It’s not just about the aesthetics when training legs.
Strong, powerful legs not only help us perform better in the gym or out on the pitch – they also help us in our everyday lives; walking, tackling the stairs and carrying heavy objects.
Legs are the body's foundation and allow us to transfer strength, speed and power efficiently.
However, it's easy to overcomplicate leg exercises, so we’ve put together the ultimate leg training guide, including the best leg exercises for glutes, hamstrings, quads and calves so that you can get the most out of your leg workouts each time you step foot in the gym.
In this guide, we'll cover everything you need to know about the best leg exercises, from why training your legs is important to how to structure your leg workouts.
We'll also provide you with our top picks for the best leg exercises for hamstrings, quads, glutes and calves. So, if you're ready to start growing your legs, let's get started!
Why Training Legs Is Important
Training legs is no easy task, with leg day being one of the most physically demanding sessions of the week - it takes hard work and determination to push yourself through the mental barriers to make progress.
It's easy to overlook leg training in favor of other body parts, but training your legs is essential for building a balanced physique.
Not only will it help stimulate growth in your leg muscles, but training such large muscle groups also helps to produce elevated levels of cortisol, testosterone human growth hormone - something chest day will thank you for, too.
Made up of the hamstrings, quads, glutes, and calves – your legs are home to some of the largest muscles in your body, and training them can help you burn calories, increase your metabolism, and build lean muscle.
Oh, and did we mention that training legs can help improve your balance, coordination, and flexibility, which can lead to a reduced chance of injury? Maybe it's time to take leg day more seriously.
How To Plan & Structure Your Leg Workout
Now that you know why leg training is important, let's talk about how to plan and structure your leg workouts to get the most out of your session.
The key to building bigger, stronger legs is to place a primary focus on compound exercises, which target multiple muscle groups at once under greater load. Examples of compound exercises include squats, deadlifts and lunges, and they're essential for building strength and muscle.
Along with utilising compound leg exercises, It's important to consider the varied movement patterns across different planes of motion for a well-rounded leg workout. For example;
Extension - such as a squat, or lunge.
Flexion - such as hamstring curls.
Hip Hinges - such as an RDL or Deadlift.
Plantarflexion - calf raises and box jumps.
When planning your workout, including exercises that incorporate the above movements can help build a baseline for your session, providing variety in the muscles targeted tp boost strength, flexibility and performance.
When planning your leg workouts, you should also place emphasis on progressive overload.
This means gradually increasing the weight and intensity of your exercises over time, and is best done through writing, or using an app to track your sets, reps and weight lifted.
Aim to add more weight or reps each week, and make sure to challenge yourself, whilst retaining good form to ensure you're getting the most out of your workouts.
How Many Times Should You Train Legs Per Week?
Now you know how to plan and structure your leg workouts, let's talk about how often you should train your legs.
The general rule of thumb is to train your legs two to three times per week. Why? This will give you enough time to recover between workouts and allow your muscles to adapt and grow.
Muscles generally need 48 hours to recover, so it's vital that you avoid back-to-back training days that place increased stress on the same muscle groups, ensuring adequate rest, recovery and muscle growth.
Before deciding on what works best for you, it's important that you clarify, and write down your goals - if your lower body is a weakness or priority of yours, you may want to add an extra leg session each week, and vice versa.
You can also split your leg workouts into separate days for hamstrings, quads, glutes, and calves. This will allow you to focus on specific muscle groups and ensure you're getting the most out of your workouts.
Here's a sample 5-day split with legs as a priority:
Monday - Legs Push, with a main focus on squads and calves.
Tuesday - Upper Push, with the main focus on chest, shoulders & triceps.
Wednesday - Legs Pull, focusing on Glutes, hamstrings and calves.
Thursday - Rest.
Friday - Upper Pull, focusing on back and biceps.
Saturday - Legs, focus on big compound exercises such as squats and deadlifts, with accessory movements.
Sunday - Rest.
How To Warm Up Properly For Leg Day
Warm up's are crucial, and if you don't do them - now is the time to start!
Warming up for leg day is essential to reduce your risk of injury and prepare your body for the leg day onslaught it is about to receive.
Elevating your heart rate is always a great place to start, and can help get you in the mood for your session. A steady pace for 5 minutes on a cardio machine such as walking on the treadmill, cycling or assault bike will help increase your heart rate and begin to circulate more blood around the body.
After elevating your heart rate, move on to a few dynamic stretches, before proceeding to bodyweight exercises like squats, lunges, and calf raises.
It's always a good idea to ease yourself into the exercise by performing the movement with lightweight, for a reduced amount of reps - before increasing the weight and beginning your working set. This will help you get a better range of motion, activate your muscles, and prime your central nervous system.
It's easy to skip the warm-up, but preparing your body to exercise is incredibly important, so be sure to make time for a thorough warm-up and focus on good form.
The Best Leg Exercises For Hamstrings
Right, so you know why to train legs, and how to warm up - it's now time to start choosing the best leg exercises for your next workout.
Your hamstrings are located at the back of your thighs, and they are important for stabilizing your knee joints, as well as helping you generate power during activities like running and jumping.
One of the best exercises for targeting your hamstrings is the Romanian deadlift. This exercise involves hinging at the hips and lowering the barbell down to your shins, whilst keeping a staring back. It's a great exercise for targeting your hamstrings, as well as your glutes and lower back.
You can also do variations such as the single-leg Romanian deadlift and the glute-ham raise.
Here's a list of the best exercises for hamstrings:
Lying Hamstring Curls
Nordic Hamstring Curl
Compound hamstring exercises often involve holding heavy barbells, and adding volume can be difficult. Utilizing lifting accessories such as lifting straps can help make the bar easier to hold, so you can focus on the muscles you're training, rather than your grip.
Not sure how to deadlift? Check out our guide to deadlifting.
The Best Leg Exercises For Quads
The next muscle group we're going to focus on is your quads. The quadriceps are located at the front of your thighs, and they are responsible for knee extension and hip flexion.
Your quad muscles are essential for generating power during activities like running, jumping, and cycling.
The barbell squat is one of the best exercises for your quadriceps, and involves squatting down to where your hips are in line with your knees, before standing back up. Additional weight can be added with free weights or machines. You can try squat variations such as the goblet squat and the front squat.
Another great exercise for your quads is the leg press, which allows you to place a greater volume on the legs, without loading the spine with weight.
Here's a list of the best exercises for quads:
The Best Leg Exercises For Glutes
Your glutes are one of the most powerful muscles in your body, and they are essential for generating power during activities like running, jumping, and squatting.
Glutes also play a key role in stabilizing your hips and keeping your lower back safe during heavy lifts.
One of the best exercises for targeting your glutes is the hip thrust. This exercise involves sitting on the floor and pushing a barbell or weighted plate up off the floor. It's a great exercise for targeting your glutes, as well as your hamstrings and lower back. You can also do variations such as single-leg hip thrusts and barbell glute bridges.
Here's a list of the best leg exercises for glutes:
Barbell Hip Thrusts
Bulgarian Split Squat
If you don't have access to weights, then be sure to read our article on the best bodyweight glute exercises.
The Best Leg Exercises For Calves
Your calves are located at the back of your lower legs, and they are important for helping you generate power during activities like running and jumping.
They also play a key role in stabilizing your ankles and keeping your feet healthy, allowing you to perform simple tasks such as walking, climbing stairs and more.
One of the best exercises for targeting your calves is the standing calf raise. This exercise involves standing on a step and then raising and lowering your heels.
You can also do variations such as single-leg calf raises and seated calf raises to ensure both the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles are targeted for maximal growth in the calves.
Here's a list of the best calf exercises:
Standing Calf Raise
Seated Calf Raise
Leg Press Calf Raises
Single-Leg Calf Raises
Explosive Vertical Jumps
How To Cool Down Properly After Leg Day
Now that you know the best leg exercises for your next leg day, let's finish off with an appropriate cool-down aid recovery and retain muscle pliability.
Starting with 5 minutes of low-intensity cardio will help to flush out lactic acid and improve circulation, reducing muscle soreness and improving recovery.
Following the low-intensity cardio, complete a few dynamic stretches, before finishing with static stretches – focus on stretching the muscles you just worked and hold each stretch for around 30 seconds, and focus on your breathing for a deeper, more targeted stretch.
Training your legs is essential for improving your overall health and fitness, helping to build a balanced physique and increase your strength, power, and athleticism.
When designing your leg workouts, focus on compound exercises and progressive overload. Aim to train your legs two to three times per week, and make sure to warm up and cool down properly.
Finally, we provided you with our top picks for the best leg exercises for hamstrings, quads, glutes, and calves. So, if you're ready to start building bigger, stronger legs, use these exercises and start training today!
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WRITTEN BY: CHRIS BECK
Chris Beck is Senior Editor at Gymshark, with a passion for writing informative conditioning, health and fitness tech content. Chris is an avid gym-goer and sportsman, Personal Trainer, and also holds qualifications in Nutrition, Sports Performance, and is a certified Crossfit Level 1 Trainer.