What are your favorite leg exercises? What exercises do you enjoy the most? We searched and found a top 5 that we like and think are very very effective. Here are the 5 greatest leg exercises of all time, in our opinion of course:
1. The Leg Press
Main Areas Targeted: Quadriceps (emphasized with feet lower on platform and closer together), glutes and hamstrings (emphasized with feet higher and wider on platform)
Strengths: The leg press is a closed-kinetic-chain exercise, which simply means your feet are planted rather than free. A closed chain provides for a stronger base of power without as much shearing force on the knee joint as can occur in an open-chain exercise like the knee extension, which didn’t make the list for that very reason.
How-To: Sit squarely in the leg press machine and place your feet shoulder-width apart on the sled. Keeping your chest up and lower back pressed into the pad, carefully unlatch the sled from the safeties. Bend your knees to lower the platform, stopping before your glutes lift off the pad. From there, powerfully extend your knees to press the weight up (but don’t lock them out at the top).
2. The Pistol Squat
Main Areas Targeted: Quads, hamstrings, glutes
Strengths: Sure, this is more about dynamic performance than pure muscle building, but no matter. Consider this the functional cousin of No. 9 above and remember: The more functional you are, the better you’ll be at mastering any exercise or physical activity. You may find that your quads burn deep for days after you first try the pistol squat, which is a sure sign that you’ve been shortchanging your range of motion on traditional leg exercises for years.
How-To: Begin in a standing position. Extend one leg straight out in front of you, balancing on your other foot. From here, squat all the way down by lowering your hips and glutes straight toward the floor, bending your knee until your working thigh is below parallel. At the bottom, your nonworking leg and arms will be out in front of you for balance with your planted foot flat on the floor. Drive through that heel to return to a standing position, making sure to never let that heel come up as you rep.
3. The Walking Lunge
Main Areas Targeted: Quads, hams, glutes
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.
4. The Hack Squat
Main Areas Targeted: Quads and glutes primarily, hamstrings secondarily
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.
5. The Romanian Deadlift
Main Areas Targeted: Hamstrings
Strengths: You may notice a pattern here — well, you should, at least — but like the other exercises on this list, the key to results with the Romanian deadlift is pinpoint form. Keep your back flat, core tight and the bar sliding along the front of your legs on the way up and down and you’ll build thick, impressive, protruding hamstrings. Allow your lower back to collapse and take on the load.
How-To: Stand upright holding a barbell in front of your upper thighs with an overhand grip. Place your feet shoulder-width apart and slightly bend your knees. With your chest up, arms straight and core tight to maintain the natural arch in your low back, lean forward from your hips, pushing them rearward until your torso is roughly parallel to the floor or until you feel a good stretch in your hamstrings. At the bottom, keep your back flat and head neutral. The bar should be very close to or in contact with your legs throughout. Flex your hamstrings and glutes to reverse the motion, bringing the bar back to the start position.