The Complete List of Bodybuilding Leg Exercises and the Best Ones to Do

Have you ever seen this many bodybuilding leg exercises? Well we’ve also broken down the best from the rest

bodybuilding leg exercises

Leg day isn’t exactly something that all people look forward to when going to the gym. When leg day arrives, they’ll either put in a half-assed effort, make an excuse to train something else or skip going to the gym altogether.

Sound familiar? Yeah, we’ve been there too.

It takes a little mental tuning to be able to look forward to training legs. Looking forward to training legs is like looking forward to something on the same scale as self-mutilation, except that this form of self-injury comes back as gains.

That might not be a very sunshine-like explanation but those who train their legs balls to the wall know that this is true.

Let’s face it, leg training sucks. It hurts like hell when you’re doing it and it hurts, even more, a few days after. However, leg day shouldn’t be something that’s dreaded, instead, just think of all the benefits of leg day.

Squats help with testosterone secretion, you build yourself a big ol’ set of thunder thighs, and you get to show off a booty that’s more impressive than 90% of the females’ who go to your gym. Trust us, women like a man with a booty just as much as we like theirs.

So, looking at some of the benefits of leg day, we can see that the results outweigh the grueling time spent in the gym working on your wheels.

Ditch any excuses!

Excuses will be made. That sh*t’s inevitable.

Legs are an essential muscle group for life. Without a good set of wheels, your physique will be incomplete and you’ll be the laughing stock of the gym until you start getting under the bar and squatting your way out of that pit of humiliation.

Essentially, your legs are the foundation for strength training and they also complete the aesthetic look of the trainee.

The journey of building a good set of legs is a difficult one. Few embark on this journey, and much fewer survive. Leg training isn’t for the faint of heart. To be able to push through a leg day requires commitment and drive similar to a life and death situation.

Before we go into the bodybuilding leg exercises, let’s take a look at the various muscles of the legs and discuss their functions.

Anatomy Insight: The Leg Muscles

an images illustrating the different muscles of the human leg

The Quadriceps Muscles

Vastus Intermedius

  • Location: The vastus intermedius is located beneath the rectus femoris muscle.
  • Function: Extension of the knee.

Rectus Femoris

  • Location: Sits between the vastus medialis and lateralis and on top of the vastus intermedius. This muscle originates at the hip and inserts in the patellar tendon of the knee.
  • Function: To extend and raise the knee.

Vastus Medialis

  • Location: This muscle sits on the inside of the thigh, next to the rectus femoris and above the knee.
  • Function: To extend the leg at the knee.

Vastus Lateralis

  • Location: This muscle sits on the outside of the thigh. It originates from the top of the femur bone and inserts on the lateral side of the quadriceps tendon.
  • Function: To extend the leg at the knee.

The Hamstrings Muscles

Biceps Femoris (Long Head)

  • Location: Originates at the pelvis and inserts on the tibia bone.
  • Function: Flexes the knee joint, externally rotates the knee joint when it is flexed and extends the hip.

Biceps Femoris (Short Head)

  • Location: Originates from the femur and inserts on the fibula bone.
  • Function: Flexes the knee.

Semimembranosus

  • Location: Originates at the pelvis and inserts on the medial side of the tibia bone.
  • Function: Flexes the knee joint and extends the hip with some internal hip rotation.

Semitendinosus

  • Location: Originates at the pelvis and inserts on the medial side of the tibia bone.
  • Function: Flexes the knee joint and extends the hip.

The Calf Muscles

Gastrocnemius

  • Location: Originatest for the back of the femur and inserts at the back of the heel.
  • Function: Plantarflexion at the ankle.

Soleus

  • Location: Originates from the tibia and fibula bones and inserts at the back of the heel.
  • Function: Plantarflexion at the ankle.

a split image of someone squatting and someone doing leg presses

Set & Rep Ranges

I’m an advocate for heavy training — be it for legs or upper body. Although, when your goal is to grow the size of your muscles, it’s important to incorporate both heavy and moderate weight training into your program.

However, with heavy leg exercises, it’s important to keep the reps between 5-10 reps. This will ensure you build strength as well as a little size too. Heavy sets should be reserved for compound leg exercises such as squats and leg presses.

Sets for heavy leg exercises should also be kept moderate, between 4-5.

On the other hand, performing isolation exercises, you should aim for more reps. With isolation exercises, you are able to create more separation in the quad and hamstring muscles.

Rep ranges for isolation exercises can be anywhere between 12-25 reps, as long as the weight is challenging and has you crying somewhere in between. We’re trying to stimulate the muscles into growing, not build endurance.

Sets for isolation leg exercises should be kept between 3-5 sets.

Recap

Compound Movements: 4-5 sets, 5-10 reps.

Isolation Movements: 3-5 sets, 12-25 reps.

Time to Increase Your Exercise Vocabulary

No, I’m not referring to bro talk. That’s something else entirely. By exercise vocabulary, I mean the number of exercises that you know of.

You might not have known this but there is a myriad of exercises just for legs. You don’t have to perform each of these in every leg training session that you have, although, it is beneficial to have this knowledge at your disposal.

I’ve listed a good number of exercises that should be more than enough to keep you busy on leg day and help you to sculpt the legs you’ve always dreamt of having.

So, time to give you the comprehensive list of bodybuilding leg exercises.

Compound Exercises

Squats

Squats are the number one bodybuilding movement. Squats use nearly the entire muscular system as well as working the cardiovascular system.

Your squat technique will vary depending on your physical proportions.

Short-limbed people will squat a little differently than long-limbed folks. In the same way, flexibility will also have an effect on your squat technique. However, flexibility is something that can be improved on over time, thus improving your squat technique.

Back Squats

bodybuilding leg exercises

The most common squat around. The back squat is the mother of all squats. Without back squats, it is near impossible to build quality size in the legs.

Front Squats

bodybuilding leg exercises

A truly great exercise to put emphasis on the quads. This is not an exercise recommended for those who are new to training. Front squats require more control over the bar than the traditional back squat does.

But when you do perform front, you look and feel like a total badass.

Sumo Squats

bodybuilding leg exercises

Sumo squats are a slight spinoff from traditional back squats.

Sumo squats require you to stand with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart. Squatting like this involves more of the adductor muscles of the legs to come into play, rather than the quads.

Split Squats

bodybuilding leg exercises

After you’ve performed heavy squats, split squats are the last exercise you would want to perform.

This exercise is absolutely brutal but it helps to build up strength in your weak leg. So, if you need any weak leg training done, split squats are the way to go.

Goblet Squats

bodybuilding leg exercises

We typically use goblet squats as a warm-up exercise, however, this form of squatting carries its own set of benefits.

Because you’re holding a dumbbell or kettlebell out in front of you, you are able to use the weight more effectively as a counter-balance, allowing you to go deeper in your squat.

Leg Press

The leg press is a pretty handy exercise for when you’re trying to shape and develop different parts of your legs.

bodybuilding leg exercises

And as a general rule in the gym, the weight you push on the leg press isn’t noteworthy if your squats are crap. So, first work on your squats and then you’ll earn bragging rights on your leg press. After all, squats are the foundation for your legs.

There isn’t much science behind the leg press, however, there are various foot positions that you can use to target different areas of your legs.

Foot Positions

Feet Close

bodybuilding leg exercises

Placing your feet close to each other on the platform allows you to target the lateral side of your legs; your vastus lateralis, gluteus medius, and the outer part of the gluteus maximus.

Feet Wide Apart

bodybuilding leg exercises

Like the sumo squat, placing your feet wide apart on the platform targets more of the inner chain of your legs; the vastus medialis, sartorius, adductors magnus & longus, and the gracilis.

Feet Low

bodybuilding leg exercises

With your feet positioned low on the platform, you’ll be able to more effectively target your quads.

Feet High

bodybuilding leg exercises

Placing your feet high on the platform will effectively hit your hamstrings and glutes. A great accessory for building squat strength.

Lunges

Just like the split squats, lunges can be a real make or break exercise. Performing lunges after some heavy squat work can really break a man, especially if you’re throwing a solid amount of weight over your shoulders.

Lunges are ideal for developing your quad and glute muscles.

Stationary Lunges

bodybuilding leg exercises

Performed by either holding a pair of dumbbells or throwing a barbell over your shoulder. Stationary lunges are the easier ones between them and walking lunges, but still a challenging exercise nonetheless.

Walking Lunges

bodybuilding leg exercises

Walking lunges are a real nightmare. They combine the agony of leg training and cardio into one. Leg training on its own is enough to scare anyone off, but throw cardio in and everyone disappears.

Walking lunges are highly effective at building the glutes, quads, and hamstrings.

Isolation Exercises

Quads

Leg Extensions

bodybuilding leg exercises

In the event that a bro trains legs, leg extensions will undoubtedly be the only leg exercise performed, other than the possibility of leg presses.

When utilized correctly, leg extensions can add so much value to your leg training. They are ideal for supersets, dropsets, pre-exhaust, and are an overall great quad developer.

Sissy Squats

bodybuilding leg exercises

One of the lesser performed exercises around. Sissy squats should not be ignored as they are an excellent quad developer.

If your goal is to create canyon-like separation in your quads, sissy squats are the way to go.

Hack Squats

bodybuilding leg exercises

These have been around for years and are a favorite of gym goers who like to train but lack the visible results of their efforts.

Hack squats are a real pain when used as a finisher for quads. Despite the pain levels, it brings a lot of definition, especially in the vastus muscles.

Hamstrings & Glutes

Without the development of hamstrings and glutes, our legs would never have an aesthetic appeal. You can have quads so big that you look amazing from the front, but once you’re viewed from the side, you’re about as impressive as a snapback city deadlift.

Lying Leg Curl

bodybuilding leg exercises

This is an essential hamstring exercise. According to broscience, no leg workout is complete without the addition of lying leg curls.

Lying leg curls mostly target the biceps femoris over the other hamstring muscles.

Seated Leg Curl

bodybuilding leg exercises

Performing leg curls in a seated position target the semimembranosus and the semitendinosus more instead of the biceps femoris. Therefore it’s a good idea to alternate between the two exercises for equal development.

Standing Leg Curl

bodybuilding leg exercises

A spinoff of the lying leg curl, this exercise develops the biceps femoris.

Stiff-leg Deadlift

bodybuilding leg exercises

An exercise that has stood the test of time. Stiff-leg deadlifts have been around for nearly as long as bodybuilding has.

This exercise is a great movement for building strength and size in the glutes and hamstrings.

One-leg Deadlift

bodybuilding leg exercises

A little tricky to perform if your balance needs a work. However, this is a great isolation movement for the development of the hamstrings and glutes.

It can also be used to bring up the weaker leg.

Glute Bridges

bodybuilding leg exercises

You’ll mostly see #fitchicks on Instagram doing this exercise, however, strength and performance athletes have been including this into their training regime.

Doing glute bridges with a loaded barbell over your waist can be a pain — the good kind.

Seated Thigh Abduction

bodybuilding leg exercises

Also known as the “yes machine.” This movement is a great way to bring out the gluteus medius and maximus.

If you’re into competitive bodybuilding, doing this exercise will bring out the striations in your glutes, giving you that walnut ass.

Calves

Ah, calves. The most hated muscle group in the history of bodybuilding.

Calves are like charisma – either you have it or you don’t.

Many people skip calf training altogether because who wants to put time and effort into training a muscle if it’s not going to grow?

Standing Calf Raises

bodybuilding leg exercises

The most common calf exercise. This movement can be performed either on a machine or one-legged while holding a dumbbell.

Seated Calf Raises

bodybuilding leg exercises

A favorite exercise for nearly each and every cardio bunny. Seated calf raises are a great exercise for developing the soleus – the muscle that sits beneath the gastrocnemius (your calf muscle).

Donkey Calf Raises

bodybuilding leg exercises

This one is an exercise that is rarely performed in the modern gym life. However, you’ll find that people who do perform this exercise tend to have above average calf development.

Donkey calf raises activate more muscle fibers and are therefore the number one calf exercise you should perform.

Arnold was an advocate for this exercise, and I think his calves spoke for themselves.

The Best Bodybuilding Leg Exercises

Now you’ve seen them all, it’s time to separate the best from the rest!

Compound Exercises

Barbell Squat: Quads and hamstrings

Variations: Front squat, low bar squat, sumo squat, close stance squat, half squat, pistol squat (although most perform this with bodyweight).

The barbell squat is the mother of all leg exercises. Without this exercise, leg day would not be the same. They are an effective muscle builder for all the muscles of the legs as well as strengthening your lower back and developing the gluteal muscles.

Hack Squat: Primarily quads and some hamstring

Foot placement on the platform: Close stance, wide stance, high stance, low stance.

Hack squats are a great way for putting extra emphasis on the quadriceps muscles. This exercise is a great way to build up the quads if they are lagging behind your hamstrings.

Leg Press: Quads and hamstrings

Foot placement on the platform: Close stance, wide stance, high stance, low stance.

Like the squat, the leg press can effectively target the muscles of the legs, albeit at a lesser degree. The great thing about performing leg presses is that you can specifically target certain muscles of the leg. This doesn’t isolate the muscle but it just puts more emphasis on them.

the rock performing leg presses

Lunges: Quads and hamstrings

Variations: Standing and walking lunges.

Lunges are great for developing the sweep of the vastus lateralis as well as bringing out more of a teardrop look in the vastus medialis.

Walking lunges are really effective at targeting the hamstring muscles along with the glutes.

Isolation Exercises

Leg Extensions: Quads

Hitting leg extensions is undoubtedly one of the most popular exercises ever. It’s a favorite for the women who perform cardio followed by abs, yes-no’s, and leg extensions.

However, leg extensions are a superb exercise for bringing out the striations in the quads, not to mention the separation.

Sissy Squats: Quads

Many consider sissy squats to be a body weight variation of leg extensions. Unlike leg extensions, you have to stand and hold a dumbbell or a weighted plate for added resistance.

Seated Leg Curl: Hamstring

Hammering hamstrings with seated leg curls is great for targeting the semitendinosus, the semimembranosus, and the short head of the biceps femoris.

Lying Leg Curl: Hamstring

The lying leg curl is great at targeting the long head of the biceps femoris as well as the semitendinosus and the semimembranosus.

bodybuilder in a lunge position

Standing Leg Curl: Hamstring

The standing leg curl works in a very similar manner to the lying leg curl, except for the fact that you’re only using one leg at a time.

Calf Raises: Calves

Variations: Standing calf raises, donkey calf raises, seated calf raises.

Calf raises are effective for targeting the calf muscles. Standing and donkey calf raises place more emphasis on the gastrocnemius muscles of the calf, while seated calf raises isolates the soleus muscle.

Conclusion

Now that you’ve got the knowledge of bodybuilding leg exercises and the anatomy of the leg muscles, it’s time to put all that knowledge to good use.

Try to use the information provided within this article to help you create that connection between your mind and muscle. Without a strong mind-muscle connection, you won’t be able to build the champion wheels that you need to.

Now go and have ‘fun’ on your next leg day!

If this in-depth article has got you looking for more muscle science for your brain you’re in luck. Make sure to check out:

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