October 09, 2020 11 min read

Lower body exercises are too often left out of workout routines by people who prefer strength training for gains in the upper body. Not only can this result in lopsided sculpting but it can also be detrimental to your body’s performance, whether that be in athletics or just in day-to-day functions. The muscle groups in your lower body are the ones responsible for walking and running, naturally, but also for balance, support for the upper body, and essentially any movement that involves hinging, bending, or rotating at the hip. 

Everyone should aim to get a lower body workout at least twice a week. For people who want toned and sculpted muscles, the workouts themselves should be more challenging and more frequent. Too often, lower body exercises can feel repetitive if you don’t change your routine up from time to time. More varied exercises have also been shown to increase motivation to exercise and increase muscle thickness. 

There are tons of lower body exercises that we can use to keep us on our toes come leg day. Many of them can be altered to target specific muscles, such as the hamstrings or glutes, or throw a bit of cardio into the routine. The majority can be done at the gym or as part of a home workout since they typically require very little equipment to do. The lower body exercises in this guide can also be done with the addition of a resistance band, kettlebell, or small dumbbell. 

For the best leg workout, you can try switching to single-leg variants or you can try adding some plyometrics where possible. Building a HIIT workout routine comprising these lower body exercises is sure to give you the best athletic performance out of your lower body as well. Whether you use a resistance band or kettlebell or just rely on your body weight, these leg exercises are going to make you faster, more explosive, and even improve your ability to do upper body workouts. 

Of all the lower body exercises, some stand out for their effectiveness, difficulty, and how interesting they are to do. We’ve chosen the 10 best lower body workouts for anyone no matter what their fitness goals are. If you’re looking for a dedicated leg workout, try adding cardio to these exercises with plyometric variants. If you’re more focused on your upper body, take a leg day twice a week in between your upper body strength training. You could also consider full-body workouts like deadlifts that use a barbell to work out just about every muscle group in your body. 

As you move through these exercises, make sure you pay special attention to the form. Executing any exercise with improper form won’t get you any of the health benefits or build strength the way they’re meant to. When using these leg exercises to design a workout routine, make sure you target your muscle groups evenly and don’t leave out some of the harder to target ones. 

Here are 10 exercises you can use to build the best lower body workout for your particular goals. Your next leg day will be just as fulfilling and rewarding in terms of gains as your other upper body strength training routines if you get Focused AF and make sure to include a few of these leg workouts regularly. 

Benefits of Leg Exercises

The muscle groups of your lower body play a critical functional role and provide a significant amount of overall body strength. Lower body exercises not only help improve athletic performance now but can also preventsarcopenia, the loss of skeletal mass and function, as we age. 

Imagine how a boxer appears to hop on their feet as they’re engaged with an opponent in the ring. That’s a perfect example of the kind of agility you can have if you get regular lower body workouts. Besides these athletic benefits, it will also help your circulatory system. Even brisk walking 20 to 30 minutes per day can help, so a more intense workout should help even more. 

Most of these health and performance benefits are increased when you try single-leg variants or add plyometric movements to lower body exercises. A HIIT routine will maximize these benefits but, like plyometrics, should only be done a few times a week to give the body time torecover

Safety Tips for Leg Exercises

Like any other rigorous physical activity, lower body workouts come with a risk of injury if performed without taking the proper safety precautions. Always remember to stretch and do a quick warm-up before you start your leg exercises. One of the best ways to warm-up before you start your routine is to walk to the gym, if possible. It’s great cardio and your muscles will be nice and limber by the time you get to the gym. 

If you do leg exercises as part of a home workout rather than hitting the gym, take a quick walk around the neighborhood. This is especially vital if you spend long hours sitting because your muscles will be at a higher risk for strain and injury if you neglect to warm up. 

The cooldown can be just as important as the warm-up. Take time to let your muscles relax after the routine is finished to make sure they don’t cramp. Remember not to sit down or hop right into the car until your muscles have had time to cool down. Drink plenty of water to recoup what you lose through perspiration and help give your muscles enough fluid to rebuild the damage they sustain during the workout. 

A man doing squats.

10 Best Lower Body Workouts for Health & Athletic Performance

These leg exercises are presented in no particular order. Pay attention to which muscle groups they target so you can fashion a lower body exercise routine that’s tailored to your personal fitness goals. 

1. Calf Raise

The calf raise is a personal favorite of many runners because it can be done anywhere. You can use it as part of a warm-up routine or fill in the rest periods of a HIIT program. Build strength in your calves to help prevent common injuries like plantar fasciitis and you’ll notice a difference next time you go out for a run or try a different form of cardio. 

The calf raise is one of the easiest leg exercises out there. To get in the starting position, just stand with your spine straight and your feet more or less shoulder-width apart. Push down through your left leg and your right leg while lifting both heels until you’re standing on your tip-toes. You should feel a stretch in the back of your leg and through to your glutes and hamstrings. 

Many people do tons of calf raises because they’re so simple, but the key muscle of your calf, which is called thegastrocnemius, is a fast-twitch muscle that will benefit much more from a small number of calf raises with heavy weight added. Hold two barbells or kettlebells while you do them to give your calf muscles an even greater workout. You can also build your balance skills by doing the single-leg variant of the calf raise, raising your right heel, and then the left.

2. Hamstring Curl

Just as it sounds, the hamstring curl does for your hamstrings and inner thigh muscles what a bicep curl does for the muscles in your arm. They’re only slightly more complicated than calf raises and you can do them on a machine at the gym or on the floor as part of a home workout. You can also use a stability ball and roll it with the bottoms of your feet as you complete the motion of the hamstring curl. 

To do a traditional hamstring curl, lie flat on your stomach. Pull your heels up into the air and try to touch them to your rear. You should feel a stretch in the back of your thigh. Flex your glutes through the motion for a bit more of a workout. 

If you use the medicine ball, lie on your back with your feet on top of the ball with it a slight distance away with your heels on top. Roll it toward you by bringing both knees in. Keep your lower back in a bridge position to properly execute a hamstring curl with a medicine ball. 

3. Lunges

The lunge is one of the most classic leg exercises. It’s a great workout for your hamstrings, glutes, and quadriceps. Best of all, if you’re looking to add some plyometric action to your workout routine, a lunge with an explosive jump at the end is a great way to do so. It also makes a great addition to any HIIT workout routine.

Lunges are simple but they also have many variations so you can fit them into just about any exercise routine. To get into the starting position for a traditional lunge, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and then take a big step with your right foot. Make sure it’s slightly longer than your normal stride but don’t step so far that you lose balance. 

It’s also important to keep your back straight throughout this exercise. Many people bend from the lower back but you won’t give your lower body the same workout if you do so. After your right foot is planted flat on the ground, bend your right knee until it’s at a 90-degree angle. The knee of your left leg should be behind you and almost touching the ground. Return to the starting position by driving through your right foot and repeat the process with the left foot out front. 

If you want a challenge, try walking lunges. Rather than returning to the starting position, continue with the opposite leg to “walk” around the room. You can also try the reverse lunge to work more of the leg muscles. 

4. Front Squats

If you want to work your quadriceps and your glutes, look no further than the front squat. It’s best done with a barbell to make it more challenging, but you can also do it with kettlebells or any other kind of weight. 

The starting position is basically the same as in a traditional back squat except the barbell should go across your shoulders. Try to make it rest more at the base of your neck than on the front of your chest. Support it with your arms and shoulders while you complete the rest of the movement. 


Keep your feet hip-width apart or shoulder-width apart. It depends on which is more comfortable for you. Most people stand with their feet somewhere in between. Move your rear back as if you were going to sit down. Push your knees out and keep moving backward and down until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Move through your heel to get back to the starting position.

5. Glute Bridge

Your hamstrings and glutes get a workout in this move. It also helps you stretch your hips and lower back. It’s an easy exercise with a single-leg variation that will strengthen your core. 

To get into the starting position, lie on your back with the bottoms of your feet flat on the ground. Give a good hip thrust to engage your core and get your butt up off the ground. You should have a completely flat torso. Clench your abs to make sure your midsection stays flat and your spine doesn’t overextend. 

A girl doing deadlifts.

6. Deadlift

Deadlifts work every muscle group in your body and that includes those in your lower half. There are also variations to keep building your deadlift strength. You can always work your way past a plateau and they make you look like a total beast, which is why deadlifts are a favorite for powerlifters and all kinds of other gym rats. 

We could write a whole separate article about deadlifts. The internet is filled with would-be personal trainers who have mastered the deadlift and promise to reveal its secrets for a low, low price. The basics of the deadlift are straightforward, but mastering them is a whole other story. 

The starting position for a deadlift requires you to stand with the barbell about halfway over your feet. Hinge at your hips, leaving your torso upright for as long as possible, and grab the barbell with your arms shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees until your shins touch the bar, then push the floor away with your feet while simultaneously driving up with your arms. Remember, this is not an exercise for your spine. Lift with your other muscle groups. Stand up with the weight and then either drop it or reverse the movement to return to the starting position. 

Try the Romanian deadlift variation for a bit more of a challenge. 

7. Goblet Squat

This squat variation deserves a mention all its own for working out so many muscle groups. Be prepared to feel the burn in your quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, calves, and core, as well as your shoulders, biceps, andforearms in the upper body. 

The starting position for the goblet squat is the same for the traditional squat except it requires you to hold a kettlebell with both hands, or one in either hand if you’re adventurous. 

Move back just like you would in a squat and stop when your thighs are parallel with the ground. If you want to get all you can out of the goblet squat, raise the kettlebell(s) above your head as you lower yourself to the ground and bring it back in front of your chest as you return to the starting position. 

8. Bulgarian Split Squat

Although it shares part of its name with the squat and the goblet squat, the Bulgarian split squat is its animal. It makes a great part of any warm-up but it also gets you charged up enough to be part of the normal leg day routine. 

To get into the starting position, you’ll need some kind of raised surface behind you. If you’re getting some cardio at the park, you can use a bench. Otherwise, use a couch, chair, or raised platform. Put one foot behind you with the toe on the raised platform and, with your torso upright, lower yourself until the thigh of your front leg is almost perfectly horizontal. Drive through the heel to return to the starting position.

The Bulgarian split squat is one of the best leg exercises for improving your balance. If you’re looking for more squat variations, try the sumo squat as well. 

9. Step-Ups

You can use step-ups as a great warm-up and an even better cool-down exercise at the end of leg day. If you want to use them as a part of the regular routine, try it with heavier weight or add an explosive plyometric motion to the end of the exercise. 

Stand straight with two dumbbells or another kind of weight in your hands. There needs to be a raised platform in front of you. The higher it is, the more workout you’ll get. Put one foot on the raised platform. With that foot, drive your body upward until the first leg is straight. Hold your position on the platform for a few seconds and then reverse the movement to return to the starting position. 

10. Lateral Lunges

Giving similar benefits to traditional lunges to muscles that are seldom targeted on leg day, lateral lunges are a great way to change things up if you’re tired of cardio and regular squats and lunges.

The starting position is upright with your feet shoulder-width apart. Take a step out with your left leg and bend the left knee while you push your hips back. Go as low as you comfortably can and then push through your left foot to return to the starting position. Repeat the same process on your right side. 

To make this a plyometric exercise, explode with the left foot and land in the starting position a short distance away before going into the lateral lunge on your right side. 

Conclusion:

Too many people who are otherwise very careful about their bodies and work diligently on sculpting their body prefer to skip leg day altogether in favor of flashier upper body strength training. That can be a dire mistake for anyone who values athletic performance or well-regulated blood pressure. 

Luckily, it’s not hard to find great leg workouts that can give you killer calves, glutes, and quads. If you want to avoid the stereotype of a meathead weightlifter who has nice muscles but can’t run for more than a minute, throw some of these leg exercises into your next leg day. Remember to reserve at least two days a week for lower-body exercises to maintain your gains. 


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