From Ankles to Glutes!
Today, I’m going to show you six exercises that will sculpt your legs from killer calf muscles to buns of steel…and everything in between!
These exercises can be performed at home or at the gym with minimal equipment. If you are at home, all you need are a couple of dumbbells (or optional kettlebell).
Many of the exercises listed below will work out more than one muscle group in your legs, but I grouped them by the primary muscle each exercise is targeting.
If you are interested in targeting other body parts, make sure to check out the following articles!
First up, is the lower half of the leg! The calf muscle is actually the easiest of the leg muscles to work out. The exercises won’t tire you out like lunges or squats, but it’s easy to achieve a quick burn. This one exercise move will both strengthen AND stretch out your calf muscles.
Exercise #1. Standing Calf Raises
Using a stair-step, raised door post, or a piece of 2X4, stand straight with the balls of your feet on the step, and your heels on the ground. Hold on to a chair or wall for balance if necessary. Then raise your heels above the step so you are standing on your tiptoes.
Hold the position for 1-2 seconds, then release your heels back to the ground, feeling the stretch in your calf muscle. If you would like extra resistance, you can perform the move while holding a dumbbell in each hand.
Hamstring Muscles (back of the thigh)
The hamstring muscle is important because it affects two joints and so is referred to as a biarticular muscle. The knee joint and the hip joint rely on this muscle for both speed and helping out the posture to prevent injury.
There are a few ways to work out this muscle, but my favorite is the single-leg deadlift. Although this requires more balance than the standard deadlift, I feel the single-leg deadlift works out the hamstring more effectively while also causing less strain on my back as opposed to the standard deadlift.
Exercise #2: Single-Leg Deadlift
Hold a kettlebell (preferred) or dumbbell in one hand, hanging to the side. Plant the leg on the same side as the kettlebell firmly on the ground. Keeping your knee slightly bent, slowly bend at the hip, lowering the kettlebell to the ground, while the opposite leg extends behind you for balance.
Lower the kettlebell until your torso and extended opposite leg are parallel to the ground. Hold for 1 second, then slowly return to the starting position. Repeat for the desired amount of repetitions, then switch sides.
Ensure you are maintaining proper posture and engage your core throughout the motion. Otherwise, this exercise will cause lower back strain.
Quadriceps Muscles (front and sides of the thigh)
The quadriceps muscles are named as such because it is actually a group of 4 muscles. The quads are the powerhouse muscles of the legs, involved in movement and propulsion. Strong quads are also important to bring stability to the knee joints, which are inherently unstable and depend on muscles and ligaments to protect them from injury.
I personally started having knee issues when I was a teenager, but it wasn’t until I finally listened to the knee doctors and started strengthening my thigh muscles that the pain was not only reduced but finally went away.
My legs are stronger, and my knees are more stable in my 40’s than they were in my 20’s. I have little to no knee pain anymore, whereas I used to actually limp around due to significant pain. Go figure, the doctors and physical therapists actually knew what they were talking about.
The next three exercises are all focused on the quadriceps, but three different part of this muscle group.
Exercise #3: Wide-Stance Squats (rectus femoris & vastus intermedius…a.k.a. the top of the thigh)
Stand straight with your feet slightly wider than should-width apart with your toes pointed forward. You can place your hands behind your head or out in front of you. Start by flexing your knees and hips as you sit back with your hips.
Squat down as far as possible without distressing your knees. Keep your head and chest up and your knees out through the entire move. Reverse the motion and return to standing position. When ready you can add more resistance by holding a barbell behind your head, resting on your shoulders, or hold a single dumbbell near your chest.
Exercise #4: Narrow-Stance Squats (vastus lateralis…a.k.a. outer thigh)
This is performed the same as the wide-stance squat, except you stand with your feet less than shoulder-width apart. You will “feel the burn” on the outer side of the thighs.
Exercise #5: Plie Squat (vastus medialis…a.k.a. inner thigh) (It’s (pronounced plēˈā, not ply)
Stand straight with your feet wider than should-width apart, with your toes pointed out at a 45-degree angle. Hold a single dumbbell at the base with both hands, or a kettlebell with both hands, hanging down in front of your body.
Slowly bend at the knees and lower your body until your thighs are parallel with the ground. Pressing with the heels of your feet, return to a standing position.
For all squats, make sure you keep your head up, chest out, and back straight to avoid injury.
Glute Muscles (your buttocks)
Of course, we all want buns of steel, a nice round rear that fills out our jeans nicely. But there are practical reasons to strengthen your glute muscles too.
Strong glute muscles are important for your core, help to support a range of movements, and improve your balance leading to greater mobility.
On the flip side, weak glutes cause an entire host of problems including balance issues, lower back pain, and poor posture…just to name a few.
Exercise #6: Glute Bridge
Lying on the floor with your knees at a 90-degree angle, lift your hips off the floor by pushing through with your heels. Hold for 1-2 seconds then lower back to the ground. Repeat for the desired amount of reps.
Leg Workout Circuit
If you are feeling especially determined to obtain killer legs sooner rather than later, commit to a leg circuit workout 3-4 times a week. Perform the above 6 exercises back-to-back, rest for 1 minute, then repeat. Begin with two sets and work your way up to four sets.
Reps (repetition) = one complete motion of an exercise
Set = a group of consecutive reps
Remember! Always maintain good posture, engage your core, and practice proper breathing through all exercises.
I hope you enjoyed this little tutorial on exercising your leg muscles. If so, please leave me a comment below!