The 10 Best Lower Body Exercises for Muscle and Strength (2024)

Get ready to give your lower (and better?) half the limelight it deserves with these ten best lower body exercises you can do in and out of the gym.

In this article, we review the cream of the crop of lower body movements and tell you why you need them in your workout routine, no matter your fitness goals.

Benefits of a Strong Lower Body

Strengthening your lower body means more than earning bragging rights in the gym or making sure your silhouette looks snazzy. It can literally transform your day-to-day life.

Athletic Performance

Whether you’re an athlete, a weekend warrior, or someone who enjoys a casual game of tag with your pet pig, stronger legs mean better performance. You’ll run faster, jump higher, and zip around with newfound power.

Almost all physical sports are dependent on lower body power, as are many more leisurely endeavors.

Healthy Aging

A strong lower body sets the stage for healthy aging and keeps us moving and independent all through life.

Even if you don’t think about it now, strong and healthy muscles and bones today lay the foundation for the future, and it all starts with your lower body.

Mighty Muscles, Mighty Metabolism

Muscles are like calorie-hungry monsters, and your lower body houses some of the most fearful ones.

Strengthen them by giving them what they want in the weight room, and you’ll burn calories at a rate that would make a bonfire jealous, even when you’re not working out.

Improved Balance and Lower Risk of Injury

A sturdy lower body improves your balance and agility, making you more adept at navigating life’s obstacles—literally and figuratively, and reduces the risk of injuries that could sideline your adventures, in and out of the gym.

Without further ado, let’s jump straight into the ten best lower body exercises and discover their secrets: why they belong on the list, what they do, and step-by-step instructions for performing each one safely and most effectively.

1. Squat

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The squat is often hailed as the “king of all exercises,” like a monarch sitting on the throne of lower body exercises, and for good reasons.

Squats are a compound exercise, which means they work several muscle groups at once, like hitting multiple birds with one heavy barbell. Compound exercises are awesome for muscle growth and strength gains and make up the bread and butter of most lifters’ workout routines.

When you squat, your quads, glutes, and adductors (the muscles on the inside of your thigh) do most of the heavy lifting. However, the muscle action doesn’t end there. While your legs push all that weight, your core muscles keep you balanced, and your back muscles help maintain your posture.

Squat Benefits

  • Looking to bulk up your legs and glutes? Squats are your best buds. Want to perform better in and out of the gym? Squats are beloved by gym rats and athletes alike. They are the exercise for leg day workouts, building muscle mass and strength not just in the lower but the entire body.
  • Squats don’t just make you look good and gym-strong; they make you life-strong. They mimic many everyday movements (like sitting down and standing up), which means they improve your functional strength.
  • In addition to building muscle strength, squats are great for bone strength, too. They’re like a milk ad for your bones, making them stronger and more resilient.
  • Research shows how squats improve athletic performance, aid in injury prevention, and even impact things like jumping ability and sprint speed. For seniors, squats are the best thing since sliced bread. They make daily tasks easier and improve quality of life. In fact, leg strength is the best predictor of physical function in older adults.1

Whether you’re a gym newbie or a seasoned lifter, squats can be tailored to your fitness level. You can start with bodyweight, move to goblet squats, and then graduate to the barbell.

And that’s what makes the squat an indispensable lower body exercise for all strength training goals!

How to Squat

  1. Place the bar on your upper back with your shoulders blades squeezed together. Inhale and brace your core slightly, and unrack the bar.
  2. Take two steps back, and adjust your foot position.
  3. Squat as deep as possible with proper form.
  4. With control, stop and reverse the movement, extending your hips and legs again.
  5. Exhale on the way up or exchange air in the top position.
  6. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions.

Alternative exercises: bodyweight squat, front squat, dumbbell squat, goblet squat, belt squat.

There are more squat variations than the barbell back squat in town. With these swell alternatives – all some of the best leg exercises you can do – you can introduce variety into your lower body strength workouts.

  • Bodyweight squats are a powerhouse for building lower body strength without needing any equipment. They are ideal for beginners and seniors without strength training experience and can also be a great way to warm up your lower-body muscles for a workout.
  • With front squats, the barbell rests on your front shoulders. They target your quads, upper back, and core more intensely than back squats and are great for improving balance and coordination because if you lean too far forward, you’ll know it immediately.
  • Holding a pair of dumbbells at your sides or shoulder level, dumbbell squats are handy when you don’t have access to a barbell or squat rack but still want to feel like a leg-day champion.
  • Goblet squats involve holding a dumbbell or kettlebell close to the front of your chest and squatting. They are a fantastic way to improve your squat depth and form, as the front-loaded weight helps keep your chest up and back straight and your abs as engaged as a detective on a mystery core case.
  • Belt squats take the pressure off your spine and upper body, allowing you to squat heavy even if you have back issues.

2. Leg Press

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The leg press is like the throne where you sit to command your leg muscles to grow stronger. It activates your lower body muscles similarly to the squat but eliminates the need for balance and coordination. And yes, the leg press offers a comfy seat and back support, making it the lazy boy of leg exercises. Between sets, that is.

The primary movers in the leg press are your quads, glutes, and adductors. It also involves your hamstrings, depending on how you place your feet.

Leg Press Benefits

  • By eliminating the need to stabilize your upper body, as in squats, the leg press lets you zero in on your legs. Also, you can often press more weight than you can squat, like a turbo-boost for muscle growth and strength.
  • By changing your foot placement – wide, narrow, high, low – you can target different muscles or parts of muscles. For example, placing your feet high on the plate works your glutes and hamstrings more, while placing them low focuses more on your quads.
  • Like the barbell squat, the benefits of the leg press transcend the gym into the real world. It improves your ability to perform tasks like lifting heavy objects or powering up a flight of stairs.

The leg press comes in different forms – the seated leg press, the 45-degree leg press, and even the vertical leg press. Each one has its charm, offering different angles and benefits for building a strong lower body. If your gym allows you to choose between them, go for the one you like the best or switch it up for variety.

The leg press has some mind-blowing records. Like people pushing over 1,000 pounds! That’s like leg pressing a small car. I suggest you start more conservatively. Also, while a full range of motion makes the leg press more effective, don’t overdo it. Don’t go deeper than your mobility allows to keep unwanted pressure off your lower back.

When done correctly, the leg press is safe and effective and a fantastic addition to your arsenal of lower body exercises.

How to Leg Press

  1. Adjust the machine so that you only need to extend your legs slightly to be able to release the weights. Adjust the safety pins to catch the weight if you cannot lift it.
  2. Place your feet shoulder-width or thereabouts on the sled.
  3. Inhale and lower the weight towards you by bending your legs.
  4. Lower the weight as deep as possible while keeping your glutes on the seat and without rounding your back.
  5. Press the weight back up again as you exhale.
  6. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions.

Alternative exercise: hack squat.

The hack squat is like the middle ground between squats and leg presses. It offers the stability of the leg press and the movement pattern of the squat and is at least as effective for lower-body strength and power.2

3. Leg Extension

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The leg extension is the most effective strength training exercise for isolating your quadriceps, the muscles at the front of your thigh. Unlike squats or lunges that recruit muscles from all over, leg extensions let your quads hog all the limelight. The design of the machine keeps constant tension on the quads throughout the entire range of motion.

While the quads steal the spotlight, there’s a bit of engagement from the hamstrings and hip flexors, but they’re mostly just humming in the background.

Leg extension complement squat-type exercises perfectly. While squats are fantastic and the backbone of many lower-body workouts, they aren’t the best option for all your quad muscles. They miss the rectus femoris, the “kicking muscle.” Leg extensions, on the other hand, hit them all.

Leg Extension Benefits

  • Do you want to focus on one specific area of your quads? Leg extensions allow for that precise targeting, making them a darling among bodybuilders. That isolation is perfect for giving your quads the undivided attention they deserve.
  • The strength you build with leg extensions translates into everyday activities by building strength and endurance in your quads, which is handy for running for the bus or kicking a soccer ball.
  • Often used in physical therapy, leg extensions can help strengthen the muscles around the knee. Stronger quadriceps means less wear and tear on the knee joint cartilage and connective tissues. The key is increasing the load gradually; the leg extension is not the place to go for 1RM records.

Despite its popularity today, the leg extension machine became a staple in gyms in the second half of the last century. Before that, lifters were more into free weights and basic compound movements, but the era of bodybuilding brought machines like leg extensions into gyms.

To maximize the benefits of leg extension, pay attention to proper form, control the movement, and make sure you’re not just going through the motions. Squeeze your leg muscles at the top so you can focus on that quad burn and carefully lower the weight.

How to Perform Leg Extensions

  1. Adjust the machine so the pad is just above your feet, with a ∼90-degree angle between your upper and lower legs.
  2. Sit on the seat and place your ankles behind the pad,ensuring that they align with the pivot point of the machine.
  3. Grip the handles on the sides of the machine for stability.
  4. Engage your core and maintain an upright posture.
  5. Extend your legs,raising the weighted bars in a controlled manner.Focus on the quadriceps muscles as you move.
  6. Ensure that the motion is smooth and that you’re not using momentum or jerking the weight up.
  7. Extend your legs fully, hold this position for a moment, and squeeze your quads.
  8. Lower the weight back to the starting position with full control.
  9. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions.

4. Bulgarian Split Squat

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The Bulgarian split squat is an excellent unilateral exercise, meaning you work one side of your body at a time instead of both simultaneously, like in the squat.

It gives your quads a serious workout as you lower and raise your body, and your glutes drive the movement and provide power. In addition, your hamstrings and adductors help stabilize the movement. And, as if that wasn’t enough, all core muscles join in to keep you stable and secure, more so because single-leg exercises like the Bulgarian split squat require plenty of balance and coordination.

Bulgarian Split Squat Benefits

  • Unlike regular squats, Bulgarian split squats emphasize one leg at a time, allowing you to focus more on these muscles. Plus, it’s a fantastic way to improve balance and core stability since you’re standing on one leg. Your core muscles work overtime to keep you from toppling over.
  • Since it’s a single-leg exercise, it can help address muscle imbalances. One leg might secretly be slacking off in pressing movements that even out the weight, but there’s no hiding in the Bulgarian split squat.
  • Bulgarian split squats allow for a greater range of motion than many other leg exercises. More depth means more drama for your muscles, but in a good, growth-promoting way.

Trivia time! The exercise is named after Bulgarian weightlifters who popularized it during the Cold War era. In the 1980s, western coaches got wind that Bulgarian weightlifters had dropped regular back squats for front squats and what became known as split squats. The Bulgarians knew a thing or two about building powerful, functional legs, and the movement quickly caught on in the US.

In short, Bulgarian split squats are one of the best lower body exercises and a fantastic alternative when you want to reduce spinal load, address muscle imbalances, or simply mix things up. Plus, it’s ideal when you don’t have a squat rack handy but still want to give your legs a challenging workout since you can do them with a pair of dumbbells or just your body weight instead of a barbell.

How to Perform Bulgarian Split Squats

  1. Place a bar on your upper back or hold a pair of dumbbells in your hands.
  2. Stand with your back turned against a bench, which should be about knee height. Stand about one long step in front of the bench.
  3. Place your right foot on the bench behind you.
  4. Inhale, look forward, and squat down with control until right before your right knee touches the floor.
  5. Reverse the movement and extend your front leg again, while exhaling. Your back foot should only act as support.
  6. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions, then switch side and repeat with your right leg forward and your left foot on the bench.

5. Lunges

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The lunge is a compound movement you can do with or without equipment, in many variations, making it an extremely versatile exercise for all fitness levels and goals. The most common are barbell lunges and dumbbell lunges.

Lunges target your quadriceps, but they don’t stop there. They also give your glutes and adductors a good workout and involve your hamstring and core for balance and stability.

Lunge Benefits

  • Unlike exercises where both feet are planted firmly on the ground, lunges require you to balance on one leg at a time, turning every lunge into a mini tightrope walk but without the scary heights and circus music. You improve your stability and posture, turning your body into a fortress of strength and balance.
  • Like Bulgarian split squats, lunges are a unilateral exercise, meaning they train one side of your body independently from the other: fantastic for making sure both legs work equally hard and preventing muscle imbalances.
  • Lunges also help improve hip mobility, which is a godsend if you’re someone who sits a lot.

The lunge, whether you’re lunging with just your body weight, a pair of dumbbells, or a barbell, is one of the top lower-body exercises. It guarantees a comprehensive workout that builds strength, improves balance, and keeps your workouts fresh and challenging.

If you feel the basic lunge in your knees, try the reverse lunge (take a decently big step back instead of forward). Some people find it easier on the knees. In addition, reverse lunges target the glutes and hamstrings a little more than forward lunges.

How to Perform Lunges

  1. Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart with a dumbbell in each hand by your sides or a bar on your shoulders.
  2. Take a big step forward with your right leg and sink into a lunge position as deep as your comfort and flexibility allow. The front knee should be directly above your ankle, and the back knee should hover just above the ground. Your rear knee should not touch the floor.
  3. Return to the starting position by pushing yourself back with the front leg.
  4. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions, switch legs, and perform the exercise with your left leg forward.

Alternative exercises: bodyweight lunge, side lunge, walking lunge.

Few other exercises are as versatile as lunges. Here are three variations on the standard lunge to spice up your lower body workouts:

  • Bodyweight lungesare the classic. Great for beginners or as a warm-up.
  • Side lunges, also called lateral lunges, are like regular lunges if they go East and West instead of North and South. They target both your inner and outer thighs and hit your gluteus medius more than regular lunges.
  • Withwalking lunges, you lunge forward, then step into another lunge, like you’re on a mini hike through a forest of gym equipment. Walking lunges elevate your heart rate and will leave you breathing hard, adding a cardio element to your strength workout.

6. Leg Curl

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The best and only exercise to isolate your hamstrings, the leg curl, is an essential part a leg workout. For best results in your hamstring training, you want to include both a hip hinge movement like some type of deadlift and an exercise where you bend your knees. That’s where the leg curl comes in.

Leg curls work one major muscle group, the hamstrings, which consist of three muscles: the biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus. Your glutes and calves join in, but they are not significant players.

Leg Curl Benefits

  • A proper balance between quad and hamstring strength is excellent news for your knees. Strengthening the hamstrings improves knee pain, range of motion, and functional performance in patients with knee osteoarthritis. In addition, weak and inflexible hamstrings are linked to patellofemoral pain syndrome(runner’s knee) and other knee conditions.3
  • Leg curls prevent the “mirror muscles” syndrome, and make sure you don’t neglect your posterior chain, balancing out quad-dominant exercises like squats and leg extensions.
  • Whether you’re sprinting to catch a train or leaping over a puddle of water, stronger hamstrings mean better performance in a plethora of activities.

The two best types of leg curls are the lying and the seated leg curl.

  • The lying leg curl is the classic. You lie face down, and curl weights up with your legs. It’s literally like doing a bicep curl, but for your legs, because the biceps femoris is one of the three muscles that make up your hamstrings.
  • The seated leg curl is perfect for those who like to sit down on the job. This variation targets the hamstrings differently due to the seated position. If you have access to a seated leg curl machine, it’s likely the better option. One study saw 55% greater hamstring muscle growth in particpants who trained the seated leg curl compared to another group who did the lying leg curl.4

While the seated leg curl seems to have the advantage for building muscle, the lying variant activates the hamstrings slightly differently. In other words, why not mix and max for the best of both worlds to keep your hamstrings guessing and growing!

How to Perform Leg Curls

  1. Adjust the machine so that you are correctly positioned. Your knees should be in line with the machine’s joint.
  2. Lift or push the weight down (depending on whether you chose the lying or seated leg curl) by bending your knees as far as possible.
  3. Slowly lower or let the weight back again.
  4. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions.

7. Deadlift

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The deadlift easily qualifies as one of the best lower body exercises, but it’s more than that. It’s a full-body session in itself, with a focus on many major muscle groups in your lower half.

Deadlifts primarily work your glutes and lower back. It also engages your quads, hamstrings, adductors, lats, traps, and forearms. Talk about a muscle- and strength-building all-in-one combo.

Deadlift Benefits

  • The deadlift builds phenomenal strength in your posterior chain, the muscles you can’t see in the mirror but are crucial for everything from sprinting to standing to sitting without throwing your back out.
  • Deadlifting is like training for real life. Picking heavy things off the ground is a universal task, whether you’re cleaning the garage or lifting a toddler. Deadlifting trains you to do it safely and effectively.
  • It might look scary when you see someone deadlifting heavy weights, but deadlifts are actually good for your back (and the rest of your body.) You improve your flexibility and fortify your muscles, tendons, and ligaments, which means deadlifts help protect your body against injuries. It’s like wrapping your joints in a protective bubble, except you’re building that bubble with deadlifting strength.

That being said, proper form is key in the deadlift to avoid trips to Snap City. Start with building your technique and go from there.

Increased strength, better posture, enhanced grip strength, and, let’s not forget, one of the greatest lower body exercises: that’s the deadlift.

How to Deadlift

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, with your toes pointing slightly outward. The barbell should be over the middle of your feet, close to your shins.
  2. Bend at the hips and knees to reach the bar. Grip the barbell slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. You can use an overhand grip (both palms facing you) or a mixed grip (one palm facing you and the other facing away).
  3. Keep your back straight and chest up. Engage your core and ensure your shoulders are slightly in front of the bar. Your hips should be higher than your knees but lower than your shoulders.
  4. Pull the bar close to your body, with a straight back, until you are standing straight. Keep the bar close to your body, and your arms straight throughout the lift. The bar should travel in a straight line vertically.
  5. Reverse the motion by hinging at the hips and bending the knees. Lower the bar to the starting position in a controlled manner, maintaining a straight back.
  6. Reset your position if necessary.
  7. Repeat the movement for your desired number of repetitions.

Alternative exercises:dumbbell deadlift,trap bar deadlift, sumo deadlift.

Don’t have a barbell? Do you have lower back concerns or feel awkward using the traditional deadlifting stance? You can still deadlift with these great alternatives.

  • The dumbbell deadlift is just like the barbell deadlift but with a pair of dumbbells. The only drawback is that it might be challenging to find dumbbells heavy enough once you get stronger, especially if you train at home.
  • The trap bar deadlift (a hexagonal bar you stand in the middle of) lets you keep the weight closer to your body, reducing strain on your lower back and putting more oomph in your legs and glutes.
  • Sumo deadlifts, with their wide toes-out stance and toes-out posture, offer increased quadriceps, glute, and adductor activation and a shorter range of motion, making them a fantastic pick if you have mobility woes or are looking to target your inner thighs.

8. Romanian Deadlift

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The Romanian deadlift is a fantastic exercise for improving your hamstring strength and flexibility, hip mobility, and building muscle in your posterior chain. You hinge at the hips and lower the weight with your knees locked at a slight bend, getting a stretch and strengthening effect on your hamstrings and glutes simultaneously.

Romanian deadlifts target your hamstrings in a way few exercises can, but your booty also gets heavily involved in the lift. It also works your lower back muscles (although not quite as much as regular deadlifts), traps, and even your forearms and grip strength.

Romanian Deadlift Benefits

  • As mentioned earlier, the leg curl works your hamstrings by bending your knees. With Romanian deadlifts, you work them through hip extension. Including both in your training routine guarantees optimal hamstring development, and you build a great pair of glutes toboot.
  • Many of us have tight hamstrings and Romanian deadlifts work wonders for your flexibility. Strength training, in general, is as effective as stretching for flexibility and mobility gains, and the Romanian deadlift has a built-in stretching component that takes it to the next level.
  • The Romanian deadlift can be done with a barbell, dumbbells, kettlebells, or even sandbags, making it adaptable in any environment. You can even do them on a single leg, challenging your balance in a supremely effective way.

If you have the flexibility, you can stand on an elevated surface (like a weight plate) to extend the range of motion without hitting the floor. If your hamstrings are stiff as a board, regularly including Romanian deadlifts in your workout routine will soon encourage them to safe and impressive feats of flexibility.

How to Perform Romanian Deadlifts

  1. Get into the starting position by deadlifting a barbell off the floor or by unracking it from a barbell rack. Stand feet hip-width, inhale, and brace your core slightly.
  2. Lean forward by hinging in your hips. Keep your knees almost completely extended.
  3. Lean forward as far as possible with good form (no rounding your back). You don’t have to touch the barbell to the floor, although it is OK if you do.
  4. Reverse the movement and return to the standing position. Exhale on the way up.
  5. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions.

Alternative exercises: single-leg Romanian deadlift, dumbbell Romanian deadlift, stiff-leg deadlift, kettlebell swing.

You can switch the standard Romanian deadlift for several significantly different lower body exercises and still get the same benefits.

  • Thesingle-leg Romanian deadliftis a balance-challenging version that strengthens your hamstrings and glutes and tests your balance and core stability.
  • Swap the barbell fordumbbell Romanian deadliftsto give your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back the same excellent workout but in a more home-training-friendly style.
  • Stiff-leg deadliftsup the ante on your flexibility requirements by keeping your legs straight as a board. It works the glutes more than Romanian deadlifts and hits your hamstring slightly differently.
  • Thekettlebell swingis a high-intensity and dynamic alternative to the traditional Romanian deadlift, engaging your posterior chain with an explosive hip-hinge motion that, unlike the steady pull of the deadlift, brings momentum into the movement.

9. Hip Thrust

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The hip thrust is a great exercise for the lower body, focusing on your booty. It builds muscle mass in your glutes like few other lower body exercises, and several studies show that it’s an effective movement for boosting sports performance like sprinting.5

Hip thrusts primarily target your gluteus maximus, the muscle responsible for the shape and strength of your backside, along with its smaller sibling muscles: the gluteus medius and minimus. It also hits your hamstrings, quads, and core, making it a great addition to any lower-body workout routine.

Hip Thrust Benefits

  • With the hip thrust, you’re not just training for a peachy Instagram pic. Hip thrusts boost your functional strength, so you’re better equipped for daily activities like picking up heavy groceries or sprinting to catch the bus. Also, stronger glutes mean better performance in running, jumping, and changing directions quickly if you’re an athlete.
  • Glutes play a crucial role in stabilizing your pelvis, leading to better posture and lower back health. So, while you’re thrusting away, think of it as giving your lower back some love, too.
  • Unlike some other lower body exercises that put a lot of pressure on your lumbar spine, hip thrusts allow you to load up the weight without stressing your back. And speaking of loading up weight, many people get strong really fast and use impressive loads quickly in the hip thrust.

Whether you’re a gym newbie or a seasoned pro, the hip thrust is your friend and backside benefactor. You can start with your body weight and work up to adding resistance with barbells, bands, dumbbells, or a dedicated hip-thrust machine if you train in a well-equipped gym. You can even do one-legged hip thrusts to work that booty at home without any equipment at all.

How to Perform Hip Thrusts

  1. Sit on the floor with your back against a sturdy bench.
  2. Roll the barbell up over your thighs, until it is placed over your hips.
  3. Place your feet on the floor, about shoulder-width apart, with bent knees.
  4. Place your hands on the bar to stabilize it.
  5. Push the bar towards the ceiling by extending your hips. Your knees should form a ~90 degree angle at the top.
  6. Squeeze your glutes at the top of the thrust like you’re trying to crack a walnut before lowering the weight.
  7. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions.

10. Standing Calf Raise

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The final of the ten best lower body exercises (and we’re talking lower in the literal sense, too) is thestanding calf raise, which is a precision strike on your lower legs, targeting the calf muscles and nothing else.

The prime movers of the standing calf press are your calf muscles, consisting of the gastrocnemius and the soleus. The gastrocnemius is more visible and the one that gives your calf that curved shape. The soleus lies beneath the gastrocnemius and is the stronger of the two, providing most of your calves’ force.

Standing Calf Raise Benefits

  • Well-developed calves look great, but they aren’t just for show. They are the guardians of your ankles and support the rest of your leg, keeping injuries at bay.
  • By strengthening your calves, you’re enhancing your balance and mobility, which is great whether you’re dodging obstacles in your path or just trying not to fall over while putting on your pants.
  • No gym? No worries! Calf raises can be done anywhere – next to your desk, while brushing your teeth, or even at your kitchen counter while pretending to help with dinner.

Calves are notoriously difficult to develop if you’re not born with them, but if any exercise can shake life into them, it’s this one. Be sure to perform them with a full range of motion, going all the way into a deep stretch at the bottom of the movement and a full contraction at the top.

How to Perform Standing Calf Raises

  1. Place your toes and the ball of your feet on the foot support. Place the shoulder pads against your shoulders and stand upright in the starting position.
  2. Lower yourself down by bending your ankles in a controlled movement.
  3. Push yourself up by extending your ankles.

Alternative exercise: seated calf raise.

The seated calf raise mostly removes the gastrocnemius from the action, as it can’t work properly in a shortened position. If you can’t do standing calf raises, the seated variant is viable, but research shows that it is far less effective.6

Lower Body Exercises: Exploring Other Options

These are ten lower body exercises (and alternatives) you can’t go wrong with. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a ton of other excellent exercises you can incorporate into your workouts.

Check out our massive directory ofstrength training exercisesfor their how and why, with detailed instructions and videos showing how to perform them.

Lower Body Exercises: Muscles Worked

Your lower body is made up of a tremendous number of muscles. Each extremity contains dozens of different muscles, and they are some of the most essential for overall body function and movement in the human body.

Most of the best lower body exercises focus on one or more of your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, or calves, and you automatically involve any other as long as you include some compound movements in your workouts.

Click on each image below to enlarge it.

Quadriceps Anatomy and Function

The quadriceps or “quads” are four muscles located at the front of the thigh. They include the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius, all of which help extend your knee joint and flex your thigh at the hip joint.

Your quadriceps are hard at work whenever you’re walking, running, jumping, or squatting.

Hamstring Anatomy and Function


The hamstrings are three muscles at the back of your thigh: the biceps femoris, the semitendinosus, and the semimembranosus. They work together to bend your knees and extend your hip, allowing you to walk, run, and jump with a spring in your step. In addition, they stabilize the knees and balance the forces around your thigh and lower leg.

Gluteus Anatomy and Function

The gluteus – the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus – are key muscles for the shape and movement of your hips and thighs.

The gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in the body and extends and externally rotates the thigh at the hip joint. It helps you kick your leg back and move it away from the midline of your body.

The gluteus medius and minimus abduct and internally rotate the thigh. They also help stabilize your pelvis and trunk during any activity that involves lifting one leg, like when you’re out on a stroll.

Calf Anatomy and Function


The calf muscles consist of two main muscles: the gastrocnemius, the outermost and more visible muscle forming the bulge beneath the skin, and the soleus, which lurks beneath the gastrocnemius. They work together to extend your foot at the ankle joint, enabling you to stand on tiptoes, walk, run, and jump.

Lower Body Workouts for Muscle and Strength

With these lower body strength training exercises in your arsenal, you can easily design your own workout routines.

But what if you’re unsure how to go about it or don’t want to?

Follow one of ours!

Ourworkout log apphas a boatload of training routines and workouts. It’s 100% free (and 100% ad free) to download with the button for your device:

The 10 Best Lower Body Exercises for Muscle and Strength (17)
The 10 Best Lower Body Exercises for Muscle and Strength (18)

Some of the programs and workouts require a premium subscription, but we offer a 14-day free trial, which you can activate in the app. Here are some of the most popular free ones:

Barbell Training Program for the Beginner

If you are new to strength training and want to get stronger and build muscle, give our Barbell Training Program for the Beginner a go. You train your whole body, and all the lower body exercises are from the top 10 above. Well, there are only two, but they are the tippy top and all you need when you take your first steps into strength training.

The 10 Best Lower Body Exercises for Muscle and Strength (19)

Push/Pull/Legs Workout Routine

One of the most popular training splits for intermediate and advanced training is the Push/Pull/Legs-split.

The 10 Best Lower Body Exercises for Muscle and Strength (20)

You train your pushing muscles (chest, shoulders, and triceps) in the first workout, your pulling muscles (back and biceps) in the second, and your lower body in the third.

You’ll find both an intermediate and advanced Push/Pull/Legs workout routine in StrengthLog. They require a premium subscription, but we also have stand-alone Push, Pull, and Leg workouts you can follow for free.

Here is the Leg Day workout in detail. It’s based entire on exercises from this list.

ExerciseSetsReps
Squat36
Romanian Deadlift38
Bulgarian Split Squat310
Seated Leg Curl312
Leg Extension212
Standing Calf Raise315

And here are the Push Day and Pull Day workouts to complete the PPL split.

4-Day Upper/Lower Training Program

One of our most popular programs, theUpper/Lower Body Split Program, is also completely free to track inStrengthLog. Days two and four of the program both feature lower body exercises from this list.

The 10 Best Lower Body Exercises for Muscle and Strength (21)

For more lower body workouts, check out our extensive library of training programs and workouts, where you’re sure to find what you need to build a stronger and more muscular lower body.

Final Words

Let’s wrap this up with a bang—or should I say a squat?

These lower body exercises are the best in the business and will have you lunging towards your goals successfully.

Thank you for reading, and good luck with your training!

Click here to return to our fulllist of strength training exercises.

References

  1. J Aging Health. 2011 Mar;23(2):313-28. Association between muscle mass, leg strength, and fat mass with physical function in older adults: influence of age and sex.
  2. Sports (Basel). 2019 Oct; 7(10): 215. A Comparison of Machine versus Free-Weight Squats for the Enhancement of Lower-Body Power, Speed, and Change-of-Direction Ability during an Initial Training Phase of Recreationally-Active Women.
  3. J Phys Ther Sci. 2014 Jun; 26(6): 817–820. Comparative Study of Hamstring and Quadriceps Strengthening Treatments in the Management of Knee Osteoarthritis.
  4. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2020 Oct 1. Online ahead of print. Greater Hamstrings Muscle Hypertrophy but Similar Damage Protection after Training at Long versus Short Muscle Lengths.
  5. J Sports Sci Med. 2019 Jun; 18(2): 198–206. Barbell Hip Thrust, Muscular Activation and Performance: A Systematic Review.
  6. Front Physiol. 2023; 14: 1272106. Triceps surae muscle hypertrophy is greater after standing versus seated calf-raise training.

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