The most Effective Leg Exercises in the Gym

With all of the possible exercises and exercise combinations—squats, lunges, calf raises, leg presses, step-ups—leg workout days can be killer. Because the legs are made up of such large muscles, and because so many lower body exercises are compound exercises, it is not difficult to work the legs hard. The best leg workouts always involve 2-3 exercises that really pound the legs. These have also been some of the hardest workouts I have ever made it through. If you’re interested in real weight lifting, then this article is for you. Perform the following leg workout for maximum results.

Warm-up with some light cardio for a few minutes. Push it a bit at the end to get your muscles warm and push your heart rate up. Also, read this to get fit the right way.

Cable Squats

If you’re new to the cable/ weight stack apparatus, take a minute to find the right amount of counterbalance weight. If the machine is adjustable, move the pulleys and handle almost to the floor. During the squat, grip the handle or bar close to your chest, and allow the weight stack to counterbalance as you flex your knees and push your hips back and down. Try to keep your weight evenly distributed between and over your feet as you squat down and back up.

The narrower the stance, the more the quads get worked. Stand firmly with legs shoulder-width apart. To target your vastus medialis (inner quads muscle), do a set or two while squeezing a small, inflatable ball between your knees.

Try a one-legged squat by lowering your upper body with both legs, then transferring most or all of your body weight to one leg as you push back to your starting position.

The most Effective Leg Exercises in the Gym
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Between barbell squats, calf raises, and plyometric lunges, and work with resistance bands, my legs felt like jelly as I left the gym.

Sidesteps with Resistance Band

If you do this one right, it should make your glutes and outer thighs burn. The middle and side quads are hit extremely hard and that’s what makes this effective. Step on the center, grasping a resistance band. Begin feet 18 inches apart. Drop the hip downwards steadily as you keep the band tightly pulled. Pick up your right foot (the band should come with it) and take as large a step as possible to the side. Follow this with your other foot. For one set, take 10-15 steps to the right; then retrace your steps moving to the left. Try to keep your knees bent and move at a pace where you constantly feel resistance.

Plyometric Lunges

Any type of lunge is a great leg workout, as long as you focus on keeping your knee behind your foot and not letting your legs “wobble” back and forth. Plyometrics are included for their capacity to develop explosive power and general athleticism. Granted, they aren’t up there with barbell back squats but they certainly pack a punch. Begin in a standard lunge position. From the lowest position, jump up and switch your legs (moving one forward and the other back). Land in the opposite position to the one you started in, and lower yourself again into a squat. Focus on correct form, and maintain an upright stance from beginning to end.

The best leg workout you’ve ever had should start off with a few sets of each of these exercises, for versatile, compound lower-body movements. If you find yourself wanting more, try upping your squat weight, or using a band with more resistance for your side steps. Even if you won’t call it the best leg workout of your life, I’m betting that your legs will concede it’s a good one.

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