Looking for some popular leg exercises so that you never skip leg day again? You’ve come to the right place.
Too often you see men who devote considerable time committing to a range of workouts that neglect their legs. The result is a physique that looks completely out of proportion and leaves onlookers bemused as to how such a tiny set of pins could support such a huge upper half.
The only remedy for chicken legs, matchsticks, or whatever else you want to call them is to spend an entire gym session focusing on the legs and the lower body. Fortunately, there are numerous leg exercises and leg workouts you can perform that will see your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and even calves becoming big in no time at all.
You might not be able to walk properly for a few days after completing each leg workout session, but once you start building a serious set of thighs and filling out your jeans, you’ll soon feel the compromises are completely worth it.
So, what exactly are the best leg exercises you can add to your routine? And why are the leg muscles so important anyway? Allow us to explain.
Looking for further workout inspiration? Check out our complete guide to workouts for men here.
In this best leg exercises story…
What Muscles Are In The Legs?
The legs are made up of various muscle groups, each containing their own sets of muscles. The most well-known are the quadriceps: a group of four muscles found on the front of the upper leg. Some of the strongest muscles in your entire body, they serve to straighten and extend your leg.
You also have the hamstrings on the rear of the upper leg, which are made up of three main muscles. The hamstrings work to bend and flex your knee.
You then have the calf muscle – also known as the soleus – the gastrocnemius, and the plantaris. When you perform leg workouts, you also work the gluteal muscles – glutes – at the same time. These are your buttocks, and ultimately, nobody wants a flat rear end, so it’s important to target them too.
Safe to say, there are plenty of muscles to be worked out, then. Fortunately, there are plenty of leg exercises you can perform as part of a complete leg day routine, that will turn your matchsticks into certified tree trunks.
Best Leg Workouts
Barbell Front Squat
The barbell front squat is a serious leg muscle builder, particularly for the quads. While you will find it harder to squat the same amount of weight as you would with a back squat, it can be considered a safer movement because of the way you have to position your body in order to perform it effectively.
Getting that form right can be a little difficult at first, particularly if you have tight lats, as you need to move your arms under the bar, with the aim to have your elbows at right angles and parallel to the floor.
How to perform this leg exercise: Start with the barbell at around mid-chest height on the squat rack. Approach the bar as you would with a back squat: stand with your feet shoulder width-apart and hands placed just wider than that. Twist your arms under the bar so that it is resting in your fingertips, with your elbows pointing forwards. The bar should rest on your shoulders, and your fingertips are there to just keep it in place.
If you find it difficult to get into this position, you may need to stretch out your lats, which you can do so by performing dead hangs or some resistance band lat stretches. You can also stretch your wrists by getting onto all fours, with your hands flat on the floor, and rocking forwards and backwards.
With the bar resting on your shoulders, tuck your pelvis in, brace your core, take a deep breath in and squat down. Imagine you’re sitting down on a chair, to help prevent your knees from going too far over your toes. Ensure your knees push out as you squat down. You want to get as deep as possible to put as much tension on your quads and flutes as you can. Power back up and exhale at the top of the movement.
Sets: 4 sets with a decreased number of reps per set – 8,7,6,5
Tempo: 3 seconds down, 2 seconds up
Bulgarian Split Squat
You’ll find that most leg exercises are going to involve some form of squat. Squatting down either with added weight or with your feet and/or legs in some sort of different position is going to work your leg muscles like you never thought possible and leave them shaking after.
One of the absolute best leg workouts – and mainstay in any solid leg day program – is the Bulgarian split squat. It’s a single leg variation of the classic squat, which piles far greater pressure on the active leg, thus increasing the muscle growth. It also requires your balancing skills to be placed further under the microscope, so your core stands to benefit too.
When you consider so many everyday movements require a single leg to be used – such as running, jumping and even walking – targeting individual leg muscles using movements such as the Bulgarian split will be incredibly beneficial.
How to perform this leg exercise: The key to performing the Bulgarian split squat is to have the rear foot elevated. The easiest piece of equipment you can use is a weights bench, but as long as whatever platform or step your rest your rear foot on is around knee height, you’re good to go.
Now get into a similar position as a forward lunge: your leading single leg a few steps out in front of you. Keeping your torso upright, pelvis ticked and core braced, squat down until the thigh of your leading leg is parallel to the ground.
Drive back up through the heel of the leading leg back to your starting position to complete one rep.
Start using just your bodyweight before adding a dumbbell in each hand or a barbell for extra weight.
Sets: 4 sets with 8 to 10 reps per set
Tempo: Slow and controlled. 3 seconds down, 2 seconds up.
For some squat movements, you want to avoid the knee going over the toes, but with the Bulgarian split, the positioning of your knee can determine which muscle group you target the most. The more your knee goes towards your toes, or even goes over it, the more quad you’ll use.
The more you’re able to keep your knee at a 90 degree angle, or slightly under right angle, you’ll engage the hamstrings and glutes more. If you feel any sort of pain or twinge in your back when you perform the squat, lean forward slightly to reduce some of the pressure put on it.
The original deadlift may be the daddy of all workout exercises, working pretty much every major muscle in your body in one go. But while the deadlift does provide some benefit for your legs, if you really want to torch your hamstrings, you need to be performing the Romanian deadlift.
This isn’t a substitute for the deadlift, but should be performed in addition to it as part of leg day, as it doesn’t require the weight to be heavy for it to be effective. Take note of that last sentence: you shouldn’t attempt to perform the Romanian deadlift with the same weight you would a deadlift, at least not to begin with. You’ll risk injuring your hamstrings.
How to perform: Equip yourself with a barbell – you can elect to start with it on the floor, or hold it first and then adjust your positioning – and set yourself up as you would a conventional deadlift: feet shoulder width apart and underneath the bar, with hands grasping it slightly wider than shoulder width with an overhand grip.
With the bar hanging down in front of you, slowly lower it down, keeping it close to your body. Slightly bend your knees at the same time and hinge at the waist, keeping the back straight and allowing the barbell to drop lower. Keep going until the barbell has gone just beyond your knees, hold for a second to feel the tension in your hamstrings, and drive back up to return to the starting position.
Sets: 4 sets with 8 to 10 reps per set
Tempo: 3 seconds down, 2 seconds up
The goblet squat is a serious quad killer, and a leg day exercise that can help to further improve your technique in the heavier-lift movements such as the deadlift and back squat. You can keep the weight quite light whilst still being effective, and as long as you have a weight you can hold close to your chest comfortably, you can perform it wherever you want.
How to perform this leg exercise: The easiest way to perform a goblet squat is to have either a kettlebell or a dumbbell. Whichever you use, hold it to your chest using both hands and stand with your feet wider than hip width apart.
Squat down, keeping your torso upright and your elbows inside your knee line. This is where goblet squats show their effectiveness, because having the weight in front of you will naturally cause you to want to fall forwards.
But keeping your torso upright, your thighs at 90 degree right angles and your knees pushed outwards as you squat down, you’ll find your form will improve dramatically. You should feel the burn predominantly in your quads, but your hamstrings and glutes will also get a serious workout too.
You can add in a slight heel elevation by way of a weight plate or step to place extra emphasis on the the quads.
Sets: 4 sets with 12 to 15 reps per set
Tempo: 2 seconds down, 1 second up
Walking lunges are an incredibly effective – and easy – leg exercise. And because you can perform them without any additional weight – although naturally, adding in a pair of dumbbells will increase the effort required – you can perform them during your lunch break, when out walking the dog, or pretty much wherever you want.
Lunges are an incredible exercise because they target pretty much every major muscle in your lower body. Think quads, hamstrings, glutes and calves, while the walking aspect of the movement brings your core into play, as it will be working overtime to keep your upper body upright and balanced during the exercise.
How to perform this leg exercise: You’ll need a good amount of space to perform the walking lunge, so make sure you have a walkway without any obstacles in the way. You’re going to want enough space to perform at least 10 full strides.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart, pelvis tucked and core engaged. Take a big stride forward using with your right leg and bend your knees to lower your body down until both knees are at a 90 degree angle and the front thigh is parallel to the ground.
Now, push up from the left foot at the rear and immediately step into another lunge, performing the same sequence as before. If you’re new to walking lunges, you can bring yourself to a standing position first, before stepping into the next lunge.
However, walking directly into each lunge will place extra effort on your leg and core muscles, as they won’t get adequate time to recover before being used again.
Sets: 3 sets with 10 reps per leg per set
Tempo: Slow, continuous walking pace
There is some debate within the fitness industry as to whether the deadlift can be considered a leg exercise, or if it slots more neatly into a back-day workout. Ultimately, it’s one of the absolute best weightlifting exercises you can do, since it works pretty much every single muscle in your body. And, since it’s your legs that are used to physically lift the weight off the ground – and the deadlift helps to target your glutes more than the squat – we feel they can very much be a part of a well-rounded leg-day routine.
How to perform this leg exercise: Start with a barbell on the floor, with some plate weights on either end. If you’re new to the deadlift, you’ll definitely want to start light, and perfect the form, before increasing the weight. You can also incorporate what is known as a ‘block pull’, which sees you elevating the bar by placing it on some blocks, or using some plate weights laid out on the ground. This reduces the distance from which you need to lift from, thereby reducing some of the strain.
With your bar set, grab hold of with an overhand grip and with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Position your feet underneath the bar so that it is close to your ankles. Get into a squat position, keep your chest up, lock down your shoulder blades and look forward.
Now it’s time to lift. Push up through your heels and lift the bar, keeping it close to your legs at all times. You’re not pulling with your arms, instead, they’re just being used to ensure the bar is stable and your core and back are activated to keep your upper body tense.
Once you’re standing up straight and the bar is around thigh-level, slowly bring the bar back down to the floor. Before you attempt the next rep, ensure you’re back into the correct positioning – it’s common for your shoulder to slouch forwards, so make sure they’re locked out again before lifting.
One thing to note, is to make sure you don’t perform squats and deadlifts on the same day, and ideally, keep them a few days apart. You could, therefore, use squats in your leg day program and deadlifts in your back, or squats as part of a full body program and deadlifts on leg day.
Sets: 3 to 4 sets with 4 to 6 reps per set
Tempo: 1 to 2 seconds up (it’s good if you use some explosive force), 2 seconds down
No, hip thrusters aren’t just an exercise for women to build a bigger behind, they’re actually a fantastic leg exercise for men because, not only can they help to give you a more aesthetically-pleasing figure, they primarily target the glute muscles.
This is incredibly important, because having strong glutes can help to prevent you from getting lower back pain, and will also help you to be able to lift more when deadlifting or squat more weight when doing any squat variation.
How to perform this leg exercise: The majority of people perform the hip thrust with a long Olympic bar, but this brings in the necessity to balance the bar across your hips when performing. To make it easier, grab yourself an EZ barbell or a shorter barbell if your gym has one.
Rest your back on a bench and, in order to find the best foot placement for you, perform a thrust without the bar. Drive your hips up and adjust your feet until your shins are perpendicular to the floor (at 90-degrees). Once you’ve found this position, lower your hips back down and then place your bar just above your pelvis. Hold the bar in both hands using an overhand grip.
From here, drive your hips up and squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement. You want to make sure you are pushing your knees out when you drive up, to prevent them from caving in and losing the tension placed on the glutes. It will also help to focus your eyes on either the bar itself or a fixed position down on the floor, to prevent your back from arching.
If you find you struggle to maintain your back position on the bench when moving, you can adjust yourself so that your elbows lightly rest on the bench to give you a little more stability. You also don’t have to perform the hip thrust with a weighted bar if you don’t want, this leg exercise also works as a bodyweight movement. It can also be performed by holding a single dumbbell over your pelvis too.
Sets: 3 sets with 10 reps per set
Tempo: 1 second up, 2 seconds down.
The leg press utilises a resistance machine in the gym to help build muscle in the legs. Some hardcore gym junkies may see it as an inferior movement in comparison to free-weight leg exercises such as the barbell back squat, but there is actually much to love about the leg press.
Because it utilises a resistance machine, the leg press allows you to focus solely on the muscles you want to train, i.e. the quads,hamstrings and glutes.
How to perform this leg exercise: Your gym should have one of two varieties of leg press machines. One will see you sitting upright, whereby you push your body away from a static footplate. The other sees you sitting lower down at an angle, whereby you push a footplate away from your body.
The method to perform both is ultimately the same.
Select your weight by adjusting the pin and then take up your seated position. Where you position your feet will determine which muscle group you target. Place your feet higher up the plate and you will target your glutes. Position them further down and you’ll place more emphasis on your quads. If you’re new to the leg press, it’s best to start somewhere in the middle.
Position your feet shoulder-width apart and facing outwards slightly and ensure your lower back remains pressed against the seat throughout the duration of the movement.
Push the footplate to straighten your legs and remove the handles to the side of the seat. Bring your knees close to your chest, but be sure to not have them touch. Just over 90-degrees is a good target.
Straighten your legs back out, but don’t fully lock them. Not only will this ensure you place the greatest amount of tension on your leg muscles, but it also helps prevent injuries to your knees.
Repeat this movement for the desired number of reps.
Sets: 4 sets with 10 – 15 reps per set
Tempo: 2 seconds in, 2 seconds out
Donkey kicks represent one of the most popular exercises for legs because they are very easy to perform and require no equipment. If you don’t have time to go to the gym, they can even be done at home. All you need is some energy and a little bit of strength.
How to Perform This Leg Exercise: Set your feet about 6in apart and drop into a squat. Make sure you tilt your torso forward at 45 degrees and that you bend your knees simultaneously. Then, draw your right heel back, then up toward your glutes, all while maintaining a still upper body position.
Then, brace your core for some balance, and shoot your legs back up in a very sudden movement. While kicking, lean forward, so all your body weight is supported by your hands.
Sets: 3 sets of 10-15 reps
Tempo: 2-second for the kick, 1-second return
A reverse lunge is the kind of simple exercise that doesn’t require too much practice. It’ll involve dumbbells, so make sure to find the right weight before you begin. This exercise is great for strengthening leg muscles, and it can do wonders in anyone’s workout schedule.
How to Perform This Leg Exercise: Take a dumbbell in each hand and stand still while holding them. Using your right foot, step back. Lower your body until the position of the front thigh is parallel to your floor. Your rear knee should be almost touching the floor.
In the meantime, your torso should remain in an upright position, and you will then step forward to go back to the initial position. All reps should be done on one leg, after which you switch. This will complete the set.
Sets: 5 sets of 10-15 reps
Tempo: 2-3-second lunge, 1-second return
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a bike can be great for your legs, especially when used regularly. The assault bike can help you achieve the muscles you want, and you’ll notice that if you do sprints mixed with other leg exercises, it doesn’t take long for your leg muscles to develop.
This exercise can build your calf, glute, and quadricep muscles, and it’s suitable for all skill levels.
How to Perform This Leg Exercise: Begin by setting your seat up. Put the ball of your foot on the bike’s pedal and adjust the height. Then, sit down on the seat, and put both feet on the pedals, and your hands on the handles. Keep pedaling, then drive your arms back and forth, synchronizing them with your legs. Remember that the most power must be produced by your legs, not by your arms.
Sets: 2-3 sets of 1 rep
Tempo: 30-second reps
Sumo deadlifts are great because they give you a lot of freedom to simply move over a much shorter motion range. It’s not necessary to hinge as far, because you’ll get your legs wider. By doing this in combination with other leg exercises, you can really get your legs back in shape.
How to Perform This Leg Exercise: Keep your feet wider than shoulder-width apart. Then, as you squat down, grab the barbell, making sure your hands are close to touching each other. Pull your shoulders back while keeping your chest up, then look straight ahead while lifting. Take the weight back onto the heels and keep the bar as close to the body as possible during the exercise. Lift the barbell to thigh level, pause, and go back to the initial position slowly.
Sets: 3 sets of 10 reps
Tempo: 4-5-second per rep, 2-3 second return
Barbell Hip Thrust
If you go to the gym frequently, chances are that you’ve seen lots of men training with barbell hip thrusts. These workouts are intense, but they do the job. What’s great about this exercise is that it targets your glutes, strengthening your muscles and making sure they help you when doing deadlifts, squats, and lunges.
When your glutes get stronger, some of the mechanical stress applied to your lower back reduces, meaning that the risk of injury is decreased.
How to Perform This Leg Exercise: If you can, try to load a barbell with some rubber bumper plates. Then, roll this barbell towards you. It should sit on your hips.
Begin by putting your upper back on a bench while your feet are flat on the floor, and you bend your knees. While squeezing your glutes, bring your hips up, using both hands to hold onto the barbell. This will keep it from falling. Reach a straight line from chin to knee. Hold the position for some time, and then slowly go back down.
Sets: 3 sets of 10-15 reps
Tempo: 5-6-second reps, 2-3-second return
Seated Calf Raise
Your calves are a part of your legs that you shouldn’t neglect if you want all muscles to be trained evenly. Luckily, there is a calf raise machine that you can find in many gyms, and it will help you develop your calf muscles nicely. If you do this exercise regularly, you’ll see progress in no time. Not to mention that this development may also help you when you are performing other leg exercises.
How to Perform This Leg Exercise: Go to the seated calf raise machine and set the desired weight you want to lift. You can also sit on a bench while you keep the balls of your feet on a step or block and have dumbbells on your thighs for resistance.
While bending your knees and hips at 90 degrees, do a calf raise. When done right, this exercise can strengthen your calf muscles.
Sets: 3-4 sets with 10 reps
Tempo: 2-3 seconds for the reps, 2-second return
Hearing this name might make you raise an eyebrow or even giggle. But it’s not an exercise that should be underestimated or overlooked. Actually, it can make a big difference when added to your leg workout schedule.
It can not only help your legs but can be a challenge for your whole body. This is pretty much like a walking plank.
How to Perform This Leg Exercise: Take two dumbbells and hold them by your side. Then, keep your arms strong and do some short, quick steps, but as fast as you can. Then, simply turn around and begin walking back.
You must keep the same body position as you would during a plank exercise, but you will stabilize through the glutes with every step you take.
Sets: 2-3 sets of 5-10 reps
Tempo: 5-6 seconds for each rep
The cyclist squat can make a huge difference in your muscles. Just like squatting while wearing weightlifting shoes, it can be very challenging, but useful. Basically, this exercise will take things one step further. It allows you to hammer the quads while other muscles are not even used in the process. So, if you want to focus on your quads, then this is the exercise for you.
How to Perform This Leg Exercise: Prop your heels up onto a higher surface, like a bumper plate, for instance. It should be anything that has a height of at least one or two inches. Then, put your feet close together and maintain an upright standing position.
Then, sink down into a narrow-stance squat very slowly, while your knees will go far in front of your toes. This way, your hamstrings will touch your calves. Then, take a little break at the bottom, flex your quads, and go back to the initial position.
Sets: 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps
Tempo: 4-5 seconds per rep, 2-3-second return
At first glance, it seems that this exercise might not have a huge impact on your legs. Still, the workout can do wonders for your legs and can build strength. This will make your legs look amazing but will also provide you with a better performance for future workouts.
How to Perform This Leg Exercise: Sit on your floor and put your hands under your shoulders on the floor. Your fingers should point in front of you. Then, set your feet shoulder-width apart and start squeezing your glutes. Next, bridge your hips up and push through your heels. Your body will resemble a table, as your hips and torso will be parallel to the floor.
Sets: 4-5 sets of 5-10 reps
Tempo: 2-second per rep, 1-second return
Nordic Hamstring Curl
Here’s an exercise that will focus on your hamstrings, allowing your muscles to develop, and helping you prevent injuries while doing other exercises. For this workout, you have to kneel and keep your feet anchored behind you, while your body is lowered toward the ground. It can be challenging, but it will shape your legs quite nicely.
How to Perform This Leg Exercise: Make sure you have a bench, a loaded barbell, or anything sturdy, and anchor your feet underneath. Then, kneel on an exercise mat. Put your arms out in front of you, extending them. Meanwhile, make sure your torso is straight, and then lower yourself towards the floor slowly by bending the knees.
When you get lower, the movement will feel more difficult. Then, catch yourself using your hands, and get your body back up to the initial position.
Sets: 2-3 sets of 15-20 reps, depending on how many you can do
Tempo: 3-4 second rep, 1-2-second return