The 30 best leg exercises of all time
Build strength from the ground up with these lower-body moves.
by Men's Fitness Editors
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A strong lower body is crucial to performance—whether you're looking to improve your sports performance, gym work, or just daily fuctional fitness. And yes, we said "strong lower body." Leg exercises aren't just for quads and hamstrings—these exercises will work your core muscles, improve your balance, and grant you the added benefits of things like grip strength.
For the sake of your physique and training results, here are 30 strength-building lower body exercises to ensure you never skip leg day.
The 30 best leg exercises of all time
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Set a barbell on a power rack at about shoulder height. Grab the power with an overhand grip at shoulder width and raise your elbows until your upper arms are parallel to the floor. Take the bar out of the rack and let it rest on your fingertips. Your elbows should be all the way up throughout the movement. Step back and set your feet at shoulder width with toes turned out slightly. Squat as low as you can without losing the arch in your lower back.
Bulgarian Split Squat
Stand lunge-length in front of a bench. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and rest the top of your left foot on the bench behind you. Lower your body until your rear knee nearly touches the floor and your front thigh is parallel to the floor. Single-leg training can yield serious strength gains .
A killer deadlift variation, hold a barbell with a shoulder-width grip and stand with feet hip-width apart. Bend your hips back as far as you can. Allow your knees to bend as needed while you lower the bar along your shins until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Keep your lower back in its natural arched position throughout.
In a squat rack or cage, grasp the bar as far apart as is comfortable and step under it. Place it on your lower traps, squeeze your shoulder blades together, push your elbows up and nudge the bar out of the rack. Take a step or two back and stand with your feet at shoulder width and your toes turned slightly out. Take a deep breath and bend your hips back, then bend your knees to lower your body as far as you can without losing the arch in your lower back. Push your knees out as you descend. Drive vertically with your hips to come back up, continuing to push your knees out.
Stand behind a bench or another elevated surface that will put your thigh at parallel to the floor when you step your foot onto it. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and step onto the bench, but leave your trailing leg hanging off.
Stand straight up with feet hip-width apart and shins one inch away from the bar. Grip the bar with a double pronated or reverse grip, bend knees and push them into your straight arms. Bring your chest up as much as possible and look straight ahead. Keeping your back flat, extend your hips to stand up, pulling the bar up along your legs to lockout. Here are 4 ways to break your deadlift record .
Swiss Ball Leg Curl
Brace your abs with heels on a stability ball. Raise your hips into the air, but keep your knees straight. From there, bend your knees and roll the ball back toward you. Keep your hips elevated throughout the set. Check out more Swiss-Ball moves that'll torch your glutes and legs .
Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift
Hold a dumbbell in one hand and stand on the opposite leg. Bend your hips back and lower your torso until you feel your lower back is about to lose its arch. Squeeze your glutes and extend your hips to come up.
Adjust the seat of the machine so that you can sit comfortably with your hips beneath your knees and your knees in line with your feet. Remove the safeties and lower your knees toward your chest until they’re bent 90 degrees and then press back up. Be careful not to go too low or you risk your lower back coming off the seat (which can cause injury).
Bodyweight Calf Raise
Stand with your toes on the block and hold onto something sturdy for support. Raise your heels to come up on the balls of your feet, and then lower your heels until you feel a stretch in your calves. This is just one way to get stronger, bigger calves .
Stand with your feet hip width, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Step forward with one leg and lower your body until your rear knee nearly touches the floor and your front thigh is parallel to the floor. Step forward with your rear leg to perform the next rep.
Set up in a squat rack or cage. Grasp the bar as far apart as is comfortable and step under it. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and nudge the bar out of the rack. Step back and stand with your feet at shoulder width and your toes turned out slightly. Take a deep breath and tuck your hips back, then bend your knees to lower your body as far as you can without losing the arch in your lower back. Push your knees out as you descend. Hold the bottom position for two seconds.
Stand with the dumbbells still in your hands and step back with your right foot. Lower your body until your front thigh is parallel to the floor and your rear knee nearly touches the floor. Keep your torso upright. Step forward to return to the starting position. Complete all reps on one leg, then switch legs. That’s one set.
Hold the weights at shoulder level and stand with feet shoulder-width apart and toes turned slightly out. Squat down as low as you can without losing the arch in your lower back.
Stand with feet hip-width apart and the kettlebell on the floor. Grasp the weight with both hands (palms facing you) and, keeping your lower back flat, extend your hips to raise it off the floor. From there, take a deep breath and bend your hips back, allowing the weight to swing back between your legs. Explosively extend your hips and exhale—allowing the momentum to swing the weight up to shoulder level. Control the descent, but use the momentum to begin the next rep.
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and squat down until your thighs are about parallel to the floor but no deeper. Jump as high as you can. Land with soft knees and begin the next rep.
Barbell Calf Raise
Place a block, step, or weight plate on the floor. Grasp a barbell and hold it on the backs of your shoulders, as in a squat. Place your toes on the block so your calves are stretched, but make sure you can maintain balance. Raise your heels to come up onto the balls of your feet.
Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
Kneel down in a lunge position with your right leg in front, and rest your back knee on a towel or mat, if available. Extend your left hand above your head and let your right hand hang at your side. Contract your left glute and push your hips forward until you feel a stretch in the front of your hip. Hold for 30 seconds.
Stand on your right leg and pick your left one up off the floor. Raise both arms in front of you to act as a counterbalance. If you have light weights or something similar to help you keep your balance, use it. Bend your hips and knee and lower your body as low as you can. Come back up.
Jumping Calf Raise
Stand tall with feet flat on the floor and jump using only your calves. Land softly, absorbing the force by dropping into a half squat; also, try to land quietly.
Barbell Hip Thrust
Rest your upper back on a bench and sit on the floor with legs extended. Roll a loaded barbell up your thighs until the bar sits on your lap (you may want to place a towel or mat on your hips or attach a pad to the bar for comfort). Brace your abs and drive your heels into the floor to extend your hips, raising them until your thighs and upper body are parallel to the floor.
Glute Bridge Walkout
Lie on your back on the floor and bend your knees so your feet rest on the floor close to your butt. Brace your abs and drive your heels into the floor to raise your hips into the air. From there, walk your feet out in a V shape, taking small steps with your heels forward and away from the midline of your body. Keep your hips up. Continue until your legs are extended and then walk them back in. That’s one rep.
Single-Leg Glute Bridge
Lie on your back on the floor and bend both knees so that your feet rest on the floor close to your butt. Brace your abs and raise one leg up and bring the knee toward your chest. Drive the heel of the other foot into the floor. Bridge up until your body is in a straight line.
Seated Calf Raise
Use a seated calf raise machine, or sit on a bench and rest the balls of your feet on a block or step (and hold dumbbells on your thighs for resistance). Perform a calf raise as described at left, but with hips and knees bent 90 degrees.
Swiss Ball Wall Squat
Place the ball against a wall and stand with your back against it, holding it in place. Place your feet shoulder-width apart and turn your toes out about 15 degrees. Squat down as low as you can, rolling the ball down the wall as you descend.
Sit on the floor and place your hands on the floor under your shoulders, fingers pointing in front of you. Place your feet shoulder width and squeeze your glutes. Push through your heels as you bridge your hips up. Your body should form a table, with your torso and hips parallel to the floor. Hold for two seconds.
Hold the weight close to your chest at shoulder level with both hands on the handle and palms facing each other. Squat down as deeply as you can, then press the bell straight out in front of you with arms extended. Bring it back to your chest and repeat for reps while maintaining the squat position.
Suspension Trainer Leg Curl
Rest both feet in the foot cradles of a suspension traner with legs straight. Bridge your hips up so your body forms a straight line, then bend your knees, curling your heels toward your butt. The closer you place your hands to your sides, the more support you’ll get.
Hold the bar overhead and step forward with your left leg. Lower yourself until your left thigh is parallel to the floor and your rear knee nearly touches the floor.
Standing Calf Raise
Use a standing calf raise machine, or stand on a block or step with a dumbbell in one hand while holding on to something for support with the other. Lower your heels toward the floor until you feel a stretch in your calves. Drive the balls of your feet into the foot plate and contract your calves, raising your heels as high as possible. Control the descent on each rep.