In the first installment of our leg workout series, we talked about building a foundation for strength, stability and range of motion. Once you’ve got the basics down and can perform the beginner exercises with proper form and normal breath, it’s time to step up your routine.
The following leg strength workout, developed by Carlisle Price, national manager of coaching for Gold’s Gym, incorporates explosive movements designed to target and build muscle, improve mobility and boost your body’s ability to recover after physical activity. Price suggests doing this regimen twice a week, with two to three rest days in between.
Perform two sets of the following exercises to get your blood pumping and to help ward off injury by priming your muscles for the work ahead.
1. Walking lunges and twists
Stand with hands clasped in front of your body. With a proud (lifted) chest, take a large step forward with your right foot, lowering hips until your left knee is just above the floor. At the bottom of the lunge, rotate your torso to the right and then back to front. Return to standing by driving through the right foot; repeat on the opposite leg.
The goal: Take 10 controlled steps (five on each leg) to open and stretch the hip flexors and activate the quads, glutes and hip abductors/adductors.
2. Alternating glute bridges
Lie on your back with legs bent and feet flat on the floor, about one foot away from your glutes. Extend arms out, also flat on the floor, with palms up. Raise your right leg, keeping it straight and your knees aligned. Then, drive through the left heel and elevate hips, forming a straight line from shoulder to knee to right foot. Hips should remain parallel with the floor throughout to prevent hyperextending the back. Return glutes to the floor, switch legs and repeat.
The goal: Do 10 bridges to promote hip stabilization and warm up the glutes and hamstrings.
For this leg strength workout, Price recommends doing four to six sets of each superset.
Superset No. 1
1. Kettlebell goblet squats
Standing with feet hip-width apart and slightly angled out, hold the kettlebell just in front of your chin with both palms, fingers pointing up, as if you’re holding a water goblet. The handle of the weight will be positioned down, between your wrists, and the kettlebell should remain in contact with your upper body throughout the movement. Keeping a proud chest, drop your hips straight down until they are level with your knees, or until compensation occurs (the chest bows, knees buckle, hips roll under or heels lift). Then, drive through your heels to return to the upright position.
The goal: Perform 10–12 squats to strengthen quads, glutes and core, and to improve ankle mobility.
2. Maximal vertical jump squats
Drop into the bottom of the squat position from the movement above, but with your arms reaching behind you. Then, jump as high as you can, driving explosively through the feet, extending the hips and swinging the arms forward all the way to overhead. Be careful not to land with stiff legs; instead, absorb the floor with soft knees and hips.
“This type of anaerobic, explosive movement is great for muscle recruitment,” Price says. “The impact prompts growth.”
The goal: Do eight reps to fire up the quads and glutes and spike your heart rate in the process.
Superset No. 2
1. Speed skaters
Visualize the movement of a speed skater on the ice. Start in a high lunge position, with your right foot in front. Load all your weight onto the right foot. Then, explode through the right leg, bringing your right arm across the body while jumping wide to the left — try to jump several feet in that direction. Land with a soft left knee and hip, while your right leg reaches behind you to stabilize in a high lunge. Repeat back and forth.
“For less impact, try a curtsey lunge,” Price says. (That’s the same movement modified with controlled steps instead of jumps.)
The goal: Perform 20 reps to work the glutes, quads and calves. This develops stability and explosiveness and aids abductor/adductor mobility.
2. Kettlebell Romanian deadlifts
Stand with feet hip-width apart and the kettlebell between your feet. With flat back, proud shoulders and a soft bend in the elbows, deadlift the weight away from the floor, coming to a full upright stance. Next, push your hips back while lowering the weight to just above the floor, keeping it close to the legs and inside the knees. Then, return to standing by squeezing your glutes and extending your hips, making sure to keep your core braced and chest proud. Remember: Technique is more important than weight, so use the heaviest kettlebell you can lift without sacrificing form.
“There should be minimal hinging of the knees,” Price says. “You have reached your depth if you feel a deep stretch in the hamstrings, or if your chest is even with your hips, parallel to the floor.”
The goal: Do eight deadlifts to strengthen the posterior chain, especially the hamstrings, glutes and lower back, and to improve mobility in the hamstrings and calves.
The cool down
Run through these stretches twice to help prevent stiffness in the days after your leg strength workout.
From a plank, bend your right knee and bring it up between your arms. Place the outside of your calf/lower leg on the floor, just behind your planted palms. Then, slowly lower your left knee to the floor, keeping your arms straight and chest up. Try to absorb your body weight with the right leg, using your hands and arms to regulate the weight.
The goal: Hold for 30 seconds on each leg to stretch the glutes, IT band and lateral thighs.
2. Runner’s hip stretch
From standing, step the right foot forward into a large lunge. Softly place your left knee on the floor. Your right shin should be vertical — knee directly over ankle — and your torso should be straight with a proud chest. Arms are at your sides. Engage the hips by pushing them forward throughout the movement. For an added stretch in the hip flexors of the rear leg, squeeze your glutes.
The goal: Hold for 30 seconds on each leg to open the hip flexors and stretch the top half of the quads.
Stay tuned for advanced leg exercises and check out more targeted workouts from our fitness experts: