Leg Exercises in the Gym

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While I am not a licensed fitness trainer or professional, I love going to the gym and leg training exercises seems to be a common topic of interest. With the end of summer, outdoor exercise will be more prohibitive and people will start heading back into the gym, so here are a few leg exercises that may promote muscle growth and strength. Again, I am not an expert so make sure to consult with a professional trainer before performing these exercises.

Back squat and front squat

Both the back and front squat require the practitioner to hold a barbell. Barbells typically weigh 45 lbs, so substituting for dumbbells is another option depending on strength needs. Back squats target glutes and hamstrings while front squats target more of the quads. A back squat places the barbell on the upper back/ trapezius muscles, feet are placed at shoulder width with feet pointed slightly outwards. A front squat places the bar on the front of the shoulders with fingers wrapped around the barbell.

back squat

Leg press

The leg press is a great alternative to squatting. The leg press is a machine that removes the free-weight movement from squatting and can help isolate leg muscles a little easier. To perform a leg press (each gyms machines operate differently), just sit down on the seat keeping the back and head flat on the pad. Place feet onto the sled at shoulder width apart and press up with legs. Locking your knees at full extension can be harmful and cause hyperextension.

leg press

Leg curl/ extensions

Leg curls and extensions are typically found next to each other in the gym and are very straightforward lifts. Leg curls promote hamstring strength and leg extensions promote quad strength. The leg extension machine is easy to use. Sit in the chair whilst keeping back and thighs at 90 degrees. Place the round pad in front of ankles and extend your legs. Leg curls are the opposite. You sit down on the chair whilst keeping back and thighs at 90 degrees, but you place the round pad on the back of the heel and curl your leg towards your butt. Leg curls also have a machine that’s performed by laying down instead of sitting.

leg extension

Romanian deadlift

A proper Romanian deadlift promotes glute, hamstring, and calf strength and can lead to increased hip mobility. To perform this exercise, hold the weight in front of you while keeping a straight back. Bend forward slowly while at the same time pushing hips back. Try and keep legs straight while performing this lift. On the way back up, thrusting the hips forward, in a controlled manner, helps focus on quadricep activation.  

Lunges (weighted and unweighted)

Lunges are great and can be performed in a multitude of ways - while walking, reverse lunges, lateral lunges, etc. Lunges promote increased balance, strength in quads, hamstrings, and glutes. Lunges all have similar movements; some just have different stepping patterns to either focus more on stability or strength. Most common are reverse lunges because they are the easiest on the knee and are great at activating the quads. Start with feet together at shoulder width apart, and step backwards with one foot. The back leg should lung until the front leg is at a 90-degree angle. Then press upwards to return to the starting position.

When performed properly, all these exercises can lead to increased strength and mobility while giving you a variety of movements to keep you interested and motivated in the gym.


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