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14 Best Barbell Leg Exercises (Transform Your Lower Body)

Tyler Sellers
Published by Tyler Sellers | Senior Coach
Last updated: August 11, 2023

Barbell is the fitness equipment frequently used to perform most of the lower body exercises.

I love building my lower body musculature through various barbell leg exercises.

I regularly implement barbell exercises into my workout regime to increase my lower body's hypertrophy or muscle-building potential.

Today, I compiled a list of the best barbell leg exercises that develop strong musculature in your lower body.

Quick Summary

  • Always raise your body's temperature before performing barbell leg exercises to avoid injury.
  • The best barbell leg exercises for developing strong lower body musculature include back squats, lunges, and deadlift variations.
  • Aim to place your compound barbell exercises first in your workouts, isolation and single-joint exercises at the end.

14 Best Barbell Leg Exercises

A person lifting a barbell for leg exercises

Here is the list of the best barbell leg exercises I regularly implement into my workouts.

I tested all these exercises and believe they are the best for building your leg muscles.

The beginner can perform almost everything from the list, but you should start with lighter loads if you are an inexperienced lifter to avoid getting injured.

1. Barbell Front Squat

Barbell Front Squat is an excellent and core-challenging lower-body exercise. The front squat activates the quadriceps, glutes, hips, and hamstrings. It is a highly functional exercise used across various workout regimes.

How to Perform a Barbell Front Squat:

  1. The first thing to do is to step up to the rack and put the bar on the meaty part of your chest.
    The bar shouldn't touch your neck but be very close to it.
  2. Take a shoulder-width grip with your hands, and place your fingers under and around the bar so the elbows face forward and up.
    Placing two fingers is fine if you lack wrist mobility and can't get all four fingers under the bar. (middle and forefinger).
  3. Puff your pectoral muscles so that no pressure is left on your fingers.
    Your fingers should never support the whole weight of the bar.
  4. Unrack the bar, step back and place your fit a little wider than hip distance apart.
  5. Lower the body into a deep squat with your thighs parallel to the ground.
  6. Reverse the squat in a controlled manner, extend your hips and knees simultaneously, and get back to the starting position.

2. Barbell Back Squat

A woman doing barbell back squats

Back squat belongs to the big three lifts and is considered essential along with deadlifts and bench presses.

Back squats activate muscles such as the lower back (erector spinae), glutes, quads, and hamstrings.

How to Perform a Barbell Back Squat:

  1. Take your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Slide under the barbell, place it on your upper back and use your arms to balance the weight and your body weight without sliding on either side.
  3. Take a step back and slightly bend your knees to avoid hyperextension.
    Find a comfortable position to lower yourself to the deep squat.
  4. Slowly bend your knees and hip until your thighs parallel to the floor.
  5. Hold that position for 1 second, and raise back up to the standing position with your knees slightly bent.

Also Read: Best Barbell Shoulder Exercises

3. Front Racked Barbell Reverse Lunge

Front racked barbell reverse lunge is a dynamic lower body exercise that will challenge your adductor muscles.

This exercise targets muscles such as your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and adductor complex, which keeps you stable when lunging backward.

How to Perform a Front-Racked Barbell Reverse Lunge:

  1. Load a barbell on the rack, slide below, and place it on your upper back.
  2. Slowly lift the barbell, step back, and slightly bend your knees.
  3. Lunge backward with your right leg while bending the left knee and your hip at the same time.
  4. Stop when your right is just above the floor, and your left thigh is almost parallel to the ground.
  5. Push with your right foot, but aim to return to the starting position, mainly with the quads and glutes of your left leg.
  6. Repeat with the other leg.

4. Barbell Split Squat

A buff male doing barbell split squats

Barbell split squat is a semi-unilateral squat that challenges your stabilizers and single-leg strength.

Barbell split squats will activate the muscles such as your quads, hamstrings, glutes, core, and an adductor magnus, which keeps you stable while exercising.

How to Perform a Split Squat:

  1. Load the barbell with the appropriate weight and put it on your upper back.
  2. Step backward while maintaining the stable frame and put your feet shoulder-width apart.
  3. Again, step back with your right foot and remain in the split position.
  4. Start lowering yourself to the ground by bending your front(left) leg and hip.
  5. Stop lowering yourself when your right knee almost touches the ground, and the thigh of your left foot is parallel to it.
  6. Hold for 1 second in the bottom position and bring yourself up to the starting split squat position.
  7. Repeat with the same leg for a specific number of reps, then switch the working legs.

5. Barbell Good Morning

Barbell good mornings are challenging for people with insufficient or underdeveloped posterior chain muscles.

Good mornings will challenge your glutes and abs, especially your hamstrings and back (erector spinae).

How to Perform a Barbell Good Morning:

  1. Put a barbell on your back and hold it with your hands slightly wider compared to squatting.
  2. Take two steps back to free the space in front of you to perform the exercise without any interference.
  3. Brace your abdominals and upper back, and take a deep breath in.
  4. Slowly bend your hips forward while maintaining a fixed position in your knees.
    Send the hips backward and your upper body forward.
  5. Stop hinging when your upper body gets parallel to the floor.
  6. As you exhale, slowly return to the starting position.

6. Barbell Hip Thrust

A woman doing barbell hip thrusts in the gym

Barbell hip thrust is a glute bridge variation mainly focusing on developing your lower body posterior chain.

It will challenge your glutes and hamstrings if you execute it correctly.

How to Perform a Barbell Hip Thrust:

  1. Assume a seated position on the floor with your knees bent and feet wider than hip distance apart.
    Turn your toes out slightly and rest your upper back (shoulder wings or lower scapula) against the edge of the weight bench in its center.
  2. Place the loaded barbell across the hips and hold it with your hands to keep it in place.
    Don't use your arms to lift it.
  3. Squeeze your posterior chain leg muscles, glutes, and hamstrings, and keep the core tights while pressing the bar straight up until the hips are with the knees and shoulders.
  4. Hold for 1 second in the top position and slowly lower yourself to the starting position without touching the floor.
  5. Squeeze the posterior chain leg muscles and repeat the process for the desired number of repetitions.

“By training the ‘non-mirror’ muscles — the glutes, hamstrings, calves, and back — you get the most bang for your buck when it comes to performance.”

- Todd Durkin, Strength Coach & Owner of Fitness Quest 10

7. Barbell Romanian Deadlift

Barbell Romanian deadlift is often used for beginners who aren't ready for traditional deadlifts.

It is effective for developing the gluteus maximus, your hamstrings muscles, and erector spinae.

How to Perform a Barbell Romanian Deadlift:

  1. Load the barbell on the floor, place your shins close to it, and lift it with your hands a little wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Slightly bend your knees to avoid hyperextending them.
  3. Start driving your hips backward while bending your torso forward and sliding the barbell in front of your body.
  4. Stop when your hand passes below the knees and hold for one second.
  5. Slowly reverse the motion and return to the starting position without rounding your back or bending/extending the knees.

8. Barbell Low Rack Pull

A man doing barbell low racks in the gym

The barbell low rack pull is similar to a Romanian deadlift but starts from the rack and activates some additional muscles.

The low rack pull is excellent for developing lower body posterior chain muscles, and upper body muscles such as the lats and traps.

How to Perform a Barbell Low Rack Pull:

  1. Set the rack for the appropriate height, usually just below or above your knees.
  2. Place the barbell on the rack and load it with the appropriate weight.
  3. Step up to the barbell and get into the position by bending the knees and hips slightly (feet shoulder-width apart)
  4. Grasp the bar just about your shoulder width with a double overhand grip.
  5. Lift the barbell while extending your hips and knees simultaneously.
  6. Hold the top position for 1 second and return to the starting position in a controlled manner without dropping the bar on the rack.

9. Sumo Deadlift

The Sumo deadlift is an alternative to the traditional deadlift that, most of the time, taller people prefer.

The wide stance allows easier lowering while working your quads, glutes, hamstring, and inner thighs.

Sumo deadlift may be the best deadlift variation for building your adductor strength.

How to Perform a Sumo Deadlift:

  1. Start by loading the bar on the floor with an appropriate amount of weight.
  2. Put your feet in front of the bar and place your shins close to the bar.
  3. Hold the barbell with alternating grip shoulder width apart.
  4. Straighten your back, activate your abdominal muscles, and slowly lift the barbell by extending your hips and knees simultaneously.
  5. Never bend your elbows during the upward motion. They should always remain straight.
  6. Finish in the top position, hold for 1 or 2 seconds, and slowly put the bar on the floor by reversing the movement.

10. Barbell Standing Calf Raise

A buff male doing barbell standing calf raise

Barbell standing calf raise is an accessory lift that you can implement at the end of your workouts or during rest intervals.

It targets your calf muscles, including the soleus and gastrocnemius.

You can load your bilateral calf raises with a significant amount of weight because the ankle's lever system is one of force, meaning it can lift more weights with less effort.

How to Perform a Barbell Standing Calf Raise:

  1. Place the barbell on the rack and load it with the appropriate weight.
  2. Slide below the barbell and place it on your upper back.
  3. Take a small step back and stand tall to support the barbell without losing balance with your toes facing forward.
  4. Raise both heels from the floor and contract your calf muscles on each leg.
  5. Maximally extend your ankle joint (maximal plantar flexion) and hold the position for 1 second.
  6. Slowly return to the starting position while spending the least time on the floor with your heels.

11. Barbell Walking Lunges

Barbell walking lunges are one of the most functional exercises you can perform to increase the strength of your lower body.

Walking lunges are a challenging exercise that requires dynamic stabilization of your joints.

It will target your anterior and posterior chain muscles while being extremely tough on your adductors since they aren't made for extended contraction.

How to Perform Walking Lunges:

  1. Place the barbell on the rack and load it with weight plates.
  2. Put the loaded barbell on your back and find an open space to make up to 16 steps without interruption.
  3. Slowly start lunging forward with your right leg until your left knee is 1 inch above the floor.
  4. Transition with your left leg by lunging it forward and repeating the same process for the desired amount of repetitions.

12. Barbell Side Lunges

A person doing barbell side lunges

Barbell side lunge is a lower body exercise that will build strength in your frontal plane, which is often forgotten to be included in the workout program.

It effectively works out your quads, glutes, hamstrings, abductors, and adductors.

How to Perform a Barbell Side Lunge:

  1. Place the barbell on the rack, load it with weights, and put it on your upper back.
  2. Exit the rack by taking a step back with both of your feet.
  3. Take a shoulder-width stance and lunge with your right leg laterally on the same side while keeping your core tight and back straight.
  4. Lower yourself to the position where your right thigh is parallel to the ground.
  5. Hold for 1 or 2 seconds in the bottom position and reverse the process by returning to the start.
  6. Repeat with the other leg keep performing the exercise alternatively.

13. Barbell Single Leg Deadlift

Barbell single-leg deadlift is the king of unilateral posterior chain exercises.

It will teach you to remain stable in your ankle, knee, and hip joint while performing plyometrics and other reactive exercises.

It targets all muscles like a regular deadlift.

The unilateral component requires massive activation of your gluteus medius and adductor magnus, the two muscles responsible for preventing movement in the frontal place when isometrically contracted.

How to Perform a Single-Leg Deadlift:

  1. Place the barbell on the floor and load it with weight plates.
  2. Lift the barbell to the top position without rounding up your back.
  3. Shift the balance to the right leg and start bending your hip forward while extending the left leg backward and up.
  4. The amount of bending forward should be equal to lifting and extending your left leg backward.
  5. During the lowering phase, the barbell should be kept close to the body, preferably sliding on its surface with barely touching it.
  6. Lower the barbell below your knees and pause for 1 second.
  7. Reverse the process by extending your hip and lowering your left leg to the starting position.

14. Barbell Step-up

A buff male doing a barbell step up

Barbell step-up is another unilateral lower-body exercise challenging both anterior and posterior chain muscles.

Your quads and glutes will play the most significant role in lifting your body, while hamstrings and back muscles will work synergistically to help them.

How to Perform a Barbell Step-up:

  1. Load the barbell on the tack and place it on your upper back while remaining balanced.
  2. Place your right foot on the box and push through your heel to lift to the top position while simultaneously bringing your left foot on the platform.
  3. Reverse the process by stepping back down with your right foot, following with the left.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions with one leg, then switch to the other.

Warming Up for Barbell Leg Exercises

A buff male holding up a barbell in the gym

Every intense workout needs to be done after an adequate warm-up.

Warming up our body before an activity is essential since our muscle fibers can stretch and contract better when our bodies' temperature increases.

To warm up for barbell leg exercises, here are three things you should do:

  1. Raising body temperature - Go for a 3 min treadmill run, elliptical, or even do some rope jumping. The main goal here is to increase your body's temperature so that your muscles can contract easily and your joints achieve a more extensive range of motion.
  2. Dynamic warm-up - Find sufficient space, preferably up to 8 meters in length. Perform the following exercises: carioca, side shuffle, backpedal jog, walking knee to chest, lunge walk with the twist, heel-to-rear jog, straight leg kick, and power skip. Every exercise should be done once, or one length of the free space (8 meters) you have found.
  3. Activation - Do 2 sets of 8 repetitions with as little rest between the following exercises: single-leg floor hip thrust, quadruped hip abduction, dead bug.

After raising your body temperature, completing a dynamic warm-up, and muscle activation, you are ready to start with your barbell exercises.

“In as little as 5 to 15 minutes, you can increase blood flow, send oxygen to the working muscles, prepare your muscles and nerves for an upcoming effort, improve range of motion, and most importantly, prepare your mind for the workout ahead.”

- Marni Sumbal, Exercise Physiologist & Founder of TriMarni Coaching & Nutrition

Barbell Programming Suggestions

A man doing barbell lifts in the gym

Programming your exercises and deciding upon the intensity, the number of sets and reps, and rest intervals is challenging.

All these factors will affect your end goal, which can be hypertrophy, endurance, strength, power, or something similar.

Poor exercise selection and order of your exercises can affect your performance and sometimes even increase the chance of injury [1].

Related Articles:

Exercise Order

When deciding the order of your exercises, consider similar movement patterns, muscle group activations, and joints used.

The first rule is to place compound exercises at the beginning and isolation ones at the end, so you will first complete your barbell squats and leave barbell calf exercise for the end of your workout.

This can also be thought of as placing multi-joint exercises first and single-joint exercises later.

The second rule is to alternate between movement patterns and joints used.

For example, deadlift and squat variations should be placed after one another because they are different movement patterns.

The deadlift is a more hip-dominant exercise, while squats are a more knee-dominant exercise.

Try using these two principles to order your workouts logically and coherently.

Barbell Sets & Reps for Strength

A buff male doing barbell reps

You should always aim to keep your reps below 6 for strength.

The 1-6 repetition range is the best for developing leg muscle strength and maximal strength [2].

The number of sets should be anywhere from 3-5, depending on your freshness, fitness level, soreness, and so on.

Always aim to do a strength workout when you have ingested enough nutrients and had enough rest.

Barbell Sets & Reps for Muscle

The best number of repetitions for developing muscle hypertrophy is 6-12.

You should do 2-5 sets of 12 repetitions for each exercise and aim to rest for as little as possible in between, preferably not more than 90 seconds.

Sample Barbell Leg Workout

A buff male lifting up a barbell

Here is a sample barbell leg workout:

  • Barbell Back Squat
  • Barbell Hip Thrust
  • Barbell Split Squat
  • Barbell Romanian Deadlift
  • Barbell Calf Raises

Do these exercises in the order provided for 2 sets of 8 repetitions each, for 90 seconds rest in-between.

"Adding leg exercises to your routine allows you to focus on muscle groups that get underworked and neglected during your daily life, sports or other exercise. Strengthening these muscles can help you to prevent imbalances."

- Josh Lewis, NSCA Personal Trainer


Are Barbell Squats the Best Leg Exercise?

Yes, barbell squats are the best leg exercise. This is because barbell squats effectively target all your quadriceps and posterior muscles, such as the glutes and hamstrings.

What Is the King of Leg Exercises?

The king of leg exercises is squat. However, the king of all workouts is considered a deadlift due to its high demand on the whole body.

What Is Better Than a Barbell Squat?

Lunges are better than a barbell squat. Lunges are a more functional lower-body exercise that will challenge your adductor muscles and have a more significant carryover to your daily activities.

Do Barbell Squats Build Big Legs?

Yes, barbell squats build big legs. In addition, barbell squats will activate muscles such as your quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings, which build most of your lower body musculature.

What Is the Best Barbell Leg Exercise for Building Muscle?

The best barbell leg exercise for building muscle is the barbell back squat.

Barbell back squats are essential to develop your lower body musculature.

Based on my experience, performing barbell back squats safely without injuring yourself requires a barbell built from high-quality steel that can handle the significant weight.

You should check our guide on the best barbells for home gym to equip yourself with sufficient knowledge before purchasing the barbell.

Also, let us know which barbell leg exercise is your favorite to develop your lower body strength and why.


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