One of the most important aspects of putting on mass is building a good lower body. You’ll hear lots of people mock lifters who ‘skip leg day’ and in some ways, this criticism is valid. If you don’t work on your legs, you’re missing out on some of the world’s best exercises and on some great gains.
Not only will you grow your legs, but some of these lower body lifts are compounds that recruit multiple muscles at once – which in turn leads to a greater hormone response, causing the body to release more anabolic hormones such as testosterone and growth hormones.
In short, lower body lifting is a must. Our big legs workout is a list of the 10 best exercises for building bigger legs, alongside a training plan to make your next leg day a hamstring-burning, quad-blasting workout that will make you want to rock shorts all summer and show off the results of your hard work.
The 10 best exercises for bigger legs
1. Barbell Back Squat
The standard barbell squat is one of the most popular exercises in the world. From powerlifters to bodybuilders and everything in between, the standard squat is a compound lift that builds leg power and size in droves, as well as increases overall strength and helps you pack on mass.
They’re a push exercise that train your entire lower body, posterior chain and even your core. Leave them out of a routine at your own peril.
How to do a barbell squat
Using a squat rack for safety, set a barbell at just under shoulder height. Get under the bar so that it is resting on the top of your shoulders. Secure it in place with your hands holding it an even distance apart, then press up and step back so that the bar is fully suspended by your body.
From here, squat downwards, keeping your head up and eyes forward with your back as straight as possible. Once your glutes go below your knees, explode back up so you’re standing straight. That’s one rep.
Squatting as part of a workout
Incorporating a barbell squat into leg day isn’t just essential – it should form the basis of your big legs workout day. Since you’re aiming for size, aim for less reps with heavier weights.
2. Front squat
Another compound lift that sees you squatting in the rack, the front squat changes the position of the barbell so that it’s held on your deltoids. This targets different muscles and puts the focus on your glutes, as you experience greater knee flexion than during a back squat. They’re also good if you have problems with your back, as the anterior bar placement decreases stress on the lumbar and knees.
How to do a front squat
Exactly the same as a back squat, but this time you want to position the bar at the top of your deltoids. You can either hug the bar with crossed arms or tilt your arms back and grip with your fingers – but this requires flexibility and a wrist warmup.
Front squats in a workout
As with barbell squats, front squats should be performed as part of your routine. Some people do one or the other, but for a truly leg-busting day, try front squatting after back squats.
3. Leg Extension
An isolation lift that gets criticism from some as it ignores a few key muscles, the seated leg extension is still one of the best machine lifts you can do. Low-impact, extremely tough and pretty much guaranteed to help you define your quads – it’s a great thing to add to any big leg workout routine – and is great for helping firm and define your legs.
How to do leg extensions
This one is simple. Sit on the machine, place the tops of your feet behind the foam pad and press upwards. Try to quickly extend, then lower back slowly.
Leg extensions in a workout
As an isolation, we’d recommend either sticking to your mass-style lifting regime (low reps, high weight) or increasing the volume to aid definition.
4. Romanian Deadlift
The deadlift is one of the best compound lifts for all-over muscle growth, but the Romanian deadlift specifically targets your glutes and hamstrings in a big way. It mainly focuses on your hamstrings, making them perfect for those lacking in that area.
How to do Romanian deadlifts
Hold the bar at hip level with your palms facing down. Keep your shoulders back and up, your back slightly arched and your knees slightly bent.
Push your rear back and lower the bar, keeping your head up and forward with your shoulders back. When the bar reaches just below the knee, you’ll feel your hamstrings preventing you from going further. Drive the hips forward to stand tall again.
Romanian deadlifts in a workout
As Romanian deadlifts can be quite a strange exercise to get used to, it’s best to start lighter and perform more reps. You’ll need to experiment to see what works for you.
5. Dumbbell lunge
A simplistic but very effective exercise, the lunge is a single leg compound exercise that targets your quadriceps, glutes, calves and hamstrings. As a bonus, they can be done in the gym when all the other equipment is being used because all you’ll need is a set of dumbbells.
How to do dumbbell lunges
Grip dumbbells in each hand. Lunge one foot forward and squat into it, so your trail leg lowers until your knee is just about to touch the floor. Step through with your trail leg so that it goes in front of your lead, and repeat the action.
Dumbbell lunges in a workout
As a compound, these are best done for fewer reps with heavier weights to help build mass, size and strength.
6. Standing calf raises
Your calves are an important part of your development if you want well-rounded legs. Compound lifts will help build your calves, but nothing is as efficient as isolating them with some heavy weight work. For that, you’ll want standing calf raises.
How to do calf raises
One of the most simple movements you can do, stand on the edge of something with the balls of your feet. Raise your heels up and then drop back down. Do this in a calf raise machine, or with the weight on your shoulders.
Calf raises in a workout
You’re best off doing these like any isolation, slightly higher reps to increase hypertrophy.
7. Zercher Squat
Want to up your squat game with a rare but brutal leg exercise that has the bonus of training your abs, as well as your lower body? Zercher squats are the answer. There’s also minimal spinal compression so they’re good for putting less pressure on your back.
How to do Zercher Squats
Grip a barbell in the crook of your elbows on your upper forearms, wrap your hands in front of the bar to stop it falling forward and perform a squat as normal.
Zercher squats in a workout
Zerchers are rarely seen in the gym as they’re so unbelievably tough – but they’re great for really focusing on your quads.
8. Barbell Glute Bridge
An exercise that’s seeing lots of increased popularity at the moment, the glute bridge is great for building…you guessed it! Your glutes.
How to do a barbell glute bridge
Lie down with a barbell over your waist. Bring your heels close to your rear and grip the bar shoulder-width. Explode with your hips so that you thrust the bar into the air and your body leaves the floor, with contact left with your upper back. Lower back down and repeat.
Barbell glute bridges in a workout
As a lift that works your hip extensors, these are a good exercise to assist your squats and deadlifts.
9. Leg Press
Some people can’t squat. Whether this is through injury or a condition or disability, it’s a fact of life. The leg press is a great alternative for those people. It’s also a great exercise for everyone, a machine lift that lets you build serious power.
How to do a leg press
Sit in the leg press machine, place your feet slightly apart and extend, then lower back down and repeat.
Leg press in a workout
Because they don’t add much of an adverse impact to your spine or body, you can afford to use leg presses as part of any high rep or heavy weight workout. They’re versatile!
10. Box Jumps
An athletic movement that trains the entirety of your lower body, box jumps also train your reactions, speed and power and can be done with minimal equipment.
How to do a box jump
Find a box that is roughly waist height. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, squat down slightly and explode upwards, aiming to land with your feet firmly planted.
Box jumps in a workout
Best done as a fairly intense exercise, box jumps should be performed in high rep volume.
The Big Legs Workout
Now it’s time to combine the workouts into a beasty leg day as part of your big legs workout.
Either use Day A and Day B as two separate leg days, or do a four week ‘mass’ phase of Day A, followed by a four week Day B period.
Day A (use heavier weights at 70-80% max):
- 3 x 8 barbell squats
- 3 x 8 dumbbell lunges
- 3 x 6 zercher squats
- 3 x 10 barbell glute bridges
- 3 x 10 box jumps
Day B (Use weights at 60-70%):
- 3 x 10 leg press
- 3 x 10 front squats
- 3 x 10 calf raises
- 3 x 10 Romanian deadlifts
Disclaimer: Use weights proportionate to your physical strength and ability. It is recommended that your consult a certified fitness trainer before lifting heavy loads or altering your fitness regime