Best Leg Exercises for Men

When it comes to exercise, there are numerous health benefits for men, including:

Reasons to work out your legs, which belong to the biggest muscle groups of your body, are plentiful. Leg workouts improve your overall strength, reduce your chance of injury, and maintain a healthy weight.

There is even recent research showing that using the legs, particularly in weight-bearing exercise, sends signals to the brain that are vital for the production of healthy brain cells.

Leg Exercises to Build Strength and Prevent Injury

These five exercises are scientifically proven to increase leg strength, prevent injury, and more:

Barbell Front Squat

Research has shown that the front squat emphasizes the quadriceps more than the back squat—and also places less stress on the knees and lower back. 

To complete a barbell front squat, you’ll need a barbell—or a dowel if you’re just starting out. You should start with an unloaded barbell before adding any weight plates. You should have a squat rack to do front squats. 

Step 1: Approach the rack with the bar at about chest height. To use a clean grip, place your fingertips just under the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. You can leave all or just a few fingertips in that position as you continue. Next, push the heels of your hands and your elbows upward until your upper arms are about parallel to the floor. With your core tight, step back from the rack, pulling your shoulder blades down and back.

Step 2: To enter the squat, sit your hips back, bend your knees, and push your knees out to lower. Continue until your thighs are approximately parallel to the ground, remaining upright with a strong core throughout the movement. 

Step 3: To return to standing, imagine you’re pushing the ground away from you. Squeeze your glutes at the top.

Repeat 10 to 12 times for three to four sets, resting for about 1 minute between sets.

Bulgarian Split Squat

According to research studies, Bulgarian split squats may be as effective at increasing back squat one-rep-max as the back squat itself while placing less strain on the lower back. This unilateral (one-sided) exercise helps to improve core strength and stability as well as preventing muscle imbalances.

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To complete a Bulgarian split squat, you’ll need a bench, ottoman, or similar sturdy structure— somewhere around 17 inches and 18 inches in height. Start without weights, then work up to holding a dumbbell in each hand.

Step 1: Stand facing away from the bench. Place one foot on the bench behind you. Make sure the knee of your standing leg is not locked.

Step 2: Bend at the knee and lower your standing leg down until your thigh is parallel to the ground.

Step 3: Power through your quadriceps and glutes to return to the starting position.

Complete three to four sets of 10 to 12 reps on each leg, resting for about 1 minute between sets.

Hip Thrust

The barbell hip thrust is an extremely good leg exercise that activates the gluteus maximus (butt muscle) and biceps femoris (part of the hamstrings muscle group) more than barbell back squats.

Step 1: Sit on the floor with your back against the long edge of a gym bench and your feet flat on the floor (if using weights, place a barbell across your waist). The bench’s pad should be positioned just under your shoulder blades.

Step 2: Engage your core and push through your heels to lift your hips toward the ceiling, keeping your chin tucked to prevent your back from arching excessively.

Step 3: At the top of the movement, squeeze your glutes, and then slowly lower your butt back to within a few inches of the floor before repeating.

Perform at least three sets of 8 to 10 repetitions, resting for about 1 minute between sets.

Leg Press

Leg presses are great for people who would rather not bear large weights on their shoulders. If you use the leg press machine, it helps you to distribute your weight evenly without damaging or straining the knees.

Step 1: Lie with the back flat against the pad and place your feet shoulder-width apart on the weight platform.

Step 2: Bend at the hips and knees while lowering the platform until they reach a 90-degree angle.

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Step 3: Return to the starting position while ensuring a slight bend is left in the knee and hip joints at all times.

Complete 3 to 4 sets of 10 to 12 reps, resting for about 1 minute between sets.

Romanian Deadlift

The Romanian deadlift (RDL) is a traditional lift that develops the strength of the posterior chain, including the erector spine, gluteus maximus, hamstrings, and adductors.

Rather than placing a significant load on the anterior portion of the knees (like squats do), the RDL focuses most of the physical work on the muscles that extend the hip and knee from the posterior.

It’s best to use a squat rack to place your barbell at a thigh-to-waist height rather than on the floor. To complete one rep:

Step 1: Stand with feet hip-width apart and a slight bend in your knees. Firmly grasp a barbell with your palms facing down and approximately shoulder-width apart. You can also use dumbbells—one in each hand.

Step 2: Lift your chest and pull your shoulder blades down to maintain the extension of the spine before hinging at the hips. Lower the barbell toward the floor while keeping your back long and straight. Lower until tension is felt in the back of the thighs—typically at about knee height or mid-shin. 

Step 3: To return to standing, push both heels into the floor, press the hips forward, and pull back on the knees while keeping a long spine. Maintain a slight bend in the knees throughout the movement.

Perform at least 3 sets of 8 to 10 repetitions, resting for about 1 minute between sets.

Safety Considerations

With any type of exercise, it’s best to start slowly and increase your activity as you feel comfortable. Gradually add weight as you increase your strength.

If you experience pain after trying any of these exercises, ice the affected area and take a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like ibuprofen. If the pain does not go away after several days, you should talk to your doctor. 

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 17, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

ACE Technique Series: Romanian Deadlift.

Frontiers in Neuroscience: “Reduction of Movement in Neurological Diseases: Effects on Neural Stem Cells Characteristics.”

HHS Public Access (Author Manuscript): “Resistance Exercise for Knee Osteoarthritis.”

Journal of Applied Biomechanics: “A Comparison of Gluteus Maximus, Biceps Femoris, and Vastus Lateralis Electromyographic Activity in the Back Squat and Barbell Hip Thrust Exercises.”

Journal of Sports Sciences: “Kinematic and EMG activities during front and back squat variations in maximum loads.”

Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: “Unilateral vs. Bilateral Squat Training for Strength, Sprints, and Agility in Academy Rugby Players.”

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