How To Build Strong Legs – 4 Strength Exercises

It is very easy to forget to work your lower body in the gym. For many people the focus is on biceps, chest and abs to make the upper body look good for when you take your shirt off on the beach or by the pool. But skinny legs on a well toned upper body can look pretty silly and many people will mock your “chicken legs”. So if you have been neglecting your legs, add this workout to the beginning of your gym session to build strong legs.

The standard squat

Diagram of a man squatting with a barbell

The standard squat is possibly the best muscle building exercise there is to get stronger legs. It builds the glutes, which are arguably the very tops of the legs (although actually the butt muscles). They also work the quads and hamstrings.

A good squat should go deep. Body upright, hips below knees, weight on the heels.

See our article on the squat for more information.


One-legged squats

Bulgarian split squat

One legged squats (also known as Bulgarian single leg split squat) These are performed by standing in front of a weight training bench and then placing one leg on the bench behind you. You should be standing at a comfortable stride from the bench. Then squat down, bending the front leg so that you go into a lunge like position.

For added resistance hold dumbbells and perform 8-10 reps on each leg.

This exercise helps to strengthen your thighs more, which can help support the knee and reduce injuries.

Calf raises

Dumbbell Standing Calf RaiseCalf raises are such a simple and seemingly small exercise, yet they are by far the best way to build up the calf muscles. Strengthening the calves also helps to strengthen the Achilles tendon which is vital for most sports and athletics.

All you need to perform calf raises is a step. Stand so that only the balls of your feet are on a step and the rest of your feet are hanging over the edge. Then stand up on the balls of your feet, and lower it straight again. You can hold dumbbells or a barbell across your shoulders to add resistance.

To help strengthen the Achilles the best method is to perform just one legged eccentric movements on each foot. So start by standing up on the balls of your feet and then slowly lower your body by only using one foot. This places all the pressure on one calf/Achilles which helps to strengthen it. This exercise has also been successful in helping people to recover from Achilles problems.

Power cleans

power cleansThis is a quick and powerful movement. You need a barbell. Stand with your feet just under the bar and hold it in a shoulder width overhand grip, starting in a squat position. Then in one powerful and clean movement (see where it gets its name) lift the bar straight up to your chest. Be careful not to arch your back too much. The power comes from the legs and the lower back with the final movement being like an upright row that is quickly followed by turning the hands upwards and lowering the elbows so that the bar comes to rest on your upper chest with your forearms underneath it, helping to support the bar.

This is a very high intensity movement and a fantastic way to build solid muscle that is also powerful and athletic. Do a few sets of 3 lifts, start with a light weight so that you can ensure your form is good. The bar shoulder almost slide up your shins and the front of your body. On lowering, be careful not to squat too soon as you may knock your knees with the bar, but do not lean too much as this puts pressure on your back. This is an exercise that you really need to practice with a light weight for a while first before lifting heavier weights.

This video demonstrates power cleans – ideally you should seek some coaching from a weight lifting instructor.  One session should be enough to learn the move, however it is important to use good form to avoid injury.

160kg power clean by Cbartacus (Youtube user)

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