10 Best Leg Exercises for Strength and Mass

Updated on October 27, 2018
jaypar7 profile image

I'm an avid gym goer who believes good health and fitness can improve every aspect of your life.

"Don't Skip Leg Day!"

Many gymgoers focus all of their efforts on training the upper body—mainly the abs, chest, and arms—while the legs often get overlooked. You've probably seen someone with a well-developed, muscular upper body but skinny legs. Why do people avoid training legs?

Legs can also be the toughest muscles to train. They are made of some of the largest muscles in the body. They also require the most physical exertion. If you've ever done lunges or squats, you'll know it feels like an intense cardio session; your heart rate rapidly increases and you start breathing heavily. I had the hardest time getting good results from my leg training programs. Should I increase my training time or frequency? Do I need to workout with heavier weights? Am I using the best leg exercises for men in my age range?

I found I got the best results when I used a combination of compound and isolation exercises and a mixture of moderate and heavy weights. Any good workout program will use heavy weights since they are required for strength and size development, but over time, this can severely damage your joints, in this case, your hips and knees. To train your legs most effectively and safely, you should mainly use moderate weights and incorporate a variety of training methods; change up the exercises, use different numbers of sets and reps, and vary the time it takes to complete a rep.

If you put in the effort to workout your legs, not only will you have a more balanced physique, you will also improve your athletic performance. Most athletic movements start from the legs and hips.

Here are the 10 exercises that I found were the most effective for building my leg size and strength.

1. Squats


Squats are the king of all leg exercises because they utilize your entire lower (and upper) body. There are many variations of the squat.

  • Dumbbell
  • Jump squat
  • Front squat
  • Box squat
  • Overhead squat
  • Kettlebell pistol
  • Jefferson squat
  • Single leg
  • Smith machine
  • Zercher squat
  • Sissy squat

To get the full benefit of this exercise, it is best to go through the full range of motion. Barbell squats are performed best inside a squat rack, where you have the added safety of adjustable safety rails in case you should lose control of the weight.

Primary Muscle: Quadriceps

Secondary Muscles: Hamstrings, glutes, calves, lower back

Training Tip: Keep your heels on the floor and push up through your heels. This will keep you more stabilized and help you avoid injury.

2. Deadlifts

This is a great compound exercise that works your back, hamstrings, and glutes.

With the bar over your feet, keeping your legs straight and back straight, your chest up, and your eyes forward. Again, push through your heels while squeezing your hamstrings and glutes, keeping everything else rigid.

Primary Muscles: Hamstrings and glutes

Secondary Muscle: Lower back

Training Tip: Keep the bar as close to your shins as possible as you pull the weight up. Keep your back straight and your shoulders pulled back to avoid injuring your lower back.

3. Hack Squats


The hack squat is a great compound exercise that is similar to the regular back squat, only it's performed at a different angle. This takes a lot of the weight off of your back, putting greater emphasis on the quads.

Primary Muscle: Quadriceps

Secondary Muscles: Hamstrings, glutes, calves

Training Tip: Point your feet outward to work your inner quads or slightly inward to work the outer sweep of the quads.

4. Leg Presses


The leg press is another compound exercise similar to the squat. Some lifters prefer this exercise over the traditional squat because it takes all of the load off of the back. This allows you to lift more weights without straining your lower back. It may be good for people who have back issues.

Primary Muscle: Quadriceps

Secondary Muscles: Hamstrings, glutes, calves

Training Tip: Angle your feet outward to work your inner quad or inward to work the outer sweep of the thigh. You can perform this exercise with one leg or both legs.

5. Lunges


Lunges are a great functional exercise, meaning it trains your legs in the movements used in everyday life (walking, going up the stairs, running) and in sports (running and jumping).

Primary Muscle: Quadriceps

Secondary Muscles: Glutes, hamstrings, and calves

Training Tip: Take a shorter step to put more emphasis on the quads or take a longer step to put more emphasis on the glutes. Don't let your knees go past your feet. Remember to keep your back straight.

6. Barbell or Dumbbell Step Ups


This leg exercise is similar to the lunge but a bit more intense. It puts more emphasis on the glutes and requires greater focus and balance.

To perform this exercise, stand straight with eyes forward. With a barbell across your back or dumbells at your sides, step onto an elevated platform with one leg, pushing through your heels. You can use the trailing leg to help you balance at the top of the motion. Then, step down with the trailing leg leading this time.

Primary Muscles: Quadriceps and glutes

Secondary Muscles: Hamstrings and calves

Training Tip: Push through your heels for greater stability. This exercise doesn't require heavy weights, so don't put yourself at risk of injury unnecessarily.

7. Leg Extensions

Leg extensions are a great isolation exercise for your quadriceps. They also put a lot of stress on the knees. These work well as a warmup exercise before the main exercises or as the last exercise to fully exhaust your legs. Leave the heavy weights for the main compound movements. Use light to moderate weights to avoid unnecessary strain on the knees.

Primary Muscle: Quadriceps

Training Tip: Squeeze your thighs and hold the weight for one second at the top. Release the weight slowly and avoid swinging the weights. Point your feet outward to work the inner quads or inward to work the outer quad. You can do this exercise with one or both legs.

8. Hamstring Curls

This is an isolation exercise for the hamstrings. There are many ways this can be performed—prone, seated, or standing—and there are machines for each method. You can also do this by starting on your knees on the floor with someone holding your ankles down. Without bending at the hips, slowly lower yourself to the ground. Use your hands to help push yourself back to the starting position, but try to squeeze your hamstrings to pull yourself back up.

Primary Muscle: Hamstrings

Training Tip: Squeeze your hamstrings and hold for one second at the top of the movement.

9. Calf Raises

Don`t forget to work those calves! They are used in almost every leg movement you do, so they are used almost all the time. To effectively train the calves, use heavy weights and slow, controlled movements.

Primary Muscle: Calves

Training Tip: To increase the intensity, try doing 100 jumping jacks or jumping rope for 30 seconds immediately after each set.

10. Cycling


Cycling not only works out your legs, but it's a great cardio workout as well. You can either use a stationary bike at home or in the gym, or you can hit the trails on a road or mountain bike.

Primary Muscle: Quadriceps

Secondary Muscles: Glutes, hamstrings, and calves

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


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    • Easy Exercise profile image

      Kelly A Burnett 

      5 years ago from United States

      Hi Jaypar7,

      Great hub! Will promote out on my Twitter account! Keep on 'hubbin!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      That's a moebedr-aklr. Great thinking!

    • jaypar7 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from California,USA

      Hey Neil, Yes Deadlifts are one of the best all around exercises for the entire body but if your form is off you can do serious damage to your lower back. Its best to keep your head straight forward or slightly up & keep the bar close to your shins as you pull the weight up to a standing position.

    • neilcook profile image

      Neil Cook 

      6 years ago from United States

      I have to say that the Barbell Deadlift is one of my favorite exercises. The only thing you need to be careful of is using correct form, as this is an exercise which can hurt you if done incorrectly. Anyway, I really like the write-up you've done. It's a great crash course into the world of leg workouts. Keep up the good work!

      Cheers- Neil Cook

      Source: http://bestbarbells.com

    • AvineshP profile image

      Avinesh Prahladi 

      6 years ago from Chandigarh

      This hub is certainly helpful for all those who are looking to make exercise muscles.

      Great hub.

    • jaypar7 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from California,USA

      Yes Andy, Supersets are a great way to build your legs & make them grow.

    • Andy Bui profile image

      Andy Bui 

      7 years ago

      I find that the hip adductor/abductor machines can help add detail to developed legs. Bringing in the detail in the rectus femoris( mid upper thighs) and the vastus lateralis(outer thigh/sweep). Those are some isolation exercises that could be super setted after completing heavy compound leg movements.

    • jaypar7 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from California,USA

      Thank You for your comment & good luck with your fitness goals.

    • sarifearnbd profile image

      Shariful Islam 

      7 years ago from Bangladesh

      I took the information you've presented in this hub to Exercises For Your Legs. Thanks for sharing.


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