Workouts for every body part series
If you want to build a set of strong legs, you need to think about the symmetry and work all the muscle groups in your legs: quads, hamstrings and calves.
Here’s a list of the best exercises for all three muscle groups:
Barbell squats – with the barbell on the rack, position it on the back of your shoulders and grasp it on the sides. Dismount bar from the rack and squat down by bending hips back and allowing your knees to bend forward. Keep your back straight and descend until thighs are parallel to the floor, then extend knees and hips until legs are straight.
Leg press – sit on the machine with your back on the padded support and your feet on the platform. Extend your hips and knees and release dock level grasping the handles by the sides. Lower the sled by flexing your hips and knees.
Sled hack squat – Lie supine on back pad with your shoulders under the shoulder pad. Place your feet on platform slightly higher than the base of sled. Extend your hips and knees and release dock levers. To lower sled, bend hips and knees until your knees are just short of complete flexion. Raise sled by extending knees and hips.
Barbell step-ups – face a bench on the side and position a bar on the back of your shoulders grasping it to sides. Place your foot on the bench and stand on it by extending hip and knee of your first leg and placing the second one on the bench. Step down with your second leg by flexing hip and knee of first leg. Return to original standing position by placing foot of first leg to floor.
Clean deadlift – with your feet under your hips, grab the bar with a hook grip about shoulder width apart. Your spine should be in full extension, with a back angle that places your shoulders in front of the bar and your back as vertical as possible. Go to the floor through the front of your heels and as the bar goes upward, maintain a constant back angle. Flare your knees out to the side to help keep them out of the bar's path. After the bar crosses the knees, complete the lift by driving the hips into the bar until your hips and knees are extended.
Kettlebell one-legged deadlift – hold a kettlebell by the handle in one hand and stand on one leg, on the same side that you hold the kettlebell. Keeping that knee slightly bent, perform a stiff legged deadlift by bending at the hip, extending your free leg behind you for balance. Continue lowering the kettlebell until you are parallel to the ground, and then return to the upright position.
Power snatch – begin as you would for the snatch. Once you have extended completely to accelerate and elevate the bar, pull under quickly and aggressively and fix the bar overhead in a partial squat position. The bar must be locked out overhead and all downward movement stopped with the lifter’s thighs above horizontal. The power snatch is simply a snatch without a full-depth squat to receive it.
Lever lying leg curls – facing the bench, stand between it and lever pads. Lie on the bench you’re your knees just beyond the edge of the bench and lower legs under lever pads. Grasp handles and raise lever pad to the back of your thighs by flexing your knees. Lower lever pads until your knees are straight.
Seated calf raise – sit facing the lever and reach forward to pull the hand lever towards your body. Place your forefeet on the platform with the heels extending off. Position lower thighs under the lever pads. Release the hand lever by pushing it away from your body. Place your hands on top of the thigh pads. Raise heels by extending your ankles as high as possible. Lower heels by bending ankles until your calves are stretched.
Leg press calf raise – sit on the seat with your back on the padded support and place your feet on the platform. Grab the handles to your sides and extend hips and knees. Place your toes and balls of feet on the lower portion of the platform with your heels and arches extending off and push the sled by extending ankles as far as possible. Return by bending your ankles until calves are stretched.
Lever donkey calf raises – position your lower back and hips under the padded lever. Place your forearms on the supports. Position your toes on the calf block with arches and heels extending off. Straighten knees and raise heels by extending ankles as high as possible. Lower heels by bending ankles until calves are stretched.
Standing calf raise – Position your toes on the calf block with your arches and heels extending off. Place your hand on the support for balance. Raise your heels by extending ankles as high as possible. Lower your heels by bending ankles until calves are stretched.
There you go, a list of exercises for each of the three muscles in your legs. But what are the key tips, techniques and advice when it comes to leg training?
- Attack the weak points first – if you know you have weak points in your legs, or that one group muscle is weaker than other, train that twice a week, prioritizing squats in your workouts.
- Go deep – doing half reps, means you're not working the muscle completely.
- Focus on quads – the movements that do a better job on the quads include leg extensions, squats, single-leg presses, hack squats, sissy squats, and front squats.
- Split the leg workout – separate hamstrings from quads and calves so that you give each muscle group 100 percent.
- Never lock out - for joint safety, it's never a good idea to lock out a joint, especially when you're training with heavy weights, so you must take each rep through a full range of motion for maximal benefit, but stop just short of lockout.
What you’ve learned here will help you build those wanted muscles and reduce any muscle imbalances. It takes hard work and dedication to build those leg muscles, but knowing what works will definitely help you make a difference.