scorecardTake your leg gains to the next level with 4 lower body exercises recommended by fitness pros
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Take your leg gains to the next level with 4 lower body exercises recommended by fitness pros

Gabby Landsverk   

Take your leg gains to the next level with 4 lower body exercises recommended by fitness pros
LifeScience3 min read
  • Variations on basic leg exercises can help you target different muscles for better gains.
  • Fitness pros swear by movements like goblet squats and hack squats for a well-rounded lower body.

There's no excuse to skip leg day — elite athletes, coaches, and personal trainers swear by specific lower body exercises to prevent injury and build muscle in your quads, glutes, hamstrings, abs, and beyond.

Basic moves like squats and deadlifts have plenty of benefits for strength and stability. But variations like goblet squats and deep squats can help you perfect your form and engage your core to prevent injury. Other exercise like hack squats and leg presses help emphasize different muscles of the legs, so you can build a well-rounded lower body.

Hack squats are great for building the quad muscles on the front of the leg

If you want to build massive legs, an exercise called hack squats can add serious muscle, according to pro bodybuilder Erin Banks.

"Leg day is crazy, I've grown my legs tremendously," he previously told Insider.

As a physique competitor who has to keep a sculpted V-shape from his shoulders to his waist, Banks said hack squats helped him get more muscular legs while staying lean.

The exercise focuses on the quads, the muscle on the front of the thigh, and puts less pressure on the back and core than traditional barbell back squats.

Work your abs as well as your lower body with goblet squats

A specific type of squat variation can help you engage your core even more for better stability and strength, according to a former coach for elite athletes like Steph Curry and other other members of the Golden State Warriors.

The goblet squat, which involves holding a weight in front of your chest instead of on your shoulders, taps into more muscles of the midsection than other squat variations, said Keke Lyles, director of performance at the fitness technology Uplift Labs. Lyles said all of his NBA athletes, including Curry, used goblet squats in the training.

"I really like it because they can control the weight, to be a little bit more explosive," he previously told Insider. "It's functional and connects well to everyday movement."

Goblet squats are also beginner-friendly, since they're less technical than other squat movements and typically involve using less weight with more focus on perfect form, he said.

"The more complex the movement, the more potential for risk of doing it wrong," Lyles said. "You probably need less weight and to really own the right movement pattern so you can build up strength."

Leg presses can target different areas depending on where you position your feet

Another versatile, beginner-friendly exercise is the leg press, which uses a machine to work your quads as well as your hips, glutes, and hamstrings, with different variations to focus on each muscle.

For instance, placing your feet high and wide on the platform creates more glute activation, while a narrow stance focuses on the quads. You can also elevate your heels to work through ankle mobility issues, or lift your toes to target your hamstrings more.

The different variations can help you work through any imbalances, according to Ben Foster, head coach and founder of the People's Athletic Club.

"You have to just play around with these positions and see what works best for you. You should be able to feel the muscle that you're working," he said.

As a machine exercise, a major benefit of leg presses is you're less likely to injure yourself, since you can rely on the machine to stabilize the weight instead of having to do it yourself.

Deep squats can prevent injury and help you get more out of your workouts

It's a common misconception that a squat ends when you hit a 90 degree angle to the floor, and that going further can cause injury. In fact, the opposite is true, and deep squat movements can help strengthen and protect your joints, according to personal trainer Ben Patrick.

Practicing deeper squats can help you build up strength through a greater range of motion to get more out of your workouts, he said.

If you struggle to get lower, he recommends elevating your heels and keeping the weight light to work your way up to better mobility.

Elite athletes swear by similar exercises. CrossFit rising star Emma Lawson said holding a deep sumo squat is a regular part of her workout routine to stay mobile, prevent injury, and help her perform in high-intensity workouts.




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