Taking Leg Day to the Next Level: 28 Leg Exercises You Need to Try
When you’re going through your gym circuit, you likely have a few areas of focus. Many of us want to get our arms in better shape, and abs are always a major focus at the gym. But how often do you take time to focus on giving your legs some attention? Making leg exercises a part of your regular gym routine is critical if you want to maintain whole-body fitness.
It’ll be worth it during your recovery when you realize what a difference they make to your overall health. Read on to discover some of the best leg exercises you can work into your fitness cycle.
Barbell Back Squat
Set a barbell just under shoulder height on a squat rack, and position yourself so the bar is resting on your shoulders. Holding the bar with your hands, press up, step back, and straighten up. Squat until your glutes pass below your knees, keeping your back as straight as possible and your eyes forward, before straightening back up again.
Bulgarian Split Squat
Stand far enough in front of a bench that you can rest the top of your left foot on the bench with your left knee bent. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and, with your foot still on the bench behind you, squat until your glute passes your knee.
Straighten back up and repeat, making sure to do an even number of reps on each side.
Set a barbell around shoulder height on a squat rack and face towards it. Grip the bar overhand, moving towards the bar until the tops of your hands rest on your shoulders and your upper arms are parallel with the ground. Lift the bar, step back, and, allowing the bar to rest on your fingertips, begin doing squats, keeping your back straight and your feet shoulder-width apart.
For this exercise, you will use only your body weight to condition your calves.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and squat down until your thighs are parallel with the floor, keeping your back straight and your arms straight down towards the floor. Jump as high as you are able, landing with soft knees and transitioning back down into a squat position.
Start standing on your right leg with your left foot off the floor and your arms straight out in front of you. Slowly bend your right knee, lowering your body and extending your arms forward until your back is as close to parallel to the floor as possible. Repeat, using light weights to help counterbalance you as needed.
Swiss Ball Wall Squat
Get a large exercise ball and place it against a wall, standing with your middle and lower back against it to hold it in place. Step out so you’re at a slight angle, leaning back against the wall, and your feet are shoulder-width apart. Squat down until your glutes pass your knees, rolling the ball with you as you go, and then straighten back up.
Load weights onto a barbell and lift it, holding it in the crook of your elbows. Wrap your arms around the front of the barbell to hold it in place and keep it from rolling forward.
Squat down until your thighs are parallel with the ground before raising back up and repeating.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and a barbell set one inch away from your shins.
Bend down, keeping your back straight and your gaze forward, and grip the bar with a double-pronated grip. Bring your chest as far up as possible, keep your back flat, and start extending your hips to stand straight up.
Start this exercise by lifting a barbell in the same way you would for a standard deadlift. Once you’ve straightened up, bend your hips back as far as you can, allowing the barbell to drop towards the floor. Allow your knees to bend while you continue to lower the bar until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings, keeping your back straight and then straightening back up.
Pick up two dumbbells that are light enough for you to comfortably hold them, but which are heavy enough to give you a workout.
Step one foot forward into a lunge, dropping down until your thigh is parallel with the floor and your following knee nearly touches the ground. Stand up, bringing your trailing foot forward to meet your front foot, and then repeat on the other leg.
Begin your reverse lunges with the same weight dumbbells that you did for the dumbbell lunge, or leave them out if you prefer. Step back with your right foot, lowering down until your left thigh is parallel with the ground and your right knee nearly touches the ground. Straighten back up, returning your feet to the starting position, and then switch legs.
Set weights on a barbell and hold the bar over your head with your arms straight and your hands firmly under the bar. Step forward with your right leg, lowering down until your right thigh is parallel with the ground and your left knee nearly touches. Step back up to your starting position and repeat on the other leg.
Standing Calf Raises
You can do standing calf raises on a machine or simply by standing on a block or step holding a dumbbell with one hand. Set your feet so only the balls of your feet are on the machine or the step and your heels are hanging off the back.
Lower your heels until you feel a stretch in your calves, and then raise up onto your tiptoes before lowering back down and repeating.
Barbell Calf Raise
To maximize your calf raises a bit, load some weights onto a barbell and hold it on the backs of your shoulders, as you would for a squat.
Stand with the balls of your feet on a step, block, or weight plate, making sure you’re well-balanced. Lift your heels to stand on tiptoe, lower back down, and repeat.
Jumping Calf Raises
For jumping calf raises, you can hold dumbbells if you like or simply use your body weight. Stand with your feet flat on the floor and jump up, using only your calves to propel yourself. Keep your arms down by your sides, and land softly, bending your knees into a half squat before straightening and repeating.
Seated Calf Raises
You can use a seated calf raise machine for this exercise or hold dumbbells on your thighs, depending on what’s available. Sit at a bench so that your thighs are parallel to the floor and at a right angle with your calves. Extend through the balls of your feet to lift your heels before lowering them back down until you feel a stretch in your calves.
Barbell Glute Bridge
Lie flat on your back with a barbell laid across your hips, holding it with your hands shoulder-width apart. Pull your feet in so your heels are tucked in against your butt and your knees are pointed upwards.
Push upward with your hips to create one long line between your knees and your shoulders before lowering back down.
Single-Leg Glute Bridge
Begin this exercise lying on your back with your feet tucked in next to your rear as before.
Don’t use a barbell for this exercise; instead, lay your arms on the floor by your sides with your palms pressed flat against the floor. Lift one leg up, pulling that knee toward your chest and pushing your hips upwards as before until your body is one long, flat line.
Swiss Ball Leg Curl
Lie on your back on the floor and place a large exercise ball under your heels. Press your hips up so your body forms a long, straight line, bracing your arms on the floor, and begin to bend your knees. Roll the exercise ball in towards you until your feet are flat on the ball, and then roll it back out again until your legs are straight once more.
Suspension Trainer Leg Curl
If your gym has a suspension trainer, lie on your back on the floor in front of it and place your heels in each of the cradles. Lift your hips so your body forms a straight line, much as it did with the Swiss ball leg curl. Bend your knees, pulling your heels towards your rear, and then straighten your legs again.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and a kettlebell on the floor in front of you. Bend down, keeping your back flat, grip the kettlebell, and swing it back between your legs. Use the momentum you gain to swing the kettlebell back up, straightening back up to a standing position, before letting the kettlebell descend again once it reaches shoulder level.
Kettlebell Press Out
Pick up a kettlebell by the sides of its handle and clutch it to your chest while standing straight up with your feet shoulder-width apart.
Squat down as far as you can, and then push the kettlebell out away from your chest until your arms are straight. Pull it back into your chest and complete as many reps of this as you can while maintaining a squat position.
For this exercise, you will need a leg weight machine. Sit down on the bench, hooking your knees over the rollers and your shins behind the lower pads. Using your quads and making sure to keep your back straight, push the pad up, straightening your legs before slowly lowering back down.
If your gym has a leg press machine, lay down on it on your back and place your feet slightly apart on the plate.
Push out, pressing until your legs are straight, keeping your arms laid across your chest or stomach to prevent the temptation to tug on the bench. Release slowly, letting the weight drop back down, and repeat.
For this exercise, you’ll need a sturdy box that is stable enough for you to jump onto. Ideally, it should be about waist height, but use whatever height box will challenge you. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart in front of the box, squat partway down, and jump as high as you are able, landing with bent knees on top of the box and straightening up.
Find a bench, step, or box that’s slightly lower than your knees, and then hold a dumbbell in each hand. Place one foot on the surface and step up, extending until your leg is straight. Let your trailing leg hang off the bench or box, and then lower back down with the same leg, making sure to repeat the same number of exercises on each side.
Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
Start in a kneeling position with your right leg in front and your left arm extended up above you. Let your right arm hang down at your side, contract your left glute, and push your hips forward. When you feel a stretch in the front of your hip, hold for 30 seconds before you switch sides.
Reverse Table Up
Sit on the floor and lean back, placing your hands behind you with your fingertips facing your rear. Bend your knees until your feet can sit flat on the floor, and squeeze your glutes tight. Push through your hips, grounding yourself through your heels, until your body is one long line, forming a table-like position.
Discover More Leg Exercises
While many gym exercises focus on your abs or legs, it’s very important not to skip leg day.
These leg exercises can give you the power you need to get through anything, whether it be a hike or a hardcore workout. Make sure you always pace yourself, repeat exercises on both legs, and keep good form through all of these exercises.
If you’d like to discover more great fitness tips, check out our articles about working out and start making the most of your gym time today.