Build Luscious Legs with These 7 Exercises

I find the legs to be a tricky one. Certain women want bulging glutes, quads and hamstrings, whilst others want a smaller, slender appearance.

When measuring an increase in size of the leg I never know if a lady will be delighted or horrified.

Of course we’re all different in our tastes, appearance and perceptions of how we look. So the combination of these affect our feelings towards our ‘walkers’.

Regardless of the size increases/decreases I find the legs change more rapidly in comparison with other areas of the body.  Within a couple weeks the legs ‘harden up’.

Legs that, for want of a better work, were ‘spongy’ become rock solid and pumped within a few weeks.

So how do you achieve it? Well I use a number of different exercises depending on the individual’s goals, training history, injury history, movement and preferences.

Here are 7 leg exercises to try in the gym;

The Squat

Let’s just get this one out of the way. 99% of my clients do some form of squat, be that back squats, front squats, goblet squats or split squats etc.

The beauty of the squat is its efficiency. You can target the quads, hamstrings and glutes (to a lesser extend). It’s what we call a compound movement; an exercise which uses a number of muscle groups

Because the squat works all these muscles, it means we don’t have to do separate exercises for each muscle group. If we didn’t squat we might have to do a leg extension, leg curl and hip thrusts to target the same muscles (however it may still be useful to incorporate these exercises).

For beginners I recommend the goblet squat, see below;

The Hip Thrust

Everyone loves a bit of booty. Well the hip thrust is the best way to get one.

This brilliant exercise works primarily the glutes but will hit the quads and hamstrings a little at the same time. Although the squat is a fantastic, efficient movement, the hip thrust will offer that little bit more in terms of hitting the glutes.

The one thing I love about the hip thrust is the variation you can have. It can be done on a bench, on the floor, on one leg, with bands around the knees, with bands around the bar, the list goes on.

Here’s the glute guy himself, Bret Contreras explaining…….

The Leg Press

Not everyone is able to squat. Not everyone is able to hip thrust. Yet these same people might be able to handle the leg press.

Due to technique or movement issues, squatting (at least initially) may not be suitable for people. It’s quite a technical movement and can take people a while to get. But I still want people to lift some weight.

Therefore, until squat technique is nailed down sometimes I get people to leg press. It’s a very similar movement to a squat, yet you’re sitting down and using a machine. At least you’ll be able to shift some timber with this exercise.

Sometimes hip thrusts don’t suit women; perhaps the bar is sore on their hip. Again the leg press can be used. I usually get clients to have a wider, higher stance in this instance as it will stimulate the glutes a little better.

The Leg Extension

‘Not another machine James?’

Despite what you may think; I am NOT anti-machines. I think they have their place. I use them with all my clients.

The emphasis should be on free weights in my opinion, but throwing the odd bit of machine work in towards the end of sessions can be beneficial.

The leg extension is great for targeting the quads. Anyone who’s done a drop set on these knows the meaning of the phrase ‘feel the burn’!

The Deadlift

Don’t listen to people that tell you the deadlift is a back exercise. It’s not. Yes the back will be involved somewhat for stabilisation but it will mostly involve the glutes and hamstrings.

There are exercises that may work the hammys and glutes a little more but let’s face it there’s nothing more empowering than lifting something really heavy off the ground and slamming it back down.

Personally I’m a fan of trap bar deadlifts with clients. I just feel it puts a little less pressure on the lower back. However, conventional and sumo deadlifts can be used; sumos will have a little better glute stimulation.

The Romanian Deadlift

I know, I know; this is technically a variant of the deadlift. But I’ve included the RDL as it’s a VERY different exercise.

For one, you start at the top rather than the bottom. You lift the weight off the floor during a regular deadlift, whereas you lower the weight with an RDL.

The main benefit of an RDL over a regular deadlift is the added hamstring work. When done correctly an RDL will leave your hamstrings absolutely SCREAMING. There’s no DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) like hamstring DOMS!

Eric Helms explains fantastically below;


Lunges are fantastic. They are another really efficient exercise in that they work the quads, hamstrings and glutes.

Similar to hip thrusts, the variety with lunges is great. Walking, reverse, forward, kettlebell, dumbbell, barbell, landmine etc.

Walking lunges are beautifully brutal. Nothing like banging out 8 or 10 reps on each leg with heavy DBs.

‘Oh but what about my knees?’

If your knees kill you after lunges, you’re lunging wrong, no two ways about it. When done correctly you should have no knee pain with lunges.

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