While leg day can be tempting to skip, a strong lower body is key to superior fitness performance. When you do leg exercises you hit major muscles that will improve your sports performance, strength and functional fitness. Squats, deadlifts and other isolation exercises probably come to mind when you think of leg workouts, but there are heaps of alternative leg exercises that can be tried at the gym or at home that will make leg day more enjoyable.
Barbell Back Squat
It wouldn’t be a leg workout guide without squats. The barbell back squat will elevate your squat game by strengthening not only the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes but also the ligaments around the knees and hips. This compound exercise uses multiple muscles to perform a full body move to build strength. The best and safest way to perform a Barbell Back Squat is with a squat stand to easily secure the bar as you move it on and off your shoulders.
How to do a Barbell Back Squat:
- Stand with your feet more than shoulder-width apart.
- Hold the barbell across your upper back, resting it on your shoulders with an overhand grip.
- Slowly squat keeping your head up and back straight.
- Lower yourself until your hips are aligned with your knees.
- Drive your heels towards the floor as you push yourself back up into a standing position.
Bulgarian Split Squat
If you’re searching for a powerful lower body exercise that will leave your legs burning, then the Bulgarian Split Squat is a great way to take your compound training up a notch. The single-leg unilateral squat works the quadriceps while challenging your balance and co-ordination. Due to the balance-focused nature of the exercise it is helpful to use a sturdy flat bench to support the lifted leg.
How to do a Bulgarian Split Squat:
- Stand with your back to the bench with about 1 meter distance between yourself and the bench.
- Pick up your right foot and place it on the bench behind you.
- Bend your left knee allowing your right knee to bend naturally – keep your chest high and chin up.
- Push through your left foot and press back into standing position
- Repeat with the opposite foot.
Side to Side Lateral Squat
Side-to-side lateral squats are a fantastic lower body exercise that activates several muscle groups simultaneously including the quadriceps, glutes, and buttocks. The lateral movement will help strengthen and sculp your lower body. This workout can be performed on an aerobic step or using weights to increase intensity.
How to do a Side-to-Side Lateral Squat:
- Stand with your feet more than shoulder-width apart.
- Shift your weight onto your right heel and bend as you push your hips back.
- While squatting keep your left leg straight and make your right thigh parallel to the floor.
- Push through your right foot to reverse the movement, pause as you stand up and repeat with the opposite leg.
If you’re tired of standard deadlifts and want to switch it up, then the Romanian Deadlift is a great variation that works your glutes and hamstrings to increase muscle mass. The exercise strengthens muscles along your posterior chain- from your neck down to the heels. Weightlifting incorrectly may cause users to experience lower back pain, to minimise the risk of injury use a powerlifting belt for additional support.
How to do a Romanian Deadlift:
- Stand behind your grounded barbell.
- Bend your knees to grab the bar with a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip, make sure to keep your back flat and shoulders over the barbell.
- As you lift, activate your core and push your hips back – the barbell should be touching your thighs.
- At the top of the movement, contract the core and glutes by flexing your back.
A simple enough workout that anyone can do is walking lunges, this exercise can be included as a warm up or as part of your strength training routine. This exercise not only targets major muscle groups in the lower body, it also increases balance and stability. You can expect to feel the burn in your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and calves. To intensify this workout add extra weight such as dumbbells or a weighted vest.
How to do Walking Lunges:
- Stand straight with your feet shoulder distance apart and make sure there is plenty of room in front of you.
- Take a wide step forward with your right foot and bend both knees at a 90 degrees angle.
- Push your back left foot forward into another lunge.
- Come back into standing position in between each lunge.
Another easy yet effective leg workout out that can be done in high reps is stair climbing. This exercise can be performed outside on any stairs or on a Stairmaster if you have access to one at your home or gym. This exercise will keep legs leans, get your heart pumping and improve your cardiovascular fitness. Increase the burn by adding ankle weights or a weighted vest as you power up and down the stairs.
- Run up and down the stairs.
- Lunge forward and skip a step or two as you climb up.
- Backwards stair climbing (be careful).
- Complete a lunge in between steps.
Leg Extension with Resistance Band
Usually, leg extensions are performed on a machine at the gym, however with a resistance band you can complete this exercise anywhere. This isolation exercise focuses on the muscles across the front of your thigh to increase quad muscle strength. The bands resistance can be adjusted by wrapping the excess band around your foot to make it shorter.
How to do a Leg Extensions with Resistance Band
- Lie on your back with your right leg bent and foot flat on the floor.
- Hold the resistance band in both hands and place your left foot in the centre of the loop keeping a 90-degree angle.
- Slowly extend your right leg out as far as possible then return back to a 90-degree angle.
- Alternate between legs.
Whether you want to build muscle, tone or sculpt your legs there are plenty of exercises that will meet your fitness goals and you are sure to enjoy. Since most leg exercises use multiple muscles, these workouts can be more taxing, therefore it is important to include low impact leg movement to break up heavy strength training. Next leg day try something new and give it your all!