1.Squat (High And Low Bar)
Why it's on the list: Squats are king because they're simply the most challenging leg movement you can do, especially when loaded appropriately. They work all the lower-body musculature (we're counting glutes), and have been shown to spike muscle-building hormone release. In fact, we even know that squatting before doing curls has been shown to significantly improve arm strength!
We've grouped the high bar squat and low bar squat here, although they're a bit different. Bodybuilders typically use the high bar squat, in which the bar rests atop the traps, which hits all the leg musculature fairly evenly. Powerlifters prefer the low version, in which the bar instead sits further down atop the rear delts, since this variation slightly shifts the body's center of gravity such that the glutes take up more of the workload, which immediately allows the lifter to use more weight.
First, let’s talk about what many trainers hate about the leg press: It can cause lower-back injury when done incorrectly. And when guys load every last plate in the gym on the sled and try to half-ass a few reps out, with their lower back disengaging from the pad on every rep in part due to woefully inflexible hamstrings and glutes, that’s about as incorrect as you can get. It’s true that it’s one of the most abused exercises in the gym — probably because you can feel like a big shot and handle much more weight than you can on a squat — but used carefully, the leg press can be very beneficial. And just as important, it helps provide variety in what might otherwise be a very squat-centric leg program.
Often called the king of exercises, the deadlift is generally the strongest lift you can perform. There is something beautifully liberating about picking up the heaviest weight you possibly can from the ground.
Nothing will get the adrenaline surging quite like picking up heavy iron.
The deadlift is going to develop almost every muscle in the body. It’s predominantly working the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back; but you’re also using calves and quads. Not to mention the back, lats, shoulders, traps in the upper body; and the core for stabilizing yourself with a heavy weight.
No other exercise engages as much muscle mass as the deadlift, which is why people call it the king of exercises. It’s a total body challenge that will pack muscle and strength onto the entire body.
4.Bulgarian Split Squat
Why it's on the list: This one is deceptively difficult, partly because of balance and partly because you're training one side at a time. The Bulgarian split squat is essentially a split squat, but your rear leg is elevated, which forces the front leg to pick up more of the workload. Try it on a Smith machine if you find it difficult to balance the weight.
Strengths: “The walking lunge is a dynamic movement, requiring coordination and muscle recruitment to perform correctly,” explains Gene Flores, CSCS, a physical therapist and orthopedic clinical specialist at Vargo Physical Therapy, an outpatient clinic in Reseda, Calif. “This exercise is predominantly a unilateral activity no matter which way it’s performed, with emphasis on the front rather than the back leg. You’ll get a good amount of co-contractions from above and below the knee joint, from the hip and core to the ankle and foot.”
How-To: Holding dumbbells in each hand, step forward with one foot. Bend both knees to lower your torso toward the floor, making sure your front knee doesn’t pass your toes at the bottommost position. Stop just short of your rear knee touching the floor, then drive through the heel of your front foot while bringing your rear leg forward until you return to a standing position. Then step with the opposite leg into a lunge, repeating the pattern. Continue alternating down the floor. “The cues I utilize when teaching this movement are to always have your core engaged, with a neutral spine or slight lordosis (extension),” Flores says. “Most important, do not let the front knee turn in or out excessively.”
Step ups offer a different challenge. Unlike a lot of leg exercises that focus on piling big weights on, the step up is a challenge of the strength and stability in smaller muscles around the knee and hips.
They can challenge your glutes and quads, without having to use big weights. This is great, as you don’t add too much total stress to your body that is hard to recover from.
You can keep the weights light, focus on stability, control, and put in reps. Put them at the end of your leg workouts to ‘finish off’ the muscles.
Why it's on the list: For newcomers to squatting, the machine squat offers a degree of safety while learning the movement pattern. (Goblet squats are great for beginners as well.) Machine movements also work well when done later in your workout, when your legs are fried and you need an assist with balancing the weight. If you're advanced and using this as your squat of choice, you're probably not choosing the right version of the movement. You've been warned!
In your workout: Beginners should do these first for 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps, using a weight that approaches muscle failure. If done later in your workout, you can allow the reps to drift higher to pump the thighs and glutes.
Strengths: “This exercise is done in a weight-bearing functional position just like a standing squat,” Flores points out. “The hack squat machine also allows you to go a little heavier without sacrificing too much form as you would performing bar squats since your back is supported, which decreases the chance of injury. That’s important when the goal is to increase mass and strength.”
How-To: Step inside a hack squat machine, placing your shoulders and back against the pads. Set your feet at mid-platform just inside shoulder width, keeping your feet flat throughout the exercise. With your chest up and core tight, unhook the safeties and slowly lower yourself, stopping when your thighs are just past parallel to the platform. From here, powerfully press upward to the start position, keeping your knees bent slightly at the top to protect them from hyperextension. “When performing any squat movement, my cues are always to avoid any excessive internal or external rotation at the knees — think the ‘knock-knee’ position or knees and toes pointing out — along with keeping your knees about shoulder-width apart throughout the movement,” Flores instructs. “The weight should be felt in your heels, not your toes.”
The calves are often the hardest body part to grow. They are hit when doing squats, deadlifts, lunges, and other lower body exercises; but to really get the best training effect you should train them directly.
The calves have a mixture of slow and fast twitch muscle fibers, meaning you should do both explosive work, and high rep work.
You can do calf raises with heavy weights, as well as slow tempo, focusing on the stretch and maximum squeeze of the muscle.
Use these 10 exercises in your lower body workouts and you’re sure to develop big, strong, and healthy legs. The biggest muscles in the body also create the most metabolic disruption, so many of these exercises are your best bet for fat burning workouts too.
The side to side motion of the Cossack squat really adds a new dimension. You’re not going to use a lot of weight in this exercise, but it will challenge the adductor (inner thigh) muscles more than any other.
If you want to build or tone up the inner thighs, the Cossack squat is your friend.
It’s also great to increase the range of motion and mobility in the hips and thighs. For this purpose, you can include a couple of light sets in your warm up before going on to do other leg exercises.
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