5 Leg Exercises You Need To Be Doing
Legs are your foundation. They are the biggest muscles in the body and without strong legs you will struggle to make strength progressions in other lifts.
There seems to be some strange idea that leg training is something that should be avoided in order to grow stronger in the upper body. Understandably, the chest and shoulders do look pretty nice when trained properly - but strong legs are the base of your success in the gym.
We are seeing a shift in the fitness industry towards more leg training - especially when it comes to squats and deadlifts because powerlifting has become much more popular. With that said we are more concerned with the average lifter.
The average lifter starts a program hitting the chest, back, arms and shoulders but seems to avoid the legs. Some may train legs 1x/week, but when you look at the muscle mass of the legs you must understand that in order to see growth and strength increases you should be hitting them 2x/week (at least).
Let’s break down the most important reasons why you should train legs.
The Biggest Muscles In Your Body
Pushing aside all the thoughts about what muscles look like and how to train specific groups, the leg muscles are the biggest in the body.
The glute complex is the strongest and largest series of muscles on the body, that for many are missed or not even looked at in a strength program.
Since the leg muscles are so big they take up more energy to use. For example, firing off three sets of eight on bench press will require much less energy (in the form of calories) than three sets of eight on walking lunges.
Simply put, the larger the muscle the greater the caloric requirement to use them.
This means the more you train legs, the more calories you burn during a workout and the more energy is required after a training session in order to help them recover effectively.
This is a major reason why some people don’t achieve the weight loss they are looking for from their workouts. If you are solely focused on training the upper body and ignore the lower extremities you are only training a small percentage of the overall muscle in your body.
Leg Training Conditions The Core
This is one of the biggest reasons why you should start training legs more often. Most, if not all compound leg exercises will require your core to act as a powerful stabilizer group.
Think about this for a moment. In a barbell walking lunge, you have an excess of 100 lbs on your back. The only system that can help you to stay upright and balanced is your core. This makes leg training one of the most effective ways to train for core strength and stability.
NOTE: One of the best exercises for training core strength is the Snatch. Although this is a difficult exercise you can use simple deadlifting progressions to work into it and grow stronger.
Leg Strength Helps With Other Exercises
Taking core strength one step further we must not forget that the legs are your sense of foundation. Think of an exercise such as the overhead press. If you do not have a strong foundation how will you be able to push more weight overhead?
Sure, you could sit on a bench and do presses that way but in this situation, you break the kinetic chain (transfer of energy from one muscle to the next).
Training for legs will provide you with translatable strength. Even movements such as bent over rows will require you to have strong hip and glute muscles in order to maintain the correct position for rowing.
Training legs are not just about getting under the bar and pumping out as many squats as possible. Just as they are large muscles they are also complex. Just as you train various inclines to hit your chest on Monday, so should you use variable exercises to completely strengthen your legs.
Maybe you have never been exposed to the world of leg training. Not to worry, we’ve got you covered. Here are the very best, top 5 leg exercises for complete strength.
Top 5 Leg Exercises for Complete Strength
Leg strength is not just about hitting the quads and hamstrings. Leg training is complex and you can use a variety of exercises in order to hit some of the most underutilized muscles in your training program.
For the purposes of this article, we will be addressing the top 5 exercises for strength in the legs - through all the major muscle groups.
1 | High Bar Back Squat
Hands down one of the most effective exercises for developing strength and size in the legs when completed properly.
Although there are a vast array of opinions on bar location when it comes to the high bar squat position you want to place the bar just over the belly of the trapezius muscle.
This exercise is perfect for those looking to hit the hamstrings and glutes. To make the exercise easier you can utilize a small heel lift (1-2 inches) in order to engage more mobility (dorsiflexion) at the ankle.
We recommend starting off with an 8x3 scheme. There's no need to go complete squats for high reps - especially if your goal is the strength.
2 | Front Squat
The most underrated and underutilized squat in the world of strength training. Not only does a front squat help you to maintain a very upright and neutral spine, but it also hits the quads far more effectively than the back squat.
This exercise will take some time to learn and you will need to work on your wrist mobility, especially if you want to transition this to a power clean.
Front squat may be preferred for some that have back pain or poor ankle mobility as the front bar position will make it easier to lower and put less stress on your back (specifically the lumbar spine).
3 | Bulgarian Lunge
A personal favourite of ours. The Bulgarian lunge is an alternate version of the lunge at which you keep your leg fixed on a box or platform behind you. The lead leg then has to work overtime to laterally stabilize the movement and you will go through a much larger range of motion.
The Bulgarian lunge will recruit far more muscles than a traditional lunge and is a preferred exercise for strengthening the hamstrings and glutes.
Due to the position of the exercise, a high load (heavy weight) is not generally recommended. Start off with dumbbells in each hand and transition to a back-loaded barbell as you grow stronger.
4 | Glute Bridge
Generally seen as an exercise to be performed for “booty gains” the glute bridge is actually a highly fundamental exercise in strength training.
Why? Glute bridges help to strengthen hip extension which is used in many exercises such as the deadlift and squat.
Without strong hip extensors (glutes) you will struggle to lock out on heavy deadlifts and stand up from your bottom position in a squat.
This makes the glute bridge one of the most effective accessory exercises that can be used to grow stronger in other exercises as well as being very effective isolation exercise for the glutes.
5 | Deadlift
The king of all exercises. The deadlift is simple. Load a barbell with as much weight as you can lift and crush it.
The main cue that many people miss on the deadlift is to push through your heels, rather than pull the weight from the back. This will not only help you to get the bar off the ground much easier, but it will also locate your muscles in the correct position for greater energy transfer and less occurrence of injury.
PRO TIP: Keep your hand placement as close to shoulder width as possible. The closer the hand width the less distance you need to travel in order to fully stand up and complete the deadlift.
Leg Training is Essential
For those that would like to increase weight loss, grow stronger in foundation and achieve an overall more appealing physique you cannot miss leg training. The exercises are essential to your success in other lifts and the amount of energy required by each exercise is crucial to the success of the lifter.
Above all, leg training will provide you with a sense of euphoric strength training. One cannot describe the feeling you get from lifting 500 lbs off the ground or squatting 300 lbs on your back. It's a sensation you cannot get from a heavy bench or a perfect pull-up.
Take your time to work through some of the most fundamental and progressive strength exercises and watch as you grow stronger each day.