Top 8 Leg Exercises

The best workouts combine cardio, calisthenics and weight lifting to produce overall gains that build and tone muscle while cutting fat. The adage “Don’t skip leg day.” provides an important reminder that rotating the muscle groups worked on various days produces better benefits. Alternating leg workouts with arms day and core plus back days provides a rest day for one muscle group without the laziness and loss of gains from a full day off from working out. Since the week provides seven days, but three main workouts, choose the area you need gains in the most for your three-day a week workout. The others get two days of focus. Cardio happens every day. You might swim on arm days and bike on core days although you’ll benefit your legs on both, too. Always wear appropriate safety gear when weight lifting and work with a trainer for at least the first couple of sessions. Always lift with a partner. Never begin a new program with your max lift able weight. Start with a single set of each exercise and work your way up to multiple sets.

Walk, hike, run

Cardio provides the best overall body plus leg benefits. You’ll tone your legs all over, work every muscle group, build stamina and better lung capacity. You can start with walking at a slow to moderate pace and slowly build up. Begin with at least ten minutes of continuous motion and increase from there. Every marathoner began with a single step forward. If you walk or run outdoors, you’ll also benefit from the fresh air and sunshine which provides vitamins in a natural method.


Virtually all leg workouts contain squats, often multiple styles. That’s because this ingenuous exercise works so many muscle groups at once, especially the glutes. Choose from basic, front, Bulgarian split, pause, jump, skater, hack and/or dumbbell squats. Most people recognize the front squat. Place your feet about 12 inches apart, facing forward. Begin standing up straight. You’ll lift a barbell from shoulder height using an overhand grip. Raise it elbow height, parallel with the floor. Squat your lower body bending at the knees, keeping the barbell steadily in front of you at elbow height. Keep your back straight and bend at the knees as far as possible, attempting to “brush grass” with your, ahem, buttocks. Hold for a count of eight. Raise up with your back still straight. Repeat the move for a set of eight.


Choose from a standard deadlift or the Romanian variety. In the standard, begin standing straight up (posture matters), your feet placed facing forward about hip-width apart. Your shins should be about an inch away from the bar. Grip the bar using a reverse grip. Bend your knees and push them toward your straightened arms, bringing your chest up and looking straight ahead. Keeping a flat, straight back, stand up by extending your hips as you lift the bar along with you. The bar travels up your leg as you stand. Start with a set of eight.

Step Ups

You already know how to walk upstairs, so you know most of this exercise already. Use a mobile set of steps or a step bench that will result in your thigh being parallel to the floor when you step on it. With a dumbbell in each hand, step up with your left leg, leaving your right leg trailing/hanging. Hold for a count of four, then step down. Repeat with your right leg as the stepping leg, and your left trailing. Repeat eight times per leg.

Kettlebell Swing

Begin standing with feet hip-width apart. The kettlebell should sit on the floor centered between your legs, but in front of you. Grab the kettlebell using both hands with your palms facing you. With your lower back flat, lift it off the floor extending your hips. Take a deep breath, bend your hips back with the kettlebell swinging back through your legs (through the upside down V formed). While extending your hips, exhale and bring the weight to shoulder level. The momentum of the movement does most of the work. Do a set of eight to start.

Walking Lunge

Lunges, like squats, help multiple muscle groups. You’ll build your quads, hamstrings and glutes with walking lunges. Standing up straight, hold a dumbbell in each hand, arms hanging at your sides. Step forward with one foot, but bending both knees. Lower your torso toward the floor without letting your front knee pass your toes. Don’t let your back knee touch the floor. Follow through on the heel of your front knee, bringing your back leg forward until you are standing again. Keep your back straight or extended throughout. Repeat leading with the opposite leg in front. Start with a set of eight for each leg.

Leg Press

You just can’t replace the benefits of a leg press, so hit the machine. Set the machine seat so you can sit with your hips beneath your knees. Your knees should line up with your feet. When you feel ready, remove the safeties and lower your knees to your chest until you reach a 90-degree angle. Press back up. Do not go lower than 90 degrees since it pushes your lower back up off the machine which can cause injury. Start with a set of eight.

Barbell Calf Raise

To build great calves, lay a block or step on the floor. This will be your toe rest. Holding a barbell on the back of your shoulders, put your toes on the block. Your calves should stretch, but you should remain balanced. Lift yourself by raising your heels, so you balance on the block on the balls of your feet. Start with a set of eight.

This quick set of eight exercises help you build well-muscled, defined legs. If you’re short on time, but know the importance of leg workouts, let these exercises guide you to long-term results.