It’s important to exercise if you want to maintain a healthy lifestyle, but a lot of times it can be difficult to know where to start without hiring expensive trainers. There are tons of different pieces of equipment at the gym, and you aren’t sure how a lot of them work, but you know form is important.
You’re pretty sure you’re covered when it comes to arms. Between bench presses, pull-ups, and curls you're looking pretty ripped. The problem is that your legs could use some work. You don't know very many good options, and your lunge form needs tons of work.
If you want some great leg exercises that will keep you healthy and toned, and add some definition, then you’ve come to the right place. This guide will introduce you to some of the most effective lower body workouts available.
Before we get into the exercises, we must warn you about form. One of the most common mistakes people make in lower body workouts is not maintaining proper form. If your form is sloppy, you may still see some slight gains in the short term, but over time you will see drastically reduced gains and a complete lack of progress.
In many exercises, like the deadlift, bad form can prove more than just an inconvenience to gains. The wrong form will put undue strain on extremely vulnerable areas of the body and can lead to crippling issues. You could throw out your entire back or tear ligaments and tendons that will require surgical remedies.
The best way to see gains is by keeping a slow and steady pace and maintaining perfect form. It may seem like it’s taking forever but trust me it will be worth it when you get ripped and cut in the right ways, instead of the wrong ones.
When we talk about lower body workouts, what we mean is training several muscle groups. Lower body workouts target quadriceps (quads), hamstrings, calves, and glutes. Each of these will require different exercises to achieve maximum definition.
Your quads are located on the front of your legs. These include vastus lateralis, medialis, intermedius, and the rectus remoris. The sartorus, vastus intermedius, vastus lateralis, and vastus medialis are all above your knee. Thre gastrocnemius, tibialis anterior, and soleus are below the knee.
Quads work together to extend your knees and allow your hips to flex. Exercises targeting your quads will bring your hips from flex to extended positions, bending the joint. They also bring your knee from flexed to extended positions, straightening that joint.
The best way to target quads is by compound exercises. Squats alone won't fix them but mix them with lunges and front squats and you’re getting a full picture. Just be careful performing leg extensions. While a lot of people recommend this for lower body workouts, it tends to be terrible for your knees, especially when you add heavier weights, so we left it off the list.
Your hamstrings include the 3 muscle groups on the back of your legs. These are the semitendinosus, the semimembranosus, and the biceps femoris. These are al above the knee and behind the glutes. Your hamstring biceps work just like the ones in your arm, where they split into 2 sections.
Hamstrings are also one of the most neglected muscle groups in the lower body workout. As a result, they tend to lose flexibility and be tight and sore more frequently during stretching. Failure to work them out will create a major muscle imbalance ad increase your risk of injury. Plus, your legs will look weird.
Again, squatting is not the end all be all solution to hamstring workouts. In fact, your quads are usually taking most of the strain in squatting. Always include some exercises that are specifically designed to target your hamstrings.
Your glutes, or butt muscles, are formed with the gluteus maximus, gluteus minimus, and gluteus medius. These muscles are frequently engaging when it comes to stabilizing your body when you move and generating the force necessary for other muscles to move.
There are a lot of exercises that target the glutes because people want their butts to look great, but the good news is that if you’re training the rest of your lower body correctly, your glutes will not need a lot of extra care because they’ll be targeted in those other exercises.
Your calves are comprised of your soleus and gastrocnemius, below your knees at the back of your legs. These are the forearms of the lower body. With these muscles, a lot of people get frustrated trying to develop them because they’re very small and stubborn. Some people are naturally gifted with them, and others have spindles that they try hard to bulk up.
This is because the muscle fibers affect the shape. Some people’s calves have a higher concentration of fibers that are fast-twitch fibers, which have huge growth and strength potential. These calves respond really well to training and quickly become big and strong. Other people have slow-twitch fibers in their calves, which are built extremely well for endurance but not size or strength. Developing slow-twitch calves takes a lot of work.
Here are some of the best exercises you can do to work out your lower body.
One of the most basic ways to work your lower body is with squats. These are the simplest form of exercise, but also one of the most effective. As a bonus, you can do them literally anywhere. This exercise works out your glutes primarily, but it also engages every muscle from the floor through the small of your back.
Unfortunately, a lot of people perform squats with absolutely terrible form, which drastically decreases the effectiveness and may lead to unnecessary wear ad tear on your tendons and ligaments. To perform squats with perfect form, your knees should be shoulder-width apart. Make sure your back stays straight and drop from your hips until they are parallel to your knees. Your knees should be over your toes.
Think of it like sitting into a chair, and if you need to, then use the corner of a box to simulate an actual chair. When you’re parallel, push back up from the floor, keeping your knees over your toes and moving your hips forward.
When you’ve mastered the basic form, you can start to modify your squats. If you can handle 20 bodyweight squat sets, consider adding some weights to work on strength. This is also one area where slower and steadier isn’t necessarily more effective than racing through reps. If you want explosive leg power, then try racing your way through the squats; just don’t cheat on form and depth.
To take this exercise to the next level and target strength and stability, you can place the top of one foot on a bench then lower your knees and hips until your hips are parallel with your front knee. Push through the back heel to return to your original position. You can modify this further by adding weight or increasing the drop angle.
Stand in front of the low bench or step with both feet underneath your body. Place your left toes on the bench behind you so your foot is elevated off the ground. Hop your front foot forward until your right foot is directly below your knee when you lower down into a full squat.
Most of your weight should be on your front leg, with your back leg being used for balancing. Stop when your back knee hovers just off the ground or when you’re as low as you are comfortable being. Engage your core and drove through your front foot, squeezing your glutes as you stand back up. This should light up your entire lower body even without weight.
This is another quintessential lower body workout that a lot of people don’t perform correctly. Lunges exaggerate a normal step in a way that increases your stability and provides strength to targeted areas.
Begin with your feet shoulder-width apart again. When you step forward, drop your hips until both of your knees are parallel with your hips and your quads are perpendicular to your shins. With your forward foot, push off and return to your original position. Repeat this action with your other leg. When you've mastered the technique you can start adding a dumbbell to each hand that will help improve strength.
This variation of a normal lunge will target your quads and your glutes. It will also challenge your balance, engaging your core to maintain it. You simply stand with your feet together. Then, take a big step to your right side and lower down into a lunge, where you move your hips forward and keep your chest lifted. Push off with your right foot to return to the starting position, then repeat on the other side.
To modify this exercise, you can always add some weights. If you really want to target your lower body, you can end the movement with a leg lift, bringing your lunging leg up to your chest height before releasing it.
Deadlifts are an extremely primal workout move that will help you with everyday tasks like moving furniture and other heavy items. It targets pretty much all the muscles in your lower body and teaches a healthier way to lift something – bend with the knees and don’t lift with the back! Just make sure, as always, to observe proper form or you may throw out your back instead of working out your legs.
There should be a weigh ton the floor. Put your feet hip-width apart and grip the weight. Keep your back completely straight, and push through the floor with your feet. Rise with the weight until you’re standing tall with the weight at the level of your waist. (Again, be aware that this move targets vulnerable areas of your back more than any other lower body exercise. Bad form in this instance could actually cripple you, not just be counterproductive.)
When you start to build strength, your body will outpace your grip strength. Consider mixed grip stances or letting the weight hag. You can also modify bars and stances to target specific muscle groups as long as you take care not to let your form suffer.
For a variation of this exercise, you can try Romanian deadlifts. This will put increased emphasis on your hamstrings and glutes because your knees will stay straighter throughout your movement. These deadlifts allow greater amounts of weight to be lifted and are easier to overload over time, so they're a great way to strengthen your entire posterior chain.
Perform these similar to traditional deadlifts in terms of form, but keep your legs relatively straight throughout each rep. Your head, back, and hips should all stay in life ad your hips should push out with only slightly bent knees.
This exercise puts emphasis on your hamstrings primarily, but it also involves your glutes and lower back. These are one of the most effective hamstring exercises available, and they pair extremely well with the Romanian deadlifts for hamstring development. This is because one exercise targets one set of hamstring muscles, and the other targets a different set.
Your knees should straighten then bend while your head, back, and hips all stay in line with each other. If you don’t have a machine available at your house, you can substitute this exercise for leg curls on a stability ball.
Bridges look deceptively easy, but they will start to burn after a few reps. These will work your hamstrings, glutes, and core. Avoid lifting your lips to high because you don’t want an arch in your lower back. Activating your core will prevent this arch from happening and work out additional muscles.
To start, lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor hip-distance apart. You can let your hands lie flat to either side of your body or extend your arms upward towards the ceiling. Squeeze your glutes and press your hips upward off the matt. Pause, then bring them back to the mat. If you need an additional challenge, you can lift your toes off the floor and press on your heels.
This exercise is considered a Bridge variant because you remain in the bridge position. It increases the challenge and intensity. Lie flat on your back with your knees bent. Make sure you put a glider on each heel as you keep them hip-distance apart. Your arms should remain by your sides, palms down. Squeeze your glutes and press your hips off the mat.
The variation here is that you don’t drop your hips. Leaving them elevated, you will start sliding your feet forward to fully straighten and extend your legs. Then, slide your feet back to the starting position.
This exercise is incredibly simple, but it works out and isolates one of the muscles you rarely remember to train: your calves. Stand with your feet together and hold a dumbbell in each hand at your side. Lift your heels off the floor and balance on your toes. Hold this position for a few seconds, then bring your heels back to the ground.