Updated: Apr 10
People often make the mistake of training legs as an after-thought and miss out on all-around development. Developing the legs is crucial to building an aesthetic, strong, and balanced physique. In this article, you’ll learn the best leg exercises to add to your routine to maximize leg size and strength.
First, we’ll go over the anatomy of the legs focusing on the major muscle groups. Following this, we’ll cover the best exercises that are essential in a quality gym routine, including sets and reps.
Before we dive in: if you’re looking for a full-body training program that is aimed at developing a strong and aesthetic physique, not just the legs, you will benefit from one of our programs. We designed a program that gives you the tools to build an aesthetic physique as well as an easy-to-follow routine that will fit any schedule. To find out more:
Why Having Workouts for Leg Day Should be an Essential Component to Your Fitness
Training legs for some people can feel like an unnecessary chore and for others, it can be a frustrating process to achieve results. Whatever your situation, you can benefit from having leg exercises in your routine or even a dedicated leg day.
Workouts for legs tend to be overlooked because they can be exhausting or because the upper body is often the focus of people's attention. However, many leg exercises have the added benefit of working muscles in our upper bodies that are often difficult or time-consuming to train by themselves.
For instance, the core and postural back muscles are engaged significantly with lower body exercises to hold up the weight it takes significant static strength. This means that not only can work out your legs promote a balanced aesthetic but it can also strengthen your abs, define your back muscles, and fix your posture. This is not even mentioning the significant benefits to your cardiovascular health and leg mobility.
Now that we’ve covered some of the reasons why leg exercises should be added to your workout routine we will cover the anatomy and function of the muscles in the legs.
The quadriceps, or the “thighs”, are located in the front of the upper leg.
Extend the lower leg at the knee
Flexing the thigh at the hip (rectus femoris)
Running, jumping, squatting, standing, walking…
The hamstrings are located in the back of the upper leg, below the glutes.
Flexes the knee, extend the hip, and rotate the tibia
Help with walking, squatting, bending the knees, and tilting the pelvis
The glutes are located in the buttocks.
Moves the hip and thigh
Standing up from sitting, climbing stairs, and standing up straight
The calves are located in the back of lower leg.
Extending the foot in a standing position (primarily the gastrocnemius) and same in a seated position (soleus)
Standing, walking, running, or climbing stairs
The Best Leg Exercises
Exercise I: Front Squat
The front squat is a great all-in-one exercise that engages almost every muscle in the lower body while strengthening the core and the back.
This variation of the squat emphasizes the quads and hips more than back squats due to the larger range of motion. It allows us to get a better deep stretch on these muscles and thus better engagement.
We include this version first because it is great for beginners, forces good form, and is better for injury prevention. It also greatly impacts our ability to maintain proper posture which carries over to other lifts and our daily lives.
To perform this exercise you start by standing under the barbell (set at shoulder height).
Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart with toes pointed slightly out.
Place shoulders under the bar and grab the bar with your fingers with palms facing up (as shown).
If trying to hold the bar with all your fingers is painful or difficult for wrists, attempt to do wrist stretches before exercise and use fewer fingers to hold it up.
Brace your abs and maintain a neutral spine.
Lift the weight off of the wrack and “sit down” into the movement. It should feel like you bring your butt down to your ankles. (You don’t have to physically do so if it is too difficult or painful)
Keep your elbows up and make sure the weight stays balanced on your shoulders.
Stand up and repeat.
This exercise is more focused on the range of motion rather than the amount of weight. So, if the exercise is too exhausting, decrease the weight and focus on the form.
If you want more exercises to check out our full-body training program that is aimed at developing a strong and aesthetic physique, not just the legs, you will benefit from one of our programs. We designed a program that gives you the tools to build an aesthetic physique as well as an easy-to-follow routine that will fit any schedule. To find out more:
Exercise II: Barbell Back Squat
The barbell squat, like the front squat, is an excellent exercise to incorporate into your leg workout routine. It is essentially the same except that it gives more emphasis to the hamstrings and the rest of the lower body.
In addition, barbell back squats are easier to load and perform than front squats. Meaning we can lift more weight and there is less skill to learn than the front squat variation.
Make sure the barbell is placed firmly on the shoulders with your grip being close but not right next to the shoulders.
Feet should be roughly shoulder-width apart with toes pointed slightly out.
Brace your abs and keep a neutral spine.
Sit down and back into the movement. Allow your knees to travel past the toes and aim to have your thighs be parallel to the ground. (You can go past this if it is comfortable).
Stand back up without locking your knees and repeat.
Exercise III: Romanian Deadlift
The Romanian deadlift is one of the best lower body exercises and even has significant benefits for the upper body as well. It targets the hips, glutes, and hamstrings and is a great complement to the squat to create an almost complete full-body routine.
Adding this to your workout for leg day will significantly boost leg development. In addition to being an effective lower body exercise, it does great with engaging most of the muscles in the back to create defined muscles and better posture.
Start by holding the bar or weight in your hands with a firm grip.
Make sure your legs are about hip-width apart.
Slowly bend your knees and move your hips back while keeping your back straight, making sure to keep your neck in a neutral position.
Lower the weight until you feel the tension in your hamstrings (or when the bar is a little past your knees).
Then drive your hips forward and straighten your back until you are upright.
Make sure not to hyperextend your back and just return to a neutral position.
Exercise IV: Calf Raises
The calves are the often neglected part of the body that are usually an after-thought when it comes to exercise. However, if you want a fit and balanced physique you’ll benefit from adding this exercise to your leg day routine.
Stand with feet hip-width apart on an elevated platform or a calf raise machine if you have access.
Allow your heels to stretch down without going completely slack at the bottom.
Raise your heels and stand up on your toes. You should feel your calves flexing at the top of the movement. Slowly let yourself back down.
The best way to perform a calf raise is to go with the tempo X/1/3/2.
This means explode up, hold at the top for 1 second, slowly go down for 3 seconds, and hold at the bottom for 2 seconds.
Reps and sets for the best results
Exercise I: Front Squat (3-5 sets of 8-15 reps)
Exercise II: Back Squat (3-5 sets of 8-15 reps)
Exercise III: Romanian Deadlift (3-5 sets of 8-15 reps)
Exercise IV: Calf Raises (3-5 sets of 10-20 reps)
This workout for leg day should give you all the tools to make significant progress with your goals. These are the best exercises to promote the most overall leg growth while also helping to build upper body strength and size.
The set and rep ranges aren’t an absolute rule, you can gain strength and size in any range. These exercises are guidelines to help you incorporate them into your leg day or full-body routine to make it as effective as possible.
For a complete routine check out our full-body training program that is aimed at developing a strong and aesthetic physique, not just the legs, you will benefit from one of our programs. We designed a program that gives you the tools to build an aesthetic physique as well as an easy-to-follow routine that will fit any schedule. To find out more: