10 Best Leg Exercises of All Time

Most of the biggest muscle groups you can exercise are found in the lower body, in other words, your legs. Training legs help build overall strength and muscle faster than other body parts. Also, when training legs, a lot of the movements performed are multi-joint movements that engage other muscle groups and also help tighten your core. Training legs is not only beneficial to gaining size and strength, but it can also help speed up your metabolism, burn fat, and even increase testosterone! Now that we’ve explained some of the great benefits of training legs, here are 10 top-notch leg exercises, we believe are the greatest of all time!

Before we delve into these exercises, it is extremely important to consider pairing these movements with proper technique. If your goal is to build muscle, it’s almost always better to approach your workout with slow and controlled reps. If you find your muscles struggling to grow after a while, there is a good chance you are speeding through your reps too fast. Always remember to slow down the tempo, control the weight, and focus on the muscle group you are targeting. Exercise control all the way down even at the eccentric portion of the movement as this extra load will provide your legs with all the muscle-building stimulus it needs.

Okay, now that we got that covered, let’s get to the fun stuff. We’ve selected 10 of the best leg exercises of all time to make sure you never have an excuse to skip leg day again. We also explain how to perform each movement, and as always, we advise that in order to make the best of this selection, choose three to four exercises and rotate them every three to four weeks for more variety.

1.     Barbell Back Squat

The back squat is the classic original leg movement for building muscle. When you mention the word “squat”, almost everyone assumes you are referring to this movement. Although there are various other iterations of the squat, the barbell squat is by far more popular than any other because of how simple and yet effective the movement can be. Many tend to overcomplicate the barbell squat movement, using an incorrect form which can inevitably lead to injury. Because the barbell back squat is a compound movement that can support a heavy load, it is great for building strength and size. With this said, the heavy load on a barbell squat can also be a disadvantage if not done correctly. It is important to always exercise proper form when going through any exercise movement, but even more so on a big lift like the barbell back squat. 

To complete the movement, start with adjusting the barbell on the rack to about the lower chest section, in line with your nipples. Stand with both feet a little over shoulder-width apart or however comfortable and release the bar from the rack. Take a few steps back away from the rack and begin to slowly bend at the knees while keeping your back as straight as possible (avoid leaning forward). Keep your head looking straight ahead in front of you throughout this movement. When your knees reach about a 90-degree angle, explode back up with the weight while still maintaining control. 

Level of difficulty: Beginner/ Advanced

Muscles worked: Quads, Glutes, Hamstrings, Core, Posterior chain

Equipment needed: Barbell, Squat rack

2.     Machine Leg Press

The leg press is another great exercise that is perhaps a bit safer than the squat because it utilizes a machine, but it does limit your range of motion. Not to worry, this classic machine is a master at targeting the quads and even engaging some parts of the hamstring. The leg press machine can also be used for a variety of other exercises including calf presses.  

To use the leg press machine, sit inside and get comfortable with both feet on the footrest. Locate the weight lock positioned at either side of your hands. Unlock the safety while bracing for impact with your legs. Slowly lower the weight down with both feet as your hands hold onto the handlebars until your knees come to your chest, then explode upwards with both feet and repeat. Be careful to not completely lock your knees when pushing up, as this can result in injury.  

Level of difficulty: Beginner

Muscles worked: Quads, Glutes, Hamstrings

Equipment needed: Leg press machine

3.     Lunges

With so many different variations of this exercise, it is almost a given to be included in everyone’s top leg workouts. Lunges are an incredibly versatile and athletic movement suitable for all experience levels. Either body weight or using resistance, stationary or dynamic. Lunges are a great addition to anyone’s leg arsenal.

Standing with both feet shoulder-width apart, step one foot in front of you, while bending the back leg until your knee touches the ground. Stand up into the starting position, then alternate the movement with both legs. 

Level of difficulty: Beginner/ Intermediate/ Advanced

Muscles worked: Quads

Equipment needed: Barbell, Squat rack

4.     Romanian Deadlifts

Romanian deadlifts, the younger brother of the original deadlift was made solely for the hamstrings. Like any deadlift variation, RDL’s can be tricky to complete, but once mastered it is a great tool for your legs.

With both feet shoulder-width apart, put a slight bend to both knees and hold the barbell close to the top of your knees. Your back should be straight, not rounded. Lower the weight as far down as you can go without moving your knees. You should feel a good stretch in your hamstrings. Pull the weight back up to the starting position and repeat. *This movement should not need a heavy load!

Level of difficulty: Advanced

Muscles worked: Hamstrings, Posterior chain

Equipment needed: Barbell

5.     Front Squats

This movement is advanced and serves as a great alternative to the barbell back squat. Front squats tend to be safer than back squats if done correctly. 

Place the barbell on front delts while securing snug with either your fingers or elbows in front of you. Squat straight down to about 90 degrees or more without letting the bar out of your grip. Stand back up with the weight to the starting position and repeat the movement. 

Level of difficulty: Advanced

Muscles worked: Quads, Glutes, Core, posterior chain

Equipment needed: Barbell, Squat rack

6.     Hack Squats

The hack squat is a squat variation, not popular to many, yet it is a very important movement for building power and explosive legs. Designed to mimic an athletic driving movement, the hack squat is a great addition to have in your leg workout collection. 

Step onto the platform of the machine with your shoulders touching the pads. Bend your knees to about a 70-degree angle with your hands on the handle. Release the safety lock with your hands and proceed to bend your knees as low as comfortably possible then explode with the weight up! Explosive is the keyword here, so don’t be afraid to really drive those legs home. Think of moving your opponent off their mark and pushing them. Into the air!

Level of difficulty: Intermediate

Muscles worked: Quads, Glutes, core, posterior chain

Equipment needed: Hack squat machine

7.     Barbell Hip Thrusts

Want to build a solid foundation for overall leg strength? Make sure to include these in your next leg workout session. Barbell hip thrusts are often overlooked yet, the movement is very beneficial to strengthening a lot of underused muscles in the lower body and can help prevent many injuries. 

Lay on the ground with a barbell over your upper thigh region. Holding the ends of the bar with both hands, slowly drive the bar up with your hips and glutes while keeping your upper back and feet onto the ground and everything else suspended in the air. Slowly return the weight down and repeat the movement for your desired number of repetitions.

Level of difficulty: Advanced

Muscles worked: Glutes, Hamstrings, Core, Hips

Equipment needed: Barbell

8.     Glute-Ham Raises

You’ve most likely seen this machine at your gym and not have been quite sure just how to use it. The glute-ham raise machine looks like a saddle with two ends of the bottom of a workout bench joined together by a steel frame with two handles. As odd as this padded contraption may look, it is a great tool for building strong muscles behind your legs. Most people do not train their hamstrings enough and are quad dominant which can lead to a lot of unnecessary injuries. This exercise is a quick way to help remediate this and can be used with resistance by holding weighted plates or simply by using body weight as a form of strength training or even cardio. 

To begin, place each foot in-between the two padded cylinders and rest your knees on the padded saddle. With your feet locked in place, begin to slowly lean forward with your legs and your back as straight as possible. Lean forward until your body is parallel to the floor. Explode back up to the starting position and repeat the movement. *To add more resistance, hold a weighted plate or dumbbell to your chest as you go up and down. Be sure to feel the stretch in your hamstrings. 

Level of difficulty: Beginner

Muscles worked: Glutes, Hamstrings, core

Equipment needed: Glute-ham raise machine

9.     Pistol Squats

Pistol squats are the ultimate bodyweight leg exercise. This quad dominate exercise packs a punch but it is not for everyone. People with serious knee pain should avoid this movement without assistance. However, for those who are capable and want to take their leg strength to the next level while working on balance and muscular imbalances, this is the one for you. It won’t be easy at first but, give it a few tries and some time. 

Standing shoulder-width apart, begin squatting with one leg and stick out the other leg in front of you. As your rear leg gets deeper into the squat, your front leg should get more extended and in front of you. Hold your hands out for balance if needed and pause and the bottom of the full squat, then slowly rise back up with the same leg on the ground and the other still suspended in the air. Repeat the movement, until you’ve completed your desired number of reps. 

Level of difficulty: Advanced

Muscles worked: Quads, Glutes, Core, Balance

Equipment needed: None

10.   Barbell Calf Raises 

You can’t have a complete leg work out without training your calves. So, for this particular body part, we chose a simple yet effective compound building movement. Barbell calf raises are as simple as standing on your tiptoes with a weighted barbell, but what this does is incorporate other muscle groups so that you are getting the most benefit from a single movement. It is not a very common exercise, but we urge you to try this movement in one of your next leg day sessions. 

To complete the movement, approach the barbell rack and un-rack the bar onto your back as you would in a back squat. Step away from the rack and stand tall with your tiptoes planted firmly into the ground as you squeeze your calves and move your heels off the floor. Keep your back and all other body parts straight with your head facing forward. Pause at the top, and slowly bring your heels back down to the ground and repeat the movement. 

Level of difficulty: Beginner

Muscles worked: Calves, Posterior chain

Equipment needed: Barbell, Squat rack

And there you have it. Our top 10 list of best leg exercises of all time! Let us know what you think in the comment below. Which of these are your favorites? Did we miss any leg movements that should be on this list? If so, what did we miss? 

We hope this was helpful, if so let us know which exercise(s) will you be incorporating in your next leg workout!


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