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Top Exercises for Stronger Legs, Plus a 20-Minute Workout

Reading Time: 10 minutes


DATE: 2023-04-07

We’ve all either heard or said the phrase “Never skip leg day.” And it’s very true—you want to make sure to train your body evenly. Don’t skip it because you don’t want to be sore when you walk the next day. Don’t skip it because you’re more interested in working on your upper body. And definitely don’t skip it because you’re not sure what exercises to do.

Our legs are the biggest muscle group in the body, and you use them all day long, making it that much more important to make sure you are training your legs just as much as the rest of your body. If you think of your daily routine—walking, standing, getting up and down from sitting to standing—your legs are involved in all of it. Ideally, you will want to train your legs at least two days per week. So, check out some of our favorite leg exercises—both bodyweight and weighted—and build a better leg day.

Top Bodyweight Leg Exercises 

Bodyweight exercises are always an excellent addition to any workout program. They don’t require any equipment, so you can do them anywhere. 

Bodyweight Squats

Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and your hands out front. For a more advanced option, bring your hands behind your head. Next, squat down like you’re sitting down onto a chair. Focus on pushing your hips back and flexing at the knees. Squat down to a comfortable depth. To start, this may be above parallel, eventually working to parallel or below. Then, stand back up to the starting position. If this is easy for you, you can progress by making these jumping squats. 

Lateral Lunge

Begin by standing with feet shoulder-width distance. Like the squat, hands can be out in front or, for the more advanced person, behind their head. Then, step to one side, thinking about sitting back with the glutes and keeping your torso upright. You will again want to go to parallel. When you first start, these you may be above parallel, but eventually, work to get lower. Focus on keeping your shins vertical to the ground.

Curtsey Lunge

Begin with feet shoulder-width apart, keeping your hands out in front of you. Step to one side, crossing the leg you are stepping with behind you and bending both knees as if you are doing a curtsey. Really focus on keeping your shins vertical to the ground and go to a comfortable depth. Over time, work to go lower.

Split Squats 

For the split squat, you will start in a staggered stance, like the top point of a lunge. Your front foot will be flat on the ground, with the back foot up on your toes. Next, lower down to the ground until your back-knee touches, ensuring your front shin stays vertical to the ground. Then stand back up. Rather than alternating, you will perform all reps on one leg before switching to the other leg. Do these slowly so as not to hurt your knee as it touches the ground.

Box Jumps

Start your box jump with a box height that you are confident with. Then, start with your feet about shoulder-width apart and a comfortable distance from the box. You will want to squat down to about a half squat and use your arms by swinging them back as you jump up onto the box. Land as quietly as possible. The quieter the landing, the softer the impact on your joints. Once you land on the box, stand tall and then step back down. The more advanced person can even jump back down. 

Glute Bridge

Begin the glute bridge by laying on your back, knees bent to 90 degrees and your feet flat on the ground. Place your arms by your side with your palms to the floor. Then, slowly lift your hips off the ground until they are in line with your knees. Hold at the top for a few seconds and then slowly lower back down to the ground. If that is easy for you, try doing the same thing with a single leg. If you do the single-leg version, you will want to do all the reps on one leg and then switch to the other leg.

Stability Ball Leg Curl

This is one of the more challenging leg exercises. You will start in a similar position as the glute bridge but this time your feet will be up on a stability ball. From there you will go up into a glute bridge and then curl your feet into your body and slowly lower them back out to the starting position. 

Top Weighted Leg Exercises

Looking to up the ante? If you have access to weights and certain weight machines, you can add on to your leg exercises.


For the squat, there are a few variations, most of which involve the back squat or the front squat. Both will have a similar movement, with the difference being where you hold the barbell or dumbbells. The front squat variation requires more mobility in the wrists and elbows and more core stability. 

With either variation, begin with your feet shoulder-width distance apart. Then, squat down like you are sitting down onto a chair. Focus on pushing your hips back and flexing at the knees. You will want to squat down to a comfortable depth, ideally looking to get to parallel or below. Then stand back up to the starting position. 

Bulgarian Split Squat

The Bulgarian split squat is sometimes referred to as a rear-foot elevated split squat. With this one, the setup is extremely important. First, choose an object that is a good height for elevating your rear foot. Usually, a bench works well here. 

Test out a rep by lining up at the bench, taking about three steps out, and putting your back foot up on the bench. You will then squat down to ensure your front shin is vertical to the ground and your back knee touches the ground. You can adjust this closer or further depending on the person. Just be sure you don’t take too long of a stance.

Once you have found the proper distance, you can add your weights. You can use dumbbells, kettlebells, or a barbell in a front or back rack. For people first starting out with this exercise, dumbbells or kettlebells are recommended. Perform all the reps on one side before switching to the other side. 

Weighted Step-up

For the weighted step-up, use the same set up as the box jump. The difference here is that instead of jumping up you will be stepping up alternating legs each time and then stepping back down. You have lots of options to weight the step up. Typically, you will see a kettlebell or dumbbell either held by the sides of the legs or in a front rack position. If you are performing this exercise with a barbell, it can be done with either a front or a back rack. 


For the deadlift, start with your feet about hip-width apart and toes pointed slightly outward. You want to have your feet directly under the bar and grip the bar at about shoulder-width. You can grip the bar with a pronated grip or a mixed grip. Next, bend your knees until the bar about meets your shin. Then, ensure your core is tight, you are using your glutes, and you have a neutral spine. Lift the bar off the ground. You will want to lift the bar high enough that your hips are fully extended at the top when standing up. Then slowly lower the bar back to the floor. 

Walking Lunge

Walking lunges are some of the simplest exercises that you can do for your legs. Start with feet hip-width apart and then take one step forward. Make sure your front shin is vertical to the ground and the back knee about touches the ground. Then step up and through with the back leg. You can add weight in many ways, such as with dumbbells or kettlebells at your side or in the front rack. Or, use a barbell either in a front rack, back rack, or overhead.

Hamstring Curls

This is the only exercise we have listed here that requires a machine to add weight. Start laying face-down on the machine. Focus on keeping your body flat on the bench and hold on to the handles provided to ensure your body stays in place. You will then curl your feet up towards your body and slowly lower back down.

20-Minute Lower Body Workout

When completing this workout, you must focus on using maximal load, low rep ranges and minimal rest in between sets. You should rest as long as you need to complete the next set, but remember you only have 25 minutes to complete the workout. 

Lower Body Warm-up

#1 Bird Dog

In an all-fours position, extend your right arm up and out in front of the body. At the same time, extend your left leg up and back away from the body. Squeeze your glutes, keep your core tight and avoid rotating your hips. Bring your arm and leg back down towards the starting position. Instead of resting on the ground, touch your elbow to your opposite knee and immediately move into another rep. Perform 10 reps on each side.  

#2 Lying Knee Hug

Lie flat on your back with both legs raised off the ground. Start by pulling one knee into your chest, hug and hold. Then rotate to the opposite leg. Perform 10 reps on each leg and make sure you keep your legs off the ground the entire set.

#3 Banded Glute Bridge with Knee Drive

Attach a mini band slightly above your knees. Lie flat on your back and elevate both your feet on a 6 inch box. Keep your hands to the side of your body. Begin by lifting your hips up off the ground. Lift your right foot off the box and drive your knee towards your chest. Return your foot to the box. Lower back down to the ground and repeat on the opposite leg. Perform 10 knee drives on each leg. 

#4 Plyo Lunge

Take one step or lunge forward while lowering your back knee towards the ground. Jump off the ground and switch your front and back foot. Land softly into a lunge position and repeat for 10 reps on each leg. 

#5 Jump Rope

Hold a jump rope in both hands at hip level. Start with the jump rope behind your body. Begin rotating your wrists and swing the rope overhead. Once the rope reaches in front of your body jump over the rope. Continue swinging the rope and jumping for 30 seconds. 

Lower Body Strength Workout

# 1A Sumo Deadlift

Start out in front of the barbell with your feet wider than shoulder width. Point your toes out to about 45 degrees. Bend at your hips and squat down to grab the bar. Grab the bar inside your legs, about shoulder width apart. Keep your hips down, back straight and begin standing up. Drive your hips forward into the bar. Once you are standing upright, lower the bar back down. Complete 3 sets of 6 reps. Perform the lying hamstring curl immediately following each set. 

# 2A Lying Hamstring Curl

Find the lying hamstring curl machine in your gym. Lie flat or prone on the bench. Secure your feet underneath the pads and choose and appropriate weight. Curl the weight up, bringing your heels towards your butt. Lower back down slowly to the starting position and repeat. Perform 3 sets of 12 reps. Rest for 60 seconds and move back to the sumo deadlift. Once you complete 3 sets of each, move onto the next set of exercises.

# 3B Leg Press

Sit down in the leg press machine. Be sure your back and butt are secure on the bench. Position your feet shoulder width apart on the leg press platform. Once you have your feet in place to control the weight, unlock the safety hooks. Lower the platform down slowly and bring your knees towards your chest. Press back up to the starting position and repeat. Complete 3 sets of 10 reps. Complete the reverse lunge immediately after each set. 

# 4B Reverse Lunge

Hold onto two dumbbells at hip level. Step back with your right leg and lower your knee towards the ground. At the same time allow your left leg to bend into a lunge. Stand back up to the starting position. Repeat for 6 reps on each leg. Rest for 60 seconds and move back to the leg press. Once you complete 3 sets of each, move onto the next set of exercises. 

# 5C Leg Extension

Secure your body into the leg extension machine. Set the machine appropriately so that the back of your knees fit with the edge of the seat. Choose your weight and place the top of your feet underneath the pad. Lift the pad up until your legs are fully extended. Squeeze your quads and lower the weight down slowly. Perform 2 sets of 15 reps. Superset with the back extensions. 

# 6C Back Extension

Set the back extension machine so that your hips slightly hang off the top. Cross your arms in front of your body and fold your body down towards the ground. Lift back up by squeezing your glutes and hamstrings. The back extension will target your lower back. Although you want to ensure that you utilize your posterior chain also. Once you complete 12 reps, immediately move back into the leg extension. 


You have completed the strength segment of the leg workout. Now it’s time to stretch to help you recover for your next workout. 

#1  Hip Stretch

Achieve a lunge position with your back leg resting on the ground. Place the opposite hand of the leg thats in front down on the ground. Lean forward into the lunge and stretch the hip flexor on the back leg. Hold for 20 seconds and then rotate.  

#2 Quad Stretch

Lift one leg up behind the body. Grab the top of your foot and pull towards your butt. Hold for 20 seconds on each leg. 

#3  Calf Stretch

Find a wall or secure object that you can push against. Place both hands on the object with one leg in front of the other. Try to straighten your back leg as much as you can and drop your heel towards the ground. At the same time lean into the front leg and push against the wall. Stretch the back leg for 20 seconds and then switch. 

Great work! You have completed the 25-minute lower body strength workout!

If you are interested in learning more about these exercises, check out our Certified Fitness Trainer course and our Strength and Conditioning Specialist course.

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