What are the best leg exercises?
Everyone knows someone who skips leg day.
However, skipping leg day is not advised as performing leg exercises helps build strength and power in the leg muscles and also develops core stability, improves balance, and aids better posture.
In this article, you’ll find a great selection of leg exercises to choose from, ranging from full leg exercises, which engage everything from the calves to the quads, to exercises targeting specific leg muscles.
We’ve hand-picked ten of the best for you to include in your next leg workout.
The Best Leg Exercises
Our exercise routines are created by determining the best exercises for muscle growth, core strength, and overall health and well-being.
Here’s our list of the 10 best leg exercises:
Lunges are the best leg exercise for beginners and professionals alike who are looking to improve their fitness levels.
They are also good for strengthening hips, back, and of course, legs and require no equipment to perform.
How to do it:
Here’s how to perform a lunge:
- Stand up straight
- Take a step forward with one foot until your leg reaches a 90-degree angle
- Lift your leg and return to the starting position
- Repeat with the other foot
For such a simple exercise, lunges deliver a great all-round workout with a range of benefits.
They aid with weight loss while also improving balance, and also help to improve posture, too.
Since this is a resistance exercise that doesn’t require weights, it’s safe to perform lunges daily.
They can be great included in a full-body workout or even as a warm-up before you hit the weights.
9. Leg Curls
You’ll need to be in the gym for this exercise (unless you’re lucky enough to have a full gym set-up in your home) as this requires a machine.
This exercise primarily works the hamstrings, focusing on these muscles while the rest of your body remains still.
How to do it:
Once you’re seated in the machine with your legs fixed under the support:
- Grasp the handles on the side of the machine
- Lift your legs so they are up in front of you
- Pull your legs back down back into the starting position
While this exercise is geared mostly towards the hamstrings, other muscles are targeted as well.
As you lower your feet back down, you’ll also engage the glutes and thighs to give them a little workout.
Include the leg curl exercise as part of your regular leg day sessions in the gym to increase strength and definition.
8. Leg Extensions
Great-looking legs require a nice balance and symmetry across all the muscles, and the leg extension exercise delivers the goods when it comes to targeting your quadriceps.
How to do it:
Once you’ve sat down in the leg extension machine and placed your shins underneath the padded bar:
- Raise your legs upwards using your quads to drive the padded bar upwards until your legs are straight
- Hold this position for a moment, squeezing your quad muscles
- Lower the pad back down to the starting position slowly, controlling the motion
By hitting your quads almost exclusively, the leg extension helps to develop these into strong and defined muscles. It’s a great strength training exercise to add to your routines.
The leg extension workout should be done each time you hit your legs, and you should try to stick to a more moderate load with this and avoid piling on lots of weights.
7. Seated Calf Raises
The seated calf raise is an exercise for legs with a deceptively small range, ideally suited to increasing both the size and the strength of your calf muscles and helping to improve overall leg definition.
How to do it:
Once again, you’ll need specialist gym equipment to perform this leg workout. Here’s how to do it:
- Sit in the machine with your legs underneath the padded bar and the balls of your feet on the platform
- Extend your ankles and release the safety bar
- Lower your heels until the calf muscles are fully stretched
- Extend the ankles to flex the calves
Well-formed legs need defined calf muscles to complete the package.
At the same time, additional strength in these muscles is great for better overall sports performance, particularly running and jumping.
There’s no harm in performing calf raises 2-3 times per week or as part of your scheduled leg day sessions.
As always, if they’re aching too much, consider letting them recover a little longer before training them again.
6. Barbell Hip Thrusts
There aren’t as many exercises for glutes as there are for some of the more popular muscles in the body.
So, if you want to target your glutes above everything else, then barbell hip thrusts are one of the best leg exercises for the job.
How to do it:
To perform the barbell hip thrust routine, you’ll need a bench and a barbell with the desired weight loaded onto it. Then:
- Place the barbell parallel to the bench
- Sit on the floor with the bench behind you, and your knees elevated. Place your feet flat on the floor
- Rest the barbell over your legs just below the hips
- Lean back with your shoulders onto the bench
- Lift the bar up by driving your hips upwards, so your knees end up bent at 90 degrees
- Pause at the top, squeezing your glutes, before slowly lowering down to the starting position
Few exercises help to build the glutes as well as hip thrusts. You’ll find that as you continue to include this exercise in your routine, your core and general lower body performance will improve.
You can include barbell hip thrusts in your workouts from anywhere between one to four times per week, although if you’re going heavy, it’s wise to keep this number on the lower end of the scale.
5. Leg Press
Leg presses are another form of resistance training, this time one which allows you to really go for large weights as you develop over time.
They promote muscle growth which can help reduce the risk of injury from other exercises.
How to do it:
Sit back in the machine, then:
- Place your feet on the pad, shoulder-width apart with your toes pointing slightly outwards
- Grip the handles to your sides with your hands firmly
- Straighten your legs, pushing the pad upwards, releasing the leg press handles as you do so
- Lower your legs back towards your chest in a gentle motion, then push out again for another rep. Avoid locking your legs out at the knees to avoid risking an injury
The leg press is a great leg workout for building glutes and hamstrings and is quite easy to use without too much risk of injury (just so long as you build up the weights over time to know your limitations).
Quads and calves also get a workout, making this a solid all-rounded when developing your leg muscles.
Rest days are important when factoring in leg press workouts in your routine, although it’s possible to do these more regularly if you choose a lighter weight you’re comfortable with.
For real gains, go heavy and make sure there’s a day for recovery afterward.
4. Bulgarian Split Squats
Requiring just a bench to perform, the Bulgarian split squat is another very easy to learn and master leg exercise which works a selection of muscles throughout the lower body.
It also requires a degree of balance, which means your core is also engaged and strengthened.
How to do it:
You’ll need a bench to perform the Bulgarian split squat. Once you have one set up:
- Stand with the bench positioned horizontally behind you, then raise your left leg behind you and prop your foot on the bench with your toes
- With your torso in an upright position, lower your left knee to the floor, bringing your body down into a squat
- Raise yourself back up to the starting position, then switch legs to perform the exercise on the other side
Everything from the calves and hamstrings to quads and glutes gets a look-in when you perform Bulgarian split squats.
The lack of gym equipment needed to perform the exercise also means you can do these virtually anywhere.
These are a great workout to perform on your leg days, but there’s nothing to stop you from throwing a few sets in at other times too.
It shouldn’t take long to get used to balancing to notice how effective this movement can be.
3. Romanian Deadlifts
There are some fitness experts who rate the Romanian deadlift as one of the best-kept secrets to building big, strong legs.
They target the glutes more so than traditional deadlifts while also placing greater emphasis on the hamstrings.
How to do it:
Once you’ve racked your desired weights on a barbell:
- Grasp the barbell with an overhand grip holding it at hip level
- With your shoulders back and spine straight, push your hips back and slowly lower the bar
- Once the barbell reaches your shins, pause, then raise it back up to the starting position
- Make sure your back doesn’t start to curve towards the end of the drop, and your shoulders remain straight
Romanian deadlifts should be included in your leg day routines if you’re looking to build on your leg strength and power.
They also help to improve leg flexibility and develop greater core strength.
You can include Romanian deadlifts in your regularly scheduled leg days to help add variety to other leg exercises.
It’s perhaps unwise to do these too often throughout the week, although if you’re using very low weights, this can help you develop the skill before moving onto bigger weights.
2. Barbell Front Squats
Barbell front squats bring a list of great benefits to your exercise routine, including strengthening your core, developing leg muscles, and improving posture.
It’s one of the best lower body workouts you can include in your training regime.
How to do it:
Once you’ve added the appropriate weights to the barbell mounted on the squat rack:
- Rest the bar on your upper chest, slightly under your chin
- Grip the bar with your fingers under and around it shoulder-width apart, with your elbows pointed forwards up to the height of the bar
- Unrack the barbell using your chest puffed out to support the weight. Do not support the weight on your fingers
- Lower your body into a full squat with your back upright
- Keep your heels on the ground and your weight centered
- Once your hamstrings almost touch your calves, push back up through to the starting position
As lower body exercises go, the barbell front squat is one of the best for improving all-round health, stability, and performance.
Master this and a host of other exercises will be easier and safer to perform.
Include the barbell front squat 2-3 times per week in your gym sessions, making sure you’re comfortable with the weights you’ve selected to avoid any injuries.
1. Barbell Back Squats
As the name implies, this version of the barbell squat uses your back to support the bar as you perform the exercise.
Quads, glutes, and hamstrings all get worked hard, especially when you master the exercise and work up to heavier weights.
How to do it:
As with the previous leg exercise on this list, you’ll need to place the barbell on the squat rack then add the desired plates. Then:
- Rest the bar on your rear shoulder muscles, placing your hands slightly wider than your shoulders
- Remove the bar from the rack and take a couple of steps away from the rack
- With toes pointing slightly outwards, focus your eyes on the floor in front of you to keep your spine aligned
- Squat down as if you’re sitting back on an invisible chair
- Descend until your hips crease slightly below your knees
- Drive back up, placing the weight on your heels
Considered by many to be among the greatest of all gym routines, the barbell back squat does more than just strengthen a wide selection of leg muscles.
Back strength, core stability, and increased power make this a lower body exercise everyone should try.
Given the potentially large weights you can go to when performing the barbell back squat, it’s best to stick to this routine 1-2 times per week.
You’ll need at least a day for recovery, perhaps more if you’ve piled on lots of weight plates.
FAQs About Leg Exercises
Discover more information about leg exercises by reading through our answers to these FAQs.
Q: What do leg exercises do?
Including a range of leg exercises in your gym workouts helps boost muscle strength and size in the lower body.
They also improve core stability, aid definition, and help to improve other activities such as running.
Q: What leg exercise is most effective?
The effectiveness of each leg exercise depends on what goals you’re hoping to achieve.
If you’re unsure which exercises are best for specific outcomes, read through this guide to the best leg exercises again to find the most effective exercise for you.
Q: Are single leg exercises better?
If you’re looking to address imbalances in your muscles, isolating one side of the body can be an effective way to do this.
They can also help improve balance due to the greater engagement of the abs and lower back when performing such exercises.
Q: What are the safest leg exercises?
Any good leg exercises which use a fixed machine are safer than those which use free weights.
Leg exercises that use bodyweight only are also easier to master with less risk of injury.
If you are older or have concerns about back injuries, always make sure you focus on getting the form right as a priority.
Q: Should I do legs every day?
The answer to this depends on your overall level of fitness and experience.
While professional athletes will often train daily, it’s wise to play it safe if you’re a beginner or intermediate and include rest days between workouts.
We hope you enjoyed our list of the 10 best leg exercises.
Leg days can feel like a bit of a chore, but hopefully, our guide should help you put the right foot forward and introduce a great selection of exercises to your leg workouts.
Here’s a quick recap of the 10 best leg exercises:
- Barbell Back Squats
- Barbell Front Squats
- Romanian Deadlifts
- Bulgarian Split Squats
- Leg Press
- Barbell Hip Thrusts
- Seated Calf Raises
- Leg Extensions
- Leg Curls
If you enjoyed this article, check out our other exercise lists:
- The 10 Best Back Exercises
- The 10 Best Chest Exercises
- The 10 Best Shoulder Exercises
- The 10 Best Arm Exercises
- The 10 Best Ab Exercises