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The Best Muscle Workouts


The 15 Best Leg Exercises, and How to Plan a Leg Day

Strong legs do more than look good. Even the simplest daily movements like walking require leg strength. This means that…

By admint10m , in Legs , at July 17, 2021

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Strong legs do more than look good. Even the simplest daily movements like walking require leg strength. This means that incorporating leg workouts into your routine is integral to your health.

But you may wonder where to begin.

Whether you’re working out at home pandemic-style or back at the gym sweating it out, creating an effective leg workout doesn’t have to be complicated. Let’s dive in.

When it comes to designing an effective leg workout, simpler is better. The basic lower body movements — squats, hip hinges (deadlifts), and lunges — should comprise the majority of your programming.

These movements inherently focus on the major muscle groups of the legs: the glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves.

Once you master these movements, there are plenty of variations and ways to progress that will keep you challenged.

When designing your leg workout, here’s an easy way to break it down: Start with a squat movement, then move to a hip-hinge movement, then add in your single-leg movements.

As a beginner looking to increase general fitness — and following the theme of keeping things simple — choose 3–5 exercises per leg workout. Then complete 3 sets of 8–12 reps of each exercise, ensuring that you’re working your muscles to fatigue but not failure (1).

Why no more than 5 exercises? You’ll be able to focus on those integral movements, performing at your peak. If your workouts get too long, they can be unproductive.

Recent research suggests that when trying to maximize muscle growth, there’s not much difference between training the major muscle groups one time per week versus three times per week (3).

What makes the most difference in muscle growth is resistance training volume, meaning how many sets and reps you’re completing. Higher volume sessions (say, 3 sets of 12 reps, or even 4 sets of 8 reps) tend to produce better results than working the same muscle group multiple times in a week (4).

Summary

Simpler is better for leg workouts. Stick with the basic movements — squats, hip hinges, and lunges — and stick with 3 sets of 12 reps for each exercise.

An effective workout isn’t complete without a proper warmup and cooldown.

For your warmup, aim to start with 5 minutes of light cardio to get your heart rate up and blood flowing. If you have time, hop on the foam roller for 5 minutes of soft-tissue release.

Then, dive into a dynamic stretching routine, with movements like leg swings, hip openers, bodyweight squats, and lunges.

After your workout is a good time to complete a more in-depth stretching routine.

Summary

Warm up with some light cardio, foam rolling, and a quick dynamic stretching routine. Cool down with a nice stretch.

When crafting your next leg workout, choose from this list of 15 of the best leg exercises.

1. Back squat

Target your posterior chain — or the back of your body, including the glutes and hamstrings — with a back squat.

How to perform:

  1. Load a barbell on your traps and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Your gaze should be ahead, your chest should be proud, and your toes should be pointed slightly out.
  2. Sit back into your hips, bend your knees, and drop down toward the floor. Ensure that your knees move slightly out, and do not collapse in.
  3. Lower until your thighs are parallel to the ground — or as far down as your mobility allows — then push back up to the starting position.

2. Front squat

Target the front of your body — especially your quads — with a front squat.

How to perform:

  1. Load a barbell onto the front of your shoulders, hooking your fingers in an underhand grip on either side of your shoulders to support it. Push your elbows up and keep your gaze ahead.
  2. Sit back into your hips, bend your knees, and lower down toward the floor. Ensure that your knees track out and your chest stays proud, resisting the pull to fall forward.
  3. Lower until your thighs are parallel to the ground — or as far down as your mobility allows — then push back up to the starting position.

3. Romanian deadlift

Build your glutes, hamstrings, and calves, as well as mobility in your hips, with a Romanian deadlift.

How to perform:

  1. Hold a barbell or one dumbbell in each hand. Keep your back straight and your gaze straight throughout the movement.
  2. Begin to hinge forward at your hips, lowering your weight toward the ground with a slight bend in your knees. Allow the weights to closely follow the line of your legs, and lower until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings.
  3. Pause, then drive your hips forward to stand up, allowing your glutes to power the movement.

4. Good mornings

Wake up your hamstrings with the good morning, a hip-hinge movement.

How to perform:

  1. Load a barbell onto your traps and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. With soft knees, hinge at your hips and slowly move your torso toward the ground, sending your butt backward. Maintain a proud chest and keep your gaze straight throughout the movement.
  3. Lower down until you feel a stretch in your hamstring, then use your glutes to return to the starting position.

5. Walking lunges

Challenge your balance, as well as your quads, hamstrings, and glutes, with walking lunges.

How to perform:

  1. Start with your feet together. Hold a dumbbell in each hand if you want to perform a weighted walking lunge.
  2. Keeping your chest proud and gaze straight ahead, step forward, lunging with your right leg until your thigh is parallel to the ground.
  3. Push up through your right heel, coming back up to the starting position.
  4. Continue forward with the left leg.

6. Reverse lunge

A friendlier version of the forward lunge, the reverse lunge is a great exercise to execute ideal lunge positioning.

How to perform:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms down at your sides.
  2. Step backward with your right foot, lunging until your left leg forms a 90-degree angle. Keep your torso upright.
  3. Push back up through your left heel to the starting position.

7. Lateral lunge

As humans, we move mostly in the front-to-back planes of movement. Doing side-to-side movements like lateral lunges helps increase stability and strength.

How to perform:

  1. Start with your feet wider than hip-width apart.
  2. Bend your left knee, sitting back into your left hip and keeping your torso upright. Keep your right leg as straight as possible, and lower down on your left leg until your knee forms a 90-degree angle.
  3. Push back up to the starting position and repeat. Complete the desired number of reps on each side.

8. Stepup

Increase strength, balance, and power with a stepup.

How to perform:

  1. Stand with a bench or another elevated surface about one foot in front of you. Hold a dumbbell in each hand if you want to complete a weighted stepup.
  2. Step onto the bench with your entire right foot, pushing up through your heel to bring your left foot to meet your right foot, or lift your left knee for added difficulty.
  3. Step down with your left foot to return to the starting position.

9. Glute bridge

This exercise requires only your body weight.

How to perform:

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and your arms down at your sides.
  2. Inhale and push through all four corners of your feet, engaging your core, glutes, and hamstrings to press your hips toward the ceiling.
  3. Pause at the top, then slowly release back to the starting position.

10. Hip thrust

Build strength and size in your glutes with the hip thrust.

How to perform:

  1. Sit on an elevated surface like a bench or sofa and place a barbell, dumbbell, or plate on your hips. You’ll have to support the weight with your hands throughout the movement.
  2. To set up, scoot your back down the bench with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground shoulder-width apart. Your legs should form a 90-degree angle, and the bench should be positioned right below your shoulder blade.
  3. Keep your chin tucked and drop your butt down toward the ground. Lower down while keeping your feet stationary, stopping once your torso forms a 45-degree angle with the ground.
  4. Push up through your heels until your thighs are parallel to the floor again. Squeeze your glutes at the top, then return to the starting position.

11. Goblet squat

The goblet squat is easier on your back than a back squat, but it still works your quads and glutes.

How to perform:

  1. To set up, hold a dumbbell vertically and grip it with both hands underneath the top of the weight. Position the dumbbell against your chest and keep it in contact throughout the movement.
  2. Begin to squat, sitting back into your hips and bending your knees. Keep your torso up and lower down as far as your mobility allows.
  3. Push up through your heels back to the starting position.

12. Leg press

While machines lack some of the benefits of free-weight exercises, machines like the leg press allow you to isolate specific muscles easily — in this case, the quads, hamstrings, and glutes.

How to perform:

  1. Get into the leg press machine with your back and head flat on the pad. Place your feet hip-width apart. Your legs should form a 90-degree angle.
  2. Engage your core and extend your legs. Pause at the top, but take care not to lock your knees.
  3. Slowly return the plate to the starting position by bending your knees.

13. Leg curl

Isolate your hamstrings and calves with the leg curl machine.

How to perform:

  1. Get into the leg curl machine lying flat on your stomach with the roller pad just above your heels. Grab the support bars on either side of the machine.
  2. Engage your core and lift your feet, pulling the pad toward your butt.
  3. Pause at the top, then return to the starting position in a controlled manner.

14. Bulgarian split squat

Work your legs and core with the Bulgarian split squat.

How to perform:

  1. Stand about 2 feet in front of a knee-level bench or step, facing away. Lift your right leg behind you and place the top of your foot on the bench.
  2. Lean slightly forward at your waist and begin to lower down on your left leg, bending your knee. Stop when your left thigh is parallel to the ground.
  3. Push up through your left foot to return to a standing position.

15. Single-leg deadlift

Whip your hamstrings into shape and work on your balance with the single-leg deadlift.

How to perform:

  1. Hold a pair of dumbbells. Keep your back straight and your gaze straight throughout the movement.
  2. Put your weight into your left leg and begin to hinge at your waist, keeping your left knee soft.
  3. Continue to hinge forward and lift your right leg up and back until your body forms a straight line from head to toe. Ensure that your hips stay square to the ground.
  4. Pause, then return to the starting position and repeat. Complete the desired number of reps on each leg.

Keeping things simple when designing a leg workout is the most effective approach, especially for beginners. Choose 3–5 exercises, do them well, and watch your leg strength increase.

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