Posted on October 20, 2017
For me, there’s nothing more satisfying than a really challenging leg workout. I love the feeling of leaving the gym totally exhausted, ready for a big meal and a lot of sleep to recover. I love it so much I do it every Saturday!
Lower body strength training is incredibly important for everyone. Your legs carry you around all day, and the best way to make that job easier is to strengthen them! For those looking to lose some weight, hard leg workouts require a LOT of energy: you’re using some of your largest muscle groups to move that weight. That will increase your caloric deficit and help get you to your goal faster (and with some additional muscle mass). For athletes, building stronger legs means you’ll be able to run, jump, and play longer, with better movement integrity and decreased chance of injury. And for everyone, a really tough leg workout builds mental strength better than almost anything else. You have no choice but to push yourself when you’ve at the bottom of a heavy squat and need to get up!
There are hundreds of leg exercises that are useful in different circumstances, but I’d like to spotlight just a few of my favorites here.
1. Barbell Back Squat
I think we can all agree the squat is the king of leg exercises, and that’s exactly why squat varieties take up so much space on this list! The barbell back squat in all of its varieties (high bar vs low bar, narrow stance vs wide stance) taxes the body the most, and is unparalleled in its ability to build up the lower body. While squatting primarily targets the quadriceps muscles in the front of the legs, when performed well they will also build your glutes, hamstrings, and back. Virtually everyone that comes through the gym for programming will do some type of back squat. There is a tough learning curve with the squat, so we always encourage members to go to one of our trainers for one-on-one technique practice before starting to add a ton of weight.
2. Romanian Deadlift
When I really want to target my posterior chain (the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings), I turn to Romanian Deadlifts. Most people that sit throughout their work day (aka almost everyone) would benefit from some additional posterior chain work. This variety of the deadlift starts at the top, loads the hamstrings and back slowly, and finishes by working the glutes. It’s versatility makes it a great addition to your leg day.
3. Box Step-up
It’s important to not neglect single-leg work when focuses on the legs. You probably have some kind of strength discrepancy between your dominant and non-dominant sides, and we want to start correcting that with box step-ups. These can be done with weight or without, and to all kinds of box heights as you get more advanced. By stepping up and really pushing through your heel, we’ll build both the glutes and the quads on each leg, while working on your balance at the top.
4. Bulgarian Split Squat
This more advanced single-leg exercise is probably the most complained about movement we give to members, but also one of the most beneficial. Like the box step-up, we focus on one leg at a time, but by elevating the back leg in split squat position, we need to focus even more on balance and knee stability, while adding some additional load to the front working leg. When done really well, these target the individual glutes really well.
5. Belt Squat
Finally, a machine exercise. The belt squat is something we’re very lucky to have access to here at Union Fitness, so I like to take advantage of it as much as I can! I stick these in at the end of my workouts, when my legs are already pretty exhausted. These are a great burnout exercise for your quads when done for really high reps (think over 15). Because the weight is being “held up” by the belt, these give the spine a much needed rest at the end of a hard workout.
You can put these together for one brutal leg workout! If you give it a try, be sure to tag us in your training videos on Instagram and Facebook!