Though we’ve looked at exercises to help build specific leg muscles and generally develop strength in your lower body, there are a few key exercises to focus on if you’re looking for some serious muscle growth. If leg gains are what you’re after, these are the lifts you need to be focused on. And, of course, don’t forget to get all the proper nutrients from a balanced diet.
For maximum leg gains, focus on the following 10 exercises.
1. Box jumps
Not only will jumping give you great stems, it’ll also get your heart rate up in no time. There’s a reason people have sworn by the trusted jump rope since long before the days of high-end fitness equipment. And one surefire way to get those legs in shape is with box jumps.
It’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like: You’ll hop onto an appropriately sized box, whatever that is for you, hop back down, then spring back up. Repeating this motion in a series of reps will help your balance and coordination as well.
If there are two exercises that make up the foundation of your workout, they should be squats and deadlifts. These are two of the big three compound lifts, and if you’re serious about seeing gains, there’s really no rhyme or reason to avoid them. In essence, the deadlift is merely picking up heavy things — which PJ Media says can be just as good as hitting the gym. Dead weight. You’re lifting dead weight. Hence, a deadlift.
Again, like squats, form is important. Get that down, then start piling on the weight after each session. This will not only see you gain strength, but gain muscle mass, assuming you’re fueling your body correctly. Take your squats and deadlifts seriously — they are the two most important lifts you can do, particularly for leg gains.
3. Leg press
Similar to squats, if you can get your hands, or legs, on a leg press machine, you’ll be in good shape. As you push weight away from your body, you’ll be engaging the same muscles you would with squats, just in a different motion. If you belong to a gym that has the option, this type of machine can be a nice change up from your normal squat routine.
4. Standing calf raise
While squats and deadlifts incorporate your entire body, focusing on specific muscle subsets in your legs is important as well. And one of the most pronounced and important of those muscles are your calves. We’ve put together a list of calf-specific exercises you can do to help build strength and muscle, but if you’re serious about seeing gains, nothing will beat the standing barbell calf raise. (Check out Bodybuilding.com for a breakdown of variations.) It’s a simple lift, and if you stick to it, you should see serious gains in no time.
5. Barbell/dumbbell lunges
May as well keep that barbell handy, because you’re going to want to put your legs to work again by busting out some lunges. You can do lunges with dumbbells as well, but again, you can add more weight — and work on your balance — with a barbell. This lift will work nearly every muscle in your lower body, but you’ll really feel it in your quads. After just a set or two, your legs will be feeling like spaghetti.
6. Seated leg curls/extensions
Finally, a reprieve from the barbell. For leg extensions and curls, you can often do them on the same machine. They are pretty much the exact opposite of each other. The leg curl is a pulling exercise, while the extension is a pushing exercise — both will halp build strong, lean muscle. You’ll be targeting both your quads and hamstrings, and by incorporating them into your leg-building routine, you should see some solid gains.
7. Squats, squats, and more squats
If there is one exercise that should be the cornerstone of your leg-bulking strategy, it has to be the squat. In fact, the squat should probably be the cornerstone of any lifting regimen — but especially when trying to build lower body strength and see fast muscle development. We have harped on the importance of squats many times before, and this time is no different. Learn the fundamentals, get your form down, and fall in love with squatting. Do them mercilessly and religiously. Before you know it, you won’t be able to fit in your old jeans anymore.
A name referring to one-legged squats, pistols are a great way to keep your leg routine from becoming too boring. Seeing as this is a pretty advanced move, though, it may take some time to master. “When you’re starting out doing pistols, try holding on to a sturdy surface then stand on one leg with your free leg held straight out in front,” Krista Stryker writes on mindbodygreen. “Push your hips back and sit down as far as you can so that your butt is almost touching the ground. Once you hit the bottom position, raise yourself back up to standing.” Extra points if you’re able to nail this move with a dumbbell in hand.
9. Glute bridges
If it’s strong glutes you’re after, bridges are for you. You’ll soon see just how much energy you need to expend when performing a bridge because it really fires up all the muscles around your core. Getting into a bridge position is fairly easy, and if you’re looking for a bonus stretch, it’s easy to get that, too. Just place a yoga block underneath the small of your back.
10. Hill sprints
Work on your stride, and perfect your backside. It may sound corny, but it’s likely something you’ll remember. And it’s true. Hill sprints demand lots of work on the part of your glutes and hamstrings. If you’re lacking in the leg department, you don’t stand much of a chance at getting uphill with ease. However, if you keep at it, you’ll only get better and better at propelling yourself upward, all while working to tone those legs and build lean muscle.
Additional reporting by Julie Peirano