6 Best Exercises for Your Legs
It’s not surprising that strong legs can take anyone far. Whether you’re training for a race, or want to meet a specific athletic goal, strengthening your legs is key to meet your fitness milestones much faster. Everything from walking a flight of stairs and lifting heavy bags, to running a race or doing a hike feels much easier when you can put some leg strength behind it.
Instead of including less effective, single joint movements such as leg curls and extensions, we’ve rounded up some powerful multi-joint leg exercises that will help recruit more muscle mass per movement. By performing multi-joint exercises, you’re not only working more muscles, you’re also promoting the release of growth hormone that helps increase muscle mass and zap fat.
1. Front Squat
If your squats are working your butt well enough, but you need help with your quads, try front squats. Note that this exercise requires upper back and core strength in order for you to maintain a neutral spine. Since you’re keeping your spine vertical, this exercise decreases your risk of low back injury. As a bonus, expect to see improvements in your back muscle after incorporating this exercise to your routine.
Front squats are performed best when your energy levels are at their peak. Hold the bar in the front rack position, or with your arms crossed. Perform 3-5 sets of 6 to 10 reps. If you’re looking to build mass, increase the weight and perform fewer reps.
Deadlifts are almost whole body exercises, particularly targeting the hamstrings and glutes. By using a decent amount of weight, you’ll see improvements in strength in all the muscles employed during the movement. Furthermore, because you’re engaging a large amount of muscle mass while performing a deadlift, you can expect a positive hormonal response as well in your body.
If you’ve never performed a deadlift before, keep the weight and reps moderate. Stand straight with feet hip with apart and your shins just an inch away from the bar. Hold the bar with double pronated or reverse grip. Bend your knees and push them, straightening your arms. Look straight ahead and bring your chest up as much as you can. Keep your back flat, extend your hips and rise, pulling the bar along your legs.
3. Dumbbell Lunge
Lunges require knee and hip extensions, which help stimulate the thighs and glutes. You can perform a lunge standing in place, or stepping forward and back. You can also use dumbbells or two kettlebells, depending on what works better for you.
Lunges are best performed when your legs are already slightly fatigued. Therefore, a moderate weight can do wonders during this exercise. Be sure to step forward enough in order to go straight down as you descent, instead of leaning forward.
To protect your knees, imagine a line coming up from your toes as you lunge forward. Always keep your knees behind that line. Perform 3 sets of 8 to 20 reps per side. As soon as you reach muscle failure, put your dumbbells down and perform a few more reps without weights.
4. Bulgarian Split Squat
This is a dynamic movement that individually works both legs in an explosive manner. Powering through using your glutes and quads can make this an intense cardiovascular workout.
To perform a Bulgarian split squat, stand two feet in front of a bench or platform, facing away from it. Place the ball of your left foot on the platform. Next, lower your body until your left knee is just a few inches off the floor. Explosively, push up from your right leg, lifting your knee as high as possible.
Drop into a squat as you land softly and start your next rep.
5. Calf Raised Bridge
This is a move that looks pretty simple, but really targets your glutes, calves and hamstrings. To perform a calf-raised bridge, lie on your back and bend your knees, keeping your feet flat on the mat. Keep feet hip-width apart, and hold a pair of dumbbells, placing them on your hips.
From your starting position, lift your hips as high as possible and engage your glutes, while rising on the balls of your feet. Return to starting position and repeat.
6. Step Ups
This is a unilateral exercise, which means that your dominant leg will not compensate for the weaker one, allowing both legs to work the same amount. With step ups, you’ll be targeting mainly the glutes and the quads.
Step ups come in many variations and can be modified to challenge individuals with beginner or advanced level fitness. To add resistance, hold dumbbells or kettlebells at your sides, at shoulder level.
Stand in front of a platform, knee to hip high, and hold a dumbbell in each hand. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart and step forward with one leg, placing your foot on the platform or bench. Drive through your thigh to push your body up and bring your other leg up to stand on the platform. Step back and return to the ground. You can either alternate legs, or repeat with the same leading leg for a set number of reps, and repeat with the other leg.
This is a powerful workout that engages your glutes, thighs and hips and also helps you practice your jumping and balancing force.
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