Importance of having strong leg muscles is immense. Most of the sports require you to have strong legs and even if you don’t play sports, having strong leg muscles helps you to stay active in daily life.
The good thing about leg strengthening exercises is that, you don’t need gym to do that, although going to gym will make that process easier and faster.
Many of the exercises to strengthen legs can be done without using any weight at all, but after a point of time you’ll hit a plateau.
To get out of that plateau you need to add more load, apart from your body weight. In this article, we will discuss both body weight and weighted exercises.
Exercises to strengthen legs
Running is one of the best way to strengthen your legs. But, you have to make sure to vary the intensity of running. If you are running at a very slow pace it won’t help you much.
Slow pace running should be used between two high intensity running sessions, in order to get the energy back. It is the high speed running which should be the centre of your workout.
The problem with most of the amateur runners is that they tend to under-utilise the hamstring muscles, which leads to using quads alone to run.
This will not only keep your hams under-trained but it will also tire you up quickly. In order to use hamstring and glutes more and run farther, you need to use right running techniques.
The right running techniques:
While running you need to bring your heels close to your butt while pushing forward. This will help to balance between quads, hams and calves equally.
If you don’t run properly, you won’t be able to strengthen your entire leg muscle set. Initially, you might have problem in doing it.
Therefore, it is important to practise. You can practise this technique is running slowly, with small strides and touching your heel to your butt each time your push forward.
Secondly, make sure that your feet remains in the contact of the ground for the shortest time possible.
Climbing stairs is one of the best exercises to strengthen your legs. Unlike running, you don’t have to reach to an high intensity.
In fact, for most of the people doing high intensity on stairs won’t be possible, as you’ll be coughing your lungs out in just a few minutes.
The reasons this is so effective is because you are going against the gravity, and anytime you do that, you’ll be breaking lots of fibres.
Breaking lots of fibre means building stronger and bigger muscles after they are repaired. Plus, the more fibres you break the more testosterone is produced.
You can start with normal stair climbing, but as your legs get stronger you can systematically skip a few steps. That means, you’ll be jumping.
The main advantage of running/climbing stairs is that, it allows you to target each and every muscle of your lower body, including your quads, hams, calves and glutes.
Climbing stairs will not only help you to strengthen your legs, but it will also help you to burn more fat.
Box jump, as the name suggest, involves jumping on a box from floor. Any decently tall box will need an explosive jump.
Explosive jump is tremendously helpful in strengthening your leg muscles. You don’t need to buy an actual box, the problem with that there is no scope to push yourself.
For example, if you buy a 2 feet tall box, after performing a few box jumps on it you’ll find it too easy to do, and the golden rule of muscle and strength building is that ‘if it is easy, it is not worth it.’
So, instead of buying an actual plyometric box, you can buy step up boxes. The benefit of step up boxes is that, you can increase the height of jump by stacking boxes.
Initially, you should start with less height and when you are extremely comfortable to jump to that height then only increase the stack.
The idea is, the higher you are going to jump the deeper you would have to go, which makes you involve different muscle groups.
Box jumps are used by athletes to increase the rate of force development(RFD). RFD is basically the maximum amount of force you can develop in minimum amount of time.
Squats are very good exercise to train every leg muscle, it also trains your lower back to some extent. As a beginner, body weight squats are enough, but you need to add load after sometime.
There are basically two types of training: Hypertrophy training and strength training. Hypertrophy works on build muscle size and strength training works on building muscle strength.
So, in order to gain strength, the approach should be a little different. We need to work with very heavy weights for 4-6 reps.
In order to do this, we need know the max 1 rep capacity. That is the maximum amount of weight you can squat for 1 rep.
Once you find that out, you need to use 75-80% of the max weight and do 4-6 reps. This will helps more with strength and less with size.
The power lifters use the same technique, hence they are much stronger than the bodybuilders of the same size.
In the beginning, instead of using free weights(barbell), you can go do squats on a smith machine. Smith machine takes the stabilisation part out of the picture.
But, it is always a better idea to do free weights, as stabilisation is also a key aspect in strength building and conditioning.
Cable leg kick backs
This is a nice exercise for strengthening your Glutes, especially the upper part. You use either a handle to this exercises or dedicated ankle cuffs are also available.
The first thing you have to keep in mind is that keep your leg as straight as possible, the straighter your leg the more tension you’ll feel on the glutes.
Lots of people while doing Cable kick backs, tend to curve their back. You need arch your lower back and keep your body up-straight.
Or, you can bend on something, but keep your back arched. Bending forward will help to increase the range of motion and squeeze the glutes better.
Squeezing is at the topmost position is the most important part, whether you do 2 or 20 reps, try to squeeze properly.
Don’t try to go too fast, it will disrupt the balance and drift the tension away from the desired muscles.
If you are having troubles with straight leg, then in the beginning you can bend your legs, and as the concerned muscles grow stronger you can go with straight leg.
Deadlift is considered one of the greatest compound exercise and if you want to increase testosterone you must include this into your routine.
But, by virtue of being a compound movement, its focus is not channelled to particular muscle. On the other hand, Romanian deadlift is more directed towards your hams.
The main idea behind a Romanian deadlift is that you shouldn’t bend your knees while trying to go as deep as you can.
So, in order to do that, you need to push your butt back, imagine pushing a car with your butt. This will give you a nice stretch in your hams and glutes.
You don’t have to go till bottom like a normal deadlift, anywhere below your knees will do.
Since, you are not using your quads and for most of the people hams are usually not as developed, so it is better to start with less weight or you may suffer a hamstring injury.
While doing it, make sure that your lower back is arched and your shoulder blades are stretched back.
The above exercises can be done at home. But, if you are looking to strengthen the muscles you have to target them through various angles and movement.
Leg press can be considered as a machine equivalent of squats. In this, instead of pushing your body up, you are pushing the weights up.
The muscle you train will be totally dependent on the position of your feet. If your feet are positioned at the top of the foot board, you’ll be targeting the hams and glutes more.
If the feet are at the bottom, then you’ll target the quads more. To balance load proportionally to all the muscles keep the feet at the centre, shoulder width apart.
The second thing that you got to keep in mind, is that you should only press using your heals, and not the toe or the entire sole.
Like squats, you should focus on doing low reps with heavy weights. Doing high reps-mid weight exercise will help you with size and not the strength.
Bulgarian split squat
In this exercise, you have to squat with one leg while keeping the other leg in an elevated position(bench) behind you.
There are many benefits of Bulgarian split squat. One of them is your ability to concentrate all the load of your body to one leg.
Secondly, doing this type of squat takes the stress from your lower back. So, people with lower back issues who can’t do normal squat can try this one.
Thirdly, as you are using only one leg, you can use not-very-heavy dumbbells to produce the same effect of normal squats with heavy barbell.
This can come very handy when you workout at home and don’t have necessary weights.
You need to keep your back straight and make sure that your knees don’t surpass the toes. Also, do all the work using forward leg.
Using the back leg to help yourself lift up will dilute the effect of the exercise.
Hip thrusters is the best exercise to target your glutes. Although, there are many exercises for glutes, but they are not nearly effective.
Hip thrusters can be seen as the more advance version of the glute bridge. It has more range of motion and you can lift more too.
This is a very simple exercise, but in order to make it more efficient you have to keep few things in mind.
For example, it is important to squeeze your butt at the topmost position. And, if possible hold for a few seconds.
The range of motion is very important, it helps you to bring hamstring into picture.
If you train at home and you don’t have heavy weights, then you can go on with the ‘single leg hip thrusters’.
As the name suggests, you have to do one leg at a time which helps to put all the load on a single leg.
The other leg can be extended straight or can be kept on the working leg, like you sit on a chair.
The problem with most of the exercises to strengthen legs is that they fail to train the inner part of the legs/thighs. Hence, for overall strength of legs we need to target that inner part also.
This can be done using side lunges, it helps you train almost all of the leg muscles. Like, normal lunges keep your back straight.
When you are pushing yourself back to the starting position, you should use only your heel and not the entire foot.
If you are doing this without weights, you can increase the intensity of the increase. The intensity and the speed is what will build the real strength.
To make it more difficult, do one leg at a time, it will keep the leg under tension for the maximum amount of time.
Doing this also helps prevent injury while playing sports, because the least untrained muscle or part of muscle is most prone to injury.
The is especially true while doing quick manoeuvres which requires sudden change of direction.
Many people find it very difficult to do normal lunges, the reason being, it is difficult to balance your body while going forward with that momentum.
Plus, when you are doing forward lunges the knee of your front leg will go forward over the toes which will put lot of pressure on them.
The reverse lunges works around both of these problems. While doing reverse lunge you have to keep the front leg static and take the other leg back.
Lot of people find this much more balanced approach, plus the strain on your knees is also less compared to the forward lunge.
Again, like side lunges, it is better to one side at a time, this helps to maintain tension of a single group of muscles.
Although, some prefer to do both legs together, as that helps to give equal energy to each legs, because after doing 1 set of, say left leg, you won’t be as energetic for right.
In lunges you use one leg, which means it is very easy to get off balance. Balancing your body is very important not only to prevent injury, but also for maximum gain.
Leg drive/knee drive
Leg drive is a type of mountain climbers, while mountain climbers focus more on your abdomen, the leg drive focus more on the legs.
This exercise will exhaust your muscles within a few minutes, especially when you maintain good intensity.
How to do leg drives:
- You have to get into the push up position, like mountain climbers.
- Then you bring one of the leg forward and lands it near your hand.
- You bring the back foot at the front while delivering the front foot at the back.
- Make sure to maintain the push ups position all the while.
Remember, in mountain climbers you don’t touch the foot in the front to the floor. In leg drive, you have to jump a little in order to do it.