Strong legs are the foundation for overall strength, and they complete your body’s aesthetics.
As a fitness expert with over a decade of experience, I’ve always stressed the importance of doing a proper leg workout as part of any bodybuilding routine.
Having studied hundreds of leg exercises, I’ve handpicked a select few that stand out from the others.
In this article, we’ll review the best bodybuilding leg exercises guaranteed to maximize muscle growth and make your legs the talk of the town.
- A good bodybuilding leg workout combines isolation movements (exercises that work only one muscle group) and compound movements (exercises that work more than one muscle group).
- Your leg day should hit all your major leg muscle groups: quadriceps, hamstrings, adductors, and calves.
- You can enhance your leg musculature by performing exercises through the full range and repping them till muscle failure.
What Does a Good Bodybuilding Leg Workout Routine Include?
A good bodybuilding leg workout routine includes a mix of compound and isolation exercises that target all the muscles in your legs.
It must target your quads, hamstrings, adductors, and calves.
Best Bodybuilding Leg Exercises
Our leg workout consists of two exercises per muscle group. We’ll go over each exercise and why you should incorporate them into your leg day.
The exercises for your quads include one compound exercise and an isolation exercise.
Squats are the king of all exercises. This compound movement targets multiple upper-body and lower-body muscles, like the core, quads, glutes, and hips.
You can make them heavily quad-focused by following these tips:
- Squat with your feet slightly less than shoulder-width apart.
- Keep your back as straight as possible throughout the squat, and try not to hinge the hips too much.
- Squat as low as possible.
“Nothing compares to squats … I don’t care how much weight you use, I’d rather do 3 good plates and get in 15, 20 good reps and reap the benefit.”
- Tom Platz, Former Bodybuilder
Safety note: We highly recommend squatting on a squat rack with safety bars, especially if you’re going to squat all the way to the bottom.
Related article: Best Power and Squat Racks
2. Leg Extensions
Leg extensions are one of the most effective isolation exercises for your quads.
They’re the perfect exercise to follow up on the squat, as they let you target the quads without straining any other muscle.
For best results, perform them with a complete range of motion.
For the best hamstring workout, pick one compound exercise as your core lift and any leg curling exercises for isolation.
1. Romanian Deadlifts (RDLs)
Romanian deadlifts are one of the best compound movements for your hamstrings. They strengthen your hamstrings in a lengthened position, leading to stronger and more flexible hamstrings.
While RDLs also work your glutes, you can make them more hamstring-focused by keeping your knees slightly bent and hinging your hips back behind you. This’ll keep your shins more vertical and pack the hamstrings.
2. Lying Leg Curls (Dumbbell or Machine)
Lying leg curls can be done either using a machine or a dumbbell.
We recommend using the machine if you want to train with heavier weights.
However, if you want to target the hamstrings from different angles and add instability, you can do this exercise with dumbbells.
Other effective leg curling exercises include the following:
- Seated leg curl (needs a machine)
- Stand leg curl (needs a machine)
- Reverse-weighted lunges
- Ball leg curl
The adductors are one of the most ignored leg muscles. Incorporating them into your leg routine will have a strong carryover effect on your squats.
Here are two best exercises that will strengthen your adductors.
1. Sumo Squats
This squat variation is simple and effective in strengthening the adductors.
To do them, simply squat with your feet placed one and a half times your shoulder width.
2. Seated Hip Adductors
This exercise might be uncomfortable to perform the first time because it isolates your adductors.
But doing it every week can help you prevent groin-related injuries in your other workouts .
The reason many people can’t grow their calves is because they don’t train them properly. People either use light weights or their body weight and do multiple reps.
The problem is that your calves are already used to endurance. So, you need to train them like any other leg muscle—with heavy weights and till failure.
Here are two exercises that’ll increase your calf size.
1. Donkey Calf Raises
In my opinion, donkey calf raises are one of the best exercises to have in your calf workout.
It’s best to do them using a Smith machine because it’s easier to load. Just make sure you have a spotter to help you re-rack the bar.
2. Seated Calf Raises
The seated calf raise works your soleus muscle (the largest part of your calf).
This muscle pushes out your gastroc (the meaty part of your calf), giving it a larger appearance.
We recommend loading the seated calf raise with as much weight as you can handle within your rep range for the best results.
Related: How to Get Big Calves Fast
This leg training routine comprises many exercises that target all your leg muscles, so it’s best to perform it once a week.
Here’s what the split will look like:
- Back squats: 3 sets x 8–12 reps
- Leg Extensions: 3 sets x 10–15 reps
- RDLs or a stiff-legged deadlift: 3 sets x 12–15 reps
- Hamstring curls (or other leg curl exercises): 3 sets x 8–12 reps
- Sumo squats: 3 sets x 10 reps
- Seated hip adduction: 3 sets x 12–15 reps (each side)
- Donkey calf raises: 3 sets x 12–15 reps
- Seated calf raises: 3 sets x 8–12 reps
What Muscles Make Up the Legs?
The quadriceps, hamstrings, adductors, and calves are the main muscles that make up the leg.
Each of these muscle groups consists of different muscles that can be targeted through different variations of isolation movements.
Let’s look at each of them in detail:
- Quadriceps: The quadriceps comprise four muscles at the front of the thigh. These include the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius. These muscles help with knee extension and hip flexion.
- Hamstrings: The hamstrings are a group of three muscles located at the back of the thigh: the biceps femoris, semimembranosus, and semitendinosus. These hamstrings help with knee flexion and hip extension.
- Adductors: The adductors are a group of five muscles located on the inner thigh. They include the adductor magnus, adductor brevis, adductor longus, pectineus, and gracilis. These muscles bring the legs together.
- Calves: The calves are a group of two muscles located at the back of the lower leg. These include the gastrocnemius and the soleus. These muscles work together to plantarflex the ankle, pointing the toes downward.
Here are some tips that’ll help you make the most of your leg day workout.
1. Range of Motion
Using a full range of motion in an exercise means lowering the weight until your muscles are fully stretched and then lifting it until your muscles are fully contracted.
This allows you to activate all the muscle fibers in your legs, resulting in a more significant hypertrophy response .
As a result, you’ll be targeting all the muscles in your legs, including those that are often neglected with partial reps, resulting in balanced leg development.
2. Work Till Muscle Failure
Working your legs to failure ensures that you’re pushing your muscles to their maximum potential.
This creates more micro-tears in the muscle fibers; your body repairing these tears is actually what we call muscle growth .
When hitting those last few reps, establish a mind-muscle connection so you can focus your efforts on the muscle being worked on.
3. Strengthen the Knee Joint
Many leg movements demand strong knees.
In our experience, weak knees are one of the biggest limitations for many bodybuilders.
It prevents them from using the complete range of motion and pushing for extra reps.
We highly recommend doing a few knee-strengthening exercises like ATG split squats, Poliquin step-ups, and tibialis raises before your leg workouts.
4. Don’t Depend on HIIT and the Leg Press
Contrary to what fitness influencers say, doing HIIT and hitting the leg press machine isn’t the most effective way to bulk your legs.
The leg press looks showy in a gym, but it doesn’t work the same range as squats or leg curls, so they’re not as effective.
Instead, focus on doing compound exercises and isolation movements that allow you to train till failure.
Hypertrophy vs. Strength Gains
When it comes to building pure muscle mass (hypertrophy), we recommend performing all your leg workouts in the 8–15 rep range, provided the last reps push you to muscle failure.
Anything below this could help you build bigger legs, but the 1–5 rep range works on your neuromuscular strength .
We recommend heavy weight and low reps (3–6 reps) with compound movements and lower weight and more reps (8–15) with isolation exercises.
Also, we don’t recommend going heavy and doing fewer reps with isolation movements.
Because they employ only one muscle, using heavy weights for isolation exercises could lead to injury or muscle strain.
How Often Do Bodybuilders Train Legs?
Most bodybuilders usually train legs once a week. However, some bodybuilders train legs thrice a week, while others train them once every two weeks. It depends on what works best for them.
Do Legs Respond Better To Higher Reps?
No, legs don’t respond better to higher reps. Legs respond well to all rep ranges. However, the key to building bigger legs is training them till failure.
Can You Overtrain Legs?
Yes, you can't overtrain legs. You can train and overtrain any muscle by training it two days in a row or more without taking proper rest periods in between. From my observation, overtraining the legs is counterproductive as it will lead to declining performance or serious injury.
What Is the #1 Leg Exercise?
The number-one leg exercise is the squat. It’s a compound movement that works the most muscles compared to other exercises. It’s also the best exercise to add muscle mass and strength to your legs.
How Long Should a Leg Day Be?
Leg day should ideally be between 20 minutes and an hour, depending on the intensity of your training. If you train them more than once a week, your session can be under 30 minutes. If you train them once a week, it should take an hour at most.
Why Won’t My Legs Bulk?
Your legs won’t bulk because you might not be training them till failure. You might also not be getting enough sleep or eating enough protein to rebuild your leg muscles.
The Best Way to Build Your Legs Faster
Combining compound and isolation exercises is one of the best ways to strengthen and grow your leg muscles.
Additionally, you want to train your muscles till failure so they respond better to hypertrophy.
However, keep in mind that quick recovery plays a key role in this. Fueling your muscles with a high-quality protein powder is an excellent way to bulk your legs.
We’ve extensively tested these protein powders, so pick one for yourself, as they can help you recover faster for another round of intense training.
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