What are the Best Leg Strength Training Exercises?

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  • Written By: Lisa O'Meara
  • Edited By: J.T. Gale
  • Last Modified Date: 14 February 2020
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The best leg strength training exercises typically are those that target as many of the major leg muscles as possible at one time. Squats and lunges are considered to be the most effective leg exercises and initially require no equipment to be performed. For people who have access to equipment or a gym, dead lifts and leg presses can complete a leg-strengthening routine. The leg is made of up four major muscle groups: the quadriceps on the front of the thigh, the hamstring at the back of the thigh, the gluteus maximus in the buttocks, and the calves on the back of the shin. Using a combination of these muscle groups simultaneously will typically result in an effective leg strength training program.

Using all four muscle groups at once, the squat is a movement people perform numerous times each day. People consistently sit down, stand up, pick things up, and set them down; therefore, increasing the muscle mass that facilitates this movement can quickly benefit everyday functioning. This is the main reason squats typically are part of most leg strength training routines.


To perform a squat, a person stands with feet slightly more than hip-width apart before sitting straight down until the thighs are almost parallel with the floor. The person should then appear as if they have lowered into a chair. Overall weight of the body should be concentrated in the heels, which are kept flat on the floor. The person then holds the squat for a beat and then stands up to complete the movement.

Lunges work all muscle groups and also can improve walking, running, and jumping abilities. There are numerous types of lunges but beginners should typically begin with a stationary lunge. To perform a lunge, a person stands with one foot flat on the floor while the other foot is extended out behind the body with the toes touching the floor; both knees bend straight down to lower the body to the floor until the back knee touches the ground. Weight should be concentrated in the heel of the front foot and the front knee should be behind the front foot. This pose is held for a beat before the body is raised back up to complete the lunge.

The dead lift is another exercise that can strengthen all major leg muscles at once. A barbell is usually required to perform this exercise and should be placed on the floor in front of the feet, which are set shoulder-width apart. Keeping the chest raised and the shoulders down, a person then grasps the barbell and uses the legs to pull the hips and shoulders up until the weight is at mid-thigh. The movement is then reversed to set the barbell back on the floor.

For people who have access to a gym, the leg press is a machine for working hamstrings, the gluteus maximus, and quadriceps all at once by pushing a pre-selected weight away from the body. After selecting the appropriate weight, a person sits on the machine with knees at a 90-degree angle to the body, almost to the chest. The feet are then placed on the panel in front of them and then pushed against the machine to straighten the legs. This position is then held for a beat before the knees are returned to a 90-degree angle.

All of these exercises typically should be performed slowly and without momentum. To build strength, the focus should generally be on lifting as much weight as possible rather than increasing the number of repetitions. Beginners should typically begin with one or two sets of 10 to 12 repetitions of each exercise, and then gradually increase repetitions before adding more weight. Rest days can be vitally important to any leg strength training routine; at most, at least one full day should typically separate each workout.


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