These are five of the best leg exercises you can add to your workout routine, to build and strengthen those leg muscles.
1. Barbell Back Squats (also known as Full Squats)
Squats have traditionally been recommended to the serious, gym-devoted crowd since they engage nearly 100% of the musculature in the legs and lower limbs. Doing Back Squats means that maintaining functional stability is vital. This in turn translates into engaging nearly 95% of the body’s muscles for maintaining the right posture. With proper form, Back Squats work very well towards gaining more muscle and developing an overall, stronger frame apart from helping to burn more calories.
Setting-up: Barbell Back Squats
The barbell should be resting on the upper back, i.e. on the trapezius muscles and shoulders or the deltoid muscles. The idea is not to position the bar on the spine or neck. Bodybuilders are prone to setting-up the barbell much higher whereas power-lifters tend to grip the bar a bit lower. The power-lifting stance is more recommendable. This allows in keeping the head in a firmer, straighter stance and keeps the chest higher during the squat. This also reduces the stress on the neck and back. While executing the squat, remember to keep your abs tight and the head titled upwards. The chest should be puffed outwards and the knees a bit behind the toes. During the bottom part of completing the squat, the thighs should be positioned parallel to the floor. When coming upwards from the squat, the main objective should be to keep the chest up and the head back while the hips should give the momentum to the entire body movement. A properly-executed squat should be tiring, inducing a feeling of literally humping the air since the hip-centered thrust needs to powerful and energy-sapping.
2. Barbell Front Squats
Barbell Front Squats are quite similar to back squats. However, there is one, basic difference, i.e. the bar is placed along the front section of the shoulders. This means that the bar is resting on the anterior deltoids. This exercise engages the shoulder muscles more than the back muscles. There are two, common ways of executing this squat:
Basic Front Squat Position—here, the bar is lifted and placed on the shoulders as soon as it is lifted from the squat rack. For this, using proper arm extension is vital. You need to ensure that the arms are extended-out straight with the palms facing down. This is ideal way to grasp the bar. At the time of lifting the bar, your elbows should be pointing outwards, straight and slightly elevated. This helps to maintain the bar in the required position.
Alternative Front Squat Stance—this is called the Olympic style of executing a squat wherein the squat is finished in a mode, called the ‘high hang’. This means that the bat should still be seated on the upper chest with the fingers positioned underneath the bar. Here, the grip of fingers is in the shape of a hook with the elbows pointed upwards. This stance is recommended to those with strong fingers and wrists.
3. Barbell Lunges
Lunges are considered among the three, most effective exercises for the lower limbs, particularly the legs. Lunges are counted next to deadlifting, just behind squats. It has been observed that women are most likely to execute their lunges with dumbbells, using their bodyweight in a minimal way with the aim of toning their body. On the other hand, the more dedicated weight-trainers and weightlifters consider barbell lunges as a necessity for shaping the legs along with increasing the lifting prowess of legs.
Getting the Lunge Right!
The starting position is almost similar to the one discussed above for executing a good squat. This essentially means that you need to keep the barbell rested on the upper back. Alternatively, you can use dumbbells instead of a weighted bar. The lunge can be conducted in one way only, i.e. the one foot should move forward with the other foot back. This requires proper positioning of the knees. The knees should be bent with the lunged or forward-bending thigh being parallel to the ground. The rear knee should be pointing downwards. The most common variation to this kind of conventional lunge is the stepping lunge. Here, you can either lunge forward using one foot or step forward using one foot as the movement-inducing body part. Either of these lunges when done alternatively, i.e. by using alternative feet for moving backwards or ahead, becomes a walking lunge. The conventional lunge is also called the stationary lunges since it involves no stepping. The other variation is the Bulgarian Split Squat. Here, you have to place your rear foot on an elevated object like a bench. Thus, the movement becomes split and this is why, this variation is also called a Split Squat. These squats are ideally meant for those who want to focus on developing their quadriceps and overall, lower body stability. Remember, while trying-out any of these variations, you should keep your body vertical, i.e. upright.
4. Barbell Step -Up
Step-ups can be interpreted as a variation of the lunge. These too are essentially leg exercises that are both functional cum performance-enhancing exercise. This is because Step-ups mimic bodily movements that work towards increasing the overall postural stabilization across a wider range of motion.
Getting Your Step-ups Right!
You need to get started in the same way you set yourself for executing a squat. Ensure that the bar is firmly pressed on the upper back area. The most recommended items to serve as the elevation medium is a bench or a gym stool. Ensure you use a box that is sturdy. It is always better to get started with a slightly shorter box and increase its height gradually. The box should be heavy enough to support your weight. The other option is to use dumbbells that help to strengthen the grip in a better manner. It is better to get started with lighter weights in the dumbbell step-up as compared to the barbell step-up since the dumbbell variation tends to induce more stress on the grip.
The starting posture of the step-up is similar to that of a lunge but here, you need to make sure that the heel is rested firmly on the box. You need to use your legs and not the hips to propel the body weight upwards. During the step-up, the rear foot should be up and move on to the box. The second leg is used for stepping down. Most beginners cannot distribute their weight evenly on the second leg through the range of motion and end-up with restricted motion. The idea should be to keep the knee and thighs as high as possible and in front of the body. Once, you can go higher up in this posture, the step-up seems more like a kick. This variation is called the high knee kick step-up that is often referred to as merely ‘high knees’. This form of step-up is used mostly by the sprinting athletes.
Women trying the step-up are recommended to use some additional exercises that can aid developing their strength that is used for doing step-ups on a consistent basis and with increasing weight range. Women are recommended to use additional exercises like shoulder presses, dumbbell curls and shoulder raises for increasing their overall body conditioning that aid in executing better, more controlled step-ups.
Sprints are among the most recommended of gym exercises particularly for those who want to improve their cardiovascular fitness along with increasing their functional muscle mass. The basic reason is that Sprints is both an anaerobic and aerobic exercise regimen rolled into one. Among all the other exercises mentioned here, Sprints are perhaps the most active in terms of engaging a wider group of muscles and help to increase the quad muscles dramatically. This is why Sprints is recommended to all those who tend to indulge in exercises that required more, lower-body power and where serious lifting is required. Thus, Sprints is found among all kinds of power-lifting routines. Sprints can be executed in a normal manner or in the form of speed training. They help to tone and raise the muscle mass throughout the legs. They tend to induce such intensive contractions that coordinated muscle movement and engagement of all the bigger, lower body muscles becomes rather necessary.
Try to use a more natural surface for trying Sprints, such as grass or a track, i.e. any place outside the gym where there are no space restrictions. The surface should not be too hard and shouldn’t be uneven in a manner that it can hurt you. For performing sprints, you would be using your legs and arms to drive the maximum effort. Start by pumping the arms from the front to back. This helps to increase the momentum. On every step, the knees should be lifted high. This means that the quads should be almost parallel to the surface below, i.e. more parallel when compared to the posture required for executing squats or lunges. Wearing sprint-friendly, athletic footwear is a must. Interval sprinting requires more effort in shorter bouts. You can alternate it with walking rigorously rather than allowing your muscles to cool down and lose their stretched state.
Such exercises are best used when they are blended into a workout. This refers to creating a full-body workout regimen where exercises like sprints or squats are combined with a comprehensive upper body training regimen. The emphasis should be to choose only one such rigorous lower body exercise, each day. Overdoing such exercises can lower your optimal performance and impede the results apart from inducing the risk of over-training.