Good news: the best leg exercises are the most challenging. I say that’s good news for you because I’m assuming since you’re on this blog that you’re up for any kind of challenge to improve your leg strength, endurance and fit in your jeans better.
Have you seen those dudes in the gym that have massive upper bodies and no wheels?
Ya, those guys…well they’re the ones that don’t do the metabolically challenging exercises that I want to show you in this blog.
So, in an effort to help you get those gams up, here are the best leg exercises for you to do to build strength, endurance and 00h la-la to your legs:
#1 THE SQUAT
The squat is the ‘be all end all’ of leg training as far as I’m concerned. This is the king daddy of hitting every angle of your leg: quads, hams, gluts, inner thighs, core, lower back…the full meal deal. If you have knee issues, you may need to modify the squat, but your goal is to be able to strengthen the surrounding muscles of the knee in order to support it. Many people avoid the squat when, in fact, they should just learn how to do it properly.
The most common errors and the correction when doing the squat are:
Bending at the knee first instead of the hip. Tip: Think about sitting your bum back into a chair and don’t let the knees come over the toes.
Folding at the waist. Tip: Keep the eyes looking up, the head controls the spine and by keeping the eyes looking up, it’s more likely that the chin will not drop and you won’t bend at the waist.
Heels are coming up. Tip: Think about wiggling the toes and weighting the heels. As well, you may be super tight in the achilles (ankle) so stretching out the calf muscles will also help.
#2 THE SMITH SQUAT
I chose this exercise second since it’s similar to the squat. If you aren’t comfortable with a free bar, you’ll feel a little more supported in a smith machine. The common errors and tips are basically the same. The one thing you’ll need to pay particular attention to is your foot placement. Make sure your feet aren’t too far under the bar or you’ll force the knees over the toes.
#3 THE LEG PRESS
Notice the depth and ROM (range of motion) that I use in the above picture when doing the leg press. This movement takes the balance and core stabilizing factor out of the exercise, but it’s still a compound exercise that taxes all the major muscles of the leg.
The most common errors are:
Loading up the weight and not working the entire ROM. Tip: Check your ego and lighten up the sled. Make sure that you’re moving the weight through the full range of motion.
Poor knee alignment. Tip: Watch the foot placement and ensure that the knees don’t roll in, press knees over the toes and push from the heels.
#4 THE LUNGE
The lunge can be performed with a barbell, in a Smith machine (shown), with dumb bells, walking…It’s a great compound exercise that really targets the hams and butt.
The most common errors are:
Allowing the knee to extend over the toe. Tip: Try the reverse lunge (versus the forward lunge) and keep the weight on the heel of the front foot. Try to maintain a 90 degree angle at the hip, knee and ankle of the front leg.
Not bending the back leg. Tip: Think about ‘changing level’. That is, instead of trying to take a giant step forward, try to drop the back knee to the floor. As well, don’t transfer the weight to the back foot, only use the back foot to balance.
#5 THE HACK SQUAT
Do you think I have a thing for squatting? I have the hack squat at #4 only because some people feel their knees with this movement (more than any other squatting motion or the leg press).
The feet are too far back and the knee moves over the toe too much. Tip: Step forward so that you can push more from the heel and align the knees over top of the toes (don’t let them roll in).
#6 THE HAMSTRING CURL
This isn’t a favorite movement for me. It’s the one exercise that actually bothers my knees. This is a favorite movement for those NOT wanting a challenging leg exercise. The curl has it’s place in your exercise routine, but not as a starring role. This is a great movement to ‘pre-fatigue’ your hamstrings. That is, if you do this movement first, then the muscle tires out and you can push it even harder when you follow it with a squat, lunge or leg press. Do you see how this movement basically only taxes one muscle? This is why it’s at the bottom of my favorite list.
#7 THE LEG EXTENSION
This exercise falls into the same category as the hamstring machine. It’s a fav of those that ‘pretend’ to train legs. It has it’s place in a leg routine, but not as the main movement. Pair this exercise up in a super set with squats and it’s a brilliant combination. It’s a good movement for rehabilitation of the knee. Don’t plan on having stunning legs if this is the ONLY movement you do.
#1001 GIZMOS AND GADGETS TO WASTE YOUR TIME
Don’t waste your time and money on ridiculous things like this. I even have issue with the adductor/abductor machine you’ll see in your gym. Don’t get me started….
The morale of the story is this: you should be ready to keel over and possibly barf after a leg day. That is, training legs is more of a full body workout than just a ‘leg’ workout. The best leg exercises actually engage more than just the legs…oh ya, a little mental toughness is needed to get in a great leg workout.