5 Best Leg Exercises To Build Muscle


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Working your legs is one of the best ways to lose fat and gain strength, so it’s definitely important to have a good repertoire of exercises you can call on anytime you’re ready to make it an intense day at the gym.

We asked our five experts about their favorite leg exercises and compiled quite a list! From squats to deadlifts, with these exercises, hopefully you’ll always have a great way to strength train your legs to gain muscle.

Best Leg Exercises To Build Muscle #1 – Glute Bridge

Kristin Rooke
  1. Single-leg glute bridge: Helps build pelvic and knee stability, and sets you up for stronger squats and lunges. It’s important to build a solid foundation before attacking bigger movements. I use this exercise as a warm-up to activate the glutes and hamstrings before doing weighted leg exercises.
  2. Squats: front, back, goblet, and dumbbell squats. There are so many ways to perform a squat, and all of them will help build muscle. If you have back issues, stay away from back squats. I really like front and goblet squats because they encourage tall posture and you can really feel your abs working to support your spine.
  3. Lunges: again, there are numerous variations of a lunge, and they all offer great benefits. Forward, backward, walking, balancing, and side lunges. They challenge your balance and work all the muscles in the legs.
  4. Deadlifts: bent-leg and straight-leg, deadlifts are great at targeting the glutes, hamstrings, and low back. Make sure to keep your core tight and spine straight. Rounding the spine in a dead-lift takes the work out of the glutes/hamstrings and places all the weight in your spine which could lead to injury. Proper form is essential to reap the benefits of a deadlift.

- Kristin Rooke

Best Leg Exercises To Build Muscle #2 – Back Squats

marc perry

I think the top 5 leg exercises for building muscle are also the top 5 exercises for losing fat, or gaining strength, so really they are my top 5 favorite leg exercises in general.

I think it’s important to understand an exercise can only help you build muscle in the context of a workout that has sufficient volume and intensity that is combined with eating a surplus of calories. In other words, you can have a “muscle building” workout that won’t help you build an ounce of muscle if you eat less calories than you burn. In fact, some of my favorite fat loss types of workouts can double as muscle building, because the only thing that needs to change is the calorie intake.

With that said, here are my top 5:

  1. Squats – I listed these as the “Best Exercise to Build Muscle
  2. Walking Lunges- They have a plyometric element while engaging the glutes, quads, and hamstrings.
  3. Trap-Bar Deadlift -I think they are safer, better risk/reward than traditional deadlifts
  4. Jump Squats Holding Dumbbells – This is a way to burn out the legs and achieve significant muscle stimulation
  5. Running in Soft Sand – Not really a strength training exercise, but it’s a killer workout and will thoroughly work your entire lower body.

- Marc Perry ,CSCS, CPT

Best Leg Exercises To Build Muscle #3 – Front Squats

john leyva

Squats and their variations such as high and low back squats, front squats, etc. Squats work so much musculature and when done heavy or even with high enough reps, can be great for leg development.

Behind those would be Deadlifts and their variations from standard to Romanian to trap bar, etc. These work more the back of the legs and are another great way to add musculature to your legs, especially when done how to do them correctly. Split Squats and their variations are great for those just beginning or who have muscular imbalances (which is most people).

The Leg Press is actually one of my favorite exercises for adding musculature to the legs simply because you can do a lot of weight for a lot of reps without worrying about your whole body moving. Step-ups and their variations ranging from front to side, etc. These can be combined with other single-legged movements and can provide another great way to balance out any imbalances.

- John Leyva

Best Leg Exercises To Build Muscle #4 – Deadlifts

Stephen Bergeron

The leg exercises that will help you build the most muscle are the ones that utilize full body movements. Squats, deadlifts, lunges, split squats, RDLs and all variations of these exercises will recruit the greatest amount of muscle fibers.

This will cause your body to release more testosterone and natural growth hormones to allow you to build some diesel muscle! First master these exercises and then work on loading them up with heavy weight for the best results. You must first get strong to get big!

- Stephen Bergeron

Best Leg Exercises To Build Muscle #5 – Deadlifts

miguel aragoncillo

Deadlifts – King of exercises here. Whether it is used with a trap bar variation, rack pull, or any other variation, it is bound to fry not only your legs, but also grip, upper back and traps, and of course your hips. All around great stimulus for building muscle.

Back Squat – Second if not also another highly coveted exercise for building muscle. A few studies have actually been published on the affect of exercise hormones and back squat in relation to a total rep max percentage, and one in particular has noted that the higher up the volume and rep max percentage, the more neuro-endocrine response.

Lunges – Pick your poison – reverse, forward, even lateral. The potential for loading is almost infinite – you can hold dumbbells, kettle bells, use a barbell, or even a sandbag if you want to get a little crazy! The variety that one can use with lunges is what attracts me in terms of splitting up a leg routine.

Rear Foot Elevated Split Squats – These particular lunges are saved for the advanced folk – the extra height, different leverage, and balance required are all what make this exercise relatively difficult. Once you gain the requisite balance, you can really get the glutes, quads, and hammies going with this one.

Barbell Hip Thrusts – Because of the leverages used in this exercise, it is very easy to add weight to this exercise. At the same time, we want to be sure we are using the correct form for this – and not hyperextending our back during the movement. If we apply these principles, we can certainly get a great response out of the exercise – and develop a great looking posterior at the same time!

- Miguel Aragoncillo

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5 Comments on “5 Best Leg Exercises To Build Muscle

  1. James
    May 30, 2013 #

    Could you provide an explanation or demonstration video of a glute bridge? Also, is a walking lunge superior to a standard lunge? It can be tough to find enough space at the GYM to do walking lunges.

    1. May 30, 2013 #

      @James – A glute bridge is like a hip thrust from the ground. Start lying on your back with your legs bent and heels against your glutes, arms at your sides. You thrust your hips into the air until your hips cannot go any higher, then come back down. There are several different variations and ways to make it harder, including adding a barbell across your hips and thrusting it up that way. Regarding forward lunges vs. walking lunges, they are different exercises and one is not better than the other. The walking lunges tend to hit your glutes a bit more because they require you to propel yourself forward. I personally like walking lunges as they seem very natural to me, but also do forward and reverse.

  2. Kevin
    May 30, 2013 #

    You guys have “#5″ twice…missing #4. Just letting ya know! :)

    1. May 30, 2013 #

      @Kevin – Thanks for letting us know, just fixed it.

  3. James
    June 3, 2013 #

    Thank for your quick and informative response. Since I started the Built Lean program I have lost 10 lbs and dropped my body fat from 17% to 12%. I have learned so much about nutrition and your strength circuits have really enhanced my workouts. Thank you Built Lean staff!

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