Having already taken a first hand look at what the best bodyweight leg workout you can do at home is, it’s time to go into detail about further boosting your leg training in a gym, with this best gym leg workout guide.
As I have mentioned previously, one can indeed make some progress with bodyweight training in terms of leg mass and strength development, but weight training for legs will always be superior if you want to have some impressive quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves.
In this article we will go over the best exercises you can possibly do to hit all of the major muscles in your legs with maximum efficiency, and how you can keep progressing as you get stronger.
Table of Contents
[grid_one_half title=”Anterior muscles” img=”https://bodyweighttribe.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Dr_Bock_plate14.jpg” size=”large”]The anterior portion of the leg features the Iliopsoas, Quadriceps Femoris, Sartorius, and Pectineus.
On the bottom portion of the leg you will find the Tibialis anterior, Extensor Digitorum Longus, and the Extensor Hallucis Longus.[/grid_one_half][grid_one_half_last title=”Posterior muscles” img=”https://bodyweighttribe.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Dr_Bock_plate15.jpg” size=”large”]The posterior portion of the leg features the Biceps femoris, the Gluteus Maximus, the Semitendinosus, and the Semimembranosus.
On the bottom portion of the leg you will find the Gastrocnemius, the Plantaris, and the Soleus. There are also more, deeper muscles. [/grid_one_half_last]
Our main focus:
- Quadriceps femoris = knee extension
- Biceps Femoris = knee flexion
- Gluteous Maximus = Hip extension
- Gastrocnemius and Soleus = ankle flexion
Due to the fast and slow twitch fiber distribution in human legs, it is better for you to alternate between high and low rep sets and vary your intensity within the week to optimize muscle and strength growth. Also remember that more strength translates to a higher torque capacity and therefore more size gains.
The following exercises have been handpicked as the most effective movements for each respective muscle group and should always be executed with impeccable form so as to avoid injury.
Certain muscle groups have more than two exercises which have proved to be very effective also and so will also be listed so that you may have a wider range of exercises to choose from, should you not be able to perform one for any particular reason.
I have also noted which exercises emphasize what muscles to facilitate you in your picking of the exercises.
Targeted muscle: Quadriceps Femoris (quads)
The squat is a whole body compound exercise that if done right, will destroy your quads, hamstrings and glutes every single workout. It is arguably the best leg building exercise you can perform, and should give your rapid progress in both strength and muscle mass rather quickly. Watch the video above for details on how to perform the movement and as always, pay a great deal of attention to your form.
If you cannot squat or don’t want to and are looking for an alternative, lunges are the next best thing. There exists a wide array of variations that are available to you but I would focus on the walking lunge and reverse lunge if you have any knee problems; either with a barbell, or with a pair of dumbbells. Lunges are a fantastic quad and glute builder and should also be in your leg routine if it isn’t already.
This movement proved to have a higher EMG activation for the lateral head of the quad than the squat. Just doing it with your bodyweight for 12 repetitions can prove to be a challenge and a burn inducing exercise. As you progress, either augment the height of the platform or load the movement with a barbell/dumbbells.
Unlike the previous exercises listed above, this movement is an isolation exercise and should therefore preferably be kept until the end of your workout and performed for a higher rep range. Watch the video for more information on foot placement for optimum targeting of the quadriceps.
Targeted muscle: Gluteous maximus (glutes)
Hip extensions/glute bridge
Having gone over the best quad builders, here is the best glute builder. In my article about how you can efficiently work your legs out at home with limited material with a bodyweight version of the exercise.
Targeted muscle: Biceps Femoris (hamstrings)
Stiff legged deadlift
Moving on to the muscles responsible for the flexion of your legs from the knees, you will find that the stiff legged deadlift is highly effective at building up your hamstrings. If not performed properly however, this movement tends to transform into a lower back exercise so again, watch your form and try your best to obtain an effective mind to muscle connection.
The lying leg curl is a powerful isolation movement to perform after your main compound exercises. There are machines dedicated to this exercise and practically every single gym. An effective variant to this exercise if you don’t have access to a machine is to do this exercise on an inclined platform with a dumbbell between your ankles.
Glute Ham raises
The glute ham raise is very popular and for a good reason. They work several muscles at once, dramatically helps you in preventing a hamstring injury, and are altogether very effective at building up the targeted muscles’ strength and size due to the emphasis they put on the eccentric portion of the movement.
This exercise should be prioritized to a traditional leg curl and maybe even, the stiff legged deadlift due to the relief it will provide to your lower back compared to a barbell loaded hamstring exercise.
An other variation of the glute ham raise that may prove to be difficult for a beginner which is why you should break this movement down into progressions. Start with eccentrics and work your way up to a full complete movement, gradually extending the hips further and further to increase the lever and difficulty.
Targeted muscle: Gastrocnemius and Soleus (calves)
Calve raises – standing
The staple of calve building exercises. You can place your toes on a slightly elevated platform to provide you with a greater range of ;motion to perform; the exercise in. This exercise can also be done one one leg for unilateral work.
Calve raises – seated
For optimal progress, it’s recommended to target a muscle from different angles. The seated calve raise should ideally be paired with the standing calve raise or another ankle flexion movement like the calve press extension on a leg press machine.
best gym leg workout – The recommended routine
Now that we have gone over the different exercises you can perform to develop your legs, how would these look when integrated into one complete workout routine ?
Barbell squats – 4 sets of 6 to 12 reps
Lunges – 4 sets of 6 to 10 reps
Quad extensions or Step ups – 4 sets of 6 to 10 reps
Stiff legged deadlift or glute ham raises – 5 sets of 6 to 10 reps
Hip extension/ Glute bridges – 4 sets of 6 to 10 reps
Calve raises – 6 sets of 10 to 15 reps
Now of course, you do not have to follow this exact exercise routine; feel free to take exercises out, or add some in, and use it to complete your own current routine. Prepare yourself for some soreness though, because these exercises, especially used together in this routine, will blast your legs and provide you in time, with some impressive size and strength improvements.
Best gym leg workout – Conclusion
So there you have it. In this guide we have gone over the main leg muscles and which function they serve including knee flexion and extension, hip extension, and ankle flexion. Next, we went over some of the 11 best exercises you can do to build these same muscles strength and mass optimally, with both bodyweight and weighted exercises. We then compiled these movements into an applicable workout routine that you can either take exercises from to add to your own workout, or just follow along.
What is your favorite gym leg exercise?