The Best Leg Exercises And Workouts To Build Strength + Power 

If you have been doing strength training workouts already, you likely know that a leg day workout can be a beast.

Good leg workouts are exhausting, as the best leg exercises for strength, mass, and power will require lifting heavy weights and utilizing the largest muscle groups in your body. 

However, if you want to have strong legs for running, jumping, squatting, and playing sports, you need to be doing the best leg workouts to strengthen your quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves, adductors, and abductors.

But what are the best leg exercises for strength and power? How do you structure a good leg workout for hypertrophy and functional strength?

In this article, we will discuss how to program a good leg day workout with the best leg exercises based on your fitness level and primary training goal.

We will cover the following: 

  • What are the Best Beginner Leg Exercises and Workouts for Strength and Power?
  • The Best Leg Day Workouts for Different Training Goals

Let’s dive in! 

Single leg glute bridge.

What are the Best Beginner Leg Exercises and Workouts for Strength and Power?

The best beginner leg workouts should include foundational leg exercises such as the squat and deadlift.

It is important to master the basic technique for these movement patterns before progressing to advanced variations.

With that said, leg workouts for beginners do not have to be “easy.“

If you are doing the workout properly, you should feel pretty spent and neuromuscularly fatigued after a good leg day workout, regardless of your fitness level.

The primary difference between good leg workouts for beginners and more advanced athletes is not only in the selection of leg exercises to include in the workout but also in the way in which the workout is structured.

In general, beginners should start with two sets of every exercise and then build up to three sets. An appropriate rep range is usually something around 10 to 12 reps per exercise.

Back squat.

If you can easily perform the leg exercise for 12 reps using the proper form, you should increase the weight that you are using.

Take 90 seconds to two minutes of rest in between each exercise, depending on your cardiovascular fitness and how you are feeling after each set. 

It is more important to perform each leg exercise with proper technique and execution than to rush things along to try to keep your heart rate elevated throughout the entire workout.

To that end, make sure that the weight you are using is one that you can handle safely and properly for all of your reps. If you find that your legs are shaking or you are having to “cheat“ a rep, you should end the set or use a lighter weight. 

Examples of “cheating“ are failing to move through the full range of motion or relying on momentum or gravity to help you lift the weight.

Here is an example of a good beginner leg day workout:

Box step up.

Warm-up: 25 jumping jacks, 45 seconds of high knees running in place, repeated twice.

Then, complete 2 to 3 rounds of the following exercises:

  1. Front squats using dumbbells 
  2. Dumbbell deadlifts (if you are strong enough to do barbell deadlifts, this is also a good alternative)
  3. Lateral lunges with a single-arm overhead press (hold the dumbbell at shoulder level in your right hand, palm facing forward, and then perform a lateral lunge to the right as you simultaneously press the dumbbell straight up. As you step back to neutral, bring the dumbbell back to your shoulder level.)
  4. Stability ball hamstring curls 
  5. Single-leg glute bridges 
  6. Step-ups with dumbbells 
  7. Calf raises off a step, holding a dumbbell in one hand (you can use the other hand to lightly hold onto the wall for support)
Hamstring curl.

The Best Leg Day Workouts for Different Training Goals

#1: Best Leg Workout For The Gym

Here is a good leg day workout at the gym for strength and mass:

Warm-up: 5 minutes of Assault bike or spin bike, walking lunges for 60 seconds.

Then, complete 2 to 4 rounds of the following exercises:

  1. Leg press machine 
  2. Leg curl machine
  3. Box jumps
  4. Barbell hip thrusts
  5. Bulgarian split squat
  6. Cable machine hip abduction
  7. Cable machine hip adduction 
  8. Glute ham raise
  9. Seated calf raise machine or standing calf raise machine 
Hip thruster.

#2: Best Leg Workout For Strength

With leg workouts to increase strength, work up to performing 2-6 sets of each exercise, 3-5 reps per set, and at least 85% of your one-repetition maximum (1RM) for the load. 

The fewer reps you perform, the closer to 100% of your 1RM you should aim for with your weights.

Here is one of the best leg workouts for strength:

Warm-up: 25 bodyweight squats, walking single-leg Romanian deadlifts with a relatively light dumbbell or kettlebell for 60 seconds.

Then, complete 3 to 5 sets of the following leg exercises:

  1. Barbell back squats
  2. Trap bar deadlifts
  3. Barbell single-leg hip thrusts
  4. Bulgarian split squats
  5. Weighted cossack squat
  6. Razor curls
  7. Donkey calf raises or seated calf raises
Bulgarian split squat.

#3: Best Leg Workout For Hypertrophy

If you want to do leg workouts for hypertrophy (muscle growth), try to perform three sets of each exercise, using loads that are 70 to 85% of your 1RM for 8 to 12 reps.

Here is one of the best leg workouts for mass or hypertrophy:

Warm-up: 25 bodyweight squats, 20 jump squats repeated twice

Then, complete three sets of the following leg exercises:

  1. Barbell back squats or Smith machine back squats
  2. Weighted step-ups
  3. Single-leg Romanian deadlift (with a dumbbell, kettlebell, or barbell)
  4. Reverse lunges
  5. Barbell hip thrusts
  6. Weighted lateral step-ups
  7. Cable leg extensions
  8. Nordic hamstring curls
  9. Single-leg calf raises
  10. Resistance band Frankenstein walks
Lunge.

#4: Best Leg Workouts For Power

The best leg workouts for power will include many of the same leg exercises for strength and hypertrophy, along with more plyometric exercises to build explosive strength and help increase neuromuscular firing rates.

Beginners should start with beginner leg day workouts before attempting leg workouts for power. You want to make sure that you have mastered the movement patterns before taking on high-impact, high-intensity plyometrics leg exercises.

Once you have enough strength and experience, you should still begin this leg workout for power by doing just two sets of every exercise.

The plyometrics should be done as bodyweight exercises at first.

Advanced athletes who are looking to build muscle, increase strength, and accelerate gains in power can consider wearing a weighted vest or using dumbbells or barbells with plyometrics as appropriate. 

Deadlift.

Make sure that you incorporate external resistance slowly, as the very nature of plyometrics, being such high-impact movements, already subjects your bones, joints, muscles, and connective tissues to high forces and impact stresses. 

Adding lots of external weight all of a sudden can overload your body too aggressively and will increase your risk of injuries.

In terms of the number of reps you should be doing for each exercise in this leg day workout for power, begin with 6 to 10 reps of each plyometric exercise.

For the strength exercises, you can perform anywhere from 2 to 12 reps, depending on your fitness level and your primary training goal.

Beginners should start with a lighter relative weight and aim for about 10 reps. Use a weight that corresponds to about 70 to 80% of your one-repetition maximum for the exercise.

If you are looking to do the leg workout for strength and power, perform 2 to 5 reps per exercise, using a weight that is about 90% of your 1RM.

If you are primarily interested in doing this leg workout for mass and power, aim to perform 6 to 8 reps per exercise. 

Kettlebell swing.

This is slightly lower than the often recommended rep ranges for leg hypertrophy workouts, but power-based training typically is best suited with a lower rep range so that you can really focus on maximizing your explosive force production with each rep.

Use a weight that corresponds to roughly 85% of your 1RM.

Note that for this leg workout for power, you should take complete rest between each set. This may be upwards of 2 to 3 minutes.

Here is one of the best leg workouts for power and strength:

Warm up: 60 seconds of lunge matrix (body weight forward lunge, lateral lunge, and reverse lunge with the same leg and then switch legs and continue going back-and-forth alternating legs), 60 seconds of bodyweight squats.

Then, complete 2 to 4 rounds of the following exercises, depending on your fitness level, primary training goal, and the number of reps that you perform:

  1. Goblet squats 
  2. Barbell thrusters 
  3. Single-leg box jumps
  4. Kettlebell swings 
  5. Medicine ball broad jumps
  6. Kettlebell dead cleans or dead snatches depending on fitness level 

For step-by-step instructions and videos on the above exercises, check out more of our workout guides and exercise guides.

Box jump.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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