Your lower body is home to some of the biggest muscles in your body. Workouts that challenge your legs will deliver strong glutes, athletic quads, healthy hammies and toned calves. But it’s not all about looking good, there are so many more benefits to leg day. I’m going to share the 3 leg exercises anyone can do, and put them into a workout for you. No longer will you wonder how to do leg day.
Benefits of leg day
- Increased power – strong leg muscles will mean you can be more explosive in sports that require sudden bursts of speed e.g. team sports, HIIT classes, race finishes.
- Burn more calories – exercises which use multiple muscles groups and joints like squats, deadlifts and lunges will require more ‘work’ from the heart and brain and higher levels of metabolism compared to exercising smaller muscle groups.
- Improved balance – a strong core usually gets a lot of credit for helping us balance, yet if you have a pair of jelly legs you won’t be standing for long. Functional exercises like side lunges, squats & deadlifts will improve your stability.
- Stronger bones – weight bearing exercises help prevent the deterioration of bone health.
- Alleviate back pain – desk workers are susceptible to weak glute muscles, which puts more pressure on the lower back and hamstrings, leading to a tightening of the hip flexors that pull on the lumbar spine. Strengthening the hamstrings, glutes & abs will counteract this.
- Aesthetics – Johnny Bravo was cool in the 90’s, but nobody should be rocking the triangular look. You need to balance your body out.
3 key leg exercises you need to be doing!
1. Goblet Squat
I’ve chosen a Goblet Squat because you don’t need lots of coaching with a Personal Trainer in the gym to complete this move safely and effectively.
I prefer to use a dumbbell instead of a kettlebell, this is so I can lift heavy. With kettlebells the heavier they get, the bigger they get and I can’t keep hold of them for long enough to finish my set. With a dumbbell I can get a strong grip on the head.
I also find by holding the weight in front of me it helps to counter balance the movement, which is typically coached as ‘sitting back’. Holding the weight up in front of my chest also means I can squat deep, because my arms are not getting in the way if I was holding DB’s on either side of my body or down between my legs sumo style.
How to do it:
- Feet hip width apart, toes turned out slightly
- Neutral spine with head in alignment, meaning look at your feet in your reflection so your eye level is lower. Don’t look yourself in the eye, this means your head will be fixed higher and break the alignment with your spine.
- Hold the dumbbell with both hands at chest height
- Break at the knees & hips at the same time
- Make sure your knees follow the same direction as your toes, don’t let them roll in
- Lower yourself as if sitting down, thighs should be at least parallel to the floor. If you can’t get parallel, pick a lighter dumbbell. Bigger range of movement is more important than going heavier.
- Keep your chest up
- Drive through your heels + squeeze your glutes as your stand back up
2. Walking Lunges
Single leg exercises, such as lunges, are an important addition to your workout. I’ll be honest, certain ones have brought tears to my eyes, they can be really challenging. Your weaker leg needs to come to the party and can’t rely on it’s mate to pick up the slack.
Single leg exercises work the following magic:
- improve balance
- build up your weaker side
- improve sporting performance e.g. for runners, soccer players
- add variety to your workouts
- ease of access e.g. if the squat racks are all taken, you can still train your legs with a set of dumbbells
How to do them:
- Stand with your feet about hip-width apart, holding a dumbbells in each hand down by your side.
- Step forward with one leg, flexing the knees to drop your hips.
- Descend until your rear knee nearly touches the ground.
- Your posture should remain upright, and your front knee should be in line with your front foot. Do not allow your front knee to go forward beyond your toes as you come down, as this will put undue stress on the knee joint.
- Drive through the heel of your lead foot and extend both knees to raise yourself back up.
- Step forward with your rear foot, repeating the lunge on the opposite leg.
Tip: Make sure you have completed one lunge before travelling forward to take the next step. This way you’re not relying on momentum to keep the set going.
3. Stiff-Legged Deadlift
Again I’ve chosen this version of a deadlift because with the teaching point and accompanying video you should be able to do it with a light weight to learn the movement pattern. Conventional Deadlifts and Romanian Deadlifts require more coaching and are the exercises to really build strength.
I really like this exercise because it works your hamstrings, glutes and lower back, and also doubles up as a stretch for my hamstrings.
When you first try this exercise you may only be able to get the bar in line with your knees, that’s a reflection of how flexible your hamstrings are. In time you should be able to get the bar lower and increase your range of movement.
How to do it:
- Hold a bar using an overhand grip (palms facing down). You may need some wrist wraps if using a significant amount of weight.
- Stand with your torso straight and feet shoulder-width apart (or narrower stance). The knees should be slightly bent.
- Keeping the knees stationary, lower the barbell to over the top of your feet by bending at the waist, while keeping your back straight.
- Keep moving forward as if you were going to pick something from the floor until you feel a stretch on the hamstrings. Inhale as you perform this movement.
- Start bringing your torso up straight again by extending your hips until you are back at the starting position. Exhale as you perform this movement.
Caution: This is not an exercise that is recommended for people with lower back problems. Also, it needs to be treated with the utmost respect paying special attention not to round the back forward as you move the torso down; the back should always be straight. Finally, jerking motions or lifting too much weight can injure your back.
I hope you’ve found this post useful, the bottom line is you need to train legs. It’s also like a comedy segment because 1 or 2 days later you’re going to be walking funny!
- 3 sets 10 x Goblet Squats
- 3 sets 20 x Walking Lunges
- 3 sets 12 x Stiff-Legged Deadlifts
Aim for 45 secs rest between each set.
- 3 sets 30 secs x Kettlebell Swing with Jump – see last exercise in this video
- 3 sets 30 secs x Glute Bridges – choose your progression from this video
- 3 sets 30 secs x Reverse Curls – choose your progression from this video
Aim for 15 secs rest between each set. Burn every ounce of energy out of your body!
I’d love to know your favourite leg exercises in the comments below too.