Leg day! Who doesn’t love leg day?
Ok, let’s be real. It’s not the most popular training day of the week but as a dedicated lifter, you know that you need to get it done.
So as long as you’re making the commitment you might as well make the most of it, right? The legs are the foundation of the body because they support you.
From a performance standpoint, strong legs are going to translate to improvement in any activity you would do on the field, court, or platform.
If you’re talking about a physique perspective, so many people have lost contests because of their lack of leg development. It looks weird to have an Adonis upper body and Urkel lower body. So you have to train legs to have a complete body.
There are many exercises that you can choose from but the list is the cream of the crop. If your leg day doesn’t include at least a few from this list, then you’re not doing it right.
The following are the 10 greatest leg exercises of all time!
10. Seated Calf Raise
The list wouldn’t be complete if there wasn’t at least one calf movement so the seated calf raise makes this list. Why? The soleus is the portion of the calf that isn’t as visible because it’s positioned behind the gastrocnemius, which is the portion of the calf you see when you flex it.
The gastrocnemius works when you do straight leg movements, or walk, or run. The best way to target the soleus is with a bent leg movement. Thus, the seated calf raise is your best option. You can either do these with both legs or alternating legs to focus on each side individually.
9. Goblet Squat
Goblet squats make the list not only because of the benefits to the quads but the fact that it’s a simple one that can be performed anywhere at any time. All you need is a kettlebell (or dumbbell) and space.
That convenience combined with the effectiveness goes a long way in making a good leg day a great one.
If you want to make it a little more challenging you can elevate your heels by placing them on a plate. This will challenge your core more as well as place more focus on the quads.
8. Leg Press
Some of you in the “hardcore” crowd are going to laugh at this one but hear me out. The leg press is a versatile exercise because you can place your feet on different areas of the platform to target different muscles in the legs. Wider and moderate space for quads, higher and close for hamstrings. You can also rack it if you get stuck and not be concerned about having someone spot you.
You can focus more on lower body training without being concerned about your lower back since you’re seated and your back is against the pad. You can also isolate one leg or the other if you prefer. Now, there are some people who like to pile weights on and move it a few inches for ego sake. That’s an issue with the lifter, not the exercise.
7. Lying Leg Curl
One of the key principles with hamstring training is that you must do at least one exercise which requires the hamstring to flex. That means you have to bend the leg. So you have to do some version of the leg curl. While the standing and seated versions are great, I feel the lying leg curl is the one that will result in the most bang for your buck.
You’re lying on the bench so as long as you don’t try to jerk the weight up, then the hamstring is isolated and has to do the work on its own. You don’t have to worry about balancing yourself like you do the standing version and you’re not sitting on the muscles that are working like you would be if you did the seated version. If the machine isn’t available at your gym, you can opt to do these with a dumbbell or bands.
6. Barbell Hip Thrust
Barbell hip thrusts are more popular nowadays thanks to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson sharing clips of him doing them on his Instagram feed. This isn’t a new move though. It’s far more popular with women because of the benefit they serve for the glutes but you fellas need to be doing these too.
The glutes are a muscle that you should develop and the hip thrust is a great accessory movement that can translate to a stronger squat and deadlift.
5. Walking Lunge
You can do these with a barbell on your back (like Ronnie Coleman back in the day) or with dumbbells at your sides. I’ve even seen athletes perform walking lunges with weighted vests so the weight is distributed differently.
Whichever version you prefer is up to you, just make sure you do these! You’re going to hit everything from hip to toe. Glutes, hamstrings, quads, calves, they’re all gonna work in some way. You don’t need to go super heavy to feel the benefit either.
4. Front Squat
The front squat does more direct work for the quads and will challenge your core more because the weight is on the front side of your body. But it’s far from an isolation exercise.
If you want to see your legs grow, go heavy on this one. If muscular endurance is the goal, go lighter and up the reps. It’s going to force you to keep the weight balanced which can help you outside of the gym.
You can either cross your arms to hold the weight or hold the bar with your wrists bent back and elbows up. Arnold, Ronnie Coleman, and other notable bodybuilders are proof that these work.
3. Glute Ham Raise (GHR)
Like the hip thrusts, the Glute Ham Raise has only become popular over the course of the last decade. While it’s most known as a movement for hamstrings, it’s called the GHR for a reason. The glutes are a big part of this exercise. As a matter of fact, you’re going to work the calves and lower back too when you do this one. It’s going to hit the entire posterior chain.
Related: The Real Benefits of Stronger Glutes
The success you achieve here will transfer to the squat, deadlift, and even Olympic movements like the clean and jerk. It’s a hard one to do but fortunately, you can work at it and see gradual improvement. Once you start seeing progress, the momentum moves fast and you’ll be knocking out reps before you know it.
When it comes to the posterior chain, the deadlift is as good as it gets. Hamstrings, glutes, and inner thighs (depending on if you go sumo) are all going to be a part of the party. You also work with your quads to a certain degree. If you have a strong deadlift, then you’re going to be strong in other exercises too.
When it comes to bodybuilding, all of the great champions that were known for their legs deadlifted. Coleman, Yates, Cutler, and Franco were all known for their lower body development. They all deadlifted. Coincidence? I think not.
1. Barbell Squat
Barbell squats are one of the big three and it’s the first one that powerlifters do in competition for a reason. It has been the premiere leg movement for decades and it still holds the title as the best lift in the game today.
It’s primarily a quad exercise but the hamstrings and glutes are definitely involved too. Furthermore, the core has to work to keep everything stable and the shoulders, arms, and back work to hold the weight up.
Since it’s a movement that involves the majority of the body, it would be considered by many the lift you would choose if you can only do one exercise. Bodybuilders, powerlifters, ball sports athletes, and any other performance athlete can benefit from squatting.