Anyone who works out regularly will know that you should never skip leg day. The times when wannabe bodybuilders would focus entirely on their biceps and six-packs, neglecting some of the most important parts of the body, are long-gone. A good workout schedule will focus on every muscle group, including the legs.
However, despite making up approximately half of your body, chances are you still don’t opt for a wide variety of exercises when it comes to your legs. Squats, lunges and deadlifts are all excellent exercises – if done properly and safely – but if that’s all you have access to, you might be missing out on some of the most effective options.
As with all exercises, the movements we’re about to describe should be done carefully and with good form. If you have access to a personal trainer, it might be a good idea to get them to help you out with anything you’re not sure of, and if you start feeling pain then stop immediately.
With that in mind, here are some of the best leg exercises you should try:
Strictly speaking, this is a full-body exercise, working the shoulders, abs and back. However, we’ve included it here because it’s also a fantastic workout for your hamstrings and glutes, and generally neglected muscles around your hips.
To start, take a kettlebell and hold it with both hands on the handle, standing in a slight squat with your legs shoulder-width apart. The kettlebell should be dangling between your knees. Keeping your head up and chest out, pull the kettlebell back so your wrists hit the front of your hips, then thrust your hips forwards to push the weight upwards.
Keeping your arms straight, you should be able to propel the kettlebell up to about shoulder height. As you do this, stand up straight. Then let the kettlebell swing back down between your legs, as you return to the starting position. You should be able to keep this going as a continuous swing, meaning you can either do a set number of reps or simply do as many as you can within a timeframe.
While you have the kettlebells out, this is a great variant on a standard squat that works different muscles, and you can do it with much lighter weights, making it safer and more appropriate for beginners. It focuses more on the glutes than a standard squat, but done right will tax every muscle in your legs.
Take a kettlebell and hold the V-shaped side handles rather than the one on top, but still making sure the actual weight is below your hands. Clench this against your chest, and stand straight with your feet about hip-width apart. Slowly lower yourself into a low squat until your elbows touch your knees, the push through your heels to stand back up straight.
Remember to keep your chest out and your head up throughout, and don’t bend your spine forwards. If you’re finding that your torso is tilting forwards as you squat, make sure to tighten up your core muscles throughout the exercise, as these will help keep you upright.
While regular lunges are great for building up strength in the legs, adding a plyometric element makes them powerful tools for increasing your explosiveness. In layman’s terms, this means improving your ability to move quickly, sprint and jump, rather than simply making your muscles larger.
To perform this exercise, simply move into a lunge, placing one foot forwards and bending your knees until your back knee almost touches the floor. Then, keeping your back straight and your core engaged, push off forcefully into a jump and switch your legs in midair so you land in another lunge.
In other words, if you started by stepping your right foot forwards, then you would jump and move your right foot back, landing in a lunge with your left foot forwards. Repeat this exercise as much as you like. If you’re finding it too easy, you can increase the difficulty by holding a dumbbell in each arm, but make sure you start with light weights as this will make it harder than you might expect.