Leg Exercises: The Top 10
When it comes to leg exercises or leg day, you will often hear a grown man cry. A great upper body is worthless without a massive pair of legs holding it up. You could have enormous arms, a barrel sized chest, and a diesel back but if your legs look like they belong to a new born chicklet you’ve got some serious work to do. Not only do large, powerful legs increase manliness by upwards of 10,000% but, trained properly, they can drastically enhance sport performance.
To aid you in the process of building a pair of monstrous legs through grinding out some leg exercises, below I’ve outlined two of the most commonly made training mistakes when it comes to leg exercises:
- Not Using a Full Range of Motion: Skimping on range of motion (ROM) is a surefire way to sabotage your hard work. While partial ROM movements certainly have their own unique set of benefits, research and experience has continuously shown that full ranges of motion are best for increasing muscle size. Want bigger legs? Quit cheating yourself and start training through a complete ROM.
- Neglecting the Eccentric Component: The eccentric phase of a repetition is one of the primary factors dictating the hypertrophic (growth) response of a muscle. In essence, without an adequate eccentric stimulus the muscle will not be placed under enough stress to cause subsequent repair and growth. As such, when training for bigger legs it’s necessary to control the weight through the entire ROM. For the best results use a relatively slow tempo while employing eccentric phases lasting between 2-4 seconds per repetition.
The Top Leg Exercises for Maximum Results
Below I’ve provided a list of my top 10 leg exercises for building a massive set of wheels. I’d note, there are hundreds upon hundreds of variations when it comes to leg exercises, each of which has a time and place within a well designed training program. That being said, these are my personal favorite leg exercises which have produced astounding results time and time again.
#1: Back Squat
Why: Often referred to as The King Lift, the Back Squat is arguably the single best of all leg exercises for overall development. Recruiting a truly obscene amount of muscle in both the lower and upper body, the Back Squat and its numerous variations should be a mainstay in nearly every leg development program.
Execution: Resting the bar on your upper traps, stand with your feet a bit wider than shoulder width apart and toes angled slightly outward. Keeping your chest tall, spine neutral, and weight distributed through your heels, send your butt back and down until your hip joint is parallel with your knee. Drive through your heels and return to the starting position. Repeat for the prescribed number of sets and repetitions.
#2: Front Squat
Why: Want bigger quads? Start Front Squatting! Similar to the Back Squat in that it recruits an extraordinary amount of muscle, the Front Squat is without a doubt one of the best lower body exercises of all time. The icing on the cake? It doesn’t force the shoulders into external rotation which may make it safer to perform for individuals with shoulder issues.
Execution: Resting the bar across the front of your shoulders, place each hand on the opposite shoulder and raise your elbows until they’re parallel with the ground. Stand with your feet a bit wider than shoulder width apart and slightly angle your toes outward. Keeping your chest tall, spine neutral, and weight distributed through your mid foot, send your butt back and down until your hip joint is parallel with your knee. Drive through the mid foot and return to the starting position. Repeat for the prescribed number of sets and repetitions.
#3: Leg Press
Why: A compound movement designed to produce gargantuan legs, the Leg Press is one of my all time favorite exercises for lower body development. While some coaches hate on it because it’s not “functional,” I’d argue that when the goal is increasing leg size it’s possibly the single most functional exercise in existence.
Execution: Get in the Leg Press machine, position your feet a bit wider than shoulder width apart, and angle your toes slightly outward. Pressing through your heels – not your toes – drive your feet into the plate until your knees lock out. Pause, slowly lower the weight as far as possible, and then press the weight back to lockout. Repeat for the prescribed number of sets and repetitions.
#4: Barbell Reverse Lunge
Why: If you’re the crazy masochist type that enjoys extreme pain, the Barbell Reverse Lunge will be your new favorite move. With countless variations to choose from, the Barbell Reverse Lunge will absolutely demolish your quads, glutes, and hamstrings one step at a time.
Execution: Resting the bar across your upper traps, stand with your feet about shoulder width apart. Keeping your torso tall and upright, step backward with one leg and lower yourself into a deep lunge. Pause just before your back knee touches the ground and then, driving through your front heel, return to the starting position. Repeat for the prescribed number of sets and repetitions then switch legs.
#5: Dumbbell Walking Forward Lunge
Why: One of the simplest, albeit effective, exercises for overall leg development, the Dumbbell Walking Forward Lunge will drastically enhance leg size, strength, and performance. Oh, and good luck walking the day after performing it; you might need a cane…or a wheelchair.
Execution: Grab a dumbbell in each hand , stand with your feet about shoulder width apart, and allow your arms to arms hang down by your side. Keeping your torso tall and upright, step forward with one leg and lower yourself into a deep lunge. Pause just before your back knee touches the ground and then, driving through your front heel, press yourself back up while taking one step forward. Repeat in an alternating fashion for the prescribed number of sets and reps.
#6: Barbell Romanian Deadlift (RDL)
Why: Few exercises target the posterior chain as effectively as the Barbell Romanian Deadlift. If you’re in need of bigger and stronger hamstrings and glutes, this movement should be a mainstay within your program. Want some extra upper back work as well? The Snatch Grip Romanian Deadlift is my personal favorite variation.
Execution: Grip a barbell with a double overhand grip, hands roughly shoulder width apart, and allow your arms to hang straight down in front of you. Keeping your spine flat and the bar as close to your body as possible, hinge your hips backwards while maintaining a slight bend in the knees. Continue to send your hips backwards as far as possible until you cannot lower the barbell any further. Pause, and then drive through your heels and return to the starting position. Repeat for the prescribed number of sets and repetitions.
#7: Glute Ham Raise
Why: The Glute Ham Raise is without a doubt one of the greatest exercises for building a monstrous set of hamstrings. Performed correctly this movement is extraordinarily difficult as it challenges the hamstrings in both static hip extension and dynamic knee flexion while simultaneously forcing you to stabilize throughout the entire body.
Execution: Get in the Glute Ham Raise with your toes pressed against the foot plate and your knees near the bottom of the pad. Starting from the top position, maintain a straight line between your knees, hips, and shoulders and slowly lower yourself until your body is parallel with the ground. Pause and then drive your toes into the foot plate and leg curl yourself back up to the starting position. Repeat for the prescribed number of sets and repetitions.
#8: Leg Extension
Why: Often overlooked, this simple isolation exercise has been used for decades by world famous bodybuilders with extraordinary results. With countless variations to choose from, the Leg Extension is a must in any program aimed at increasing quadriceps size.
Execution: Get in the Leg Extension machine and position the pad slightly above the front of your ankles. Bracing your core and flexing your toes towards your face, extend your knees until they are completely locked out. Pause, and then slowly return to the starting position. Repeat for the prescribed number of sets and repetitions.
#9: Leg Curl
Why: Similar to the Leg Extension, the Leg curl is often neglected. It’s important to recognize, however, that when the goal is increasing muscle hypertrophy some isolation exercises can help you achieve your goals. If bigger hamstrings are a primary goal, I recommend incorporating Leg Curl variations consistently within your training.
Execution: Get in the Leg Curl machine and position the pad slightly above your heel. Bracing your core and flexing your toes towards your face, leg curl your heels towards your butt as far as possible. Pause and then slowly return to the starting position. Repeat for the prescribed number of sets and repetitions.
#10: Calf Raises
Why: Calves are the single most stubborn muscle group within the entire body. Determined by genetics more than any other muscle, the calves need to be isolated in order to see any meaningful amount of growth. Perform any and all variations of calf raises while using a relatively high training volume to experience the best results possible.
Execution: Sit on the Calf Raise machine and place your knees directly beneath the pads. Driving your toes into the platform, flex your ankles and contract your calves until you can’t flex them any further. Pause and then slowly return to the starting position. Repeat for the prescribed number of sets and repetitions.