Turn your legs into mighty tree trunks with these beginners, intermediate and advanced exercises
It’s always tempting to skip leg day, mostly because no-one enjoys the DOMS that tends to follow, but no weight training plan is complete without at least one leg-focused workout a week. So to ensure you’re never struggling for ideas of exercises to do on leg day, we spoke to Andy Page, strength and conditioning coach at the new Pure Sports Medicine Chancery Lane clinic.
Here are Page’s top leg exercises for beginner, intermediate and advanced gym-goers.
Beginner Leg Exercises
Any lower-body programme should be built on the ability to squat, and the goblet squat is the ideal way to perfect the movement before moving on to its more complex cousins.
Hold a kettlebell or dumbbell close to your chest, push your hips back and squat down slowly until your thighs are parallel to the ground. From this position, drive up to standing, leading with your chest. Working in front of a mirror will help to keep your knees in line with your feet and torso upright.
The step-up is an ideal introduction to the world of single-leg exercises. Set the step at a height that means the thigh on your leading leg doesn’t go beyond parallel to the floor.
Holding dumbbells at your side, plant your foot on the step securely and drive up powerfully, focusing on contracting the glute muscles on the same side as your leading leg. Bring the opposite knee up and stand on the step to complete the movement.
The glutes are often overlooked but they’re a key muscle group – strong glutes will make everything from running and squatting easier, as well as helping to keep you injury-free. One of the most common causes of lower-back pain is poor glute activity.
The bridge is a great way to work on your glutes. Lying on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, squeeze your glutes and push your heels into the floor to lift your hips into a bridge. You should finish with your hips straight and abdominals tight.
Intermediate Leg Exercises
Hex bar deadlift
Deadlifting is a great way to build strength in the posterior chain – your hamstrings, glutes and back – and lifting with the hex bar makes it far more accessible.
Standing inside the hex bar, hold both handles securely and lower your hips so they are as close to the height of your hands as possible. Slowly take the tension on the bar and then stand up, pushing through your glutes, to lift the bar. Keep your chest high with your head facing forward during the whole movement. When performed properly, the hex bar deadlift is a particularly good option for anyone with a sore back from years of orthodox deadlifting.
Walking lunge with dumbbells
The ability to lunge with good form has great carryover benefits to many other sporting movements as well as strengthening your hamstrings, quads, glutes and hips. With a dumbbell in each hand, lunge forwards and bend your front knee until your back knee is just above the ground, then drive back up. Bring the back leg through to initiate the next lunge and walk forwards to continue the movement. Focus on keeping your torso upright.
Single-leg Romanian deadlift
This move incorporates balance, proprioception (your sense of where your body parts are positioned) and glute control as well as hamstring training, making it a great way to make the most of your training time.
Holding a kettlebell or dumbbell in your left hand, lift your left leg straight behind you and lean forwards over your right leg by pushing your hips backwards, feeling the stretch down your right hamstring. Practise facing the mirror to keep your head up and your back straight, and make sure you are moving in straight lines and not rotating over your standing leg.
Advanced Leg Exercises
If you can master the king of lower-body exercises, you’ll see the effect on your lower-body and core strength, shoulder stability, and mobility from your shoulders to your ankles. Holding a bar over the crown of your head, with your hands wider than shoulder-width apart, squat down as low as possible and use your glutes to drive back up to the starting position. Start with light loads until you master the technique – and prepare for a challenge!
TRX Bulgarian split squat
This move both challenges single-leg stability and hits the posterior chain really hard. The position should resemble a lunge and targets similar muscle groups – the difference is that it recruits more muscle fibers.
Face away from the rig with one of your feet in the handle of a TRX (or any suspension trainer), keeping your head up. Squat down on your standing leg. Ensure you are pushing back with the suspended leg and keeping your torso upright during the movement to minimize strain on the knee and mmaximize glute activation.
At first, no weight will be needed and only light weights should be added as you progress.
The slower of the two Olympic lifts, the clean is a fantastic way to build power and explosiveness, and the hang clean is a great version of the move to start with because it doesn’t require substantial mobility to perfect.
Starting with the bar held at mid-thigh height, lower yourself into a powerful jumping position. Then forcibly extend your ankles, knees and hips to drive the bar up towards your shoulders. Drop under the bar, pivoting your arms around to catch it across the front of your shoulders. You should definitely ask one of the trainers in the gym for some tips before attempting this for the first time.