Leg day is often ignored by a majority of weight trainers and even gym-goers for a variety of reasons. The most common reasons are that it’s the most demanding workout you can tackle or it’s the most difficult one you’ll face at any fitness level.
But leg day is an essential part of any good workout routine. If you are working on improving your muscle strength, compound movements like squats, lunges, and deadlifts are vital exercises you should fully understand. Even if you are working on muscle hypertrophy, you simply can’t get good results without leg workouts.
First and foremost, your legs are the biggest muscle group in your body. Training your legs means you can burn more calories, stimulate more muscle hormones, boost your lifts, build strength, improve mobility, and increase endurance.
And leg workouts aren't only beneficial from an exercise perspective. They impact your daily life more than any other kind of exercise. Having strong legs not only helps you move quickly and with ease, but it also helps your core muscles become more powerful. If you think about it, most of the activities you’ve done today are either related to your legs or core. The way you walk from office to office, stand, sit, grab the coffee on your desk—literally everything involves using your leg or core muscles. With more leg muscles, your body balance becomes more stable during the day, leading to a better overall condition.
Like it or not, if your goal in weight training is related to your daily life in any way, you can’t avoid leg day.
Here are the 12 most effective leg exercises we’ve chosen for your leg workouts. Follow them closely to reap the full rewards.
1. Barbell Back Squat
Spread your feet shoulder-width apart and place the barbell on your shoulders, behind your neck.
Squat down while pulling your hips back and keeping tension on your core (abs) to prevent your upper body from leaning forward.
Maintaining your upper body posture, push against the ground with your feet to return to the starting position.
Tip: Keep in mind that your squat should start with the hip, not the knee. If you start your squat movement with your knee, stop and lower the weight and try to do it with the proper form.
With your feet slightly less than shoulder-width apart, grip the barbell slightly more than shoulder-width apart. Make sure your knees and arms do not overlap.
While maintaining your upper body position, keep your back straight and lift the barbell while pushing against the ground with your feet.
While keeping your abs tight, raise the barbell so it touches your body while lifting.
Stand up straight and contract your glutes.
Lower the barbell to the floor and return to the starting position.
Tip: Start with a low weight. Practice abdominal bracing while lifting.
3. Leg Press
Sit on the machine so that your buttocks and back make full contact with the seat. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart. (Moving your feet closer together will work the outside of your thigh while moving them further apart will work the inside.)
Remove the safety pin, feel the weight, and bend your knees. Lower the weight plate as far as you can without raising your buttocks off the seat.
While contracting your abs, push the weight plate back to its original position.
Tip: Don't lower the sled too far. The machine supports your back, but that doesn't mean you can’t hurt your back if you perform the exercise using poor form.
4. Leg Extension
Adjust the machine so that the chair is right below the knee and the padded part is slightly above the ankle.
While ensuring your buttocks stay in full contact with the seat, extend your legs using your thigh muscles.
Slowly bend your knees while maintaining muscle tension.
Tip: Find the form that places minimum stress on your knee joint. The biggest mistake beginners make is using their knees to do leg extensions.
Start by lying flat on your stomach and adjusting the machine so that the pad is located just above the Achilles tendon.
Pull your ankles towards your buttocks, bending your knees to raise the pad.
Slowly lower the pad while maintaining tension in your waist, buttocks, and hamstrings.
Tip: Slow your movements to half your usual tempo. Aim for maximum stimulation.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, straighten your back, and stand up straight.
Squat while keeping your chest out and hips pulled back. (At this time, raising your arms in front of you helps you maintain balance.)
Push against the ground with your feet and stand up to return to the starting position.
Tip: Just like with the barbell squat, start with your hips.
Grasp the barbell shoulder-width apart and place it on the front of your shoulders.
Squat down while pulling your hips back. Keep your elbows raised so that the barbell remains securely on your shoulders.
Keeping your entire torso straight, stand up while pressing against the ground with the bottom of your feet.
Tip: Try not to lower your elbows during the exercise. If that’s uncomfortable, use a cross-armed grip.
Stand with your upper body straight and your feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand.
Place one foot forward and bend your knees until they reach a 90-degree angle. During the movement, keep your torso straight.
With the weight placed on the heel of your front foot, push up and return to the starting position.
Tip: The knee of the forward leg must create a 90-degree angle. Do not lean forward with your torso.
Barbell Split Squat
Standing with one foot in front of you and the other behind you, place the barbell on your shoulders, behind your neck.
Lower your hips until your knees form a 90-degree angle, keeping your eyes facing forward.
While bending your knees, don’t lean to either side.
Tip: Slow down each rep to ensure that your foot, ankle, knee, hip and spine are facing in the same direction during the entire exercise.
Kettlebell Goblet Squat
Stand with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart, hold a kettlebell with both hands, and place it under your chin.
Hold the kettlebell tightly with both hands, and lower your body while pulling your hips back into a squat position.
Push against the ground with your feet and stand up with a straight back to return to the starting position.
Tip: Just like the front squat, try not to lower your elbows and keep tension on your core to help prevent rounding your back.
Standing Calf Raise
Place your shoulders under the weight pads, grasp the machine with both hands, and stand up.
Use the power of your calves to lift your entire body.
Slowly lower the weight while maintaining tension on your calves.
Tip: Try to squeeze your calves at the top of each rep. Do not rush this exercise.
Inner Thigh Machine
Adjust the width of the pads so they make contact with your inner thighs and sit on the machine.
While exhaling, contract your legs inward.
Inhale and return to the initial position.
Tip: It’s hard to perform this exercise incorrectly using this machine.
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