5 Exercises That Build and Tone Your Legs and Butt

The foundation of a healthy, muscular body starts in the core — and in the legs. The human body evolved over time to adapt to walking, meaning that the brunt of the work being done by our muscular and skeletal system is placed on the legs, and in particular, the upper legs and buttocks area. The lower body, as it were, is the body’s engine. And that’s why they say, “Never skip leg day.” Here are five important exercises that will help you develop a strong, healthy lower body.

1. Squats

The squat may be the single most important exercise that you can do. For that reason, we’ve included the video above from powerlifter Brett Gibbs to make sure you know the basics — because nailing proper squat form from the beginning is incredibly important. In order to do a squat, you’ll need access to barbells and a squat rack. There are machines at some gyms, like the Smith machine, but experts recommend you avoid it.

Squats will build up your abs, lower back, glutes, hamstrings, quads — actually, just about everything. In fact, many in the lifting community call it “the king of exercises,” according to Stronglifts. But again, don’t overlook perfecting your form when starting out. You may even want to try just doing body squats to begin with before moving on to the barbell.

2. Deadlift

man performing a deadlift

Deadlifts are great for toning the legs. | iStock.com

If squats are the king of exercises, the deadlift would be the duke — or the prince.

Deadlifts are exactly what they sound like: You’re essentially lifting as much dead weight as possible from the ground up. This is another exercise in which form is incredibly important. If you don’t get your stance right, you could end up hurting yourself. Stronglifts has a fantastic walk-through explaining proper deadlift form, and there are many video tutorials out there as well. Your best bet is to give it a shot with a trainer or spotter at first to ensure you get the process down.

Deadlifts will work your entire lower body and your core, but can be pretty intense. So go in ready to be exhausted after a few reps.

3. Dumbbell calf raise

We covered the dumbbell calf raise in one of our other lists, which listed exercises that will build up your calves. Well, it’s an effective exercise, so it makes this list as well — after all, the calves are an essential lower-body muscle and can help you build explosive strength. The exercise itself is rather simple. The video above shows just how easy it is, and all you’ll need is access to a barbell, or even a couple of dumbbells.

For more, check out our previous post covering the calves in more detail, or check out the information that BodyBuilding.com has compiled.

4. Weighted lunges

eorge Smith of the Wallabies performs lunges during a strength and conditioning session during a Wallabies World Cup training camp at the Australian Institute of Sport January 4, 2007 in Canberra, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Weighted lunges are great for strength training. | Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Weighted lunges, sometimes called loaded lunges, dumbbell lunges, or barbell lunges, are a simple enough exercise. We’ve all had to do lunges at some point, and many people incorporate them into a well-rounded workout. Weighted lunges are precisely what they sound like: lunges with added weight. The photo above accurately portrays what the movement looks like; you’re doing a lunge while holding some sort of weight — be it a plate, dumbbell, or even kettlebell.

This, of course, puts extra strain on your legs and core, helping build muscle. If you’re used to doing lunges, adding some weight may not seem too difficult. But give it a few reps, and you’ll be feeling it in the quads and hamstrings. And you’ll probably be feeling it the next day, too.

5. Kettlebell overhead rear-lunge

We’re going to stick with lunges for the final item on our list, as they incorporate elements of the squat with some additional physiological movements as well. But put down the plate or barbell and replace it with a kettlebell for the overhead rear-lunge, and watch the video above from Thrive Personal Training in Australia to get the gist of the exercise.

Not only will this move help you continue to build muscle in your lower body, but it will also add a little variety to the routine. It’s also deceptively efficient; getting through one set will have you breathing hard and fatiguing fast.