So, it’s leg day. You’re hoping to walk into the gym today and smash out some PR squats, but when you’ve just finished psyching yourself up in the changing rooms – disaster – all the squat racks are full. You ask everyone lifting and they all say they just started their sets, so what do you do? You might as well train something besides legs right? WRONG.
There are several ways to train legs without a squat rack! Below are five of the best leg exercises to hit the quads and build some wheels of steel!
Leg Exercise 1: Bulgarian Split Squat
PreviewBulgarian Split Squats are an exercise that many don’t know about. When observing someone doing Bulgarian split squats, your first impression may be that it’s too easy of an exercise to really stimulate any leg growth. After your first set of this exercise, you will notice how difficult it really is. Balancing is vital to perform this movement; not only will your quads, hamstrings and glutes be emphasized, but your adductors and core will be used for balance.
- Stand lunge-length in front of a bench.
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand and rest the top of your left foot on the bench behind you.
- Lower your body until your rear knee nearly touches the floor and your front thigh is parallel to the ground. When you descend in the squatting motion, focus on splitting the gap of the dumbbells with your knee directly between them
- Extend your knees and push through your heels to raise back up to your starting position.
- Complete movement for the desired amount of repetitions before switching to the other leg.
Sets & Reps: 3-5 Sets of 10-15 Reps (each leg)
Leg Exercise 2: Straight-Legged Dumbbell Deadlifts
If you’re looking for a way to hit your hamstrings with some intensity in the free weight area, straight-legged dumbbell deadlifts are one of the best ways to do just that.
- Pick up a pair of dumbbells and let them hang in front of your thighs at arms length.
- Stand with your torso straight and have your legs spaced using a slightly closer than shoulder width stance. The knees should be just slightly bent.
- Without bending your knees, lower the dumbbells to over the top of your feet by bending at the waist while keeping your back straight. Keep moving forward as if you were going to pick up something from the floor until you feel a stretch on the hamstrings.
- Bring your torso up by extending and pushing your hips forward until you are back at the starting position.
- Repeat for the desired amount of repetitions.
Sets and Reps: 3-5 Sets of 10-15 Reps
Leg Exercise 3: Walking Barbell Lunges
Walking lunges are an exercise that I believe to be essential for growing your legs. The walking motion involved in this exercise activates several muscles and muscle fibers, while also helping improve the health of your hip flexors. Some people perform this exercise with dumbbells, but using a barbell makes it a little bit more challenging. Having a barbell on your back will activate your core in the movement as well as your lower erector spinae.
- Begin standing with your feet shoulder width apart and a barbell lying on your upper back across your traps.
- Step forward with one leg, flexing the knees to drop your hips. Descend until your rear knee nearly touches the ground. If your knee touches the ground, tension on your leg muscles decrease and therefore the overload of the movement will not be as great. Your posture should remain upright, and your front knee should stay above the front foot.
- Drive through the heel of your lead foot and extend both knees to raise yourself back up.
- Step forward with your rear foot, repeating the lunge on the opposite leg.
- Complete the movement for the desired amount of repetitions.
Sets and Reps: 3-5 Sets of 10-15 Reps (each leg)
Leg Exercise 4: One-Legged Leg Press
Leg press is great exercise for muscle hypertrophy and strength of the lower extremities. Performing this exercise using one leg will allow you to focus individually on each leg to help with strength, coordination, and size imbalances between both legs.
- Load the leg press with an appropriate amount of weight.
- Seat yourself on the machine, planting one foot on the platform in line with your hip just slightly to the right of the middle of your chest. Your foot not being used should be placed on the ground. Maintain good spinal position with your head and chest up.
- Supporting the weight, fully extend the knee and unlock the pins that hold the leg press in place.
- Lower the weight by flexing the hip and knee, continuing as far as flexibility allows. Do not allow your lumbar to take the load by moving your pelvis.
- At the bottom of the motion feel the squeeze of your legs and then return to the starting position by extending the hip and knee.
- Complete all repetitions for one leg before switching to the other.
Sets and Reps: 3-5 Sets of 8-12 Reps (each leg)
Leg Exercise 5: Goblet Squats
Goblet squats can be an awkward exercise to do. When done properly, it focuses a lot of tension on the quads similar to how a front squat normally would.
- Stand holding a light kettlebell or dumbbell close to your chest. This will be your starting position.
- Squat down guiding the dumbbell between your legs until your hamstrings nearly touch your calves. In the squat, you will go past 90 degrees. Keep your chest and head up and your back straight. Since this movement is similar to a front squat, quad activation should feel similar.
- At the bottom position, pause and use your elbows to push your knees out. Return to the starting position.
- Repeat for the desired amount of repetitions
Sets and Reps: 3-5 Sets of 10-20 Reps
Take Home Message
A busy gym and a squat-rack hogger can be slightly inconveniencing but there are several excellent exercises you can perform to train your leg other than the conventional back squat. Make sure you memorize these five leg exercises and even add them in to your normal leg routine to hit your quads hard on a regular basis.