Top Leg Exercises: (Your Definitive Guide For Huge Legs)

Are you struggling to add muscle mass to your legs?  Do you want to know what the top leg exercises are that you should be doing to add size and strength?  If so then this is the article for you.

5 Top Leg Exercises For Building Muscle And Strength

  1. Back Squats
  2. Front Squats
  3. 45 Degree Leg Press
  4. Power Lunges
  5. Romanian Deadlifts

You hear it all the time in the gym.  People constantly making excuses to miss leg day.  Well, you could have all the top leg exercises in the world, but if you are only training them once every 3 or 4 weeks you will get nowhere fast.

A strong muscular set of legs provide the foundation for your whole body to work from.  What this means is a strong set of legs will mean a stronger upper body.


Squats

Diagram of a man squatting

This was an extremely obvious pick to put at the top of the list, and like deadlifts, this one movement will provide the most amount of muscle gains in the quickest possible time.  Overall it creates the most amount of overload throughout the whole body, and for this reason, it makes it comes in joint with deadlifts for being the most demanding movement you can do.

Yet having said that, it is the one movement these days I rarely see people do, and its the one movement that will be left out if someone is short on time.

The reason for this.  Because they are damn hard and extremely taxing on the body.  Even doing low repetitions on this movement can make you feel like you have just undertaken an intense cardio session.

I urge you along with deadlifts, this movement should be at the forefront of your training program.

Primary muscles involved

Quads, hamstrings, Glutes and your lower back

Secondary muscles involved

Abductors, adductors, soleus, calf, and so many more.

Most efficient technique

Probably the hardest movement to master good technique on, but when you do, the extra weight and overload you will be able to achieve are massive.  Correct technique will also help prevent injury.

This is the one movement you do not have to go to complete positive failure on.  Especially when squatting without a training partner.  Because the overload is going to be substantially higher than any other movement anyway, you can always leave 1 rep in the bag.  There is nothing worse than getting stuck at the bottom of a squat with no one around to help.

Make sure the bar is set to a height that is easy to take it off and on.  The last thing you want is to have to struggle and waste energy re-racking the bar after your last rep.

Step under the bar and make sure the middle of the bar is centred on your back.  You want the bar positioned and resting on the middle of your traps.  DO NOT have the bar resting two high up towards your neck as this can be extremely painful.

Before moving back to the bar, make sure your feet are positioned at about shoulder width apart.

Keeping your feet at the correct distance, take one step back.  You should now be set to go, and by having everything set before even moving the bar you will waste as little energy as possible.

Keeping pressure through your heels, naturally, sit down into the movement until your thighs are parallel to the floor.  This is the maximum depth you need to go to, any lower and you start running the risk of knee problems, any higher and you will not be fully stimulating the leg muscles.

Make sure you keep your shoulder blades squeezed back, chest pushed high and belly button pulled in towards your spine.  This will create a strong stable upper body.

From the low position explosively drive up back to the top of the movement.

When squatting do not bounce at the bottom of the movement and avoid bad habits like placing a bench behind you or weight plates under your heels.

If you can’t get down to parallel then it means you have gone to heavy.


Front Squats

The front squat is second on the list, simply because it is my second favourite leg exercise, diagram of a man doing front squatsand for good reason.  Although you will not be able to lift the same amount of load as with the back squat, the front squat empathises the quads a little bit more than the back squat does.

Also, another plus to this exercise is the fact it is a lot more comfortable on the knees and lower back, so perfect for any of you with issues in these two areas.

Although it’s not as widely used as the back squat, mainly because people are put off due to the fact the bar looks like it is strangling you, I strongly urge you start including this leg exercise in your training routine.

If you follow the technique I am about to teach below than you won’t have any issues with doing this movement and be able to reap all the benefits.

Primary muscles involved

Quads, hamstrings, Glutes and your lower back

Secondary muscles involved

Abductors, adductors, soleus, calf, Trapezius, Latimus Dorsi and more

Most efficient technique

With the front squat there are a few different ways you can position your hands and grip the bar, but today I am going to discuss the most common and best way in my opinion.

The first thing you need to do is make sure the bar is set at the correct height on the squat rack.  The last thing you want is to have the bar set too low which would involve a lot of wasted energy just unracking it, or to high which will make it very difficult to take off and put back on when the bar is loaded up.  Personally, I would position the hooks so that the bar will sit at mid-shoulder height.

Walk up to and grab the barbell with both hands.  Make sure they are shoulder width apart and both palms are facing upward towards the ceiling.

We now want to make sure the barbell is resting on top of our shoulders.  You do this by initially dropping your elbows down and bringing your chest up to the bar so that it makes contact with the base of your throat.  Once this is done you want to raise your elbows back up and high towards the ceiling.  The bar should now be pressing into your shoulders.

You now want to lift the barbell off the squat rack whilst always making sure you are looking forward.  Take one small step back, followed by a second slightly bigger step and then place your leg you initially move in line with the other shoulder width apart.

Embrace your core whilst taking a deep breath in, and start lowering your hips down until your thighs are parallel to the floor.  You should feel the pressure through the heel and middle of your foot.

During the whole movement, you must make a conscious effort to keep your elbows up nice and high towards the ceiling.  This will keep the barbell in the correct place throughout the entire movement.

Once your thighs are parallel to the floor, it’s now simply a case of reversing the movement until you are back in the standing position.


45 Degree Leg Press (any form of leg press will do just fine though)

Diagram of a man leg pressing

Although a leg press will not provide the same amount of overload and muscle fibre stimulation as a squat (if you had only time for one then chose a squat) it is still an extremely effective exercise for muscle growth.

Primary muscles involved

Quads, hamstrings, Glutes

Secondary muscles involved

lower back, Abductors, adductors, calf

Most efficient technique

Make sure your bum is right to the back of the seat.  Position your feet shoulder width apart with your toes pointing forwards.  Make sure your feet are not to low down on the plate as this will cause pointless stress on the knee joint before you even get started.

Lower the weight right down so that your knees come into your chest.  DO NOT load the machine up so heavy that you can only do half or even quarter reps.  This will not be providing maximum overload, and you will just be wasting your time and energy.

From the bottom drive the weight back up leaving a slight bend in your knees at the top.


Power Lunges

Diagram of a man doing power lunges

Due to the stretch you can create through this movement, it makes it a really effective one for muscle growth.

A quick point though, do not do walking lunges or sometimes know as farmers walk.  This will really reduce the weight you can have on the bar, therefore reducing maximum overload.  In order to hit near the BFG recommended repetition range, you would have to do walking lunges in awful form.

Primary muscles involved

hamstrings, quads, Glutes

Secondary muscles involved

lower back, abductors, adductors, calf and so many more.

Most efficient technique

Position the bar onto your back in the same manner as you would when getting ready to perform squats.  Now standing in a natural position take a big step forward and slowly lunge down.  Your back knee should nearly be touching the floor, and your front thigh should be just below parallel.  Remember what makes this exercise so good is the stretch you can get.  So if you only do half the movement then it makes this an ineffective exercise.

Once at the bottom of the movement explode back up to the starting position.

Alternate each leg.


Romanian Deadlifts

Diagram of a man doing stiff leg deadlifts

The Romanian Deadlift is the only exercise you ever need to do, in order to target the hamstrings a bit more.  Any form of hamstring machine, whether it be a standing, seated or lying version, will not provide anywhere near enough overload through the muscle.  Plus these machines extremely isolate the muscle meaning a rapidly reduced amount of muscle fibre stimulation.

Primary muscles involved

hamstrings, glutes, lower back

Secondary muscles involved

Upper back, shoulders, traps

Most efficient technique

It’s always best to use lifting straps on this exercise in order to support the grip.  When your grip goes, normally your form also goes.  Using the straps will really allow you to focus on good technique.

It’s really important to keep a strong solid back position throughout this movement.  This is done by keeping your chest held high, shoulder blades squeezed back and belly button pulled in and up towards your spine.  You must not let your back round.

Gripping the bar anywhere between 4 to 6 inches wider the shoulder width move into a standing position, the same as you would at the top of a normal deadlift.

With your feed in a shoulder width position slowly start bending at the waste and start lowering the bar at a slow speed.  As you start to do this make sure you are pushing your bum backwards and keep the bar nice and close to your legs.

Lower the bar to just above your feet always keeping a slight bend at your knees, to help avoid any unnecessary knee stress.

From here explode back up to the top ensuring you do not fully lock out your hips, back and knees at the top.  This will keep tension onto the hamstrings throughout the entire set and create more overload.


Final Words

Here you have it.  The top leg exercises that should make up your leg day.  Remember squats should be done as a priority over everything else.  In terms of overload and muscle fibre stimulation, they beat any other leg exercise you can do hands down.

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Top leg exercises

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