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The best workouts for stronger legs

Your legs are literally the very foundation of your fitness. Here's a breakdown of the best workouts for the lower body

Strong legs enhance your fitness and cut down on injuries.
Strong legs enhance your fitness and cut down on injuries. (Istockphoto)

If you’re into fitness, then the one conversation you can never avoid is the one around leg days. It’s the one workout that evokes strong emotion—it’s always either love or hate, never anything in between. But no matter what you may think, there’s no ignoring leg days. That’s because the legs are the foundation of our body and if the foundation isn’t strong, it is unlikely that the body can become strong, says former Indian rugby captain turned Delhi-based fitness coach Gautam Dagar. “Leg muscles are the most used muscles in the body. We need them in almost everything we do in our day to day lives and almost all sports and workouts employ leg muscles in some manner or the other,” he says.

Leg muscles, which constitute the entirety of your lower body, comprise the glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps and calves. They also include the hip, knee and ankle joints, the proper functioning of which is vital for balance, movement and even something as simple as standing. We use variations of squat and lunge movements throughout the day like sitting on the chair, getting up from the bed or car or tying shoe laces while kneeling on one knee. Because of such extensive use of leg muscles in our daily life, and even more so in sports, everyone needs to perform some exercises to strengthen them in order to enjoy a healthy, pain- and injury-free life. 

Also Read: Three great workouts for your core, arms and calves

For those who have just jumped onto the active life bandwagon or want to start out now, do not go anywhere near weights. “Body weight exercises are more than enough for legs as far as beginners are concerned,” says Dagar. You need to start with getting your squat right. It is, after all, a basic and foundational movement of the exercise world. “The squat is a fundamental and foundational movement for people from both the general population and athletic background. It is not easy to get the form right or achieve the full range of motion given our sedentary lifestyles,” says Vinit Mathew Baptist. He’s a Kolkata-based functional range conditioning and mobility specialist and an Olympic weightlifting coach.

Once you get the squat right, the ideal workout for beginners should include body weight squats, lunges, walking lunges, jump squats, broad jumps, lateral jumps, skipping and glute bridges, suggests Dagar. Only after you get your form right and can do four sets of 15 repetitions of the squat and lunges, should you start training with weights. 

Also Read: Why you need to build big and strong calf muscles

While the back squat is an excellent exercise that works your entire lower body as well as the core, there are so many leg exercises that you can focus on each part of the leg individually. Leg presses, weighted lunges and leg curls work your quadriceps. For hamstrings you have stiff leg deadlifts, deadlifts, hamstring curls, weighted glute bridges and weighted hip thrusts. The deadlift, the weighted glute bridge and hip thrusts are exercises that also work your glutes. “Weighted squat is the best exercise for the entire lower body. It not only develops and makes your muscles stronger, it also improves your overall balance and core too,” says Dagar. For those who already are active, Dagar suggests at least two leg days a week.

Athletes use variations of squats as explosive movements and reaction training that helps them improve their reaction time and develop their fast twitch muscles. Explosive movements such as jump squats, weighted jump squats, jumping lunges, box squats and box jumps are an integral part of training for anyone into sprinting, jumping and sports that require quick feet. Strengthening the legs is also important for long distance runners in order to keep injuries at bay. And just because you can run 42km doesn’t automatically make your legs strong. Try a squat or pistol squat and you will find out the reality. 

Also Read: Get the most out of your leg day with these three workouts

Along with exercise, it is important to get your nutrition and rest right in order to see gains. Very often people end up with what is tauntingly called thin and wiry “chicken legs.” Not that chicken legs can’t be strong, they just don’t show much gains. “This is mostly because of not getting the balance between training, nutrition and rest-recovery right. If you over-train, don’t eat right or don’t let your muscles recover to optimum levels with sufficient rest, you won’t see any gains despite getting the best leg workouts from the best trainer,” says Dagar.

So, to show the world that you have not been skipping leg days, like everything else in life, get that fine balance right.

Also Read: How working out can help you get a good night's sleep

Gautam Dagar’s Legs workout 

Warm up (Mobility of ankles, knees and glutes improvement movements)

Air squats 10 to 12 reps, 2 sets

Goblet squats 10 reps, 2 sets

Lunges 10 reps (each leg), 2 sets

Main workout (4 sets of 10-12 reps of each exercise )

Back squats 

Single leg press 

Stiff leg deadlift 

Walking Lunges 

Leg extension 

Cool down

Also Read: The truth about squats

For Bulking

Warm up (Mobility of ankles, knees and glutes improvement movements)

Air squats 10 to 12 reps, 2 sets

Goblet squats 10 reps, 2 sets

Lunges 10 reps (each leg), 2 sets

Back extension 10 reps, 3 sets

Main workout (Use heavy weights. 4 sets of 6-8 reps of each exercise, unless) indicated.

Back squats 

Leg press 

Stiff leg deadlift 

Weighted walking Lunges 12 reps (each leg), 5 sets

Leg curls/ extension 10 reps, 5 sets

Cool down

Also Read: The best workouts for stronger biceps and triceps

For Leaning Phase 

Warm up (Mobility of ankles, knees and glutes improvement movements) 

Air squats 10 to 12 reps, 2 sets. 

Goblet squats 10 reps, 2 sets. 

Lunges 10 reps (each leg), 2 sets. 

Back extension 10 reps, 3 sets. 

Main workout (Weight should be 60 to 70% of 1 RM. 4-5 sets of 12-15 reps of each exercise)


Leg press 

Front squat 

Step-ups (each leg)

Hip thrusts (weighted) 

Back squats (narrow stance) 

Cool down

Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.

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