises that:

  • Give sufficient load to the muscle without excessive stress on the surrounding joints.
  • Line up the resistance with the muscle(s) you want to train. 
  • Work around pre-existing injuries or limitations.
  • It can be performed with the equipment in your gym space.
  • When it comes to training the legs, there are many great options for exercises and tools to get the job done — including cables, machines, free weights, and body weight.

Exercise Order

It’s not only about what you do and how you do it; it matters when. Placing compound exercises first in your workout is preferred, especially for beginners. This is because the more fatigued you get, the worse your technique will become, potentially increasing the risk of injury later in the workout. Placing exercises like deadlifts and other barbell variations — that demand more from your body — toward the start of your workout will increase the effectiveness of your training. Here’s an example of how you may order the exercises in your next leg workout:

  • Back Squat
  • Romanian Deadlift
  • Leg Extension
  • Seated or Lying Leg Curl
  • Prowler Push or Assault Bike

The heavier, more challenging compound lifts are performed first while you’re nice and fresh, tapering down to targeted isolation work towards the end.

How to Warm Up Before Training Legs

A well-designed warmup helps reduce the risk of injury and improves readiness heading into your training session without generating excessive fatigue. Increased body temperature, an activated (excited) nervous system, and a prepared mental state can help increase readiness for the upcoming day of training. One of the most effective warm-ups for any muscle group is performing exercises in that day’s training session.

For example, if you’re performing back squats, you can warm up by performing light reps and increase intensity as you proceed towards your working sets. This ensures that the appropriate muscles and joints are primed, reducing the risk of injury and improving your overall training performance.

Leg Training Tips

Leg muscles support many different functions in the human body, both functionally and structurally. When training your legs to grow or get stronger, there are a handful of rules that can help you improve your performance while limiting the risk of injury.

Rule 1 — Breath and Brace

When loading heavy weight on your back, breathing and proper bracing become vital to your ability to safely and effectively maximize performance. The more you sharpen the skill, the more rhythmic and natural it becomes. Breathing is pretty standard with most movements. For free weight exercises and machines, it is a good rule of thumb to breathe in before you start the motion or go through the eccentric portion; breathe out as you go through the concentric part of the given exercise. To remain braced, maintain engagement of your core throughout your reps.

Rule 2 — Technique Matters

You won’t be able to reap the benefits of these movements without the right technique. Poor form leads to other muscles compensating for the ones that should be working. Someone with weak hips, for example, may hinge forward during a squat, placing undue stress on the lower back.

If you find yourself performing any of the movements listed above with poor form, the solution is most likely to lighten the load.

Rule 3 — Choosing the Best Exercises for You

Finding exercises that work well for you — your skill level, structure, and mechanics, alongside your goal — is important for maximizing your training experience. As you can see from this article, there are many different ways to train your legs. If you have been injured performing the back squat in the past, there are other ways to mimic this same stress on the body, such as the hack squat or leg press.

More Leg Training Content

The benefits of leg day go far beyond this article. After all, there are more than 16 moves to train your legs with and a myriad of ways to apply them to your training. Click on the links below for more information on training your legs. 

References

  1. Schache A. Eccentric hamstring muscle training can prevent hamstring injuries in soccer players. J Physiother. 2012;58(1):58. doi: 10.1016/S1836-9553(12)70074-7. PMID: 22341384.
  2. Neumann, Donald A., et al. Kinesiology of the Musculoskeletal System: Foundations for Rehabilitation. Elsevier, 2017.
  3. Jeno SH, Schindler GS. Anatomy, Bony Pelvis and Lower Limb, Thigh Adductor Magnus Muscles. [Updated 2020 Aug 10]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing; 2021. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK534842/
  4. Rodgers CD, Raja A. Anatomy, Bony Pelvis and Lower Limb, Hamstring Muscle. [Updated 2020 Aug 13]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing; 2021. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK546688/ 
  5. Binstead JT, Munjal A, Varacallo M. Anatomy, Bony Pelvis and Lower Limb, Calf. [Updated 2020 Aug 22]. StatPearls Publishing; 2021. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459362/
  6. Alshami, A. M., & Alhassany, H. A. (2020). Girth, strength, and flexibility of the calf muscle in patients with knee osteoarthritis: A case-control study. Journal of Taibah University Medical Sciences, 15(3), 197–202. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jtumed.2020.04.002
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