Your leg muscles are some of the most used muscles in your body, yet they’re the most likely part of the body to be neglected during workouts. It isn’t that uncommon to see people in the gym with amazing upper bodies and chicken legs.
It’s not an aesthetically pleasing look, and weak legs hinder your athletic performance. Many athletic movements, including martial arts moves, incorporate your leg muscles in some way or the other.
Exercises that strengthen your leg muscles
Tired of having a lower body that doesn’t match your upper body? Here are some exercises that will build your leg muscles up and strengthen them:
No surprise here, squats are the most popular compound exercise for your legs. The exercise targets your quads, hamstrings, glutes, lower back, and calves. It also works stabilizer muscles all over your body, strengthening your core.
If you’ve never done a squat in your life, resist the urge to use weights and start with bodyweight squats. Starting the exercises with little or no weight allows you to focus on getting the proper form down. You can start adding weights once the proper form becomes part of your muscle memory.
To execute a bodyweight squat:
- Start standing with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Keep your chest out and your back straight. You should be looking forward.
- Now, bend at the knee and drop your backside as if you were sitting down on a bench. Go as deep as your range of flexibility allows you to.
- While exhaling, return to the starting position to complete a rep. Aim for 10 to 30 reps. This will help strengthen your legs, getting you ready for squatting with weights.
Once you can complete three sets of 30 bodyweight squats without breaking a sweat, it’s time to move on to adding weights to your workout. Your legs carry your weight throughout the day, so the muscles there are more resilient than your upper body muscles. This means you need to work them more to get results from your workouts. Using weights is an effective way to push your legs muscles past what they’re used to.
Here’s how you perform a squat with a barbell:
- To start, step under a barbell, making contact with your upper back and gripping it with your hands to keep it balanced. You should be standing in a position to lift the weight with your upper back, not your hands.
- With your upper back, lift the bar from the rack with your feet a little further than hip-width apart. A wider stance than that engages your quads more, while a narrower stance makes your calf muscles more involved.
- Slowly drop down as if you were sitting down until your hips are slightly below your knees and return to the starting position as you exhale to complete a set. Aim for 8 to 12 reps. Add more weights if you can perform more than 12 reps with ease.
Deadlifts are one of the most effective exercises for strengthening muscles in your legs and making them grow. The exercise targets your core, lower back, upper thighs, hamstrings, and glutes. The benefits of performing deadlifts don’t stop there, though. This exercise also helps you to improve your upper body strength and posture.
Maintaining proper form is crucial when performing deadlifts. One of the most popular mistakes beginners make when attempting this exercise is rounding their backs. Your back should be in a neutral position when performing the exercise to avoid placing excessive stress on your spine.
Deadlifts are a perfectly safe exercise when done correctly. The only equipment you need to perform the exercises is a pair of dumbbells, kettlebells, or a barbell. Use lighter weights until you have the form down, then start using weights you can lift no more than 12 times. Here’s how to perform a deadlift:
- Stand right under the barbell with your feet hip-width apart and halfway underneath it.
- Bend forward towards the bar, without moving your feet, and grab the bar with your arms shoulder-width apart.
- Bend at your knees, touching the bar with your shin.
- Lift your chest up while keeping your back straight. Slowly stand up fully while holding on to the bar. It should glide across your legs. Don’t lean back or shrug when you reach the top.
- Return to the starting position by pushing your hips back and bending at your knees to complete a rep. Aim for 8 to 12 reps.
3) Lateral lunges
Here’s a great way to target your inner thighs along with your hamstrings, glutes, and calves. You can start by exercising with only your body weight, then adding dumbbells as your legs become stronger. Here’s what the exercise looks like:
- Start standing with your feet hip-width apart with a pair of dumbbells in each hand. Your knees should be pointing in the same direction as your feet.
- Now, take a giant step to the right while keeping the dumbbells in your hands.
- Lower your hips and push backward until your thighs and the floor are parallel. Your knees should still be pointing in the same direction as your feet, and your spine should be straight.
- Return to the starting position using your hamstrings and glutes to push off.
- Perform the exercise with your left leg to complete a rep. Aim for 8 to 12 reps.
4) Lunge step-ups
Here’s another type of lunge you can perform with your bodyweight or dumbbells. It gets your heart rate going, engages your stabilizer muscles, and works your upper hamstrings and glutes. Here’s how to perform it:
- Start standing in front of a box or bench you can reach with a lunge.
- Extend your leg, placing it on top of the bench.
- Drop down into a lunge, then push up into a step-on position. Return to the starting position and perform the motion with your other leg to complete a set. Aim for 8 to 12 reps for each set.
Get to work
Want more fitness tips? Attend one of Evolve MMA’s WarriorFit classes for more pointers on how to strengthen your leg muscles.
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