Whether you're in it for the short-shorts or you want to improve your walking game, strong legs are at the top of many people's most-desired list. Taking your leg training seriously is about a lot more than just aesthetics or overall strength, though. Some of the biggest, most active muscles in our bodies are located below the waist, so training them is not only good for those muscles, but also for the rest of your body in which they support.
For example, if you suffer from low-back pain, strengthening your glutes and hamstrings is one of the most beneficial ways to create pain-relief for yourself. Or if fat loss is your goal, muscular growth in these large muscle groups can lead to an increase in metabolic activity and help you burn more calories per day.
Clearly, strong, healthy legs can lead to more than you may think. Rather than doing a million squats and hoping for your desired results, though, it's important to work all the muscles in your legs. Before you head to the gym for your next leg day, familiarize yourself with 10 of the most effective exercises for the six major muscle groups and get to work.
The gluteal group, or glutes, are made of three major muscles: the maximus, medius and minimus. The primary role of the gluteal muscles is to extend the hips, assist in stabilizing the pelvis and rotate the legs. With the fascination with a shapely backside, glutes get a lot of attention in the gym. To work toward your perfect bum, deep squats and kettlebell swings are your new best friends.
Deep Squats Kettlebell Swings
Located at the backs of your legs and running the length of your glutes and hips down to the knees, the hamstrings are made up of the semitendinosus, semimembranosus and biceps femoris. Hamstrings extend the hips along with the glutes and flex the knee joint. While the Romanian deadlift is perhaps the most recognized hamstring move, using a stability ball to isolate the area is an extra challenge that your muscles will love to hate.
Stability Ball Hamstring Curls
Adductors and Abductors
The adductor group of muscles in the hip is composed of the adductor brevis, adductor longus, adductor magnus, pectineus and gracilis. In addition to playing a role in adduction or the act of bringing the leg toward the midline of the body, these muscles also contribute to knee flexion and hip flexion. The abductor group, on the other hand, abducts, or brings the limb away from the midline of the body. Both are very important for hip health, knee health and optimal mobility to be able to work the body's largest muscle groups effectively.
Adductor: Dead Bug with Ball Squeeze Abductor: Side Plank with Abduction
The quadriceps group, or quads, is a group of muscles that extend the knee and can assist in hip flexion. Located on the front of the legs, the muscles include the vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius and rectus femoris. You can't go wrong with a squat to target this area, but split squats and front squats are two of your best options if you're looking to maximize results.
Split Squats Front Squats
The gastrocnemius and soleus make up what we know as our calves. Located on the backside of our lower legs, these muscles plantar flex at the ankle (point the toes down) and can assist in knee flexion. Not only do strong calves look great and help to stabilize your ankles and feet, but they also improve overall leg strength and could also help you run faster. Both jumping rope and the farmers walk on tiptoes offer a big bang for your buck when it comes to this lower-leg muscle.
While all of these exercises can be incorporated into your leg day or full-body routine, these are not the end all be all. Each of these exercises has been proven to effectively target the specific muscle group to help build strong, stable legs, but there are hundreds of moves out there and if you find one that is a better fit or leaves you feeling the burn more, go with what makes you feel powerful. The most important thing is getting out there or in the gym and working your legs in new and challenging ways to improve overall health and function. Use these moves as inspiration, a full workout or a jumping off point to go earn those strong legs you've been dreaming about.
Justin Ochoa is a personal trainer, strength coach and co-owner of PACE Fitness Academy in Indianapolis, Indiana. Justin is passionate about health and helping others achieve their fitness and nutrition goals. He especially enjoys connecting with like-minded coaches, trainers, athletes, and fitness enthusiasts to continue to learn and perfect his craft while helping others. Follow him on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter by visiting www.justinochoa.com.