Whether you’re looking to add mass or strength to your lower body or just tone and tighten muscle, these great leg workouts for men and women will show you how to get the results you want in the shortest time frame by doing either compound lifts, dumbbell weight exercises, or even exercises without any weights at all. If you’re serious about getting in shape, packing on lean muscle or hitting personal goals in lifting, these leg workouts will ramp up your lean muscle mass just in time for beach season. Keep reading to learn more about the best leg exercises for men and women at every level of fitness.
Leg Workouts for Men and Women
People in the fitness world have been known to chide each other about skipping leg day, and although it’s probably the most difficult workout day in most workout programs, it can also be the most rewarding. If you’re a man, activating your Quadriceps, the biggest muscle group in the body, triggers huge testosterone release that stimulates muscle growth and improves your results in other exercises significantly. If you’re a woman, leg day will help you develop a robust and shapely backside, and an enviably curvy physique. Lifters that skip out on leg day short-change themselves on the rest of their program as well, and often end up with an obviously disproportionately built upper body. The benefits of going hard on leg day are clear, now here’s a quick overview of what muscles you’ll be working:
- Quadriceps: The Quadriceps, or “Quads”, are the biggest muscle group in the human body. The quads are located on the front of the leg from the hip joint to the knee and are made up of four muscles that work together to extend your leg. Strong Quadriceps are important for lifting heavy objects, running and jumping.
- Hamstrings: There’s a saying in weight training: “The front is for show, but the back makes it go!” Hamstrings are located on the rear of the leg, opposite the Quads, and are composed of three individual muscles: semitendinosus, semimembranosus and biceps femoris. Hamstrings are incredibly important for athletic performance and having strong hamstrings will help you run faster, jump higher and deadlift more weight.
- Gluteus Muscles: Gluteus muscles are so often overlooked by gym-goers but are important for appearance as well as athletic performance. Ladies that train glutes effectively will notice that they have a firm and toned buttocks. Strong glutes are also important for athletic exercises like running as well as kicking, but will help with squats and especially deadlifts as well.
- Calf Muscles: The calf muscles are located on the rear of the lower leg, behind the shinbone and are an important part of the posterior chain. Being able to generate force when contracting the calves will help you push on the ground harder, adding weight to your back squat and leg press exercises and improving vertical jump and flat land acceleration. Strong calves also add stability during walking or running, helping NFL players stand up to tackles and reducing pronation problems in runners.
Legs are important for both athletics and aesthetics and should be extensively addressed in workout plans for athletes, bodybuilders, fitness models, and anyone looking to lose fat and gain muscle. Let’s dive right in and get a feel for the different ways that you can get an amazing leg workout at home or during your next trip to the gym.
Leg Workouts Explained
Training legs at least once or twice per week is a crucial aspect of any complete weight training or bodybuilding program. Leg workouts will directly contribute some of your biggest muscle mass gains and burn more calories than probably any workout in your weekly routine. As with any program, leg workouts need to be done safely. Always work with a spotter or personal trainer when attempting personal records on free weight exercises, especially back squats. In addition, start every exercise with at least one or two warm-up sets on low weight. Warm-up sets get your central nervous system and muscles ready for the exercise, signalling that you’ll be engaging those muscles with heavy loads in the near future. This is key for injury prevention. Most programs include one or two leg days per week – I think this should vary based on personal needs. If your legs are lagging behind the rest of your body, I would consider two weekly leg days a necessity.
Leg Workouts for Men
Men are specially built to benefit from large muscle group activation, especially in the quadriceps and gluteus. A little-known fact is that exercising large muscle groups actually increases testosterone release in the body. This elevation in testosterone not only stimulates muscle growth, it will allow most men to hit personal records for other exercises like bench press or overhead press as well. The following are recommended leg workouts for men:
Back Squat: The Squat is a major compound lift that heavily incorporates the quadriceps, gluteus muscles, calves, hip flexors, obliques and core muscles. The Quadriceps provide the bulk of the power during the squat motion and create negative tension as you lower the weight during the first part of the exercise. The gluteus muscles help to extend the leg and align it with the torso as you drive with the quadriceps to lift the weight. The hip flexors work with the gluteus maximus and gluteus medial muscles to create power and align the body correctly with each repetition. Next, the calves are recruited to provide stability during the motion and to firmly anchor the floor and achieve the most muscle activation in other areas. Finally, the core muscles and obliques are fully engaged to help stabilize the weight as it rests on the shoulders.
Deadlift: The deadlift is the number one exercise for posterior chain activation, working the core, lower back muscles, gluteus muscles, hamstrings and calves. When done correctly, the hamstrings and hip flexors are loaded up and engaged, resulting in stronger muscles for running and jumping. Strong calves also help with deadlifts, providing a stable base for the exercise.
Leg Press: Although many people can push big weight on the leg press, it’s really an isolation exercise that works primarily the quads. The main difference between leg pressing and squatting is that squatting requires more stabilization, which means that your maximum squat is limited by your core and oblique strength. Leg press machines also don’t require you to hold the weight on your shoulders – something that can be a little uncomfortable for those new to the lift. Still, the leg press lets you isolate your quads and get a fantastic burn at the end of your workout.
Sets and Repetitions
Programs are in circulation which tout the benefits of all sorts of different schemes for sets and repetitions. In reality, only a qualified fitness professional can tell you what scheme of sets and reps will benefit you the most in terms of your goals in the gym. If you’re looking to gain weight by adding muscle and increasing size, higher volume training is typically recommended. A system of 3 sets and 10 repetitions each time will stimulate testosterone release and cause muscle growth. If you’re mostly looking to add strength, working at a greater percentage of your one-rep maximum and doing fewer repetitions will get you better results.
Obsessing over programs has caused many people to forget about the intuitive nature of weight lifting. If you want to lift heavy, keep trying to lift heavier and heavier things. Many bodybuilders engage a “pyramid” concept where they start off with lower weight and higher repetitions on the first set and work up to a single max repetition on a later set, each time adding weight and doing fewer repetitions. Remember that when working near your maximum weight for a specific exercise, you will likely need more than the “standard” thirty seconds of rest between sets.
Another important consideration is finding the correct weight to train at. For men looking to build strength or muscle quickly, I usually give the following recommendation: do the maximum weight that you can manage for your chosen scheme of sets and repetitions. Once you are no longer working to exhaustion with that weight and scheme, you should increase the load by 5%. Many people follow set and rep schemes that are known to be effective, but do so with the incorrect weight and are inefficient in making gains. Your workload should be such that the final repetition of your final set exhausts you and you could not possibly do more. You should always go to failure on your last set of any exercise.
Best Leg Workouts for Women
Leg Workouts for women are more focused towards developing a toned appearance rather than a maximum powerlift. More isolation exercises are also helpful because they more specifically target areas where a toned appearance is desired. The best leg workouts for women also incorporate a targeted warm-up that complements the rest of the workout. Ladies, try this great workout routine that will tone up your quads, hamstrings and butt:
Warm-up: 10 Minutes Stair Climber
The repetitive leg bending burns tons of calories and heavily activates the quads and glutes. This warm-up is amazing for boosting your heart-rate, building a toned butt and fat loss.
Squats: 60% of maximum squat for 4 sets of 10 repetitions.
High repetition volume helps with toning and builds muscular endurance, as well as promoting slender muscles that don’t bulge. You’ll also activate your glutes and hip flexors.
Walk Lunges: Three sets of 40 feet with Barbell on back.
When doing lunges, make sure your legs aren’t too far apart and drive evenly through your front and back legs using your hips. This will help distribute the workload between your front quad and rear hamstring and give the best results. Warning: This firming exercise will make your legs feel like Jello, so be cautious on stairs afterward!
Kettlebell Swings: 3 sets of 10.
This exercise not only elevates your heart rate, you’ll feel a great burn as you engage your hips, glutes and shoulders in this compound exercise.
Treadmill: 10min at a fast walk with maximum incline
Using incline settings on the treadmill gives a great toning workout for your lower legs. Walking on an incline is great for cardiovascular health, and you’ll also develop muscular, toned calf muscles.
Best Leg Workouts for Mass
Gaining mass isn’t normally accomplished by workout out on its own. Big gains come with strict dietary modifications that accompany an effective training regime. Those looking to put on serious muscles should consume at least 5-7 full servings of lean protein per day, including one shake in the morning and one right after the workout. Doing more sets with fewer repetitions is a great way to add the mass you want. Try the following program in conjunction with a great nutrition plan:
3×5 squats at 80% of one-rep maximum.
3×5 rack pulls at 80% of one-rep maximum.
3×5 split squat at 80% of one-rep maximum.
3×5 leg press at 70% of one-rep maximum.
When doing this program, it’s okay to take up to two minutes rest between sets. You’ll need sufficient time to recover when working at a high percentage of your maximum for each exercise. Lifting heavy with a moderate number of repetitions is the optimal strategy for stimulating muscle growth. You can also choose to “pyramid” up on each set, working from 70% of your max up to around 85% for your last set.
Leg Workouts with Dumbbells
Not all of us have access to a gym full of equipment for doing compound lifts and other exercises. Thankfully, it’s relatively simple to get a great leg workout using just a couple of dumbbells. Remember that like all other workouts, you should start each exercise with a warm-up set, either with reduced weight or no added weight at all. This workout will help you tone and tighten, gain muscle and reduce fat, and it only requires some empty space and a couple of dumbbells to get started:
3×10 Dumbbell Squats
Hold the dumbbells up in front of you with elbows bent and squat in 3 sets of ten with 30-45 seconds rest in between. The idea is to work your muscles while keeping your heart rate elevated.
3×40 feet Walking Lunges
Hold dumbbells down at your sides and lunge across a 40 foot span 3 times, taking 45-60 seconds rest in between each set. You’ll elevate your heart rate and get a killer burn in your hamstrings.
3×10 Toe Raise
Stand at the edge of a small step with a dumbbell in each hand held by your sides. For each repetition, point your toe and lift your heels from the ground. Hold for a moment and then lower back down for one repetition. Heavier dumbbells make this calf exercise much more challenging.
To finish your workout, jump on the stair climber if you have access to one, or use the treadmill at a significant incline for about ten minutes. Alternatively, you can find a hill in your neighbourhood and do a fast walk or slow jog up the hill for about ten minutes. This can be broken up into sets if the hill you’re using isn’t long enough.
Leg Workouts without Weights
Leg workouts without weights aren’t technically weight training – but they can get you some of the same great results without any need to use equipment. While you may not see the same strength or size gains, this workout routine will help you build functional strength as well as tone muscle and reduce body fat. Try this at home or at the gym:
3×15 Squat Jump
Get into a squat and jump up as high as you can in the air, fully extending your legs. Land back in a squat for one repetition.
3×10 Box Jumps
Find a sturdy box that can support your weight and won’t slide across the ground. You can probably find a box like this at your local gym. For this exercise, leap onto the box, landing with two feet for one repetition. After landing, walk forward and drop off the other side, turning around to reset for the next repetition.
3×10 Hip Raise
Hip raises are amazing for activating the glute muscles of the buttocks. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. On each repetition, contract your gluteus muscles and thrust your hips toward the sky. You can put a weighted object on your hips for added resistance if you find this too easy for just 10 repetitions.
Hit the Stairs
Getting on a real flight of stairs will work the legs as well as improve your cardio. Try five minutes of going up and down a staircase one stair at a time. For the final five minutes, go up the stairs two or three at a time and down them one at a time. You’ll feel the burn!
Leg Workouts for Women at Home
No time to hit the gym? Don’t worry. The easiest workouts to do at home can be done in very minimal space and even casually as you go about your day doing household chores. This routine is quick and easy but gives great results for how easy it is to fit into your day:
3×30 second Chair Squat
Sit on your chair with your feet shoulder-width apart. Lean slightly forward and push into the ground through your heels as you raise out of the chair. Extend your arms straight over your head, aligned with the rest of your body for balance. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat 3 times.
3×1 minute Wall Sit
The wall sit is a classic exercise for building endurance and toning the legs, and one of my favourites. Start off standing with your back to a wall with your feet hip-width apart about a foot away from the wall. Now, sit against the wall so your knees are bent at a 90 degree angle and your back is against the wall. Hold for one minute (or as long as you can) and repeat twice more with a minute of rest in between.
A sturdy table or chair works well for this exercise. Start with both feet on the ground facing the table, then place one leg on the table and “Step-up” with the other leg by driving through with the elevated leg for one repetition. Switch legs each time to ensure balanced results. This exercise works the gluteus muscles, hamstrings and calves.
10 Minute Stairs
Unless you live in a bungalow, stairs are absolutely your friend when working on legs. Run up one or two stairs at a time (or alternate) for about ten minutes. You’ll develop powerful, toned thighs and a great butt.
Leg Workouts for Women at the Gym
Leg workouts for women at the gym typically consist of high volume, medium-weight exercises meant to tone and tighten the thighs and glutes. This workout plan incorporates compound exercises as well as isolations to improve muscle tone and build strength. Remember, you can always modify this program based on your own strengths and weaknesses.
Warm-up: 10 Minutes Stair Climber
3×10 Hip Raises
3×40 feet Walking Lunges with Dumbbells
3×10 Standing Dumbbell Squat
3×10 Hamstring Curl
3×10 Weighted Toe Raises
Cool-down: Incline Walk on Treadmill for 8 minutes
Try this program for excellent results in toning. You can replace the dumbbell squats with barbell squats if you want to use more weight, but move it to after the hip raises so you do it before the lunges. Hip raises give great glute activation and get your quads warmed up for squatting heavy weight. Hamstring curls are ideal for sculpting and toning and the weighted toe raises combined with incline walk will round out your workout with a great emphasis on calves. Thanks for reading leg workouts for men and women…