What Are the Different Types of Leg Strengthening Exercises?

Dan Cavallari

Leg strengthening exercises are often staples of any workout routine, and for good reason: strong legs help a person walk and run more efficiently, work in conjunction with core muscles to support the spine and upper body, and generally help prevent injuries during normal daily activities. Countless leg strengthening exercises exist, and a person looking to do a leg workout will first need to determine his or her fitness goals before beginning. A trip to the gym will offer several exercise machines designed specifically for building strength in the legs. Exercises can often be broken down into categories according to which leg muscles are being strengthened.

A barbell is required for many types of leg-strengthening exercises.
A barbell is required for many types of leg-strengthening exercises.

Calf muscles, for example, will require different exercises in many instances than hamstrings, though some exercises will work both sets of muscles. Calf raises are fairly easy to do and do not necessarily need to be done at the gym. Raises are done by finding an elevated platform such as a step on a stairway and standing on that platform with the heels of the foot hanging off. The balls of the feet should be firmly planted on the platform; the heels should hang down, then should be raised, so the weight of the body is now on the balls of the feet. This is one of the most important leg strengthening exercises for the calf muscles.

Lunges are an excellent way to strengthen not only the thigh muscles but also the three gluteus muscles.
Lunges are an excellent way to strengthen not only the thigh muscles but also the three gluteus muscles.

Squats and lunges are indispensable leg strengthening exercises that work several muscles at once. Squats can be done with or without barbells or dumbbells, which can enhance the workout by adding additional weight. A person will stand with his or her legs about hip width apart. He or she will then lower the upper body toward the ground until the knees are bent at about a 90 degree angle. The back should be kept straight throughout; when the person reaches the lowest point in the squat, he or she will hold the position and then return to the starting position.

Lunges are also important leg strengthening exercises that involve lowering the body toward the ground, but instead of lowering the body straight down, the person will lunge forward so only one leg supports the body's weight. The other leg will stay back at the starting position, and the spine should stay straight throughout the motion. Once the person reaches the lowest point in the lunge, he or she will hold the position, then return slowly to the starting position.

Leg extension machines allow users to exercise their quadriceps, or thigh muscles.
Leg extension machines allow users to exercise their quadriceps, or thigh muscles.

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Discussion Comments

healthy4life

I think that lunges are great exercises for the inner thighs. I can really feel the burn in them when I'm working out this way.

Is it better to return to the starting position between lunges, or is it better to simply let the pressure off and push forward again over and over? I've been just staying in the lunge position and letting up a little between lunges, but I don't know if this is the best way or not.

shell4life

@giddion – Yes, squats are very challenging. It doesn't seem like a simple squat that you do without using weights would have that much of an impact, but I guess the difficulty is equal to the benefit. After a month of doing a routine that included squats, my upper legs were noticeably more toned.

kylee07drg

Climbing stairs is a good leg strengthening exercise I do at home. I live in a two-story house, and running up and down the stairs has really improved my leg strength.

I got the idea from some runners I saw while on vacation. I climbed a lighthouse, and there were a couple of girls in there running up and down several flights of stairs for exercise.

They said they do it every other day! This blew my mind, because the lighthouse is very tall, and I was winded just from walking slowly up to the top.

I figured a good way to start would be with my short set of stairs at home. Maybe one day, I'll be able to run up the lighthouse stairs!

giddion

Be careful and take it slowly when starting a new leg strengthening workout. It might not seem to be true, but just a few squats and lunges will leave you sore for days if you aren't used to doing them.

I did ten squats on my first day of training, and I had trouble walking for about three days! I learned the hard way that I needed to work up to ten slowly over time.

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