Weight Lifting: Legs (Squats, Deadlifts, Leg Press, Lunges, Etc.)

muscular legsWhen you’re weight lifting, the most important body part to work is your legs. So many guys get caught up in working their biceps or their chest, or shoulders that they forget or purposely ignore their legs. This is a HUGE mistake.

Any bodybuilder will tell you that legs are the most important muscle group to work if you want to build mass all over your body. Yes, that means your arms chest and shoulders too! Squats and dead lifts will help you gain mass all over your body!

When you’re performing these heavy compound exercises like squats and dead lifts it’s stressing your entire muscular system more than any other exercise… Period. And think about it, your legs are by far your largest muscle group. So if you want to gain weight fast, what muscle group do you think would help you pack on the most weight in the least time? Your legs of course!

So if you want a huge chest, biceps that fill your shirtsleeves, and shoulders that pop out like softballs, then get in that squat rack and start blasting the hell out of your legs!

Some guys dread “leg day” because it’s the most intense, most demanding workout in your regimen. If it’s not, you aren’t training the right way and you need to review the weight training section to see why it’s so important.

Now that you understand the importance of leg workouts, lets look at the major muscles of your legs and I’ll show you what workouts you should be doing to get stronger and more muscular legs.

The Major Leg Muscles To Focus On In Your Workouts


leg muscles diagram

  • Quadriceps (Quads) – These muscles are on the front of your leg. Their main function is to straighten the knee (Performing the motion as if you were kicking something.) Good weight training exercises for the quads are squats, leg press, leg extensions, lunges.
  • Hamstrings (Hams) – These are the muscles on the back of the legs. They’re composed of three different muscles: The Semitendinousus, Bicep Femoris, and Semimembranosus. Their primary function is to flex the knee backwards, bringing the heel towards your butt. Good weight training exercises for the hamstrings are stiff-legged deadlifts, leg curls, squats, lunges.
  • Gluteus Maximus (Glutes) (Butt) – These are basically your butt muscles. Their main function is to extend the hip, moving your leg backwards. Good weight training exercises for the glutes (butt) are squats, deadlifts, leg press, lunges, stiff-legged deadlifts.
  • Gastrocnemius & Soleus (Calves) – These are basically your calf muscles. They are in the back of the lower leg below your knee line. They are made up of the Gastrocnemius, which is the upper part of your calf muscle, and the Soleus, which is the lower part of your calf muscle. The function of the both calf muscles is to raise the heel off the ground. As you would do if you were jumping. Good weight training exercises for the calves are standing calf raises, and seated calf raises.

Weight Lifting Exercises For The Legs To Build Muscle:

I’m providing you with a list of the best leg exercises so you know which ones you need to build your leg muscles quickly. Just click on the link to the leg exercise you want to view:

Barbell Squats

Mechanics Type: Compound Lift

Primary Mover: Quadriceps

Secondary Movers: Hamstrings, Glutes, Lower Back

Using a squat rack, make sure the bar is at the correct height, which is just below shoulder level. Once your weights are on the bar, duck your head under the bar and place the bar on the back of your shoulders, just below the neck.

Keep your feet about shoulder width apart with your toes pointing slightly outward. If you’re taller, you can take a slightly wider stance. Grip the bar in an overhand grip with both hands. Un-rack the weight by straightening your torso and flexing your quadriceps to lift the weight off.

Step backward away from the rack so it won’t be in the way as you perform the exercise. Make sure your stance is even and take a few deep breathes and get ready to push some weight.

Pick a spot on the wall straight ahead of you and keep your eyes fixed on that spot. Keeping your back straight, bend at the knees and hips. Keep your head up and don’t look down, or it could take your back out of alignment.

Keep going down until your legs form a 90-degree angle. If you stop halfway, you are cheating and you’re not fully working leg muscles.

Then press back up by driving your heels into the ground as you straighten your legs and reach the top again. Congratulations, you just performed 1 rep.

Leg Press

Mechanics Type: Compound Lift

Primary Mover: Quadriceps

Secondary Movers: Glutes, Calves, Hamstrings

Using a leg press machine, sit down on the machine and place your feet on the platform at about shoulder width apart.

Push the weight off it’s resting position so your legs are fully extended and lower the safety bars. Don’t lock your knees at the top of this movement.

Inhale and slowly lower the plate down towards your chest until your legs are at a 90 degree angle.

Push from your heels as you bring the plate back to it’s starting position, and again don’t lock your knees out.

Dumbbell Or Barbell Lunges

Mechanics Type: Compound Lift

Primary Mover: Quadriceps

Secondary Movers: Glutes, Hamstrings, Calves

You can do this exercise either with dumbbells or a barbell across your back in a position just like the squat.

Holding the weight, step forward with your right leg and squat down through your hips while keeping your torso upright and remaining balanced. If you have a hard time balancing, start with dumbbell lunges before you start using a barbell. This exercise requires good balance.

As you step forward, make sure your knee doesn’t go past your toe because this will put extra stress on your knees. Keep your head up, back aligned, and keep looking forward.

Pushing through your heel, push yourself back up to the starting position. Take your next step forward with your opposite foot and repeat the process.

Barbell Deadlifts

Mechanics Type: Compound Lift

Primary Mover: Lower Back, Glutes

Secondary Movers: Forearms, Calves, Hamstrings, Lats, Quadriceps

Stand in front of a barbell that’s on the floor loaded with the weight you want to use.

Keep your back straight and bend your knees, reaching down and grasping the bar using a shoulder width overhand grip. This is the starting position for the exercise. If you have a hard time with your grip you can use lifting straps or weight lifting chalk. It also helps to use an alternate grip where one hand uses an overhand grip and the other hand uses an underhand grip.

Push with your legs, getting your body into the upright position as you exhale. At the top of the movement, stick your chest out and contract your back by bringing the shoulder blades back.

Go back to the starting position by bending your knees and lowering the weight back down to the ground in a controlled manor. Bring the weight down until it touches the ground and you are back at the starting position again, ready for your next rep.

Stiff-Legged Deadlifts (Romanian Deadlifts)

Mechanics Type: Compound Lift

Primary Mover: Hamstrings

Secondary Movers: Glutes, Lower Back

Grasp the bar with your palms facing down. If you’re using a lot of weight you may have a hard time with your grip. So just like the deadlift, you can use lifting straps or weight lifting chalk, or an alternate grip.

You can start with the bar on the ground or racked on a low peg on the squat rack. Your feet should be about shoulder width apart and your knees should be slightly bent and not locked out.

Bending at the hips and keeping your knees in place, lower the bar down so you feel your hamstrings stretch. Go as far down as you can comfortably go without hurting yourself of course. Exhale as you lower the weight down to the ground.

Bring the weight up by extending your hips until you’re back in the starting position with your back straight and holding the bar in front of you.

Lying Leg Curls

Mechanics Type: Isolation Lift

Primary Mover: Hamstrings

Secondary Movers: None

Adjust the leg curl machine for your height and lie face down on the machine and the pad resting just under your calf muscles.

Make sure your legs are fully stretched out when you begin, and squeeze your hamstring muscles to bring your feet up towards your butt. Exhale on this movement.

As you inhale, bring the weight back down to the starting position in a controlled manor.

Leg Extension

Mechanics Type: Isolation Lift

Primary Mover: Quadriceps

Secondary Movers: None

Adjust the leg extension machine to fit your height and take a seat. The pad should rest right above your foot at the bottom of your leg.

As you exhale contract your quads, pushing the weight up and fully extending your legs.

Slowly lower the weight back down to the starting position and repeat. It’s not necessary to bring your legs all the way back down to the starting position as this puts extra stress on your knees.

Calf Raises

Mechanics Type: Isolation Lift

Primary Mover: Calves

Secondary Movers: None

You can perform this exercise seated or standing.

Either way you will place your feet on a platform with your heels hanging off the edge

Push your heels up until you’re standing on your toes. Contract your calf muscles so you feel it. Hold the contraction for a second.

Now lower your heels back down to the starting position and repeat.

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