10 Exercises to Train Your Leg Muscles

Your legs are important because they have big, strong muscles. They help you stand up, move around, and play sports. They also make your body look balanced.

Even if you love working on your arms and chest, you can’t forget about your legs. Having a strong upper body but skinny legs doesn’t look good.

This article will teach you how to train your legs properly. You’ll learn about leg muscles and some great exercises to make them stronger and more powerful. 

The Major Leg Muscles

The Major Leg Muscles

In the following section, we’ll check out these major leg muscles, what they do, and why they’re so important for your body’s health.

Quadriceps (Quads)

Located at the front of your thigh, your quadriceps consist of four muscles: vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius, vastus medialis, and rectus femoris. These muscles are essential for extending your knee joint.

They come into play when you stand, walk, or perform exercises like squats and leg presses. In addition, they help control knee bending when you walk or run downhill.


Situated on the back of your thigh, the hamstrings comprise three muscles: semimembranosus, semitendinosus, and biceps femoris. These muscles are unique because they span both the hip and knee joints.

They primarily handle hip extension (pulling your thigh backward) and knee flexion (bending your knee), but they are also crucial for activities such as running, jumping, and cycling.

The hamstrings work together with your quadriceps to provide balance and control during various movements.


The adductor muscles are on the inner side of your thigh and include adductor magnus, brevis, longus, minimis, as well as pectineus, gracilis, and obturator externus.

While some of these muscles may be smaller, the adductor magnus is the largest in your thigh. Their primary job is to adduct your hip, meaning they bring your thighs together toward your body’s midline.

The adductor magnus also contributes to hip extension, which is vital for actions like standing up from a seated position.

Glutes (Gluteal Muscles)

The gluteal muscles, commonly known as the glutes, consist of the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. These muscles are positioned on the back and side of your hips, forming your buttocks.

While they are powerful hip extensors (allowing you to stand up from a seated position or lift your leg backward), they also serve as hip abductors, enabling you to move your thighs away from your body’s midline.

Strong glutes are crucial for activities such as running, climbing, and maintaining good posture.

Calves (Triceps Surae)

The calves are made up of two main muscles: the gastrocnemius and soleus, collectively known as the triceps surae. These muscles are located at the back of your lower leg and are responsible for plantar flexion, which is the action of pointing your toes downward.

The gastrocnemius, with its two heads, crosses the knee joint, allowing it to generate force for actions like running and jumping. The soleus, situated beneath the gastrocnemius, primarily helps with balance and posture.

10 Leg Exercises

To tap into the full potential of your legs, it’s important to do effective leg exercises. Here’re 10 leg exercises that work different muscle groups, helping you develop strength, stability, and a great look in your lower body.

1. The Squat

The squat is often hailed as the king of leg exercises, and for good reason. It’s a compound movement that engages multiple muscle groups simultaneously, making it incredibly efficient for building lower body strength and muscle mass. The primary muscles worked during squats are the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves.

How to perform:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointed slightly outward. Keep your chest up and your back flat.
  2. Initiate the movement by sending your hips back, as if you’re sitting down into a chair. Keep your knees in line with your toes and your weight in your heels.
  3. Descend until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor, or go deeper if your mobility allows. Maintain a neutral spine throughout the movement.
  4. Drive through your heels to stand back up, squeezing your glutes at the top. Avoid letting your knees cave inward.
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps, keeping your core braced and maintaining good form.

2. Romanian Deadlift (RDL)

The Romanian deadlift is a superb exercise for targeting the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. It involves hip hinging, which helps improve hip mobility and strength. The RDL is a crucial exercise for anyone looking to develop strong, powerful hamstrings.

How to perform:

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a barbell or dumbbells at arm’s length in front of your thighs. Engage your core and keep your back flat.
  2. Initiate the movement by hinging at the hips and sending your butt back, keeping the bar close to your body. Maintain a slight bend in your knees and do not round your back.
  3. Lower the weight until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings, usually around mid-shin level. Avoid letting the weights touch the floor.
  4. Squeeze your glutes and drive your hips forward to return to the starting position, keeping the bar close to your body.
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps, focusing on controlled, deliberate movements and maintaining good posture throughout.

3. Bulgarian Split Squat

The Bulgarian split squat is a unilateral leg exercise that targets the quadriceps, glutes, and adductors while improving balance and stability. This exercise helps identify and address any strength imbalances between your legs.

How to perform:

  1. Stand about 2 to 3 feet in front of a bench or sturdy chair. The exact distance may vary based on your height and comfort.
  2. Extend one leg back and place the top of your foot (or toes, based on preference) on the bench.
  3. Keep your torso upright and your hips squared forward throughout the exercise.
  4. Position your front foot far enough forward so that when you squat down, your knee stays directly above your ankle.
  5. Lower your body by bending your front knee and hip, keeping your back straight and chest lifted.
  6. Descend until your front thigh is parallel to the ground or as low as your mobility allows without discomfort.
  7. Press through your front heel to return to the starting position.
  8. Perform all reps on one side before switching to the other leg.

4. Leg Extension

The leg extension machine is a fantastic isolation exercise for the quadriceps, specifically the rectus femoris. It allows you to isolate and target the front of your thigh effectively. 

How to perform:

  1. Sit on the leg extension machine with your back flat against the backrest.
  2. Adjust the pad of the lever so that it rests on the lower part of your shins, just above your feet.
  3. Make sure your knees are aligned with the pivot point of the machine.
  4. Grip the hand bars on each side of the machine for stability.
  5. Extend your legs fully in front of you using your quadriceps. Keep the movement smooth and controlled.
  6. Pause briefly at the top of the movement to maximize contraction in the quadriceps.
  7. Slowly lower the weight back to the starting position, maintaining tension in the quads throughout the descent.

5. Seated Leg Curl

Seated leg curls are an effective isolation exercise for the hamstrings, particularly the biceps femoris. This exercise targets the knee flexion function of the hamstrings and complements the hip extension provided by exercises like Romanian deadlifts.

How to perform:

  1. Adjust the machine to fit your height. Make sure the pad rests comfortably above the back of your heels and the lap pad secures your legs in position, between the knees and hips.
  2. Select an appropriate weight that allows you to perform the exercise with good form.
  3. Sit on the machine with your back flat against the pad. Your legs should be levered in with the machine comfortably and fully extended directly in front of you.
  4. Make sure your toes are facing forwards.
  5. Exhale and flex your knees using just your hamstrings to pull the lever inwards.
  6. Continue until the machine is pulled back far enough that it is almost hitting the back of your thighs.
  7. Your upper body should remain stationary throughout the movement.
  8. Inhale as you slowly return to the starting position.

6. Standing Calf Raise

The standing calf raise is a valuable exercise for strengthening the calf muscles, particularly the gastrocnemius and soleus. These muscles are essential for everyday activities like walking, running, and jumping. 

How to perform:

  1. Stand upright with your feet hip-width apart and toes pointing forward. If using a machine, adjust the shoulder pad to your height and place the balls of your feet on the platform, with heels naturally hanging off.
  2. Raise your heels off the floor by pressing through the balls of your feet and squeezing your calves at the top of the movement.
  3. Slowly lower your heels back down, going past the platform level if possible to stretch the calves fully.
  4. Keep the movement slow and controlled, focusing on the contraction of the calf muscles.
  5. Exhale as you raise your heels and inhale as you lower them back down.

7. Glute Bridge

The Glute Bridge is a fundamental exercise targeting the glutes, with secondary emphasis on the core and hamstrings.

How to perform:

  1. Lie on your back on a mat, with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and placed hip-width apart. Your feet should be close enough to your glutes that you can graze your heels with your fingertips.
  2. Press your lower back into the floor to engage your core.
  3. Exhale and lift your hips towards the ceiling by pressing through your heels.
  4. Continue lifting until your body forms a straight line from your knees to your shoulders.
  5. Squeeze your glutes tightly at the top of the movement.
  6. Make sure you do not overarch your back. Keep your chest open and your core engaged throughout the movement. Your hand position can be palms down or up, based on personal comfort.
  7. Inhale as you slowly lower your hips back to the starting position. Maintain engagement in your core and glutes throughout the descent. 

8. Hip Thrust

The Hip Thrust is an advanced progression of the Glute Bridge, designed to further strengthen the glutes, with additional emphasis on the hamstrings and core. 

How to perform:

  1. Sit on the ground with your upper back against a bench or stable surface.
  2. Roll a barbell or place a weight across your hips. Your feet should be flat on the floor, about shoulder-width apart.
  3. Drive both feet into the floor and lift your hips by extending through the hips. Your shoulders and upper back should remain in contact with the bench throughout the movement.
  4. Lift your hips until your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees.
  5. Squeeze your glutes hard at the top of the movement. Make sure your chin is tucked to keep your spine in a neutral position.
  6. Carefully lower your hips back to the starting position, maintaining control and engagement in your glutes and core throughout the movement. 

9. Lateral Lunge

The lateral lunge is a dynamic exercise that targets the lower body, enhancing strength, flexibility, and balance. 

How to perform:

  1. Stand with your feet together and your hands at your sides or clasped in front of your chest for balance.
  2. Take a large step to the side with one foot, keeping the toes of both feet pointing forward. Make sure the step is wide enough to allow for a deep lunge.
  3. As you plant your stepping foot, bend the knee and push your hips back. Lower your body until the thigh of the stepping leg is parallel to the ground, keeping the other leg straight.
  4. Keep your chest up and your core engaged throughout the movement. Ensure the knee of your bent leg does not extend past your toes and remains aligned with your foot.
  5. Push off with the stepping foot to return to the starting position. You can alternate legs or complete all repetitions on one side before switching.

10. Step-Up

The step-up is a versatile lower body exercise that targets the quads, hamstrings, and glutes, and can also improve balance and coordination. 

How to perform:

  1. Use a sturdy bench, box, or step. The height should be such that your knee is at a 90-degree angle when your foot is placed on it.
  2. Stand facing the bench with your feet hip-width apart. Place one foot fully on the bench.
  3. Shift your weight through the heel of the foot on the bench and push your body up until the leg is straight. The other leg can either be raised to hip height or left dangling to increase the work on the standing leg.
  4. Lower yourself back to the starting position in a controlled manner. Make sure that you maintain an upright posture throughout the movement.
  5. Perform all the desired repetitions on one leg before switching to the other. Keep your movements smooth and controlled.

How Many Sets and Reps Should You Do in Your Leg Workout?

The recommended number of sets and reps for your leg workout can vary depending on the type of exercise (compound or isolation) and your fitness level. 

  • For compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, and lunges, which work multiple muscle groups at once, it’s suggested to perform 3-5 sets of 6-12 reps.
  • For isolation exercises, which target specific muscles, like leg curls, leg extensions, and calf raises, the recommendation is 2-4 sets of 10-20 reps. 

You may gradually increase the weight or the number of reps over time to challenge your muscles further and stimulate growth and strength. 

For example, if you performed three sets of six reps at a certain weight in your last workout, you could aim to increase the weight slightly or perform an extra rep in your next session.

How Many Times Per Week Should You Train Legs?

It is generally recommended to train your legs at least twice per week to effectively build muscle and strength. For those more advanced or looking for more intensive results, training legs up to three times per week can be beneficial.

Each leg workout should last about 15 to 20 minutes if done three times a week, with each session focusing on different parts of the legs (e.g., calves, thighs, hips) to ensure a balanced approach and prevent overtraining.

Adequate recovery time between sessions is crucial. It’s recommended to allow 48-72 hours of rest between leg workouts to give muscles time to repair and grow.

Overtraining can lead to injuries and counterproductive results, so listening to your body and adjusting based on how you feel is important.

Final Words

Strong legs are foundational for enhancing overall athletic performance. Strengthening your leg muscles helps stabilize the knees and hips and supports the lower back, reducing the risk of injuries and chronic conditions like lower back pain and arthritis.

To optimize leg muscle growth and strength, start by training legs at least twice per week, focusing on different muscle groups in each session, and ensure proper recovery between workouts.

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