Leg exercises


The best leg exercises with weights.

Leg muscle Anatomy

In general, during our life we have walked about 4 round-the-world distances. Humans developed the ability to walk upright because this way of moving enabled our ancestors to preserve precious calories in difficult conditions of the Stone Age and food shortage. For example, chimpanzees walking upright spend 4 (!) times more energy than we do.

best leg exercises
Usually, when we talk about leg exercises, we mean Calves (gastrocnemius), Glutes (medius + maximus) and the muscles of Thigh. The last consist of three muscle groups: Thigh Quadriceps ( vastus medialis + intermedius + lateralis and rectus fomoris) , The back thigh (Biceps femoris muscles: long head or Hamstring + the short head) and Thigh Adductor muscles.

Legs represent the biggest muscle group of our body. They are able to exercise the highest strength engaging two joints at once – hip and knee ones.

Our Leg muscles:

1. Thigh Quadriceps (Extensior)
2. The back thigh (Biceps femoris muscle or Hamstring) (Flexor)
3. Thigh Adductor Muscles
4. Glutes
5. Calves

Quadriceps (lat. musculus quadrceps femoris for «four-headed [muscle] of the femur»), also called simply the quadriceps, quadriceps extensor, quads, is the biggest muscle of our body… It got such name because it consists of four muscles constituting its heads: rectus, lateral, medial and intermediate muscles of thigh.
Main function: quadriceps is a strong shin knee joint extensor.

Hamstring or Thigh biceps (lat. musculus biceps femoris) consists of two heads:
Long head — semitendinous muscle (lat. musculus semintidinosus). This head forms part of the hamstrings muscle group.
Short head — semimembranous muscle (lat. musculus semimembranosus).

Main functions: Both heads of the Biceps Femoris perform knee flexion. The long head is involved in hip extension

Adductors include the following muscles: The adductor brevis, adductor longus, adductor magnus make up the adductor group (long, short and big) muscles. The main function of this muscle group is thigh adduction; that’s why these muscles are called adductors. They are very developed by humans due to upright manner of moving.

The Glutes (gluteal muscle groupe) contain the three muscles that make up the buttocks: the gluteus maximus muscle, gluteus medius muscle and gluteus minimus muscle.
The big gluteus of thigh appears to be the biggest and thickest muscle of our organism. It begins on pelvic bones and is attached to the back of the thigh-bone below the hip joint. It pulls our leg back during thigh extension. The big gluteus is most actively engaged during press phase of climbing a step because it assists straightening the hip joint.

Calves muscle group includes two muscles: gastrocnemius muscle that is situated above and soleus muscle hidden under the gastrocnemius muscle. It belongs to two-joint muscles: it engages two joints (knee and talocrural ones) while the soleus muscle is single-joint: it engages only the talocrural joint.

Gastrocnemius (lat. musculus gastroscnemius) has two heads: medial and lateral ones; their surface layers are represented by firm tendinous fascicles.

Soleus muscle (lat. musculus soleus) is a thick flat muscle that is situated under the gastrocnemius muscle.
The main calves function is to flex and to stabilizate our ankles (the transverse plane).

The biggest problem that beginners have in bodybuilding is undeveloped legs… The absolute majority starts exercise ‘beach’ body parts: chest, abs and arms. Legs are considered a body part that impresses only when you don’t wear pants. Think about it.

Leg exercises with weight FOR THIGHS (all parts)

leg muscle exercises

There are a number of legs exercises and workout for quads and hamstring. But now I’d like to draw your attention to only those leg exercises that can be useful for you. Why exactly these exercises? – It’s because I am convinced in their efficiency. So, let’s start:

Barbell Squats

The first place is taken by classic Barbell Squats that is the best leg exercise of all times. It’ll give you much more than any other one; and it concerns not only your legs but also other muscles of your whole body.

The starting position: your feet are positioned at a bit wider your shoulder width; your toes are slightly pointed outwards; the back is straight; the head is raised and the torso is strained. Descend until your knees and hips are fully bent (not parallel to the floor). Don’t ‘jump up’ from the lower position; don’t increase weights till your squat performance technique is perfect.

leg exercises with weights

Is it possible to achieve defined quads without such popular leg exercise as Barbell Squats? Yes, it’s possible but the efficiency of other exercises is lower and you’ll simply need much more time.


Leg Presses

leg and buttock exercises

The second place is taken by Leg Presses: it’s a wonderful choice for those who want to create massive thighs or for people who cannot do full-fledged Barbell Squats due to injuries or peculiar anatomic features. This difficult exercise allows loading your legs by means of heavy weights; the other reason of its popularity is the possibility to set your feet in different ways in order to change the load emphasis between different thigh parts (quads, biceps and glutes).

Leg muscle exercises  workout The starting position: your feet are positioned at your shoulder width at the middle of the platform; your toes are slightly pointed outwards. You should hold tight the side handles in order to guarantee your torso a stable position. Then you press the platform up but you shouldn’t straighten your legs in the exercise upper point in order not to relax your quads; you make a second’s pause in this position and lower the platform: in the finishing position your knees are almost pressed against your chest. You need to watch your buttocks and lower back don’t lose the contact with the exercise machine seat.

Hack Squats

I am talking about squats performed in the Hack machine. This leg exercise allows you, in case you work with heavy weights, to take off the load from your back and direct it to your knees; but if you train performing lots of reps (20-40) the load on your knees will be minimal.

By the way, apart from classic variant of squats in the Hack machine you can also workout when sitting with your face to the frame: this variant allows you to work with heavier weights, to overload quads more efficiently and, at the same time, to reduce the load on knees.

Leg Extensions

 Extensions best leg exercises

Unlike all previous leg exercises, this one involves only one joint and load only quads. This leg exercise should be either the last ‘finishing’ one or the first warming-up one when you workout with light weights. In case of a good exercise machine with soft motion this exercise shapes your front thigh very nicely. The motion regime of this leg exercise performance is very important: the movement is performed at middle pace, evenly and without any pauses in the upper or lower movement points. If necessary, your toes and knee joints are slightly turned either inwards or, usually, outwards: this turn influences the exercise emphasis that is put on different parts of the front thigh side.

Stiff-Legged Deadlifts

I believe that it’s the most effective exercise for the back thigh side; anyway, this leg exercise allows using heavy weights and even 100kg is not a rare thing for it.

leg muscle exercises

The main condition of correct way of performing is your straight back that’s only slightly bent forward and straight legs. It’s reasonable to lower torso only till the horizontal position (no lower). Torso lowering is followed by maximum moving the pelvis backwards in order to ‘exclude’ glutes from the work and put an emphasis on the hamstring. In general, the exercise workout amplitude should be defined by your goals and flexibility: you need to lower your torso slowly and when doing it your pelvis and legs are to be naturally moved backwards. If you move them too far the main load will fall on the lower back and glutes.

Leg Curls

This leg exercise is very effective for isolation workout of hamstring and can be used as a good warm-up many-repetition exercise before performing deadlifts or as a finishing leg exercise after basic hamstring workout.

Leg muscle exercises  workout

You should remember, however, that performing less than 6 reps of this leg exercise is dangerous because in this case the load on knees and popliteal tendons can be excessive. That’s why I advise you to stick to high quantity of reps: 8-15 or even 20-30.

When performing leg curls your glutes shouldn’t lose contact with the bench. You shouldn’t allow your legs to straighten arbitrary and too quickly. Make pauses when your feet are in the upper amplitude point additionally contracting their muscles. This exercise doesn’t allow any kind of cheating because they can lead to an injury.

Leg muscle exercises  workout

The best leg exercises for hips and glutes.

Sure, I don’t know the current shape of your glutes and hips.

But I am quite sure that both men and women like rounded, nice-shaped and not too thick glutes. If you are not satisfied with this body part of yours – don’t be upset! Hips and glutes appear to be muscles that increase their size quite quickly in case of corresponding legs workout exercise. Nature ‘presented’ women glutes with more fat cells; that’s why men’s glutes remain hard and narrow longer than women’s ones. Still, it doesn’t mean that men can forget about glutes workout exercise.

So, you want to have round and hard glutes? – It’s no problem! There are a lot of exercises that train buttocks very effectively. Now we are going to discuss the best three of them.


Barbell Full Squats: as I say before, it’s the most effective leg exercise and number one exercise for nice-looking shaped glutes. You need to perform exactly full squats when calves press against thigh biceps and you almost sit on your heels.
Position a barbell on the back of the shoulders and grasp bar to the sides. Put your feet at shoulder width with your toes and knees slightly pointed outwards. Descend until knees and hips are fully bent (not parallel to the floor). Don’t ‘jump up’ from the lower position; don’t increase weights till your performance technique is perfect.

It’s not easy to do this leg exercise correctly. In the very beginning it’s better to take a bar without plates and practice performance technique without additional weights. Ask somebody to watch you doing this leg exercise and estimate the way you perform it; ask to estimate your squat depth when using different feet positions. On the basis of this estimation choose your own optimal variant of performance.
barbell deadlift squats Leg muscle exercises  workout


This leg exercise is a true ‘bomb’ for hamstring and glutes. The main thing is not to aim at heavy weights in the very beginning; first you need to train correct performance technique. Try to perform this leg exercise very slowly deliberately prolonging its negative phase (especially in the extended (lower) position). So we perform this leg exercise in the following way:


In the starting position you are staying straight and holding the bar. Your hands are lowered; your shoulders are moved backward; chest – forward; the lumbar part of spine is arched. You start the exercise movement slowly moving the pelvis backward keeping the waist arch. Lower the barbell slowly till it’s possible to move the pelvis backward; if you go on moving the barbell even lower thigh biceps will be excluded from weight lowering and the load will be concentrated on your lower back muscles. What comes to me, I lower the barbell only till the middle of my calves: for me it’s quite enough. You perform barbell lifting due to moving the glutes forward. Without the help of your legs (in comparison with the usual Barbell Deadlifts) you’ll be able to work only with much lighter weights.


BEST LEG EXERCISES WITH WEIGHTS  This leg exercise is purposefully ‘bombing’ your hips and glutes. It’s extremely efficiently influences this body parts but you should be careful performing it because it’s rather dangerous.

There are different variants of lunges. The main ones are the following three: forward, backward and sideward (according to the direction of your leg movement). Forward lunge is considered the classic one and here is the technique of its performance:

Make a step forward and start bending the leg in the knee joint till the thigh of this leg is parallel to the floor. You should lower the knee of the other leg till it almost touches the floor. You should keep your torso upright and strained in order not to lean forward. Complete the necessary quantity of reps for the first leg and switch to the other one only after this.

When performing a lunge your foot should be far enough in front of you so that when you bend your working knee, your thigh and lower leg form a right angle. In this case your other knee will not touch the floor and you’ll avoid knee injuries that can happen due to numerous ‘kisses’ of your knees and the floor.

Firm and trained glutes is one of the most important body parts for women when they estimate men as sexual partners.

The best leg exercises for calves.


The two-headed gastrocnemius muscle is situated on the back of the lower part of our leg and forms the upper part of our calf. In case of good definition both its heads are clearly separated. The soleus muscle is bit broader than the gastrocnemius one and is situated right under it. Well-developed calves are quite a rare thing. Usually only either genetically gifted or very persistent and hardworking sportsmen possess them.

What is to be done to force calves grow? The answer is obvious: you should maximally develop both the calf and the soleus muscle that ‘pushes’ it out and creates the rounded shape of our calves. There is an effective leg exercise ‘duet’ for these two muscles: Standing Calf Raises (for calves) and Seated Calf Raises (for soleus muscles).


calf exercises legs This leg exercise is «more compound» than Seated Calf Raises because it trains both gastrocnemius and soleus muscles. That’s why when performing Standing Calf Raises you can work with much heavier weights in comparison with the seated variant.
Ideally, this leg exercise requires a special exercise machine; still, you can perform it even at home using dumbbells.

Your legs are to be slightly bent for the purpose of safety and convenience.

The exercise amplitude, in order it is effective, may vary depending on genetic disposition of your calves (high or low).The maximum upper point of calf raise is mostly efficient for those who have ‘high’ calves while extension in the lowest point – for those having ‘low’ calves.

That’s why if you sacrifice a part of movement amplitude for the sake of additional weight, be sure that you choose the very amplitude part that will help you increase muscle mass of exactly your legs.


BEST LEG EXERCISES WITH WEIGHTS  Performance technique: you perform this exercise by putting additional weight on your knees bent at a right angle… Usually sportsmen use a special exercise machine because it allows loading the working soleus muscle to the highest extent due to safety of performance and possibility to add heavier weights.

Before you start lifting the weight you need to move your feet as low as possible in order to start the movement from the extended position.

Pieces of advice:

  • Experiment with position of toes and feet
  • Warm-up your calves before hard training
  • Try to stick to the complete amplitude of the exercise
  • Keep the upper movement point for 1-2 seconds
  • Extend your calves during rest intervals
  • Perform no less than 10 reps in a set
  • Train calves after difficult squats

Do not forget about leg exercises. Legs together with a back are the greatest muscular groups of our body. Besides, leg workout exercise help to progress in other exercises (for the upper part of our body) because increase the general power potential.

The best leg exercises with weights — Written by: Dennis Borisov
© June 2009
www.gymper.com. All rights reserved. Reprint article with link only.