Leg exercises can be divided into three categories, based on the area of the leg that is most used during the exercise. Below are listed exercises that can be used to strengthen your quads, hamstrings, and calves.
Squats and Lunges (Quads)
Quad muscles (quadriceps) are located in the front section of your thighs. Squats and lunges are the two main staples in quad exercises. There are several dozen variations that come from these two basic movements. For both of these exercises, you are pushing up against the weight of your upper body. Therefore, holding a weighted barbell makes almost any variation of a squat or a lunge more difficult. When first starting out it is sometimes safer to use a weight machine instead of a barbell.
Cycling is a great way to work out one’s quads while getting in cardio at the same time. Indoor cycling, also called spinning, classes tend to motivate individuals to push themselves more than they would if cycling alone. Stationary bikes can be set to mimic any number of different terrains. For example, if one sets the bike to “mountain setting”, the bike will continue to increase resistance over time. A “health” setting, on the other hand, will increase and decrease resistance throughout the spinning cycle. The quads are worked harder as the resistance increases.
Leg Curls (Hamstrings)
The hamstring muscles are located at the back of the top half of the legs. The best way to isolate the hamstring muscles and really make them work is to use a lying leg curl machine. For this machine, you lay facedown on the machine’s bench. The bench is peaked so that your quads are resting on an upward slope and your torso is resting on a downward slope. On one end of the machine there is a bar for which the weight resistance can be adjusted. Puts your ankles below the bar and then lifts the bar up by pulling your feet toward the gluteus maximus and medius muscles. The movements of the lower leg should be slow and controlled.
Dumbbell and Barbell Deadlifts (Hamstrings)
After leg curls, deadlifts are probably the most popular exercise for working out the hamstring muscles. For the deadlift, you should stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. While holding weights down at your side, lean over, keeping the back straight. Then, use the hamstrings and glutes to pull the torso back up so that you are again in the standing upright position. The biggest mistake that individuals make during the deadlift exercise is to round the back when leaning forward. This puts the strain on the lower back. The rotation should happen at the hips. One variation of this exercise is the one-legged deadlift. For this exercise, stand on one foot and extends the other foot back while you lean forward, bringing the leg back down as you stand up. Extending the back leg out helps to relieve pressure from the back and increase the load on the hamstrings.
Calf Press (Calves)
The calves, located at the back of the lower leg, can be worked out using a calf press machine. As one sits on the machine legs should be almost fully extended, with the balls of one’s feet on a bar that is connected to resist weights. The ankles should be flexed, with one’s toes pointing up. Next, when one pushes down with the balls of one’s feet, the hamstrings are engaged to push past the resistance of the bar. This exercise can also be done on a leg press machine. One can simply put the balls of one’s feet on the moving platform and extend one leg out. Then, rather than bending one’s knees again as one would do for a leg press, keep the legs extended and create small movements by alternately flexing the ankle and pushing with the balls of one’s foot.
Ankle Roll (Calves)
The ankle roll is a very easy and yet very effective calf exercise. One foot should stay on the ground and the other should be lifted up several inches. The lifted foot should move in a circular motion with the rotation occurring at the ankle. For some individuals it is helpful to imagine that the ball of the foot is trying to draw as big a circle as it can. The larger the circle, the more one’s hamstring muscles are working.