August 17, 2023 4 min read

"Don't skip leg day" ... one of the very first phrases I heard when I got into working out. 

And there's actually a lot of truth behind that saying.

That's because our legs play a huge role in everything we do. And training your legs effectively has been shown to translate to the rest of your body, not just making your legs stronger ... but helping you gain strength, power, and overall stability.

Effective leg training also burns a lot of calories (maybe the most of any weight training workout) ... meaning it can play a huge role in helping you lose body fat too.

So today, I'm going to give you 5 of my favorite leg exercises ... and show you how you can put together an effective leg day workout!

But first, let's look at the main muscles involved in leg training:

Quadriceps (or Quads for short) - Your front, upper leg muscles. Used primarily for "pushing" type movements.

Hamstrings - Located on the back, upper leg ... opposite of your quad muscles. This muscle helps bend the knee (something we do a lot in daily life, sports, and workouts) and helps with hip extension.

Glutes - You probably know this one, it's your butt muscles. Your glutes play a huge role in explosive movements, overall strength, balance, and support you in a large variety of ways. So yes ... having a strong butt is important!

Calves - Your back lower leg muscles. They are the main driver in creating forward motion. So, without your calves, you wouldn't be able to even take a step forward. They also play a major role in explosive jumping movements.

It's important to be familiar with these muscle groups ... because a well-planned leg workout will target all of these muscles.

My 5 Favorite Leg Day Exercises  

Now, whether you do a traditional leg day, split it up between quads & hamstrings, or do more of a full-body style workout ... these are all great movements to add to any workout routine that involves leg training.

1) Squats - The "king" of leg workouts. And it's considered the king of leg workouts because it quite literally works almost every muscle in your legs. There's also countless variations of squats to where you can focus them more on quads, hamstrings, or glutes.

You can also perform a squat with no weight at all ... making them a great option if you work out from home or lack equipment.

Here's some different variations of squats:

-Barbell Back Squat
-Barbell Front Squat
-Hack Squats
-Dumbbell Squats
-Air Squats
-Bulgarian Split Squats (if you need a tough movement ... this is a brutal favorite of mine!)
-Hadfield Squats & Safety Bar Squats
-Goblet Squats
-Sumo Squats

2) Deadlifts - Commonly thought of as a back workout ... but it's more of a "full-body squat" that also uses your back, glutes & hamstrings. The muscles you work most in a deadlift depend on your form & goal with the movement.

Deadlifts (just like squats) work multiple muscle groups at once, and when done properly ... can be one of the most effective workouts there is for generating strength, power, and overall results.

3) Lunges - Another great movement for targeting multiple leg muscles. Lunges are great for building muscle & burning fat ... as well as building overall strength, power, and stability. These can be done weighted or non-weighted ... making them an awesome movement in the gym or at-home.

4) Calf Raises - One of the only workouts that will directly target your calf muscles alone. I know for me, it's tough to improve my calf muscles ... and this goes for most people I've worked with. We use our claves A LOT in everyday movements already. 

Because your calves get a lot of work in naturally, it's good to try multiple variations of calf raises. There's seated calf raises, standing calf raises, dumbbell calf raises ... and they can even be done using leg press machines too. It's also good to try higher weight with more reps and heavier weight with less reps ... all to make sure your calves are getting enough work.

5) Leg Press - Also a movement that has multiple different variations & machines that can be used. If you're someone dealing with an injury or maybe you're a beginner working up to a full-on squat ... the leg press can be a great tool to help you build strength.

It targets almost all of your main leg muscles ... and you can change that up based on the type of leg press or your foot placement. Even if you're an advanced lifter ... the leg press can be an awesome addition to a lower body workout.

Now when it comes to incorporating these movements into your personal workout routine ... try this:

For each movement, shoot for 1-2 warm up sets.

Then go into 3-4 working sets (where you actually push yourself) ... and shoot for 8-12 reps per set. Try to hit within 1-2 reps of failure for at least one of those working sets.

Here's just a few more notes to keep in mind with your leg workouts, and all your workouts for that matter:

- Picking & performing the right workouts are just a small part of your results

- If you're not giving your workouts the proper effort, performing them with the proper form, and being consistent with them ... you're not going to see great progress

- Your recovery & overall nutrition are going to be the biggest key to seeing consistent results

So ... if you need help with putting together a leg day (or any) workout plan, have questions about proper form, or need help with your nutrition ... we have you covered! Swing by your local S2 location & our N.A.S.M. Certified Personal Trainers will make sure you're set up to see the best possible results!

*This post was written by Andrew Lynn, who has a B.S. in Nutrition & Dietetics. He's also a N.A.S.M. Certified Personal Trainer and N.A.S.M. Certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist.