Leg workouts will improve your calves, hamstrings, quadriceps and glutes, as well as other muscles, joints and tendons in your legs, giving your upper body a strong base. A strong lower body doesn’t just mean you can squat a heavy weight, but you will also be better at sports and general day-to-day activities.
The upper leg begins at the hip and ends at the knee, with just one bone in it, called the femur. The quads and hamstrings are the major muscles in the upper leg.
The quads are a four-muscle group at the front of your thigh, and are used to extend the lower leg and knee.
The hamstrings are three muscles at the back of your thigh, and are involved in knee and hip movements.
The lower leg begins at the knee and ends at your ankle. It consists of the fibula and the tibia, with the latter meeting the femur to create your knee.
The calf muscle is actually made up of two muscles, the gastrocnemius and the soleus. The gastrocnemius is larger and is the ‘bulge’ visible on your lower leg. The soleus is a smaller, flatter muscle underneath the gastrocnemius.
Your bottom is made up of three main muscles, the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus. The gluteus maximus is primarily involved with thigh extension. The gluteus medius and gluteus minimus perform similar functions, such as abducting the thigh, and dealing with thigh rotations.
There are many different exercises you can include in your leg workouts, allowing you to mix things up and keep it interesting.
Although bodyweight exercises can give you strong, toned legs, for greater strength and muscle size you will want to use leg weight machines and free weights. You can train your legs with squats and lunges, for example, but for greater gains in a shorter period of time, then you will want to include weights in these exercises.
It is important to make sure you are capable of performing all exercises safely. Push yourself, but not so far that you are likely to sustain an injury.
Squats are one of the most popular exercises in leg workouts, and instructions on squats using weights can be found in our Power Stations page. Below you can find instructions on bodyweight exercises you can include in a leg workout.
How to do:
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, and lightly place your hands on the back of your head. This is the starting position.
Bend your legs at the knees, and sit your hips back as you lower yourself down. Keep your head and chest up, looking ahead of you during the exercise, and push your knees out slightly as you squat down.
Go down as far as you can manage, without losing your stability. Once you have completed a deep squat, in a controlled manner, reverse the action and stand back up again, resulting in the completion of one rep.
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, with your hands placed on your hips. This is the starting position.
Take a big step forward with your left leg, bending at the knee and lowering down to the floor. Your right leg should bend at the knee simultaneously, as you lower yourself down, until your right knee is just above the floor. Your upper body should remain upright throughout.
Now, both legs should be bent at approximately 90 degrees. Hold this position for one second, before rising, using just the power of your legs, and step back with your left leg, returning to the standing position. Repeat the process with your right leg going forwards, resulting in the completion of one rep.
You can also hold weights during this exercise to make it more difficult.
It is recommended to familiarise yourself with normal lunges before performing this exercise.
Perform a normal lunge, with your left leg forward and your right leg back. Jump up, switching your leg positions, so that your right leg is now forward and your left leg is now back.
This results in the completion of one rep, and you should ideally aim to complete these for a certain period of time, rather than a certain number of repetitions.
Double-leg calf raise
Stand in a clear space on the floor, with your feet hip width apart raise your heels ever so slightly off the floor, so all your weight is on your toes and the balls of your feet. You heels should be “hovering”. This is the starting position.
Push down into the floor with your toes and the balls of your feet, lifting your heels further off the ground, contracting your calf muscles as your ankles extend, raising you up.
Once you have risen as high as you can, hold the position for one second, before carefully returning back down to the starting position, resulting in the completion of one rep. Essentially this exercise is like when you “go on your tiptoes”, but the balls of your feet remain on the floor.
The exercise can also be done whilst standing on a step or raised object, with your heels hanging back over the edge. This means there is a greater range of motion when performing the calf raises, increasing the effectiveness and helps to work your calf muscles along their full length. Take great care to keep your balance, use a stable platform, and don’t over-strecth your calves as this could result in injury.
Another variation is to use one leg at a time, which is known as the single-leg calf raise. You perform the same exercise, except that you lift one leg completely off the floor during each set. Once you have done calf raises for one leg, switch and do them for the other leg.
To increase the difficulty of any variety of calf raises, you can hold some weights, such as a pair of dumbbells. This will provide more resistance to the exercise, helping you build stronger legs.