Top 8 Lower Body Exercises
Let's Work Lower Body
Whether you dread leg day or it's your favourite thing to hit, it's so important to make sure to stimulate your lower body. There are so many different lower body exercises out there, but the best moves tend to stimulate multiple leg muscles while allowing you to lift relatively heavy weights. Below are the top 10 moves we believe will give you the best lower body workout.
1. Trap Bar Deadlift
The back squat is generally the staple for leg day. Squatting with a heavy barbell on your back allows you to overload your leg muscles with more weight than you can with any other tool. Your core works overtime as you brace to ensure that your torso is rigid throughout the movement. Back squats are great for both heavy, low-rep training or lighter, high-rep training. Higher rep squats (and lower rep but not to the same extent) cause the body to produce more growth hormone, which helps to increase your overall size and strength.
Benefits of the Back Squat
- Improved leg strength and hypertrophy
- Builds back strength as the back stabilises and supports the bar
- Stimulates more growth hormone release, which can help with overall size and strength gains.
How to Do the Back Squat
Step under a barbell and set a good foundation by flexing your core to lift the barbell off the squat rack. Grip the barbell wherever allows you optimal shoulder mobility to get your elbows under the bar. Set it either high or low on your upper back (which is personal preference), unrack it, and take a few steps back. Pull the bar down to your shoulders to create tension. Keep your chest up, take a deep breath in and squat down to a comfortable depth and pause for a beat. Drive your feet through the floor until lockout. (Barbend, 2022)
2. Hip Thrusts
The hip thrust builds both strength and mass in your glutes and, to a lesser extent, your hamstrings. The hip thrust is pure isolation for the glutes. This movement improves lockout strength and helps you look great in your favourite pair of pants.
Benefits of Hip Thrust
- Builds more glute mass, strength, and power than just about any hip extension exercise.
- Less technical and easier to perform than other heavily loaded movements like back squats and deadlift variations.
- Improved glute strength leads to better stabilisation of the core, pelvis, and lower back.
How to Do the Hip Thrust
Sit with your back up against the edge of a bench that’s parallel to you. With padding across your pelvis, roll a loaded barbell into the crease of your hips. Once the barbell is secure, drive your feet and back towards the bench. You want your shoulder blades to be on the bench and your upper body and hips in a straight line. Keep your upper body steady as you lower your hips toward the ground and when extending into lockout. (Barbend, 2022)
3. Bulgarian Split Squats
If you are going to do one accessory exercise to improve your squat and deadlift, the Bulgarian split squat should be the one. Because one foot is elevated, the quad is taxed through a longer range of motion than other leg exercises. This longer stretch stimulates more growth overtime. And with the weight being front-loaded, the core and upper back will have to work hard to support the load and keep the body stable.
Benefits of the Front Rack Bulgarian Split Squat
- Reduce muscle imbalances between legs and help to improve leg drive for squats and deadlifts.
- More leg muscle recruitment, as Bulgarian split squats make you work harder (through an extended range of motion) to recruit more muscle fibers to perform the same squat movement.
- Improves core and upper back strength and stability.
How to Do the Front Rack Bulgarian Split Squat
Clean a pair of kettlebells into the front rack position and keep your chest up and shoulders down. Put your back foot on an elevated surface and place a weight plate in front of your big toe, allowing you to change sides and not waste time finding your ideal foot position. Drop your back knee towards the floor while maintaining a slight forward lean in your torso. Push your front foot through the floor to return to the starting position. (Barebend, 2022)
4. Trap Bar Deadlift
There is no denying barbell deadlifts are a strength and muscle-building movement. That said, if you’re not a competitive powerlifter, then the trap bar deadlift may be a more comfortable (and possibly safer) option. That’s because there is less shear force on the spine as the axis of rotation (lower back/hips) are more in-line with the load.
Benefits of the Trap Bar Deadlift
- The neutral grip puts less stress on the wrist, elbows, and shoulders
- The high handles allow for a shorter ROM. As a result, lifters can load the bar with more weight.
- Both of the factors mentioned above make the trap bar deadlift an overall more accessible lift.
5. Single-Leg Deadlift Romanian Deadlift
The single-leg RDL is one of the more difficult lower body movements to perform, but the benefits include better balance, reduced muscle imbalances, muscular hypertrophy, and endurance of the glutes and hamstrings. Master this move with bodyweight first before adding weights, as balance is key.
Benefits of The Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift
- The single-leg RDL uncovers and improves asymmetries between sides.
- Increased hypertrophy and endurance of the glutes and hamstrings.
- Increases balance and stability of your ankles, knees, hips, and lower back.
How to Do the Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift
Pick one foot up off the floor, find balance on your grounded foot, and soften your working knee. Keep your chest up and shoulders down and hinge your hip back and try not to rotate the working hip upwards. Hinge until your belly button faces the floor and you feel a stretch in your hamstring. Stabilise and return to the starting position and repeat. Once you feel comfortable, you can hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in one hand to add weight to the exercise. (Barbend, 2022)
6. Reverse Lunges
Reverse lunges are arguably the easiest of all the lunge variations because stepping back the reverse lunge is a hip-dominant exercise. This puts less stress on your knees than other lunge variations. atting, deadlifting, and other hip-dominant movements.
Benefits of the Reverse Lunge
- Builds unilateral strength and leg muscle and improves single-leg balance.
- Easier on the lower back as it remains extended, reducing stress on the lumbar spine.
- You can vary the length of the step back to emphasise the quads (smaller step back) or glutes and hamstrings (larger step back).
How to Do the Reverse Lunge
Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. Then take either a small or large step back with your left foot and lower your hips so that your right thigh becomes parallel to the floor with your right knee over your ankle. Keep your chest up and shoulders down and pause for a second. Push through your right foot and return to the starting position. You can either alternate sides or do all reps on one side, depending on your goals. (Barbend, 2022)
7. Weighted Step-Ups
The step-up is one of the easiest single-leg exercises and can be performed by all ability levels. To do it, the lifter places one foot on a ploy box, holding dumbbells or kettlebells in each hand (or not), and then stands up by driving through the elevated leg. It’s easy for a lifter to find balance, and the height of the box can be raised or lowered to increase stability. It’s also a popular bodybuilding movement as, due to its ease, it can be loaded heavily to target the glutes and hamstrings.
Benefits of the Weighted Step Up
- Weighted step-ups help develop explosive leg power, which helps you run faster and develop a higher vertical jump.
- Due to minimal eccentric loading (which means you spend more energy driving up than lowering yourself down), step-ups put less stress on your knees.
- This exercise can be progressed and regressed easily according to the abilities of the lifter.
How to Do the Weighted Step Up
Stand facing a box with your resistance of choice (a barbell, dumbbells, or kettlebells) on your back or in your hands. Put one foot on the box and stand up, pushing through your front leg while using your back leg for support until the knee is fully extended. Slowly step down to the floor with the non-working and reset and repeat. Whether you’re a novice or seasoned athlete, regular rest is crucial. It’s necessary for muscle repair, preventing fatigue, and overall performance. (Barbend, 2022)
8. Side Lunges
Side lunges help develop strength, stability, and balance in the frontal plane — that is, side-to-side movement. You’ll therefore improve your ability to go from side to side, which is especially handy for evading opponents in the court and on a fast-paced city street. Plus, this move improves your adductor mobility and strength mobility and strength. That helps to prevent groin injuries and improve overall hip mobility. This will all help with your knee health and stability, too.
Benefits of the Side Lunge
- This move strengthens and mobilises your entire hip region.
- Side lunges improve your lateral movement, which will help improve your agility.
- These strengthen your glute med and adductors, which are important for knee health and hip mobility.
How to Do the Side Lunge
Set up with a dumbbell front-loaded as for a goblet squat. Stand tall with your feet together, and your toes pointed forward. Take a big step to the side with your left leg. Hinge back into your left hip. Keep your right leg straight with your toes pointed forward. Push your left foot into the ground. Return to the starting position. Either alternate sides or do all the reps on one side and repeat on the other. (Barbend, 2022)