Fifteen Essential Lower Body Exercises To Add To Your Training

Lower-Body Workouts That Build Serious Strength

While the thought of “leg day” tends to put some gym-goers off, training your lower body is extremely important.

Performing lower-body workouts and strengthening the legs can have an array of positive effects including enhanced movement, greater stability, reduced injury risk, and even facilitate weight loss.

There is an abundance of lower body exercises that can be performed to help you achieve any or all of these goals.

This article will highlight fifteen essential lower body exercises that you should consider adding to your workouts. It will also provide some lower body training guidelines to keep you on the right track.

A Definitive Guide To Improving Your SquatThe Fifteen Lower-Body Exercises

1) Dumbbell Squat

The dumbbell squat is an excellent exercise that will develop the glutes and quadriceps as well as building core strength and stability.

  • Stand upright ensuring that your feet are placed underneath the hips
  • Hold a pair of dumbbells so that they are by the sides of the hips
  • Lift your chest, pull your shoulders back and down, and engage the core
  • Bend at the hips and knees and drop the backside down towards the floor
  • Continue descending until your thighs are parallel with the floor
  • Pause briefly and then powerfully drive upward to stand

2) Goblet Squat

The goblet squat is very similar to the dumbbell squat and works the same muscle groups. The only difference between the two is the position of the dumbbell.

  • Begin by standing upright and placing the feet directly under the hips
  • Using one dumbbell only, hold it vertically and cup the top end with both hands
  • Hold the dumbbell tight to the chest and ensure that the elbows point directly down
  • Lift your chest, pull your shoulders back and down, and engage the core
  • Bend at the hips and knees and drop the backside down towards the floor
  • Continue descending until your thighs are parallel with the floor
  • Pause briefly and then powerfully drive upward to stand

3) Bulgarian Split Squat

This is a unilateral (single-limb) exercise that primarily works the glutes and quads of the front leg. It is also a demanding exercise in terms of balance and stability.

  • Begin by placing a bench directly behind you and hold the dumbbells by the hips
  • Lift the left foot from the floor and reach back to place it on the bench
  • Keep the chest up and core engaged to keep your trunk upright
  • Begin to lower your back knee towards the floor by bending the front knee and hip
  • Descend until your front thigh is approximately parallel with the floor
  • After taking a brief pause, drive through the front leg to return to the starting position
  • Once completing the prescribed reps, swap sides and repeat

lunge

4) Lateral Lunge

The lateral lunge requires movement out to the side rather than forward or backward. This exercise places a significant load on the glutes, quadriceps, and adductors.

  • Start by standing upright ensuring that the feet are directly under the hips
  • Hold two dumbbells at arm’s length so that they start by the hips
  • Lift the chest, keep the shoulders down, and engage the core
  • Keeping the right foot planted, take a step out to the side with the left foot
  • Push your hips back and bend at the left knee only to drop down towards the floor
  • Allow the dumbbells to lower to either side of the left knee
  • Descend until the left thigh is parallel to the floor, pause, and then return to standing
  • Alternate sides and repeat

5) Glute Bridge

The posterior chain refers to all of the muscles that run up the rear side of the body. The glute bridge is an effective developer of the posterior chain.

  • Begin by lying flat on your back with your hands by the sides of your hips
  • Bend the knees to bring the feet in close to the backside ensuring the feet stay flat
  • Engage your core muscles and engage your glutes to drive your hips from the floor
  • In this position, a straight line should be formed from the shoulders to the knees
  • Hold this position for a moment before returning to the floor and repeating

6) Camel

The camel is a squat variation exercise and, therefore, it works similar muscles to the squat. The narrow stance used in this exercise places a greater demand on the quads.

  • Start in a kneeling position with the tops of the feet on the floor and backside resting on your heels 
  • Hold a dumbbell in both hands by grasping the end and keep it tight to the chest
  • Lift the chest, pull the shoulders back, and squeeze the core muscles
  • Drive the hips right through to create a straight line from the knees to shoulders
  • In a controlled manner, drop the hips back down to the feet and repeat

resistance bands

7) Resistance Band Single Leg Deadlift

As well as developing hamstring and glute strength, the single leg deadlift demands core strength, stability, coordination, and balance.

  • Start by placing a miniband around the left foot and grip it with the right hand
  • Stand up straight and ensure the feet are directly under the hips
  • Keep a slight bend in the knees, engage the core, and keep the chest up
  • Lift the right foot from the floor and then hinge forward by pushing the hips back
  • Let the right leg kick back and continue to hinge until your torso is parallel to the floor
  • Return to the starting position by driving the hips through
  • Once reps have been completed, alternate sides and repeat

8) Forward Lunge

Although both feet are in contact with the ground, the forward lunge can really be considered a unilateral exercise with the front leg doing the majority of the work.

  • Begin with the feet directly under the hips and the dumbbells held by the sides
  • Drive the chest up, pull the shoulders back and down, and engage the core
  • Take a substantial step forward and bend the knees to drop down towards the floor
  • Descend until the front thigh is parallel with the back knee a couple of inches from the floor
  • Pause momentarily before pushing hard through the front leg to return to standing
  • Alternate sides and repeat

9) Reverse Lunge

For the reverse lunge, instead of stepping forward as with the forward lunge, you must take a step backward. This change places more demand on the posterior chain muscles. 

  • Begin with the feet directly under the hips and the dumbbells held by the sides
  • Drive the chest up, pull the shoulders back and down, and engage the core
  • Take a substantial step backward and bend the knees to drop down towards the floor
  • Descend until the front thigh is parallel with the back knee a couple of inches from the floor
  • Pause momentarily before pushing hard through the front leg to return to standing
  • Alternate sides and repeat

10) Curtsy Lunge

While less conventional than the forward and backward lunge, the curtsy lunge is excellent for developing glute strength and joint stability.

  • Begin with the feet directly under the hips and the dumbbells held by the sides
  • Drive the chest up, pull the shoulders back and down, and engage the core
  • From there, step your left foot back and outside the right foot
  • Descend until the front thigh is parallel with the back knee a couple of inches from the floor
  • Pause momentarily before pushing hard through the front leg to return to standing
  • Alternate sides and repeat

man stretching

11) Clamshell

The clamshell is a simple isolation exercise that particularly targets the glutes. This exercise can be performed with or without a resistance band looped around the knees.

  • Lie on your right side, stack the ankles and knees and rest your head on your arm
  • Bring your feet in so they align with your backside and create a 90-degree angle at the knees
  • While keeping the core engaged and feet together, raise the left knee as far as possible
  • As the left knee lifts, ensure that the right hip stays in contact with the floor
  • At the top position, squeeze the glutes tightly and then return to the start
  • Once reps have been completed, swap sides and repeat

12) Standing Single Leg Calf Raise

To concentrate on building the calves, perform the single leg calf raise. Not only is this a simple exercise to grasp, it highly activates the calf to maximize strength development.

  • Place the front of the right foot on an elevated surface so that the heel hangs off
  • Hold a single dumbbell in the right hand and hold it by the hip
  • While keeping the core tense, drive up onto the toes and lift the heel as high as possible
  • Slowly lower back to down the starting position
  • Complete the prescribed number of reps before alternating sides

13) Seated Calf Raise

The seated variation of the calf raise is another effective isolation movement. The benefit of this variation is that heavier dumbbells can be used.

  • Begin by sitting upright on a bench with feet flat on the floor
  • Place two dumbbells on the lower thighs
  • Engage the core and then lift the heels from the floor as high as possible
  • Slowly lower back to down the starting position and repeat

14) Step-Ups

While step-ups primarily build quad, hamstring, and glute strength, the single leg stance and unstable nature of movement causes the core to maximally engage.

  • Begin by placing a bench directly in front of you
  • Stand tall with the feet under the hips and dumbbells held at arm’s length
  • Lift the chest, pull the shoulders back and down, and engage the core
  • Place the left foot onto the bench so that the hip, knee, and ankle create 90-degree angles
  • From there, drive into the bench to lift the body up until you are standing upright
  • Control the descent and return to the starting position
  • Alternate sides and repeat

15) Resistance Band Single Leg Lift

To build the size and strength of the glutes, focus on the single leg lift. This isolation places all of the demand onto the large glute muscles causing them to adapt and improve.

  • Begin by lying on your right side and place a miniband around your ankles
  • To provide comfort and stability, use the right arm to prop yourself up
  • Keep the legs straight and stacked on top of each other
  • Engage the core muscles before lifting left leg up as far as possible
  • Lower to the starting position and repeat for the given number of reps
  • Alternate sides and repeat

big calves

Lower Body Workout Guidelines

This section will cover three key considerations that must be made when it comes to designing and performing lower-body training workouts.

Workout Structure

Choosing a selection of the above exercises will give you a great workout, however, it’s important that the exercises you select are performed in the correct order.

With all strength-based workouts, you should begin with the exercises that are the most demanding and work the biggest muscle groups.

This means prioritizing compound (multi-joint) exercises over isolation (single-joint) exercises.

Furthermore, when it comes to exercise selection, choose exercises that work a range of different movement patterns and muscle groups.

This approach will ensure that all muscle groups develop equally thus reducing the risk of developing imbalance or asymmetry.

Training Frequency

How often you train your lower body depends on your goals, level experience, and preference. 

For example, an individual who is looking to maximize their muscular strength and size may need to train a lot more frequently to optimize progress (1).

A general recommendation, however, is to train the lower body three times per week.

squat

Training Volume

Training volume is the total amount of work that is performed during a workout. Sets, reps, and weight all constitute training volume.

So, how much volume should you be using?  Once again this is dependent on your training goal. 

For those who are looking to primarily improve strength, focus on lifting heavy weight for a low rep range (between one and five reps) (2).

To maximize muscle size, the traditional understanding is to use moderate weight and rep ranges (between six and twelve).

However, it appears that muscle growth is influenced more substantially by increasing the total training volume, regardless of the loading scheme used (3).

Final Word

If you are serious about building strength, you must regularly train your lower body. Utilizing the fifteen exercises and applying training guidelines outlined in this article will ensure that you make the most optimal strength progress possible. 

References:

1 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6036131/  Ochi, Eisuke; Maruo, Masataka; Tsuchiya, Yosuke; Ishii, Naokata; Miura, Koji; Sasaki, Kazushige (2018-07-02). “Higher Training Frequency Is Important for Gaining Muscular Strength Under Volume-Matched Training”. Frontiers in Physiology. 9. doi:10.3389/fphys.2018.00744. ISSN 1664-042X. PMC 6036131. PMID 30013480.

2 – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25853914/ Schoenfeld, Brad J.; Peterson, Mark D.; Ogborn, Dan; Contreras, Bret; Sonmez, Gul T. (2015-10). “Effects of Low- vs. High-Load Resistance Training on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy in Well-Trained Men”. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 29 (10): 2954–2963. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000000958. ISSN 1533-4287. PMID 25853914.

3 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6303131/  SCHOENFELD, BRAD J.; CONTRERAS, BRET; KRIEGER, JAMES; GRGIC, JOZO; DELCASTILLO, KENNETH; BELLIARD, RAMON; ALTO, ANDREW (2019-1). “Resistance Training Volume Enhances Muscle Hypertrophy but Not Strength in Trained Men”. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 51 (1): 94–103. doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000001764. ISSN 0195-9131. PMC 6303131. PMID 30153194.