We all need to keep our legs strong. For athletes, they form the powerhouse of pretty much every single move. For everyone, athletes and non-athletes alike, they are quite obviously indispensable. They keep us moving from point A to point B, allowing us to stay mobile and independent, and to do all the things we need and like to do. Joining a 'gym near me' will be your first step to maintaining strong and functional legs. Having strong legs will keep us fit and healthy into old age and will spare us many of the aches, pains and health concerns that beset the elderly.
We won’t linger over the point. Training your legs is good and healthy, end of. What we want to look at here is how to go about doing so- what are the best movements you can incorporate into your everyday life or your training regime to build stronger, more functional legs?
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We’re going to list 10 exercises below, some of which can be performed at home, some only at the gym. Choose from them. If you slot five of them into the following workout, you will have everything you will ever need to be able to train your legs to a high standard. Mix and match for variety and you will have more than enough different leg workouts to keep you going.
Time: 20-30 minutes
Essential equipment: Bodyweight
Supplementary equipment: Looped resistance band, stability ball, dumbbells (when we come to the final few, you will need a gym or home-gym. If you don’t have a gym, search online for ‘Gyms near me’, invest in a gym membership, maybe even try out some fitness classes.)
Works: legs and posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, quads, calves, lower back)
To perform: Choose five exercises from the list below, starting with the larger movements like squats and lunges. Perform four sets of 10 to 12 reps of each move. Then, rest for 30 to 60 seconds and continuing onto the next. This should take about 20-30 minutes. If you’re just starting out, take longer rests and allow more like 40-60 minutes.
- Goblet squat
The goblet squat works your legs, core and lower back very nicely. Hold whatever weight you have to hand out in front of your chest. Kettlebells work best, though dumbbells, sandbags, or even bags of sugar can suffice.
Push your hips back, lower yourself down into a squat, then reverse. This is one rep. Keep the weight a foot or so in front, level and balanced throughout.
If you don’t have a weight, that’s fine. Perform these as bodyweight squats.
- Stability ball bridge
The bridge is one of the best exercises going for glute strength and core stability. For this, we’ll be using a stability ball. If you don’t have one, just use a chair or step. If you have nothing you can use, keep your feet on the ground and perform a regular bridge- you will still get most of the benefit.
Lie on your back with your arms to your side, legs bent at right angles with your shins parallel to the ground, and your feet up on a stability ball. Pushing into your soles and keeping your core and shoulders steady, raise your hips up until your thighs and torso form a straight line. Return to an inch or so from the ground. This is one rep.
- Reverse lunges
The first of our lunges. Lunges are amazing for eliciting hypertrophy (muscle growth) through your quads and glutes. Reverse lunges in particular work balance and thigh power.
You can perform these either with weights in each hand, a weight in one hand, a barbell across your shoulders, or no weight at all other than bodyweight.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Step back with one leg into a striding position and bend both knees. Dip your rear knee down to an inch or so from the ground. Pause, then push your rear foot into the ground and return to the start position. This is one rep.
Repeat on the other side or do all on one side then all on the other.
- Walking lunges
Walking lunges are the static lunges’ big brother. Perform these as you would the reverse lunge, with the same weight set up and the same start position.
However, from here, step forwards, not backwards. Lunge down, with your rear knee an inch or so from the ground, then step forwards, bringing your rear foot next to your front foot. You will have taken a step forwards from your starting position. Repeat on alternating sides, ‘walking’ forwards with each step.
- Duck walks
Ducks walks are good for hip mobility and some quite significant quad strength. They are also great for use in a larger circuit, bringing your heart rate up through a few different ranges of motion. To perform duck walks, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and cross your hands in front of your chest. Squat down about ¾ of the way. Keep your hips stable, then lower one knee down to the ground, followed by the other. Bring the first foot forward, then the second, and return to your ¾ squat. This is one rep.
- Step ups
Step ups are mechanically similar to lunges. However, the quad stretch is a bit more intense, the stimulus into the glutes a bit more, and there is a heightened amount of stability and core control practice involved in them.
Stand facing a box, step, chair or bench. Either have weights in your hands, at your sides, on a barbell, across your shoulders, or simply rely on your own bodyweight to provide resistance. Place one foot on the box, lean forwards slightly, and stand up, onto the bench. Reverse the motion then repeat on the other side. This is one rep.
In the gym (getting heavy)
Sometimes it’s good to go heavy. You’ll need kit for these exercises, so make sure to invest in a good gym membership. If you don’t know which gym to go to, search online for ‘gyms near me’, find one that’s well-rated, and go along for a trial session.
Use these exercises in the above template, but rest for 2-3 minutes between each set.
- Squats (high and low bar)
Squats are the king of all lower body movements, leading to significant improvements in hypertrophy and strength. If you have access to a gym, get in the squat racks, load a bar up so that you can comfortably hit 10-12 reps, and begin your workout with them.
To squat, rest the bar either across your traps (high bar) or across the backs of your shoulders (low bar), and then follow the instructions above for goblet squats. You will be able to lift far more weight with low bar squats than high bar and will experience a slight forward tilt to your body as you move down into it.
If anything vies with squats for the top spot, it’s deadlifts. They are arguably the ultimate exercise for posterior chain development. It brings about a healthy amount of hamstring growth, and a serious degree of strength improvement. However, the movement itself is very involved- if you’re ever going to pay a trainer, do so now and have someone demonstrate how to deadlift correctly.
- Bulgarian split squats
These are similar to lunges, except that you keep all your weight on one leg throughout the whole movement before moving onto the next. For Bulgarian split squats, you will need to rest your rear foot on a box, bench or step. Then, lunge downwards with the front leg. Either perform weighted or unweighted, as with lunges.
One lunge, down then up, is one rep.
- Hack squat
Hack squats get very heavy as they are a very mechanically secure version of the regular squat. You can use a hack squat or leg press machine in your local gym, sitting in the seat, with your feet on the plate. Lower the weight down to your farthest range of motion then press it away. This is one rep.
The hack squat will give you similar development to the squat, but they are far easier to learn and perform.
This program, and the 10 exercises included, will give you everything you need to begin a good-quality leg training regime. For progressive overload, try adding a little more weight or a couple more reps to each exercise every couple of weeks.