13 Best Leg Workouts & Exercises (How to Guide) - Old School Labs
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Home » OSL Blog » 13 Best Leg Workouts & Exercises

13 Best Leg Workouts & Exercises

May 15, 2019

  1. Do you train your legs as much as your upper body?
  2. Are your leg workouts the hardest muscle group to train?
  3. What is your motivation for training legs?

Have you looked in the mirror lately and realized that your legs aren’t where you want them to be?

Arnold leg press
Arnold training legs.

Maybe you’ve been focusing so much on your core and upper body that you neglected them in your exercise routine.

Or you think legs aren’t as important to focus on when you only have so much time at the gym or home to get your workout in.

Well, we’re here today to make sure that forgetting leg day is no longer an option. After all, your legs are what get you around all day, every day.

Sure, you can pick things up and put them down with your arms, but they aren’t going to get you very far if you have tiny legs that have trouble holding up those massive muscles you’ve been putting on up top.

So stop neglecting them and start making them a priority in your workout routine!

Keep reading for some of the best leg workouts that can be done at the gym or at home with the right equipment.

Most of these exercises are effective leg and glute workouts perfect for adding to your bodybuilding routine to mix it up and prevent boredom or move past a plateau.

You might even find that some of these exercises are fun leg workouts and start trading some of your valuable workout time to focus on growing your quads and defining your calves.

Perfecting Your Form is Key Above All Else

Professional bodybuilder Tom Platz had some of the most defined killer leg muscles of any bodybuilder during the Golden Era. His success is owed to fellow Olympic lifters Bob Morris and Fred Lowe, who let him in on their secret – squats.

Tom Platz squat
Tom Platz portraying the correct squat form.

It’s important to note that perfecting your form is key to any of these leg workouts. Without proper form, you not only risk injury, but you won’t be working your muscles correctly and the gains you seek will not be realized.

To get the most out of the squat exercises that you’ll see listed here as some of the best leg workouts, use the Olympic style technique rather than the powerlifting style. By squatting straight up and down, you are able to focus the most on using your quadriceps to get maximum results.

When it comes to bodybuilding and getting muscle gains, quality will always win over quantity.

Start at a lower weight until you have the form down and can practice the leg exercises flawlessly. Once you’ve done that, add weight and intensity to your sets and see how your muscles start to pop!

Keep track of your progress as you begin and then start leveling up with more weights and more reps. That track record along with the more defined muscles you’ll be guaranteed to start noticing will be all the motivation you need to keep these leg workouts in your gym rotation.

Let’s take a look at this roundup of some of the best leg exercises that the pros use to keep their legs in great shape.

#1. Standing Forward Bend

This leg toning workout is a great way to warm up your quad muscles and get them ready for the rest of leg day. It requires no equipment and can be done anywhere. Yes, even men can do this at home if they don’t want their gym buddies to check them out while they warm up their legs before hitting the weights.

Forward bend
A forward bend is a great way to warm up the quads.

How to do it: Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Lean forward at the hips with your knees slightly bent. Lay your chest on your upper thighs and let your head fall forward towards the floor. Engage your quads and keep your hips centered over your feet. Slowly work your muscles until your legs have straightened without locking your knees. Hold the position for 8 – 10 deep breaths.

#2. Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch

Doing this stretch will open and loosen up the hips to get you ready for a punishing leg day at the gym or at home. No equipment is required but you will want to have something soft to kneel down on.

kneeling hip flexor stretch
The hip flexor stretch literally stretches the hips in preparation for a killer leg day.

How to do it: Kneel into a lunge position, with one leg behind you and the other foot planted firmly on the ground. Raise the arm of the leg planted behind all the way up in the air and let your other arm hang at your side. Engage your glutes and push your hips forward until you feel the stretch in the front of your hip and leg. Hold the position for 30 seconds. You can choose to switch legs each time or stick with one leg to finish the set. Complete four reps on each leg with no rest in between.

#3. Leg Press

The leg press exercise will work your quads, glutes, and hamstrings and is a staple of any bodybuilding routine. Move your feet lower and closer together to focus more on quads, and higher and further apart to give your glutes and hamstrings more attention. Start with lower weight at first to make sure you have your form down before you add weight and increase the reps.

leg press exercise
Activate your glutes, hamstrings, & quads with the leg press exercise.

How to do it: Once you’ve got your weight set on the press machine, sit down and press your feet squarely on the footplate. Make sure your lower back stays pressed against the bench pad at all times throughout the exercise, and you keep your chest high. Release the safety and bend your knees to lower the platform until you feel your glutes wanting to lift off the bench. In a steady motion, push the platform back up to the top without locking your knees. Repeat for six reps and three sets, take a 45 – 60 second break if needed between sets.

#4. Barbell Squats

This killer leg workout is considered the best leg and glute bodybuilding exercise. It works your quads, calves, hamstrings, glutes, and core. Start out with a lighter weight on the rack or smith machine until you master your form – both powerlifting and Olympic style. Check out this video to see Tom Platz work IFBB Pro Sergio Oliva Jr. to exhaustion doing barbell squats and more!

Barbell squats
Barbell squats are great to activate quads, calves, hamstrings, glutes, & core.

How to do it: Holding the barbell across your upper back, stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Point your toes forward or out, depending on the style you’re going for. Keep your core tight throughout the exercise and your head in a neutral position. Begin to lower your body down as if you were sitting in a chair until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Drive the weight up to push yourself back up to the starting position. Complete six reps for a total of four sets, taking up to a 60 second break between sets as needed. Lower the reps down to four when you add on more weight for the first time until you know you can complete all four sets.

#5. Jump Squat

This squat exercise can be done with no equipment, or you can opt to have a dumbbell in each hand for added difficulty. Make sure you have a high enough ceiling to be able to jump!

Jump squat
jump squats will get elevate your heart rate and burn those leg muscles.

How to do it: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and lower into a squat position until your thighs are parallel to the floor. If you are using dumbbells, make sure they stay by your sides at all times throughout the exercise. In an explosive motion, jump up as high as you can, landing with soft knees to avoid injury. Repeat for 12 – 1 reps and do at least three sets. Take a 15 second break between sets if needed.

#6. Hack Squat

This machine based leg exercise is another one of the best leg exercises that is demonstrated by Oliva, Jr. in this video. You will be focusing on your quads and glutes primarily but can change foot position to higher and further apart to get your hamstrings in on the action.

Hack squat
Hack squats target the glutes,quads, & hamstrings.

How to do it: Once you’ve got the hack squat machine set up, step into the machine and place your shoulders and back against the pads with your feet planted flat and firm on the plate. Keep them together to really target your quads. Engage your core, release the safety, and begin to lower yourself down until your thighs are parallel to the platform. Hold for a second, and then drive your heels into the platform to propel yourself back up to the starting position.

Your knees should not lock at the top, and you want to keep them steady and avoid them splaying outward or inward while you are doing your squats. Do six to eight reps and at least three sets, taking up to a 60 second break in between if needed. Once you add more weight, lower the reps down to four to six until you can work your way back up to complete the sets.

#7. Romanian Deadlift

This hamstring focused leg workout is one of the best leg exercises needed to help protect your knees from injury and balance out your quads. Grab a barbell with a reasonable amount of weight – form is important to avoid injury and once you’ve perfected it, pack on the pounds so you can really get your hamstrings popping.

Romanian deadlift
A Romanian deadlift targets the hamstrings & is safe on the knees.

How to do it: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and your knees slightly bent, with the barbell in an overhand grip at thigh level. Keep your back flat, chest up, core engaged, and arms straight. Lean forward and push your hips back to lower the barbell until your torso is parallel with the floor, keeping the barbell close to your legs throughout the exercise. Use your hamstrings and glutes to bring the barbell back up to the starting position. Complete six to eight reps and three sets, taking a 30 – 60 second break between sets if needed. If you can’t complete the reps and sets, you need to lower your weight back down until you can, then work your way back up.

Variation: To keep the hamstrings even more engaged, try stepping on a weight plate with your toes with each foot, so all your bodyweight is landing on your heels. If you want to run the rack with this exercise, decrease your reps at the beginning and start with the heaviest weight you can handle. Then, move to a lower weight with the next set, but add a few reps. Keep going until you’ve completed at least four sets, or until your legs can’t take anymore.

#8. Standing Calf Raises

We can’t neglect the calves when doing leg day! Start out on the standing calf raise machine at the gym, or a sturdy step or box at home. If you don’t have the machine, you can start with just body weight and then add a barbell or dumbbell weights to work your calves even more.

Standing calf raises
Standing calf raises can be done with or without weights.

How to do it: Maintain a straight back at all times during the exercises, your knees should also be slightly bent and never locked throughout the motion. If you are using the machine, adjust it so it fits your height. If you are using dumbbells, hold them in each hand with palms facing each other. Stand on the machine or box with the balls of your feet at the edge of the platform and the heels of your feet are hanging off. Breathe out as you rise up, using your calves to push up the weight on the machine or the dumbbells in your hands. Pause for a second at the top and exhale as you come back down. Complete at least 10 – 12 reps and three sets. Take a 15 second break in between each set if needed.

#9. Leg Extensions

You will need a leg extension machine to work the quads and hamstrings for this leg workout.

How to do it: Get the machine ready with your starting weight and make sure the pads in front are adjusted so that the pad is right above your foot and your leg is at a 90° angle. Hold onto the side bars for leverage and make sure the rest of your body is stationary so you only engage the quads to lift the weight. Exhale as you pull the weights up and pause for a second before you inhale and bring the weights back down. Complete 10 – 12 reps and a total of three sets. Rest up to 30-60 seconds in between sets if needed.

Leg extensions
Leg extensions is a golden exercise that targets quads & hamstrings.

Variation: You can vary your foot position depending on the side of the thigh you want to work. Point your toes out if you want to work the inner abductor muscles, point your toes in for the outer abductor muscles. You can also challenge yourself by doing one leg at a time to really get your quads burning.

#10. Lying Leg Curls

This is one of the best leg workouts to really target the hamstrings. As IFBB Pro Breon Ansley says in this video, “Hit ‘em hard, hit ‘em fast, and then get on out of there and grow!” Have a lie down on the leg curl machine and get to work!

Lying leg curls
Lying leg curls support the isolation and growth of hamstrings.

How to do it: Adjust the leg curl machine so that when you lie down, the pads are resting just above your heel and below your calf muscle. If your weight is so heavy that your body is moving during the exercise, you will need to reduce the weight to avoid back injury. Keep this exercise up if you want to eventually work your way back up to heavier weights.

Make sure your torso  and upper legs stay flat on the bench at all times. Position your legs so the knees are right below the edge of the bench. Exhale as you curl the lower legs until the hamstrings are fully flexed. Pause at the top and then inhale as you bring your legs back down to the starting position for a full extension. Complete 10 – 12 reps and three to four sets with a 15 – 30 second break in between as needed.

Variation: As with the leg extensions, you can change your foot position to target different areas of the muscle. You can also do one leg at a time, keeping the other leg stationary, for an added challenge.

#11. Dumbbell Step Ups

This is one of the best leg exercises that focus on working the quad muscles. Make sure you perfect the form of this exercise before you add weights. Don’t risk injury by starting out with weights, especially if you don’t have great balance. This exercise can be done at the gym or at home with a step platform or a sturdy box or bench.

Dumbbell step ups
Dumbbell step ups are another golden exercise targeting the quads.

How to do it: If you are using dumbbells, hold one in each hand at your side with palms facing each other. Step one foot on the platform. You will be using that leg to pull the rest of your body up to the platform, which is why having good balance is key to performing the exercise. Lift with your quad and hamstring to bring your other leg up until you can rest your foot on the platform. Bring that leg back down to the ground, then step up with the other leg. Repeat for 8 – 10 reps and do at least two sets per leg. Take a 15 – 30 second break if needed between sets.

Variation:  You can choose to just do one leg per set, or alternate legs. Just be sure to do the recommended reps and sets for each leg to complete the full exercise.

#12. Reverse Lunge

This leg workout can be done at the gym or at home, all you need is some dumbbells. Start out with a lighter weight until you perfect the motion and then increase the dumbbell weight to really work your legs.

Reverse Lunge
Reverse lunges are a full leg exercise that can be done at home or the gym.

How to do it: Stand tall with a dumbbell in each hand with palms facing each other and feet close together. Tighten your core to maintain stability throughout the exercise. Step back with one foot and begin to lower your body until your front thigh is parallel to the floor and your back knee is almost touching the floor. Rise up and step back to the starting position. Complete 10 reps on one leg per set and then switch to the other leg for a total of four sets. If needed, take a 30 second break between sets.

#13. Walking Lunge

Grab your dumbbells and some space in the gym or at home for this leg exercise. You will work your quads, hamstrings, and glutes. The walking lunge is one of the best finishing leg exercises that will help you walk your way to thighs that turn heads!

Walking lunge
Walking lunges target quads, hamstrings & glutes & can be done at home or the gym.

How to do it: Stand tall with a dumbbell in each hand at your sides, palms facing each other. Make sure that throughout the lunge, your knee on the front leg never goes past your toes. Engage your core to keep your body steady. Step forward with one foot while bending at the knee and lowering your torso towards the floor. Stop just short of your back knee touching the floor. Push your front foot into the floor as you rise up, bringing your back leg forward to the standing position. Repeat with your other leg to complete the lunge. Do at least 10 reps on each leg for a total of three sets. Take a 30 – 45 second break between sets if needed. Once you’ve mastered the walking lunge, add more weight to your reps to increase the challenge!

We hope you enjoyed reading about some of the best leg workouts that you can do at the gym and at home.

If you haven’t already, be sure to check out some of our other lists of best exercises to really get in a quality full body exercise routine.

Which leg exercise is your favorite to do and which one do you dread? Is there one you think should be listed that isn’t? Let us know in the comments.

Disclaimer: None of the individuals and/or companies mentioned necessarily endorse Old School Labs or COSIDLA Inc. products or the contents of this article. Any programs provided for illustration purposes only. Always consult with your personal trainer, nutritionist and physician before changing or starting any new exercise, nutrition, or supplementation program.
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