The Best Leg Exercises for Leg Day

Lexi Lutz
Reading Time: 11 minutes
best leg exercises
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Even if you’ve just started hitting the gym, it’s likely clear to you how essential leg day is. 

It’s the ticket to overall fitness and a flawlessly rounded out physique. By getting to know the most effective leg exercises for a kick-ass leg day routine, you’ll be on your way to gym rat status in no time. 

So, let’s dive into the top leg exercises that will help you build strength, improve muscle tone, and boost your overall lower body fitness!

Back Squat

The back squat is one of the best leg exercises for not only leg day, but your entire workout routine.

It’s a classic compound exercise that targets the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes super efficiently. This exercise involves placing a barbell on your upper back and squatting down while keeping your chest up and knees in line with your toes.

The back squat is considered one of the most effective lower body exercises for building leg strength and muscle mass as it engages numerous muscle groups. It also helps to improve mobility, overall strength, and core stability.

While performing back squats (and any exercise, really) it’s important to maintain proper form to avoid any injuries. 

Start with lighter weights and gradually increase the weight as you feel more comfortable and confident with the exercise. Incorporating the back squat into your leg workout routine will make a significant difference in building a strong and toned lower body.

Bulgarian Split Squat

Incorporating unilateral (using one side of the body at a time) exercises into your leg workouts is essential for improving overall lower body strength. 

The Bulgarian split squat is a perfect example of a unilateral exercise that targets the quads, glutes, and hamstrings.

To perform this exercise, you’ll stand with one foot elevated behind you, resting on a bench or step. Lower your body down into a lunge position, making sure that your knee is in line with your ankle and your chest is up. Push back up through your front heel to return to the starting position, and then switch sides.

The Bulgarian split squat is a fantastic exercise for improving balance and stability, as well as targeting some major lower body muscles like the quads and glutes. Don’t be surprised if you feel a burn in your legs after incorporating this exercise into your leg workouts.

Leg Press

If you are looking for a machine-based exercise that focuses on your quads, hamstrings, and glutes, the leg press is the perfect addition to your list of leg exercises for muscle growth. You’ll be pushing a weighted platform away from your body using your legs, which targets the major muscle groups in your lower body. 

This exercise is perfect for beginners or folks with limited mobility, making it an excellent alternative to squats.

When performing the leg press exercise, it’s essential to maintain proper form to minimize the risk of injury. Make sure that your feet are shoulder-width apart and positioned flat on the platform. Keep your back straight against the backrest and push the platform away from your body using your heels. Ensure that your knees are aligned with your toes, and do not let them collapse inward. Repeat the exercise for 2-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions, gradually increasing the weight over time.

As with pretty much all leg exercises, it’s recommended to warm up before starting the workout. This can include 5-10 minutes of light cardio or dynamic stretching to prepare your lower body for the exercises ahead.

The leg press is one of the best leg exercises for targeting the quads, hamstrings, and glutes, helping to improve leg strength and overall lower body fitness.

Hack Squat

Now onto one of my favorite leg exercises for building quad strength and size, the mighty hack squat.

To perform a hack squat, start by standing in the machine with your shoulders under padded supports and your feet slightly in front of your body. Keep your chest up and your core tight as you squat down, making sure to keep your knees in line with your toes. As you come back up, push through your heels to engage your quads and glutes.

The hack squat is an effective exercise for both beginners and advanced lifters, because you can adjust the weight to your level of comfort. And like any exercise, it’s important to maintain proper form throughout the motion to avoid injury and maximize results.

Hack Squat

Romanian Deadlift

The Romanian deadlift is a powerhouse move and one of the best leg exercises for toning and building lower body strength and flexibility. 

This movement primarily targets the hamstrings but also engages the glutes and lower back muscles. To perform the exercise, I typically hold a barbell or dumbbells in front of my thighs and stand with my feet shoulder-width apart.

From there, I hinge at the hips, keeping my back straight and core engaged, and my knees slightly bent. I only lower the weight as far as I can maintain good form. The Romanian deadlift is a challenging exercise that requires practice and patience, but it can lead to significant gains in hamstring strength and mobility.

Like all leg exercises, proper form is crucial. It’s essential to keep your back straight, engage your core, and avoid rounding your spine. Also, the use of proper footwear (flat-bottomed sneakers or even Converse) can help improve form and provide traction during heavy lifts. If you’re not comfortable with this exercise, start with lighter weights and seek guidance from a certified personal trainer (like yours truly).

Hamstring Curl

The hamstring curl is one of the best leg exercises for targeting the hamstrings (obviously), which are often neglected in leg workouts. This isolation exercise can be performed using a machine or resistance bands, making it accessible for all levels of fitness. To perform the exercise, lie face down on the machine with your ankles secured under a pad. Then, curl your legs towards your glutes while keeping your hips stationary. It’s important to maintain control throughout the movement and not rush through the repetitions.

By incorporating hamstring curls into your leg workouts, you’ll improve the strength and shape of the back of your thighs. This exercise is also great for individuals who want to improve their overall leg strength and stability.

leg strength exercises

Leg Extension

The leg extension is a must-try isolation exercise if you’re looking to target your quadriceps. By sitting on a machine with your legs bent and extending them in a controlled manner, you can build strong quads and improve your knee stability. I recommend incorporating this exercise into your leg workouts to achieve the best leg exercises for leg strength.

For optimal results, aim for 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions, with a rest time of 30-60 seconds in between. Remember to keep your back straight and engage your core for proper form.

Give the leg extension a try and feel the burn in your quads! It’s one of the leg workouts that many people overlook, but it’s definitely worth adding to your routine. It’s been one of my favorite leg strength exercises since day one.

Reverse Lunge

The reverse lunge is the perfect exercise for improving leg strength and overall balance. 

It’s another great unilateral exercise that targets the quads, hamstrings, and glutes. To do this exercise, begin by standing tall with your feet hip-width apart. Then, take a step backward with one foot, crossing it behind your other foot. Lower your body down, bending both knees, until your front thigh is parallel to the ground. Your back knee should come close to touching the ground. Push through your front heel to come back to the starting position.

The reverse lunge is an excellent exercise for improving balance and coordination. It also helps to build leg strength quickly and effectively. Make sure to keep your back straight throughout the exercise and engage your core to maintain balance.

For an extra challenge, you can add weights to this exercise. Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand while performing the reverse lunge to increase the resistance and build even more muscle. You’ll really feel the burn with this one.

lower body exercises

Hip Thrust

One of my favorite leg exercises is the hip thrust. This exercise targets the glutes and hamstrings and is one of the most underrated compound movements. I recommend hip thrusts to all my clients and they’re even great for leg exercises at home. 

To perform a hip thrust, sit with your back against a bench, place a barbell over your hips, and drive your hips up towards the ceiling. Keep your core engaged and your chin tucked at your chest. 

And make sure your spine is straight the whole, no lower back free-for-all here.

Kettlebell Swing

The kettlebell swing is another excellent leg exercise that engages the entire lower body. This exercise helps to build leg strength and improve explosive power. 

To perform a kettlebell swing, stand with your feet hip-width apart, hold the kettlebell with both hands, and swing it between your legs while keeping your back straight. Then, thrust your hips forward and swing the kettlebell up to shoulder height.

Goblet Squat

The goblet squat is a great exercise for targeting the quads and glutes. It’s an awesome alternative for back squats and will help strengthen those good posture muscles. 

To perform a goblet squat, hold a kettlebell or dumbbell close to your chest and squat down while keeping your back straight and your knees in line with your toes. This exercise is perfect for building leg strength and increasing muscle size.

Calf Raises

Don’t forget about your calf muscles! Calf raises are an effective exercise for strengthening and toning your calves. To perform a calf raise, stand on a step or platform with your heels hanging off the edge. Then, rise up onto your toes and hold for a few seconds before lowering back down.

By incorporating these leg exercises into your workouts, you’ll be able to build leg strength, improve muscle tone, and enhance your overall lower body fitness. These exercises are some of the best leg exercises you can do and will help you achieve your fitness goals in no time!

FAQ

What are the best leg exercises for leg day?

The best leg exercises for leg day include back squats, Bulgarian split squats, leg presses, hack squats, Romanian deadlifts, hamstring curls, leg extensions, reverse lunges, hip thrusts, kettlebell swings, goblet squats, and calf raises.

What muscles do back squats target?

Back squats primarily target the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes.

How do I perform a Bulgarian split squat?

To perform a Bulgarian split squat, stand with one foot elevated behind you and lower your body down into a lunge position. This exercise targets the quads, glutes, and hamstrings.

What is the leg press exercise?

The leg press is a machine-based exercise that targets the quads, hamstrings, and glutes. It involves pushing a weighted platform away from your body using your legs.

What muscles does the hack squat work?

The hack squat primarily targets the quadriceps.

How do I perform a Romanian deadlift?

To perform a Romanian deadlift, hold a barbell or dumbbells in front of your thighs and hinge at the hips while keeping your back straight. This exercise targets the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back.

What muscles does the hamstring curl exercise target?

The hamstring curl is an isolation exercise that specifically targets the hamstrings.

What is the leg extension exercise?

The leg extension is an isolation exercise that primarily targets the quadriceps. It involves sitting on a machine with your legs bent and extending your legs in a controlled manner.

How do I perform a reverse lunge?

To perform a reverse lunge, step backward into a lunge position, and lower your body down. This exercise targets the quads, hamstrings, and glutes.

What are some additional leg exercises I can incorporate into my workouts?

Some additional leg exercises you can incorporate into your workouts include hip thrusts (glutes and hamstrings), kettlebell swings (entire lower body), goblet squats (quads and glutes), and calf raises (calf muscles). These exercises will provide a well-rounded lower body training session.

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