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9 Killer Leg Workouts for a Complete Lower Body Exercise

Christiana Mikesch
Published by Christiana Mikesch
Last updated: May 19, 2023

In my 10 + years as a fitness trainer, I've come across many variations of leg exercises that "experts" claim to build leg muscles and strength faster.

We tested these leg exercises with colleagues and created a list of the best killer leg workouts.

In this article, I will detail the greatest killer leg workouts, the importance of performing a leg exercise, and tips for Intense leg routine.

Quick Summary

  • The killer leg workout involves beginning your training with the most challenging exercises and heaviest weights, targeting the thighs from various angles, maintaining the volume (number of total repetitions and sets) high, and working out to muscle failure.
  • Your legs comprise the largest muscles in the body, so developing strong legs will help you burn calories and turn up the heat on your metabolic rate.
  • Because your legs contain a variety of muscles that perform diverse activities, you'll notice the most results if your lower body workout incorporates all of them in a broad motion range.

The Killer Leg Workout

Doing killer leg workout

The first leg workout uses heavier loads, essential for preserving muscle tissue while maintaining high metabolism throughout dieting.

Warm up as much as you need to, but never to the point of muscular failure.

Killer leg exercise routine:

  • 3 sets of 10 to 14 repetitions of back barbell squats
  • 3 sets of 10 to 14 repetitions of leg presses
  • 3 sets of 10 to 14 repetitions of lying leg curls
  • 3 sets of 10 to 14 repetitions of seated leg curls
  • 3 sets of 10 to 14 repetitions of leg extensions
  • 3 sets of 10 to 14 repetitions of Bulgarian split squats
  • 3 sets of 10 to 14 repetitions of Romanian deadlifts
  • 3 sets of 20 to 30 repetitions of seated calf raise
  • 3 sets of 10 to 14 repetitions of walking lunges

Leg Day Exercise Description:

1. Back Barbell Squat

Man doing back barbell squats

Whether you're a seasoned powerlifter or a beginner, the barbell squat is a versatile squat variant to incorporate into your strength training.

How to perform:

  1. Employ an overhand grip to hold a barbell over your upper back; avoid placing it on the neck.
  2. Hug the barbell into the traps to activate the upper back muscles.
  3. Squat down carefully with the bar's weight - head up, buns out, and back straight.
  4. Lower yourself until the knees and hips are aligned, with your legs at 90 degrees - a deeper squat will be beneficial, but work on your strength and flexibility first.
  5. Press your heels into the ground to thrust yourself back up explosively. Maintain your form until you can stand up straight.
  6. Repeat until you've completed the required amount of reps.

"Maintain a tight core at all times during the leg workout. If you relax your core muscles, you will destabilize the spine and injure your back."

- Rogan Allport, Personal Trainer & Strength Coach

2. Leg Press

The leg press is often considered a machine version of the barbell back squat.

The leg press may be used to engage both the quadriceps and the hamstrings.

How to perform: 

  1. Load the machine with the required weight and take a seat.
  2. Sit down and take a shoulder-width stance with the legs on the sled.
  3. Breathe deeply, stretch your legs, and open the locks.
  4. Gradually lower the weight until your feet are below 45 degrees.
  5. Extend the knees to drive the load back to the starting position without locking it out.
  6. Repeat for reps.

3. Lying Leg Curl

Doing leg curls on the machine

Lying leg curls are an isolation workout that targets the calf and hamstrings muscles at the rear of the leg.

This leg workout can be performed in various ways and is an excellent addition to almost any strength-building lower-body routine.

How to perform:

  1. Lie face down on the leg curls machine, completely extending your legs.
  2. The roller pad must be placed slightly above your heels, a couple of inches above your calves.
  3. Grasp the machine's support handles on both sides.
  4. Exhale and flex the knees, bringing your ankles as near as possible to your buttocks. Keep your hips firmly planted on the bench.
  5. Hold for a few seconds.
  6. Inhale as you carefully and slowly return your legs to the starting position.
  7. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

4. Leg Extension

Leg extensions are an excellent quad strengthening workout and should be included in your training routines if your aims are aesthetic-driven.

How to perform:

  1. Insert the pin after selecting the desired resistance from the weight stack.
  2. Set the seat so your knees align perfectly with the machine's axis.
  3. Sit down and place your shins under the pad at the machine's base.
  4. Take a deep breath and flex your quadriceps as you stretch your legs.
  5. Exhale as you lock out your knees to complete the exercise.
  6. Return your feet to the starting position slowly.
  7. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Related: Bodybuilding Leg Workout for Strength and Size

5. Bulgarian Split Squat

Performing Bulgarian Split Squat

The Bulgarian split squat is a single-leg squat variation in which the rear leg is raised on a bench or a firm chair.

As a single-leg, unilateral squat, this workout targets the quadriceps more than other lower-body compound exercises.

How to perform:

  1. Hold a pair of dumbbells, hands fully stretched at your sides, palms facing each other.
  2. Put the instep of your back foot on a bench, with the feet hip-width apart. Your legs should be at least three feet apart.
  3. Lower the hips toward the floor, bringing your back knee closer to the ground.
  4. Pause and push through the front heel to return to the starting position.
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

6. Seated Leg Curl

The seated leg curl is a leg curl variation meant to isolate the hamstrings.

How to perform:

  1. Select the appropriate weight, and then modify the pad so that it sits comfortably over the back of your heels.
  2. Tense the hamstrings by removing the weight from the stack slightly. This is the exercise's beginning point.
  3. Take a deep breath, clench your hamstrings, and curl your weight up as far as possible while keeping your spine neutral.
  4. Maintain your knees slightly bent through the motions, emphasizing a full range of motion and a thorough stretch at the bottom.
  5. Return the weight to its initial position slowly.
  6. Repeat for reps.

7. Romanian Deadlift

Doing Romanian Deadlift in the gym

The Romanian deadlift is a type of conventional deadlift.

It strengthens the posterior chain muscles, including the hamstrings, erector spinae, abductors, and gluteus maximus.

When performed correctly, the Romanian deadlift is an effective workout that strengthens the core and the lower and upper body in a single movement.

How to perform:

  1. Hold the load (barbell or dumbbells) in front of the thighs and drop to the ground by pulling your hips back.
  2. With a slight knee flexion, lower the weight, maintaining your shoulder blades pushed together and the chest open and broad.
  3. Return to the starting position by thrusting your hips forward when the load is below your knees.
  4. Repeat until the desired number of repetitions has been reached.

"RDL is excellent for strengthening the muscles in your back. Consider the bent-over row: you wouldn't perform it with 400 pounds, but you could execute a Romanian deadlift with that amount of weight."

- David Kingsbury, Founder & Head Trainer at Opus Fitness

8. Seated Calf Raise

The seated calf raise is a version of the machine calf raise designed to isolate the calf's muscles.

Because the calves may be a tough muscle group for many people, it's crucial to experiment with various angles when practicing calf raises. Consider exercising the calves regularly.

How to perform: 

  1. Sit on the machine and position the balls of your legs on the platform, toes pointing forward - the heels will naturally hang off.
  2. Place the base of your quads behind the knee pad and both hands on top.
  3. Loosen the safety bar by extending your ankles.
  4. Dorsiflex the ankles and lower the heels until your calves are fully extended.
  5. Exhale while you flex your calves and extend the ankles.
  6. Repeat for the specified number of repetitions.

9. Walking Lunges

Man doing walking lunges

Walking lunges are a fantastic workout for targeting your lower body's major muscle groups while increasing your balance and core strength.

How to perform: 

  1. Stand tall and have your legs hip-width apart.
  2. Step forward with your left foot until your legs are staggered, maintaining your shoulders backward and down and your eyes straight ahead.
  3. Lower your entire body straight to the floor by bending both knees simultaneously.
  4. Push back up through your front heel when they both achieve 90 degrees.
  5. Step your right foot forward and continue the action until your hips are completely stretched.
  6. Continue walking ahead until you achieve the target distance or repetition count.

Importance of Leg Workout

Woman stretching her legs

Leg workout involves your body's key muscle groups, which improves overall sports performance and promotes healthy movement habits in your daily life.

A strong lower body will also aid in preventing injury and managing chronic illnesses such as diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease [1].

Hormonal Stimulation

Leg workout can cause a flood of hormones to be released.

Working your legs aids in producing hormones, including cortisol, human growth hormone (HGH), and testosterone.

Cortisol aids your body's stress response and fat metabolism [2].

Testosterone aids in the recovery of torn muscle proteins and skeletal muscle growth [3]. HGH stimulates muscle mass development, immunity, and fat metabolism [4].

Balances strength

Unilateral workout for leg muscles will provide much more advantages. Separately working each leg helps align the body and address muscle imbalances since it requires you to activate both sides of the body equally.

This prevents your dominant leg from overcompensating for the non-dominant side regarding strength, flexibility, and mobility.

Other benefits include:

  • Improve core muscle strength
  • Alleviate joint pain
  • Burn calories and help you lose weight
  • Boost bone strength
  • Reduce lower back pain
  • Improve your posture.

Tips for Intense Leg Day Workout

Doing a stretch outdoors

1. Increase The Weight When You Reach The Top Of Your Repetition Range For A Single Set

Suppose your exercise requires 4-to-6 repetitions of squats. If you obtain 6 repetitions for all three sets of squats, for your next set, add 5 lbs to each side of the bar (10 lbs total) and work with the load until you're able to (eventually) squat it for 3 sets of 6 reps, and so on.

If you obtain 3 or fewer repetitions with your new (heavier) weight on your next set, drop the weight by 5 lbs for the following set to guarantee you stay within your goal rep range (4-to-6) for each set.

Follow this same procedure for adding the load or reps to every workout. This is called double progression and is a highly efficient strategy to improve your strength on any exercise.

2. Take Each Set 1 To 2 Repetitions Close To Muscle Failure

This is what characterizes this leg workout as "intense." To optimize muscle and strength growth, perform most of your sets close to (but not to) muscle failure; that's when you can't finish another rep with perfect form.

To guarantee that you are taking your sets near to muscle failure, raise the load or repetitions to make your following set more difficult.

This ensures that your leg day exercise has a good mix of volume and intensity.

3. Consume An Adequate Amount Of Calories And Protein

Top view of raw protein rich food

To maximize muscle building and strength, you must maintain a slight calorie surplus or approximately 110% of your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE).

A calorie surplus enhances your body's "muscle-building machinery," significantly improving your body's capacity to recover from and favorably react to your workout.

This is especially true when beating your body with an intense leg workout.

You must also consume enough protein to help the leg muscle fibers to recuperate, repair, and develop properly. You should consume at least 1.6g of protein per kilogram of your body weight daily [5].

4. Take The Appropriate Supplements

Certain supplements help you gain muscle faster if you know how to diet and exercise properly.

The following are the greatest supplements for leg workout:

  • 3–5 grams of creatine daily. This will help you grow muscle and strength, enhance your anaerobic endurance, and prevent muscle damage and pain from your quad exercises [6].
  • 0.8-1.2 grams of protein per pound of your body weight daily. This gives your body the "building blocks" needed to develop and repair muscle tissue, aiding recovery after exercises [7].
  • 150-300g of pre-workout caffeine 30 minutes before your leg workout. Caffeine is a powerful stimulant that is used in almost every pre-workout supplement. Pre-workout supplements boost energy, mental concentration, and your ability to work out hard and intensely for extended periods [8].


What Is the Most Effective Leg Workout?

The most effective leg workouts hit your leg muscle groups from every angle, helping you gain muscle mass and strength. They include squats, lunges, deadlifts, step-ups, glute bridges, and calf raises.

How Do You Get Killer Leg Muscles?

You get killer leg muscles by performing workouts such as barbell squat, leg press, dumbbell walking lunge, lying leg curl, and standing calf raise.

What Exercise Builds Legs the Fastest?

The exercise that builds legs the fastest is squatting. Squatting is among the most effective resistance exercises. This exercise engages practically all muscle groups in the lower body and is an excellent approach to strengthening and building the legs.

Killer Leg Workout Supplementation

If you want to spice up your leg training and supersize your legs quickly, you should incorporate the above mentioned activities into your weekly regimen.

Combining these leg workouts with cardio and strength training can help you gain muscle and strength quickly and take your functional fitness to the next level.

Also, incorporate these best post-workout supplements for faster recovery after your leg workout.

Based on our routine testing, the supplements will boost your endurance and help you overcome muscle fatigue.


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