When you ask most people in the fitness industry what the best exercises are for the legs and glutes, they would usually respond with Squats and Deadlifts. While it’s true these exercises are great for working the lower body and they’re great for Personal Trainers because they require a lot of technique to get right so we can show off our impressive knowledge and coaching skillzzz. They’re also fun to see progress on and test your strength.
However, it could easily be argued for straight up nailing the legs and changing the way your legs and glutes look then there are better exercises. Exercises that require less technique and are not limited by the lower back, which by and large is limiting factor for Barbell Squats and Deadlifts. The exercises below should allow you to get a better training effects on the targeted muscles (i.e. quads, hammies and glutes).
- Lunge Variations – you can’t deny that lunges absolutely destroy the legs, if you want to feel sore after your training then lunges are the one for you. Here are some good variations (for loading I’ve shown weighted vest, dumbbells, barbells and combinations of two – all valid ways to load these exercises). When lunging making sure the front knee doesn’t travel past the two and emphasise full range of motion and push through the front heel on the way back up to engage the glutes.
Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat (aka Bulgarian Split Squats)
Reverse Lunges – I’ve done these from a box, for beginners I would just start on the floor
2. Hip Thrust Variations – if you want good glutes and you aren’t doing these then your missing out! Countless EMG studies (studies designed to look at muscle activation during certain exercises) have shown the hip thrust to be superior to squats and deadlifts for glute activation. Always try to emphasise a good contraction of the glutes and abs during these exercise to ensure the safety of the back – as you squeeze up you should try and tilt your pelvis forwards as you lock out.
Single Leg Hip Thrusts – for more advanced trainers try adding a weight across the hips (e.g. a 10kg barbell)
Barbell Hip Thrusts – if you’re struggling to reach the floor, try popping a yoga blockl or low box under your butt.
Personal Favourite – Single Leg Hip Thrusts, they’re much easier to set up and you get a solid burn on the legs without the crushing weight on the hips!
3. Upright Deadlift variations – these deadlift variations smash the legs and glutes whilst being much safer for the lower back. Ensure to keep the posture proud and remember if your feeling it in the lower back at all chances are your doing it incorrectly so get someone to check your form, all the burn should be in the legs!
Kettle Bell Deadlifts – I’ve done these from boxes to add in a bit more range of motion
Hex Bar Deadlifts – these bars have two settings, I’ve gone for the lower setting, but for beginners/inflexible people the high bar is good too.
Personal Favourite – Deficit Kettlebell Deadlifts, you can get the knees nice a wide on this to work the glutes hard and keep the back straight, but if you’re strong you might run out of heavy enough kettlebells!
There you have it folks. Next time you’re in the gym try out one exercises from each of those sections above for a great and safe leg session! Don’t forget there’s nothing wrong with finishing off your session with some machine based work like Leg Press, Leg Extensions and Leg Curls.