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12-Week Best Leg Exercises to Increase Your Size and Strength

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Looking for the best leg exercises to help increase size and strength? Building a strong lower body is a fundamental component of success in any athletic pursuit and is also necessary to ensure the ability to accomplish functional, recreational, and daily activities easily. As we age, one of the first things begin to decline is leg strength. Our legs provide us with our primary mode of transportation and balance, and therefore must be trained accordingly. Exercise selection is important to get the strength, mass, definition, and endurance you want.

You will notice that this training plan doesn’t include single-joint isolation exercises such as leg curls and leg extensions. In fact, it doesn’t include any machine-based movements. The rationale behind their exclusion is that they provide far less overall benefit than multi-joint free-weight lifts, which develop proprioception and activate core muscles for stabilization; most of those included also integrate the upper body. Whether you’re new to these lifts or have lots of experience in executing them, they will give you the changes you’re looking for if you concentrate on proper technique. Learn more about our best leg exercises that can help you build a stronger lower body.

Here’s a brief description of each:

Best Leg Exercises

Squat: The Granddaddy of all lower body lifts, utilizing every major muscle in the lower body. Back squats target all leg muscles evenly, while front squats place more of the load on the quads.
Snatch and Power Clean: The two Olympic lifts in the plan. The technique takes time to learn, but when done properly these two exercises can significantly increase the strength of your squat and jumping power.
Deadlift: This primarily works hamstrings and glutes, but also incorporates a degree of quad involvement. If you do these with your leg exercises, use moderate reps, and stop short of muscular failure. The Romanian version (RDL) is ideal for loading up the upper glutes and hamstrings because it centers around the hip joint. The technique can be tricky because it’s challenging to keep your back flat, so start with a light weight.
Bulgarian Split Squat: A split squat with your back leg raised, forcing the front leg to handle the bulk of the weight. A tough leg exercise because of the balance component, so you may want to start with it on a Smith Press machine.
Dumbbell Lunge: Lunges fire the glutes and thighs due to the combination of knee and hip extension. These are easiest done stepping forward or backward with either a barbell or dumbbells. Make sure the knee doesn’t come further forward than the toe.
Step-ups: A highly useful move that is great for glute and quad development, as well as balance and vertical jump.
Calf Raise: seated or standing with or without barbell or dumbbells. The standing version stimulates both the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles, while the seated version targets the soleus.
Anterior Tibialis: Working this muscle group creates balance with the calf muscles and reduces the risk of injury. While seated, use your feet to hold a small dumbbell between them, and flex both feet so that the toes are coming back toward you.

Training Plan:


Week          Day              Exercise                  Sets                        Reps

1-3                        1                             Back Squat                        4-5                                    8-10

                              1                             Forward Lunge                  4-5                                  12-15 per leg

                              1                             Standing Calf Raise          2-3                                12-15

                              1                             Anterior Tibialis                2-3                                  12-15

                              2                             Deadlift                                3-4                                    7-9

                              2                             Step-ups                              3-4                                    7-9

                              2                             Seated Calf Raise             2-3                                   10-12

                              2                              Anterior Tibialis               2                                       10-12

4-6                        1                             Bulgarian Split Squat    4-5                                    6-8

                              1                              Backward Lunge             4-5                                    9-12 per leg

                              1                              Seated Calf Raise            2-3                                   9-12

                              1                              Anterior Tibialis              2-3                                    9-12

                              2                              Step-ups                             3-4                                    6-8

                              2                              Romanian Deadlift         3-4                                    6-8

                              2                              Barbell Calf Raise            2-3                                    8-10

                              2                              Anterior Tibialis               2                                        8-10

7-9                         1                              Power Clean                    4-5                                    3-4

                               1                              Barbell Lunge                  4-5                                   12-15 per leg

                               1                              Barbell Calf Raise          2-3                                    7-10

                               1                              Anterior Tibialis             2-3                                    7-10

                               2                              Bulgarian Split Squat   4-5                                    5-7

                               2                              Step-ups                            2                                        5-7

                               2                              Deadlift                              2                                        5-7

                               2                              Seated Calf Raise           2-3                                    6-8

                               2                              Anterior Tibialis             2                                        6-8

10-12                      1                              Snatch                             4-5                                   2-3

                                1                              Front Squat                    4-5                                    4-6

                                1                              Romanian Deadlift      4-5                                    4-6

                                1                              Standing Calf Raise     2-3                                    6-8

                                1                              Anterior Tibialis            2-3                                     6-8

                                2                              Step-ups                          2                                        5-7

                                2                              Deadlift                            2                                        5-7

                                2                              Seated Calf Raise        2-3                                     6-8

                                2                              Anterior Tibialis           2                                       6-8


This leg exercises training design has a built-in progression that moves from the hypertrophy phase towards maximal strength, with an element of power (cleans and snatches) added in during weeks 6-12. Depending on your goals, you have the flexibility to alter sets and reps so that the primary emphasis can be on muscular endurance (15+ reps per set), mass/definition (8-12 reps per set), or strength (4-6 reps per set). Increase your weight as soon as you’re able to do all sets and reps for the given exercise.

Use this 12-week leg exercises to get the most out of your leg training. Remember that your diet and sleep pattern will have a major influence on your training and results, so choose your fuel wisely and get quality rest. Focus on consistency, and you will be thrilled with your changes! 

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