15 Best Leg Exercises and Workout for Muscle & Strength

If you are looking for the best Leg Exercises and Workout routine to build a bigger and Stronger leg, then you are in the right place, we will discuss exercises instructions, muscle involvement, pro-tips.

However, It is also important to understand the leg anatomy to understand how to optimally train the lower body.

The leg is divided into the upper leg (thigh) and lower leg (calf).

The upper leg consists of one bone, the femur, whereas the lower leg consists of two bones, the tibia (located on the big-toe side) and fibula (on the little toe side).

Best Leg Exercises and Workout

Leg Muscle Anatomy

The legs consist of dozens of muscles that flex, bend, extend, adduct, abduct, and rotate your legs and allow movement. This ultimate leg workout focuses on four main muscle groups — the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves.

Understanding how they all fit together and work with each other will ensure you get the most out of your workout.

Leg Muscle Anatomy

Quadriceps

The quadriceps femoris, located in front of the thigh, has four separate heads:

1. Rectus femoris arises from the front of the pelvic bone.

2. Vastus medialis arises from the inner edge of the femur.

3. Vastus lateralis arises from the outer edge of the femur.

4. Vastus intermedius arises from the front surface of the femur and lies underneath the rectus femoris.

Quadriceps

The four heads merge, attach onto the patella (knee cap), and then insert via a single (patellar) tendon onto the tibia, just below the knee joint.

The main function of the quadriceps is to extend the knee and straighten the leg.

Hamstrings

The hamstrings, located behind the thigh, are a group of three muscles that originate from the ischium bone of the pelvis.

  1. Biceps femoris passes behind the outer aspect of the thigh to attach to the head of the fibula bone, just below the knee.
  2. Semimembranosus passes behind the inner aspect of the thigh, attaching to the upper tibia bone behind the knee.
  3. Semitendinosus passes behind the Inner aspect of the thigh, attaching to the upper tibia bone adjacent to semimembranosus.
Hamstrings

Gluteals

The gluteus maximus arises from a large area on the rear of the pelvic bone, passes down behind the hip joint, and attaches to the upper femur. This powerful muscle causes hip extension.

Gluteals
Other thigh muscles Include the following:

Hip adductors (Inner thigh): Gracilis; adductor longus, magnus, and brevis

Hip abductors: Tensor fascia latae; gluteus medius and mlnimus

Hip flexors: Sartorius, Iliopsoas, rectus femoris

Calves

The lower leg contains 10 different muscles. The calf comprises two muscles:

  1. The gastrocnemius is the visible muscle of the calf. The two heads (medial and lateral) of the gastrocnemius arise from the rear of the femur bone. immediately above the knee joint.
  2. Soleus arises from the rear aspect of the tibia and lies underneath the gastrocnemius.
Calves
The following are other lower leg muscles:

libialis anterior, Ankle eversion: Peroneus longus and brevis, libialis posterior

Flexor dlgitorum longus, flexor hallucis longus, extensor digitorum longus, and extensor halluds longus.

This blog contains detailed descriptions of all major leg exercises that focus on the quadriceps, hamstring, glutes, and Calf muscles.

The leg exercises are divided into squat exercises, leg press, Leg extension, Stiff-Leg Deadlift, and machine squat exercises, lunge, and Calf raise exercises.

Here the 15 Best Leg Exercises and Workout for lower body Strength

1. Barbell Squat

If there is only one exercise you want to do for leg exercises, then it should be Squats. Nothing comes close to squat exercises to build muscle mass and tone the legs muscles.

The barbell squat is the king of all exercises, the only challenger being the barbell deadlift.

Men’s loved this exercise because it is great at strengthening the legs and core, shocking the body into releasing testosterone, and promoting the development of body-wide muscle and strength.

Woman’s loved squat because it is very effective at toning butts and thighs.

You can use either a squats machine or free weights to perform squats. The best way is to perform on a Power Rack (Very Safe).

The basic stance is feet-shoulder-width-apart. A wider stance works on the inside of the thigh to a greater degree, and a narrower stance works on the outside of the thigh to a greater degree.

Barbell Squat
Muscles Involved

Primary: Quadriceps, gluteals.

Secondary: Hamstrings, adductors, spinal erectors, abdominals.

Execution Technique
  1. Step on the rack so that the barbell rests across the back of your shoulders. Raise the barbell and get away from the rack if you are doing with free weights.
  2. Bend your knees and lower yourself with your back straight and head up until your thighs are parallel to the ground.
  3. Now raise yourself up using only the thigh power, keeping your back straight in a position with legs nearly locked out.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
Tips
  • Keep your back straight, torso upright, head up, and feet flat.
  • Start light and add weight gradually, allowing your legs and lower back to adapt.
  • Concentrate on the form.
  • If lifting heavy, have a spotter ready, or use a squat rack or power rack.

2. Leg Press

Leg Press is one of the best exercises to build thigh muscles. If you have back problems or are concerned about lower back pressure, then Leg Press exercises are the best thigh building and toning exercises.  

In comparison with the barbell squat, the seated leg press exercises reduce the axial load on your spine and reduce the risk of backache.

Furthermore, the leg press emphasizes the quadriceps, not the gluteals.

Placing your feet low on the footplate emphasizes the quadriceps. Positioning your feet higher on the footplate switches the focus to the gluteals and hamstrings.

Leg Press

There are 2 types of Leg Presses

1. The Diagonal or Vertical Sled type Leg Press is seen in a few gyms where weights are attached directly to the sled mounted on rails, and you sit below the sled pushing the weights with his feet upwards.

2. The Seated Leg Press, where you sit upright and push your feet forward.

Muscles Involved

Primary: Quadriceps.

Secondary: Gluteals, hamstrings, adductors.

Execution Technique
  1. Sit in the leg press machine and place your feet shoulder-width apart on the footplate.
  2. Now, bend your knees and allow the weight to lower itself until your knees are near 90 degrees.
  3. Now extend your legs and push the weight back to the beginning position by straightening your legs.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
Tips
  • Move only legs and don’t use your arms to push the knees.
  • Concentrate on the form

3. Leg Extension

Leg Extension exercises are a great way to build and shape your thigh muscles. This exercise is done on a Leg Extensions machine.

The leg extension should not be your primary quad exercise. There are far better options. Use the leg extension exercises only to warm up your quads, pre-exhaust them before squats, or flush them at the end of a leg workout.

The seated leg extension is an isolation exercise and one used to target the muscles of the quads.

This exercise can be particularly hard on the knees. So, it may be beneficial for those with prior knee issues to stick with other movements, preferably compound, to target your quads.

Pointing your toes directly upward hits all sections of the quadriceps equally, toes inward internally rotates the tibia to target the inner quad “teardrop”. Placing your toes outward externally rotates the tibia to hit the outer quad.

Leg Extension
Muscles Involved

Primary: Quadriceps, gluteals.

Secondary: Hamstrings, adductors, spinal erectors, abdominals.

Execution Technique
  1. Sit on a Leg extension machine with your legs under the pad and with your back pressed firmly against the back pad.
  2. Grasp the handles or the seat edges behind your hips and keep your upper body stable
  3. Extend your legs as far as possible in a smooth movement until fully extended to get a maximum thigh contraction.
  4. Contract your quads at the top and slowly lower the weight under control to the starting position.
Tips
  • Do not go too heavy because it can be bad for your knees.
  • Do not lock your knees at full extension. This can strain the knee joint.

4. Leg Curl

Leg Curl or Hamstring Curl exercises are the Best Way to build muscle mass in the Hamstrings (Back of thigh muscles). You can do this exercise either by Lying or Standing Hamstring Curl machines.

Pointing your toes straight targets all three hamstring muscles. Pointing the toes inward emphasizes the inner hamstrings (semimembranosus and semitendinosus), whereas pointing the toes outward focuses effort on the outer hamstrings (biceps femoris).

Leg Curl
Muscles Involved

Primary: Hamstrings.

Secondary: Gluteals, calf muscles.

Execution Technique
  1. Lie faced down on a lying leg curl machine and extend your legs straight. Position your legs under the support pads.
  2. Curl the weight by bending your knees, and raise your heels toward your buttocks.
  3. Hold the handles or bench to prevent yourself from lifting off the bench. Keep the movement smooth.
  4. Lower the weight to the starting position.
Tips
  • Keep your spine straight, and do not raise your chest upward.
  • Go full range. Avoid jerky movements.
  • Bend your knees as far as possible during the upward phase. Stop a few degrees short of full extension at the bottom to keep tension on the hamstrings and minimize stress across the knee joint.

5. Barbell Lunges

The barbell lunge is a brilliant exercise to develop balance, coordination, and the unilateral (one-sided) functional strength of your legs, which is important for athletic performance and overall fitness.

Barbell Lunges is a power move to build thigh and butt muscles. Learn the correct technique and blast your thighs now.

This exercise can be done with either a barbell or dumbbell.

Walking lunge: Instead of returning to the same start position, do a lunge walk. Perform lunges, one leg after another, so that you walk the length of the gym floor.

Barbell Lunges
Muscles Involved

Primary: Quadriceps.

Secondary: Gluteals, hamstrings, adductors.

Execution Technique
  1. Holding a barbell behind the neck, stand upright.
  2. Keeping your back straight, take a step forward, bending your knees and getting them as close to the floor as possible.
  3. Push yourself back to the starting position and repeat with the other foot.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
Tips
  • Bend as far and low as possible without losing form.
  • Keep your torso upright and your head facing forward.
  • If you suffer from balance problems, it is best either avoid it, or just use your own body weight while holding on to a steady object.

6. Dumbbell Lunges

Dumbbell Lunges is an excellent exercise to build thigh muscles and glutes. Along with Squats Lunges are highly recommended to build your butt muscles.

Dumbbell lunges require good balance, so if you have issues keeping your balance, start by doing the lunges exercise without weights as you learn the proper form.

Be careful that the knee of the forward leg does not extend past the toes as you bend the leg. This can aggravate the knee joint if done too much and lead to an injury.

Squeeze your butts at the end of this movement for full benefit. Feet together stance is recommended.

Dumbbell Lunges
Muscles Involved

Primary: Quadriceps.

Secondary: Gluteals, hamstrings, adductors.

Execution Technique
  1. Grab hold a dumbbell in each hand, with your arms by your sides, and stand upright.
  2. Keeping your back straight, take a step forward, bending your knees and getting them as close to the floor as possible.
  3. Push yourself back to the starting position and repeat with the other foot.
  4. Keep alternating the leg with which you lunge.
Tips
  • Bend as far and low as possible without losing form.
  • Keep your torso upright and your head facing forward.
  • If you suffer from balance problems, it is best either avoid it, or just use your own bodyweight while holding on to a steady object.

7. Dumbbell Squat

Dumbbell Squats are an excellent alternative to barbell squats to build quality muscle mass in the legs. These leg exercises are done standing with a pair of Dumbbells.

One benefit the dumbbell squat has over the barbell squat is that you can perform it anywhere, and there’s no need for a spotter.

Dumbbell Squat
Muscles Involved

Primary: Quadriceps, gluteals.

Secondary: Hamstrings, adductors, spinal erectors, abdominals.

Execution Technique
  1. Grab hold of a pair of heavy dumbbells and stand upright with feet shoulder feet apart.
  2. Bend your knees and lower yourself with your back straight and head up until your thighs are parallel to the ground.
  3. Now raise yourself up using only the thigh power, keeping your back straight in a position with legs nearly locked out.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
Tips
  • Keep your torso upright, shoulders back, head up, and feet flat.
  • Exhale while moving up.
  • Warm up well before Heavy Squats.

8. Front Squat

Front Squat is an excellent power exercise to build quality muscle mass in the thighs.

The barbell squat and the barbell front squat work the same target and synergistic muscles. However, the barbell front squat recruits more stabilizer muscles, including various back muscles, your shoulders, and your chest.

The barbell front squat is more advanced than the barbell squat. However, it is not as effective at building mass because it doesn’t permit as much weight to be lifted.

Front Squats helps build entire thighs and focuses especially on the outer thigh region. This exercise can be done with free weights.

Front Squat
Muscles Involved

Primary: Quadriceps, gluteals.

Secondary: Hamstrings, adductors, spinal erectors, abdominals.

Execution Technique
  1. Step on a Smith machine and get the bar on your shoulders in front of you, grasping it with your crossed arms and lift it off the rack.
  2. Maintain the natural arch in your lower back and keep your head directed forward.
  3. Perform a basic squat, bending your knees and driving your hips back to lower yourself until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  4. From this position, push yourself back to the starting point. Repeat.
Tips
  • Keep your back straight, torso upright, head facing forward, and feet flat.
  • Start light and add weight gradually, allowing your legs and lower back time to adapt.
  • If lifting heavy, have a spotter ready, or use a squat rack or power rack.

9. Hack Squat

The machine hack squat is a variation of the squat and an exercise used to build the muscles of the legs. In particular, the hack squat will target glutes & hip flexors, and quadriceps and also involves calves and hamstrings.

The difference between a barbell squat and a hack squat is that the core is more involved in the barbell squat.

Since the hack squat machine assists and stabilizes your upper body and torso, the muscles of the core do not need to work as hard as they would with the barbell squat.

Hack Squat
Muscles Involved

Primary: Quadriceps, gluteals.

Secondary: Hamstrings, adductors, spinal erectors, abdominals.

Execution Technique
  1. Get on a hack squat machine and place your back flat against the back pad of the and get your shoulders under the support.
  2. Grasp the side handles of the machine and place your legs in a shoulder width stance with your toes pointed out slightly.
  3. Straighten your legs, but do not lock your knees. Inhale as you slowly lower the weight by bending your knees. Go down as low as possible, thighs parallel to the floor. Hold for a count of one.
  4. Return to the start position by pushing down through your heels and extending your legs, exhaling as you do so.
Tips
  • Your back should remain on the pad while you are performing this exercise.
  • For the safety of your ankles and knees, keep your feet and knees pointing in the same direction.

10. Stiff-Leg Deadlift

The stiff leg deadlift is a variation of the deadlift and an exercise used primarily to target the muscles of the hamstrings and gluteals.

The stiff-leg deadlift for hamstrings requires a lighter weight than that used during the traditional power lift for strengthening the lower back

The stiff leg deadlift has long been thought of as the “leg” deadlift variation, despite all hip hinge movements primarily targeting the hamstrings.

Hands should be spaced shoulder-width apart so that the arms hang vertical and hands pass along the outer thighs. An over-under grip with one palm facing forward and the other facing back prevents the bar from rolling.

Stiff-Leg Deadlift
Muscles Involved

Primary: Hamstring, gluteals.

Secondary: Spinal erectors, quadriceps.

Execution Technique
  1. Grasp a barbell using a shoulder-width pronated (overhand) grip or a mixed grip.
  2. Keeping your back straight, head up, and hips low, lift the barbell into a standing position.
  3. Flex your knees a little and push your hips backward and slowly lower the barbell down the front of your legs. Descend until you feel a mild stretch in your hamstrings.
  4. Exhale as you pull the barbell back up to the starting position by pushing your hips forward. Repeat for the desired number of reps.
Tips
  • Keep your knees stiff, your back and arms straight, and your head up.
  • Do not allow the bar to drift away from your body during the lift. Keep the barbell close to your body.
  • Keep soft knees and ensure the movement occurs primarily at your hips.
  • Lower the weight until your hamstrings reach full stretch without rounding your spine.

11. Standing Leg Curl

The Standing Leg Curl is a resistance exercise used to strengthen the hamstrings, buttocks, and calves.

You pull your heels toward your buttocks from your position on the machine to do a leg curl. To properly execute a leg curl, always start with a lighter weight. You don’t want to force your body to overcompensate by lifting the hips and flexing your lower back.

In contrast to the lying leg curl, the standing leg curl is performed with one leg at a time, which helps muscle isolation and focus. Resistance is fairly uniform.

Standing Leg Curl
Muscles Involved

Primary: Hamstrings.

Secondary: Gluteals, calf muscles.

Execution Technique
  1. Standing facing the machine, slightly to one side of it. Hook one heel under the roller pad, and support your weight with the other leg.
  2. Curl the weight by bending your knee, raising your heel toward your buttock.
  3. Hold for a couple of counts and slowly lower the weight back down to the start position.
  4. Finish the set, then switch legs and repeat.
Tips
  • Stretch your hamstrings before and after this exercise to reduce risk of injury
  • Keep your back straight and perform with controlled motion.

12. Smith Machine Squat

Squats on a smith machine help to stabilize your core and keep your posture in the correct position while doing a squat.

An advantage of the smith machine squat is being able to place your foot stance further forward than usual and target more of the glutes and hamstrings rather than the exercises being quadriceps-dominant

The Smith machine squat allows you to safely squat a heavyweight in the absence of a spotter. Just make sure that you use the safety pins.

Smith Machine Squat
Muscles Involved

Primary: Quadriceps, gluteals.

Secondary: Hamstrings, adductors, spinal erectors, abdominals.

Execution Technique
  1. Stand in a Smith machine so that the barbell is behind your shoulders and slightly below your neck, grasping it just outside your shoulders. Twist the bar to unrack it.
  2. Grasp the barbell with palms facing forward and hands wider than shoulder width apart.
  3. With your chest high, head forward, and back slightly arched, bend your knees and hips. Inhale as you slowly lower the barbell by getting into a squat position.
  4. When your thighs are parallel with the floor, exhale and push off with your legs to reverse the movement and return to the starting position.
Tips
  • Keep your back straight, torso upright, head up, and feet flat.
  • Start light and add weight gradually, allowing your legs and lower back to adapt.
  • Concentrate on form.

13. Standing Calf Raise

Calf Muscle Exercises are performed to build 2 basic calf muscles, soleus and gastrocnemius.

If there is only one exercise you want to do for calves, then it should be Calf Raises. It is the overall Calf muscle builder. Nothing compares to it.

Calf Raises can be performed Standing or Seated. Standing Raises is the gold standard exercise.

Positioning your feet hip-Width apart targets the whole gastrocnemius muscle. A wide stance tends to emphasize the inner (medial) head, whereas a narrow stance targets the outer (lateral) head.

To maximize the range of motion, aim for a full stretch at the bottom and a full squeeze at the top.

Standing Calf Raise
Muscles Involved

Primary: Gastrocnemius.

Secondary: Soleus.

Execution Technique
  1. Step on a Calf Raise Machine with your toes on a block and heals extended into space. Place the shoulders under the pads and hook the weight off the support.
  2. Now raise yourself up using only the toes and come as far as possible. Hold this position for a second, flexing your calf muscles.
  3. Slowly lower your heals as far as possible towards the floor. Keep your knees slightly bent.
  4. Go as heavy as possible. With time, you can perform partial repetitions once you get tired on a set.
Tips
  • The movement too quickly isn’t effective—it’s best to raise and lower your heels slowly.
  • To stay properly balanced while performing calf raises, keep your chest up and stand tall
  • To help keep your balance, keep your eyes facing forward at all times.

14. Donkey Calf Raises

Donkey Calf Raises is an excellent exercise to build calf muscles. This raise is mostly the second option after standing calf raises.

The donkey calf raises primarily engages the two muscles that make up the calves: the gastrocnemius and the soleus.

The donkey calf raises secondarily activates the hamstrings and abs. When you bend over to initiate the calf raise, the hamstrings receive a stretch.

Add this exercise as a variation to your calf workouts, and it will add some variety to your leg workouts. Do this exercise with a training partner sitting across your back.

Donkey Calf Raises
Muscles Involved

Primary: Hamstrings.

Secondary: Gluteals, calf muscles.

Execution Technique
  1. Stand on a board and bend forward, holding a table for support. Ask a training partner to sit across your back.
  2. Lower your heels and get as low as possible and fully contract your calf muscles fully.
  3. Extend your calves and get back to starting position.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of reps.
Tips
  • Exhale while you exert, in this case while raising your calves against resistance.
  • Go full range of motion. Since partial calf movements happens everyday in walking and running, its essential that you go through full range movements to target the calves muscles including both gastrocnemius and soleus muscles.
  • Use high blocks to make sure that you are not limited in range of your movements.

15. Leg Press Machine Calf Raise

The leg press calf raise is a variation of the machine calf raise and an exercise used to build the muscles of the calves.

The calves can be a very stubborn muscle group, so it’s important to target them with plenty of different angles and a high training frequency.

Working your calves on the machine has a great benefit compared to standing calf raises. That is, it does not put stress on your spine.

It supports your upper and lower back. Hence, if you have problems with your spine or your back, use the seated leg press machine instead of the vertical moves.

Point your toes straight ahead to target the whole gastrocnemius muscle. Point your toes out to emphasize the inner (medial) head, or point your toes inward to target the gastrocnemius’s outer (lateral) head.

Leg Press Machine Calf Raise
Muscles Involved

Primary: Hamstring, gluteals.

Secondary: Spinal erectors, quadriceps.

Execution Technique
  1. Sit in a leg press machine and place your feet on the bottom of the foot plate so that your heels hang off the foot plate.
  2. Press the foot plate up from the safety hooks (but do not unlatch them) by straightening your legs.  
  3. Drop your toes down toward your shins to stretch your calves. Press the weight up with your toes by contracting your calf muscles.
  4. Hold this position for a second, flexing your calf muscles, then lower your heels back to the starting position.
Tips
  • Keep the repetitions slow and controlled. Limit momentum and pause at the top to emphasize the contraction
  • Try to move through the ball of the foot rather than the base of the toes.
  • To perform the exercise correctly and safely, you must wear proper footwear. No slippers.

Bonus: Dumbbell Farmers Walk

The dumbbell farmer’s walk is a great exercise for improving your grip strength and building your forearms. It also improves your overall strength and functional fitness by strengthening your core, back, glutes, legs, and gait.

The farmer’s walk exercise also called the farmer’s carry, is a strength and conditioning exercise in which you hold a heavy load in each hand while walking for a designated distance.

Farmer’s Walk with Dumbbells might be one of the classic exercises and a move that man’s been doing since the beginning of time.

The Farmer’s Walk allows you to accomplish a tremendous amount in a single exercise.   

Dumbbell Farmers Walk
Muscles Involved

Primary: Trapezius, Levator Scapulae, Rhomboids, Erector Spinae, Abs.

Secondary: Gluteus Maximus, Hamstrings, Quadriceps.

Execution Technique
  1. Deadlift a pair of dumbbells from the floor. Reach down, bending at the hips and knees, and grasp the dumbbells in each hand.
  2. Hold the dumbbells at your side with a firm grip. Stand tall, keeping your shoulders, back, and core tight.
  3. Take small steps and walk forward at an even pace with your eyes focused straight ahead of you.
  4. Complete the desired amount of steps, come to a stop, and place the dumbbells down while keeping a tight core and neutral spine.
Tips
  • Focus on squeezing your shoulder blades and tightening your abs.
  • Keep a neutral or straight spine throughout the movement to avoid injury.

Thanks for reading, enjoy working your Leg Exercises!

Stay Fit, Live a Happy and Healthy Life
Disclaimer:

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health advice. We would ask you to consult a qualified professional or medical expert to gain additional knowledge, before choosing to consume any product or perform any exercise.

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