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Developing the leg muscles can be somewhat of a phenomenon. Whether your goal is to add mass or tone up, creating significant change in these muscle groups is an on-going battle. But, don't worry; we've got the best leg exercises right here, so you can take leg day up a level...
You may have all the motivation in the world, but if you're hitting these muscle groups wrong, your willowing progress will be apparent.
These five exercises target the big three muscles in your legs; Glutes, Quads & Hamstrings. It doesn't matter if you're looking for the best quad exercises to help build mass, or want to know how to tone your legs; these leg exercises should be in your leg day workout.
All of these movements can be completed with a barbell, dumbbell or kettlebell, making them an excellent choice if the gym is busy or you want to hit up a home workout!
Here are 5 of the best exercises for legs:
Scroll down to find out more about each of the leg exercises, and how to do them.
- Front Squats
- Romanian Deadlift
- Split Squats
- Glute Bridge
- Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift
Primary Muscles Targeted: Quadriceps and Gluteus Maximus
You were probably expecting the back squat to sit in prime position, but the front squat is ideal for specifically targeting the quadriceps (thighs).
While still hitting the other muscle groups in your legs, the front squats anterior (front) bar position means the quads are recruited more to complete each rep. The front squat also replicates more advanced movements such as the snatch and clean & press, helping develop full-body strength Olympic lift progression.
Although loading the bar on the front can feel uncomfortable to begin with, it reduces pressure on the spine, engages the core well and can also help promote better squat form.
TIP: If you don't have the wrist flexibility for a traditional clean and press front squat grip, try the crossed arm approach; loading the bar from a rack with hands resting on the opposite shoulder.
Primary Muscles Targeted: Hamstrings and Gluteus Maximus
Otherwise known as the Stiff-Legged Deadlift or RDL, this exercise is a fundamental exercise for both the hamstrings and posterior chain in general.
The Romanian Deadlift allows for a significant load to be placed upon the hamstrings, recruiting the glutes and erector spinae to assist in the movement. Utilising a bar or dumbbell will allow for plenty of volume to be put through these key muscle groups, essential for muscular development and conditioning.
TIP: Your knees should have a slight bend during this movement, keeping your shoulders (scapula) retracted and your chest proud. Keeping your upper torso in a strict position, with arms working like hooks, will allow you to focus on the contraction in the muscle groups you're targeting.
Primary Muscles Targeted: Quadriceps, Hamstrings and Gluteus Maximus
Single leg exercises are a fantastic way to develop muscle growth, balance and coordination, and the split squat is no different. Muscular imbalances are natural and can be more prominent in lifters who mainly stick to barbell-based lifts.
The split squat places a significant emphasis on the contraction of the quadriceps, whilst also engaging the glutes and calves (gastrocnemius) for stability.
Weights can be added to increase difficulty; dumbbell split squats can be better for beginners to develop balance whilst barbell split squats can help increase weight and volume to the exercise.
TIP: When performing the exercises, keep an upright torso and lower the hips towards the ground on the eccentric motion of the split squat, rather than leaning forward. A rear foot elevated split squat can also be performed to increase difficulty.
Primary Muscles Targeted: Gluteus Maximus and Hamstrings.
If you're dreaming of heavy squats and powerful deadlifts, the Glute Bridge is a must for your training programme. Engaging and utilising this huge muscle group will pay dividends in your bigger lifts, and getting this one right from the get-go will help you quickly develop onto a Weighted Glute Bridge.
Contracting your glutes and hamstrings to lift your hips off the ground may sound easy, but once you start incorporating more time under tension and loading weight, this soon becomes an area of rapid development and power.
Find them easy? Progress the exercise with weight, the Barbell Glute Bridge can help increase volume.
TIP: To get the right angle, aim for your ankle to be directly below your knee. During the movement, push your heels into the ground and contract your hamstring and butt. Perform each rep in a controlled manner for maximum effect.
Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift
Primary Muscles Targeted: Gluteus Maximus and Hamstrings.
Ensuring your leg workout has unilateral exercises is crucial for not only a balanced physique, but also for peak performance.
We're all guilty of smashing heavy bilateral exercises such as squats, the leg press and hack squats. It's important to acknowledge the fact that although you're using both legs, you may be favouring one over the other, meaning your right leg may be taking more load than your right...
The Split Squats mentioned above are great unilateral exercises to help target the glutes and quads; these Single-Leg Romanian Deadlifts are no different.
Also known as Single-Leg RDL's, they put the key emphasis on your hamstrings and glutes, the Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift will soon have your muscles firing on all cylinders. Testing not only the muscular contraction and strength endurance, but also your balance and posture.
TIP: Start with a light weight and focus on keeping your shoulders retracted throughout the exercise, controlling the movement slowly on the way down. On the way back up, push your heel into the ground, contracting your hamstrings and glutes to bring your torso back up to a vertical position.