The Best Leg Exercises for Mass

Few things in the gym are as divisive as leg day. Some love it, some hate it (and some try to ignore it altogether) but the truth is that a solid leg workout should be an integral part of any workout program.

Skipping leg day simply isn’t an option, and there’s few things that look quite as ridiculous as someone with a well-built, muscular upper body propped up with spindly little chicken legs. Here we’ll highlight several of the best leg exercises for mass, helping you to develop strong, muscular legs.




Developing your legs properly has a myriad of benefits which you’re missing out on if you’re not training properly. The strength you’ll develop will help substantially with most sports and cardiovascular training like running or cycling. You’ll bring balance to your physique and look far better overall. And, perhaps most importantly, you’ll fill out your jeans/shorts/yoga pants with the kind of quads, glutes and calves that will turn heads.

The Best Leg Exercises for Mass 1

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Some Basic Anatomy of the Legs

As with our other mass building workout articles on chest, back, shoulders, biceps and triceps, we’ll check off some basic anatomy of the legs to help understand what we’re going to be working on.

The quads contain 3 main muscles – the Rectus Femoris, Vastus Laterallis and the Vastus Mediallis. These muscles take up the majority of the space in the front and side of out thighs, and are the dominant muscles used with the big compound leg exercises like squats.

The hamstrings contain the Semitendinosus, Semimembranosus, and the Bicep Femoris long head and short head. They run up the back of your thighs, and can be effectively trained with exercises like lunges and leg curls.

The glutes sit above the hamstrings, and contain the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and the gluteus minimus. This can be trained effectively through squats, lunges and the leg press.

The calves contain the Gastrocnemius and the Soleus, and will be worked through lifts like squats and lunges. The calves are a tricky area for some people, so we’ll cover them off in a separate article soon.

How to Plan Your Leg Workout for Mass Building

We’ve covered this off multiple times in our mass building series, but there are a few main components of putting on mass.

First, get enough calories and protein. You’ve got to eat bigger to get bigger, so aim to eat a little over your maintenance calories (you can use an app like My Fitness Pal to track this) and get plenty of protein. We usually recommend 1g per pound of lean body mass, of 0.8g per pound of overall weight.

Next, sleep like your results depended on it. Good quality sleep is essential for effective progression, and getting the best sleep you can will help your body and your life in a myriad of ways. Go read Sleep Smarter, implement the advice and thank me later for the recommendation!

Finally, choose 3 or 4 lifts for your experience level and aim for 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps. The core of any leg training routine should be around the barbell squat, so it has been included in the beginners’ group despite being potentially a quite complex lift. There are various detailed tutorials on YouTube (or recommendations are under the instructions for the lift) so spend some time reviewing those regularly to ensure you understand the form properly. Your back/knees/hips will be grateful you took the time to learn it!




Beginner

Barbell Squat

Barbell Squat 1Barbell Squat 2

  1. Lift the barbell off the rack, with the weight across your shoulders and upper back
  2. Your feet should be just outside shoulder width apart, and your knees and toes should be pointed slightly outwards
  3. Keeping your core tight, lower yourself slowly by bending at the knees and hips as if you were sitting down
  4. Go as low as you can in a controlled manner without letting our weight transfer towards your toes (this can cause you to lose balance.
  5. Pause very briefly at the bottom of the movement before pushing back up to the starting position

It should be noted that the barbell squat is a complex movement, but it should form the basis of any good leg training workout. Take some additional time to learn the subtleties of the lift properly if you’re going t include it in your routine. We recommend this video:

Dumbbell Squat

Dumbbell Squat1Dumbbell Squat 2

  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand
  2. Your starting position should be with your feet slightly outside shoulder width, and your knees and toes pointed slightly outwards
  3. Keeping your core tight, slowly lower yourself by bending at the knees and hips as if you were sitting down
  4. Go as low as you can in a controlled manner without letting our weight transfer towards your toes (this can cause you to lose balance.
  5. Pause very briefly at the bottom of the movement before pushing back up to the starting position

Walking Lunges

Walking Lunges 1Walking Lunges 2

  1. This movement can be performed with either a barbell on your back or a dumbbell in each hand
  2. Set up with your feet facing forwards around 8 inches apart
  3. Take a big step forward, keeping your upper body straight and your core tight
  4. Lower one knee slowly as if you were kneeling down, keeping your other leg at a 90 degree angle
  5. Lower your body to the floor and pause briefly before pushing off with the back foot
  6. Step through and repeat the movement for your other leg

Seated Leg Curl

Seated Leg Curl 1Seated Leg Curl 2

  1. Set up the machine so the pad is just above your heels
  2. Your core should be tight and your back straight, legs out in front of you
  3. Curl your legs back towards you in a controlled manner
  4. Pause briefly at the top of the movement before returning the weight to the starting position slowly

Dumbbell Step Ups

Dumbbell Step Ups 1Dumbbell Step Ups 2

  1. Set up with a bench, step or box in front of you
  2. Take a dumbbell in each hand
  3. Leading with your left leg, step up onto the bench, pushing your weight up with the left leg
  4. Stand on top of the bench briefly with both feet before stepping down with your left leg fist
  5. Repeat for the target reps, before switching to the right leg

Leg Press

Leg Press 1Leg Press 2

  1. Set up the machine to allow your legs to reach the crosspiece comfortably with a slight bend in your knees
  2. Push your feet forwards at around shoulder width apart before releasing the safety locks
  3. Lower the weight towards your body in a controlled manner, keeping your core tight and your knees moving in the same direction as your feet to a 90 degree angle
  4. Return the weight to the starting position in a controlled manner
  5. Do not bounce the weight or allow your knees to lock

Pile Squat with Dumbbell

Pile Squat with Dumbbell 1Pile Squat with Dumbbell 2

  1. Set up with your feet a couple of inches outside shoulder width and toes pointed outwards at 45 degrees
  2. Hold a dumbbell with both hands in the centre of your body
  3. Your knees should be slightly bent, your back straight and your core tight
  4. Squat down like you were going to sit down, bending at the knees and hips, until your thighs are parallel to the floor
  5. Push yourself back to the starting position in a controlled manner




Intermediate

Barbell Front Squat

Barbell Front Squat 1Barbell Front Squat 2

  1. Set up with the barbell across our upper chest, resting it on your upper deltoids and holding the bar with your arms crossed securely
  2. Your head should remain back and straight, your core tight and your toes pointing slightly outwards
  3. Squat down in a controlled manner, bending at the knees and hips as if you were about to sit down
  4. When your thighs are parallel to the floor, pause very briefly before pushing the weight back up to the starting position

Wide Stance Squat

Wide Stance Squat 1Wide Stance Squat 2

  1. Lift the bar off the weight rack, positioning it across your shoulders and upper back
  2. Your feet should be wider than shoulder width apart with your toes pointing outwards
  3. Keep your core tight and slowly lower yourself by bending at the knees and hips
  4. Go as low as you can in a controlled manner without letting our weight transfer towards your toes (this can cause you to lose balance.
  5. Pause very briefly at the bottom of the movement before pushing back up to the starting position

Barbell Rear Lunges

Barbell Rear Lunges 1Barbell Rear Lunges 2

  1. Lift the bar off the rack with the weight across your shoulders and upper back
  2. Your grip should be a little outside of shoulder width apart
  3. Your feet should be pointing forwards, around 8 inches apart
  4. Take a step back with your right leg in a controlled manner
  5. Keeping your back straight and your core tight, lower your body until the left knee almost touches the floor
  6. Pause briefly at the bottom before pushing yourself back to the starting position
  7. Repeat for the target reps before repeating for your other leg

Dumbbell Rear Lunges

Dumbbell Rear Lunges 1Dumbbell Rear Lunges 2

  1. Begin by taking a dumbbell in each hand
  2. Set up with your feet roughly 8 inches apart and your feet facing forwards
  3. Take a step back with your right leg in a controlled manner
  4. Keeping your upper body straight and your core tight, slowly lower your body until your left knee almost touches the ground
  5. Pause briefly at the bottom of the movement before returning to the starting position
  6. Repeat for the desired reps before switching to the other leg

Narrow Stance Squat

Narrow Stance Squat 1Narrow Stance Squat 2

  1. Lift the barbell off the rack, placing the weight across your shoulders and upper back
  2. Your feet should be roughly 6 inches apart with your toes and knees facing slightly outwards
  3. Begin to descend by bending at the knees and hips, keeping your core tight throughout
  4. Lower yourself as much as you can without letting your bodyweight shift towards your toes
  5. Pause very briefly at the bottom of the movement before pushing back up to the starting position

Overhead Barbell Squat

Overhead Barbell Squat 1Overhead Barbell Squat 2

  1. Set up with your feet a little outside of shoulder width apart and your toes pointing outwards
  2. Hold the barbell with a wide snatch grip, with the arms and elbows extended fully
  3. Bend your knees to lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the floor, keeping the bar overhead
  4. Push yourself back up to the starting position

Barbell Step Ups

Barbell Step Ups 1Barbell Step Ups 2

  1. Set up with a bench, box or step in front of you
  2. Place the barbell on your shoulders and grasp it with a wide grip
  3. Leading with your left leg, step up on to the bench and follow this by stepping up with your right leg
  4. Step back down with your left leg first, followed by the right
  5. Repeat for the targets reps, then repeat leading with the right leg

Barbell Deadlifts

Barbell Deadlifts 1Barbell Deadlifts 2

  1. Set up with your feet roughly shoulder width apart and with the feet under the bar
  2. Bend at the waist while keeping the back straight, allowing for a little bend in the knees
  3. Hold the bar with an overhand grip, hands roughly 16 inches apart
  4. Holding the bar at arm’s length throughout, straighten your back until you’re fully upright
  5. Bend over at the hips again to return the weight to the floor

Advanced

Zercher Squats

Zercher Squats 1Zercher Squats 2

  1. Take a barbell off the rack and place it across your chest with your arms crossed
  2. Your feet should be just outside of shoulder width apart, with the knees and toes pointing slightly outwards
  3. Keeping the core tight, lower yourself slowly by bending at the knees and hips as if you were sitting down
  4. Go as low as you can without the weight shifting to your toes and affecting your balance
  5. Pause very briefly at the bottom of the movement before pushing back ip to the starting position

Barbell Hack Squat

Barbell Hack Squat 1Barbell Hack Squat 2

  1. Place the barbell behind you on the floor and set up with your leg shoulder width apart and your knees and toes pointing outwards
  2. Reach down behind you and grasp the barbell with a double overhand grip, keeping the feet firmly planted on the floor
  3. Lift the barbell by extending the hips and knees, keeping the bar at arm’s length
  4. Lower the body by squatting down until your thighs are parallel to the floor
  5. Push yourself back to the upright position

One Leg Barbell Squat

Single Leg Barbell Squat 1Single Leg Barbell Squat 2

  1. Set up with a bench or a box behind you. The higher the box/bench, the more difficult you can make the exercise
  2. Take a barbell off the rack and place it across your shoulders and upper back
  3. Place one foot back on the bench with the other a couple of feet in front
  4. Descend slowly by bending the knee in front of you, keeping your core tight throughout
  5. Go as low as you can without the weight shifting to your toes and affecting your balance
  6. Pause briefly at the bottom of the movement before pushing back up to the starting position
  7. Repeat for the target reps before repeating with the opposite leg

Single Leg Barbell Squat

One Leg Barbell Squat 1One Leg Barbell Squat 2

  1. Set up with a barbell on our back above the shoulders, held with a wide grip
  2. Cross one leg over your supporting leg above the knee
  3. Squat down as low as you can while maintaining your balance
  4. Push yourself back up to the starting position by straightening the knee and hip
  5. Complete the desired reps before switching legs

Barbell Side Squats

Barbell Side Squats 1Barbell Side Squats 2

  1. Set up by placing a barbell across your back and shoulders and holding with a wide grip
  2. Your feet should begin at shoulder width apart, with the foot you will be leaning towards angled outwards
  3. Start lowering yourself by bending the knee and hip of your lead leg, keeping the other leg reasonably straight
  4. Push yourself back to the starting position before switching legs

The Best Leg Exercises for Mass 2


The Best Leg Exercises for Mass

Few things in the gym are as divisive as leg day. Some love it, some hate it! Here we’ll highlight several of the best leg exercises for mass.

The Best Leg Exercises for Mass 3



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