Lower Body Leg Workout Routines and Exercises for the Gym
If you’re looking for lower body exercises that will help you add size and symmetry to your lower body muscles, this article is for you.
This is a follow-up to our upper body post, in which I discussed how to best set up your upper body workouts. However, in this article, we’ll discuss how to plan your lower body workouts based on current scientific literature, our health education, and our understanding of muscles.
Before that, if you’re looking for a training program that will help you set up each and every one of your workouts for maximum muscle growth, I’ve got just the thing for you. The Unorthodox Membership program is intended to be an all-in-one, science-based process that will get you to your ideal physique as quickly as possible. And the best part? Everything is based on science. We also added in many other tools, resources, and some fun stuff too!
The Primary Workout Goal
The main goal of the exercises should be to balance the training of your lower body muscles. This not only improves the appearance and proportion of your lower body, but it also reduces your risk of injury significantly.
So, how do we go about doing this? In this workout, we accomplish this by adequately training the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves.
Muscles Worked: Multiple Various Muscles
These are the primary muscles that will contribute to the “aesthetic” of your lower body, and each should be strengthened and grown in proportion to the others. But, in order to do so, we must select the appropriate exercises.
Exercise 1 – Barbell Back Squats – Is the Best Lower Body Workout (Quadriceps Emphasis)
Squats are going to be your best bet for quadriceps development. Although squats will heavily involve the glutes and will undoubtedly contribute to their growth, numerous studies have shown that they elicit very high quadriceps activation when compared to other exercises.
And, because squats are an exercise that can be easily and effectively overloaded with weight, I’d recommend including them in your workout.
In terms of whether to do back squats or front squats, I’d recommend doing back squats on one of your lower body days and front squats on the other. If you only do one lower body day per week, you could alternate between them over time.
This is because, while research shows that overall quadriceps activation is very similar between front and back squats, front squats may better activate certain quadriceps muscles that aren’t as well activated during the back squat.
For example, according to this table from a study published in the journal of strength and conditioning research, certain quadricep muscles, such as the vastus lateralis and the rectus femoris, are activated less during the back squat and more during the front squat.
Activation of Muscles and Biomechanical Analysis
As a result, incorporating both the back and front squats into your weekly routine is probably a good idea for more balanced and complete quadriceps development.
Exercise 2: Romanian Deadlifts (Hamstrings/Glutes)
The following exercise is a variant on the traditional deadlift. Although the muscles worked will be very similar in both variations, Romanian deadlifts will emphasize the hamstrings and glutes more. This is due to the fact that the knees are kept relatively straight throughout the movement.
The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research published a study in 2014 that compared hamstring activity in four different hamstring exercises: Romanian deadlifts, leg curls, glute ham raises, and good mornings.
Romanian deadlifts and glute ham raises were the most effective of the four exercises. I’d highly recommend including Romanian deadlifts in your lower body workout to strengthen the posterior chain because they allow for more weight to be lifted and are easier to progressively overload over time.
In terms of form, you should perform them similarly to a traditional deadlift, but keep your legs relatively straight throughout each rep. As you lower the weight, push your hips back while keeping your lower back straight.
Pointers for Romanian Deadlifts
Your mobility will determine how low you go, but generally aim for below your knees and then contract your hamstrings and glutes to push the hips forward as you bring the weight back up.
Exercise 3: Bulgarian Split Squats (Quads/Hams/Glutes)
The Bulgarian split squat, as demonstrated in my leg workout article, is something I believe everyone should incorporate into their routine at some point. They do an excellent job of hitting all of the major leg muscles, with a focus on the posterior chain.
According to a 2010 study published in the Journal of Sport Rehab, the Bulgarian split squat engages the hamstrings and glutes more than the back squat. Furthermore, a 2016 study by Speirs and colleagues suggests that the Bulgarian split squat may be just as effective as the back squat at increasing back squat strength – while putting less strain on the lower back!
As a result, it’s clear that the Bulgarian split squat is an excellent complement to squats for both muscle and strength development.
Furthermore, the fact that it is a unilateral exercise (meaning that only one leg is worked at a time) helps prevent muscle imbalances from developing, which is likely if you only do bilateral exercises like the squat and deadlift.
Another thing I want to emphasize about this exercise is foot placement.
According to one 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Biomechanics, a longer step length, such that the shin is vertical, makes the split squat more hip-dominant, putting more emphasis on the hamstrings and glutes.
Shorter Bulgarian Split Squats
A shorter step length makes the split squat more knee-dominant, putting more emphasis on the quadriceps.
Longer Bulgarian Split Squats
So you can use this knowledge in your workout by taking a longer step if you want to target more of your hamstrings and glutes, or a shorter step if you want to focus more on your quads.
Glute Ham Raise (Exercise 4) (hamstring emphasis)
This last exercise is one that I personally enjoy (and the literature appears to as well)! It will emphasize the hamstrings the most, but it will also involve other posterior muscles such as the glutes and lower back.
Based on the findings of the 2014 EMG study, we already know glute ham raises are superior to other hamstring exercises for activating the hamstrings.
In terms of hamstring development, this study also shows that glute ham raises complement Romanian deadlifts very well. They discovered that while one of the hamstring muscles (the long head of the biceps femoris) was activated maximally in both exercises, the other two hamstring muscles were not.
They were most activated concentrically (up) during the glute-ham raise and most eccentrically (down) during the Romanian deadlift.
Simply put, it would be a good idea to incorporate both into your routine.
This idea is supported further by a 2015 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. The researchers discovered that hip dominant exercises (e.g., Romanian deadlift) can maximize upper hamstring activation, whereas lower hamstring activation appears to be maximized by more knee-dominant exercises.
Glute Ham Raise Muscles
This makes sense because the biceps femoris’s short head only crosses over the knee joint and thus can only be trained through knee flexion.
As a result, incorporating both a hip-dominant hamstring exercise, such as the Romanian deadlift, and a more knee-dominant exercise, such as the glute ham raise, is advised. This not only aids in the balanced development of the hamstrings, but it also aids in injury prevention (especially in athletes).
If your gym does not have a glute ham raise machine, I recommend leg curls on a stability ball as a knee-dominant alternative. Additional options are listed in the PDF at the end of this article.
Lower Body Workout Example
So, to summarize the video, here’s how your workout might look:
3-5 sets of 6-8 reps on the barbell back squat
2-4 sets of 8-10 reps on the Romanian Deadlift
2-4 sets of 6-10 reps on the Bulgarian Split Squat
2-4 sets of 8-12 reps on the glute ham raise
2-4 sets of 6-10 reps of standing single leg calf raises
2-4 sets of 10-15 reps of seated calf raises
I’d also recommend including one or two calf exercises. In a future article, I’ll go over calves in greater detail. Lifters who are just starting out should probably stick to the lower end of the volume recommendations. More intermediate lifters, on the other hand, should probably stick to the higher end of the volume recommendations.
And if you’re looking for a complete step-by-step program that uses science to show you how to properly train AND eat week after week to transform your body in the most efficient and injury-free way possible, becoming an Unorthodox Training Member may be beneficial.
The Best Lower Body Workout (All You Need Are Dumbbells)
Don’t have a barbell or a leg press machine? You can still work every major muscle in your legs! In this article, I’ll show you how to do the ultimate lower body workout with only dumbbells.
I’ll be completely honest. Nothing beats a good set of heavy deadlifts or back squats for a sense of accomplishment. However, every now and then, it’s nice to shake things up. And, depending on our circumstances and equipment availability, we may even have to do so at times. Fortunately, we don’t need a barbell or a leg press machine to work and strengthen all of the major muscles in the legs. That is, if you know what you’re doing. Today, I’ll show you how to do the best lower body workout with just a few dumbbells. And, of course, a dash of science.
But, before we get into the exercises, let’s talk about rep ranges. This is especially important for those who only have a few lighter dumbbell sizes available. Why? Because you won’t have enough weight to simulate the same amount of load you would normally have. To compensate for this, instead of our usual moderate rep ranges, we’ll use:
• Higher reps for the majority of our sets AND
• Concentrate on simply getting each of our sets as close to failure as possible… As a result, despite using lighter weight, our leg muscles are sufficiently activated. This is the most important factor in muscle growth. As a result, several papers have now demonstrated that using lighter weights for higher reps yields comparable results to doing fewer reps with heavier weights. As long as we get close enough. Alternatively, we could go all the way to failure during our sets. So keep that in mind as we go through the exercises below.
Of course, if you’re looking for more than just leg strength, the Unorthodox Training Membership program would be beneficial. This program provides the main training that walks you through the process of developing a well-rounded physique, whether you train at home or in the gym.
Dumbbell Squat Jumps (Exercise 1)
We’ll begin with dumbbell squat jumps. Hold the weights at your sides or across your chest. This will help us to: • Work the majority of our lower body muscles, such as the quads and glutes; and • Improve our athleticism.
• Improved preparation of our lower body muscles and nervous system for the remainder of the lower body workout
After 8 weeks, one study found that this exercise improved maximal strength, vertical jump, and sprint performance in a group of athletes.
And the fact that we only have lighter dumbbells is ideal for this movement. We’re not going to use very heavy weights because our goal here is power production. And we’re not going to do a lot of repetitions. However, in order to maximize force, we must focus on proficiency with each rep. And research suggests that instead of squatting all the way down, squat just above parallel. Then, on the way up, explode with near-maximal effort.
This will be done for a total of 6 reps over 4 or 5 sets. Perform these reps in a row, but move smoothly. This includes a proper landing and a controlled descent into your next squat. This is also the only exercise on this lower body workout list that should not be trained to failure.
Skater Squats (Exercise 2)
Next, we’ll move on to the most difficult strength movement of this workout. It is, of course, the skater squat. To do this movement, you squat down with your back leg and then squat up with your front leg. It’s similar to a reverse lunge. Except that your back foot never touches the ground. Holding a light dumbbell in front of you will help you even out your weight, making balancing easier.
The main distinction between this exercise and other single-leg squat variations or the back squat is that the:
• Hips – Move backwards more.
• Torso – Moves forward more.
When compared to the traditional back squat or other single leg variations, which research has shown results in significantly greater activation of the hamstrings and glutes.
This is a difficult movement even with just your body weight. So I’d suggest limiting your range of motion. Place blocks, a stack of books, cushions, or any other platform for your back knee to touch on the descent. Then, gradually lower the platform’s height until you can lower your back knee to the floor. Another option is to grab a countertop or any other fixture to aid in your balance and support during the movement.
Variation of the Quad-Dominant Lunge (Exercise 3)
Then, in this leg workout that you can do at home with only dumbbells, we’ll move on to a quad-dominant lunge variation. This movement will allow us to concentrate on one leg at a time. Despite the fact that it requires less strength than our previous exercise.
Option 1 – Split Squats (Easier)
Split squats are the simplest lunge variation available. These are similar to lunges, but without the alternating legs. In one study comparing split squats to lunges, non-resistance trained men completed split squats with a much greater range of motion than lunges. This is because they were better at balancing, making it an excellent choice for those who are new to training. Set your stance for these and then simply lower your back knee to the floor. Then, using your front leg, push yourself back up. Continue on that side until you have completed your set before switching to the other leg.
This exercise targets your quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. However, because the skater squats we did before this did a great job of emphasizing our hamstrings and glutes, we want to make this exercise more quad-focused. According to research, we can accomplish this by: • Narrowing our stance during setup AND • Maintaining an upright torso so that your front knee can travel forward more.
As a result, more tension will be transferred from the hamstrings and glutes to the quads.
Option 2 (Difficulty) – Bulgarian Split Squats
Do you believe you require a more difficult movement? Or do you only have access to lighter dumbbells and weights at home for your lower body workout routine? Then simply perform a Bulgarian Split Squat. This is where you elevate your back foot to put even more strain on your front leg. When various studies are compared, it is estimated that during a:
• Traditional lunge – The forward leg bears 75% of your body weight. WHEREAS
• Bulgarian split squat – The front leg bears 85 percent of your body weight.
The Bulgarian split squat also has slightly less hamstring activity. As a result, it is the ideal lunge variation for highlighting your quads. Especially if you’re only working with lighter weights. Again, as with standard split squats, you’ll want to use a narrower stance to direct more tension to the quads.
Single-Leg Romanian Deadlifts (Exercise 4)
The single-leg Romanian deadlift will then be used to target the hamstrings. This is simply a Romanian Deadlift performed on a single leg, as the name implies. Keep your planted leg relatively straight and simply bend over at the hips while maintaining a neutral spine.
The single-leg Romanian deadlift has a few advantages over the double leg:
1. You won’t need as much weight to load the muscles. Again, if you have limited weights for your lower body workout routine, this is a great movement.
2. Because you’re on one leg, your stability muscles will be more activated. This is especially true for your medial glutes, which serve as a primary stabilizer. In fact, it was suggested in a study about the massive benefits of single-leg squats like the ones we did earlier that they be paired with a single-leg Romanian deadlift to better isolate the hamstrings. This is due to the high level of activation they have during this movement.
Here’s what the study found:
“Because the SLS is performed unilaterally, it would seem prudent to suggest the single-leg Romanian deadlift as an exercise to both target the hamstrings and retain the specificity of working on one leg.”
If you struggle with balance, you can begin with a regression by using a split stance. As you perform the movement, use your back leg to provide a little more stability.
Exercise 5: Dumbbell Leg Curls While Lying Down
Following that, we’ll do the lying dumbbell curl. This is to target the hamstrings even more, but with a knee flexion dominant movement. This is important because, as demonstrated in a 2015 paper, hip dominant exercises like the Romanian deadlifts seem to maximize activation of the upper hamstrings. Lower hamstrings appear to be best activated by more knee-dominant exercises such as the leg curl. When you think about it, it makes sense. One of our hamstring muscles, the biceps femoris, has a short head that crosses over the knee joint. As a result, only knee flexion can be trained.
This movement can be performed on the ground or on a bench. Control the weight and extend the eccentric or downward portion of each rep. This is critical. Strengthening this part of the movement has been shown to improve athletic performance as well as prevent hamstring injuries.
Copenhagen Adductor Bridge (Exercise 6)
Finally, we’ll employ a technique known as an adductor bridge. As the name implies, this helps to train the adductors (the muscles on the inside of our legs). To strengthen this region, a heavy, full-range-of-motion barbell squat and similar exercises would normally suffice. But, since we don’t have that and are likely limited in terms of weights, we’ll just want to make sure we don’t leave this muscle behind. This is especially significant. According to research, strengthening the adductors significantly reduces the risk of groin injuries.
You’ll need a bench or some sort of elevated platform to perform this movement. You’ll start in a side plank position. Place one bent leg on top of the support and the other leg underneath. Then, simply contract your top leg’s adductors to pull your body up. Slow down and pause at the top of each rep. As you do so, you should feel the muscles on the inside of your upper leg working.
Dumbbell Goblet Squats (Exercise 7)
Finally, to add some volume to the workout, we’ll perform dumbbell goblet squats. Because of our ability to use a heavy load, we usually begin with squats. However, because we have limited equipment, this becomes the “lightest” movement. And a fantastic finisher. Because our legs are already quite pre-fatigued from previous exercises, we’ll be able to provide greater muscular fatigue to our legs with this exercise, despite the fact that we’re using a relatively lighter weight. Push yourself hard and concentrate on accumulating volume for these. And don’t be afraid to try these sets to failure.
Lower Body Workout with Dumbbells
Dumbbell Jump Squats: 4 sets of 6 power reps (rest 2 minutes in between sets)
3 sets of skater squats (45 second rest between legs)
Variation of the Quad-Dominant Lunge: 3 sets each leg (45 seconds rest between legs)
SLRD: 3 sets per leg (45 seconds rest in between legs).
DB is lying. Leg curls: three sets of six to eight slow reps (90 seconds rest between sets)
2 sets of 6-8 reps on the Copenhagen Adductor Bridge (30 seconds rest between legs)
DB 1-3 sets to failure on the goblet squat
So, if you combine all of the exercises, this is what your workout might look like. Many of these movements do not have reps listed. As I previously stated, concentrate on pushing each set to the brink of failure. It doesn’t matter if you do 10 reps or 20 reps depending on your strength and the amount of weight you have on hand; what matters is that you push hard enough during each set.
Overall, this is an excellent lower-body workout that can compete with any barbell routine. Even if you don’t have a lot of expensive equipment, you can design an effective muscle-building workout that doesn’t neglect important muscle groups. You simply need to take the time to carefully select and implement your exercises.