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Leg Day: Don't Skip It!

By: Holly Smith, D.O. - Osteopathic Medicine, B.S. - Dietetics, NASM-PES Certified Trainer,

Writer, The Fit Father Project & Fit Mother Project

leg day

Sure, the arms and chest may be the glamour muscles, but without leg day you can’t have that full body shredded physique that men strive to achieve!

And leg exercises will give you tons of benefits beyond just looking great.

When we say “leg day”, we are actually talking about a lot of different muscle groups in the lower body.

The major muscle groups here are the glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves.

In addition, there are smaller muscle groups like the adductors and abductors that are also targeted on leg day.

Leg day is one of the most important strength training days for a number of reasons.

Keep reading and you'll never skip leg day again!

Leg Day Improves Your Metabolism

For one, when you work out the legs you are exercising big muscle groups.

This means that you will burn more calories during these workouts.

In addition, the lean muscle gained during these sessions will increase your resting metabolic rate and allow you to burn calories more efficiently, even at rest.

For example, studies have shown that strength training increases lean muscle mass, which then leads to increases in resting metabolic rate.

So even when you are sitting at a desk or on your couch at night, you will be burning calories at a higher rate.

Reduce Injuries with Leg Exercises

Leg day is also essential to decrease injuries in all of your activities of daily living.
A strong lower body allows you to stand, walk, run, and climb.

Having strong legs will help reduce falls and improve your overall health.

Think about it — almost every activity you do on a day to day basis requires using your lower body.

From standing up from your desk, to carrying groceries up your front steps, to doing yard or housework. All of these activities require strong legs.

This makes leg day that much more important.

The Best Leg Workouts For Men

You can perform leg exercises with or without equipment.

If you have access to a gym or weights, this will make the exercises more challenging.

However, if you are working out from home you can still get an amazing leg workout that will strengthen all of the major muscles in your lower body.

Top 6 Leg Workouts with Equipment

Free weights and machines will help you build muscle and really develop strength in your legs.

With all of the gym equipment available, it can be hard to know where to start.

But these top six legs exercises with equipment will target all of the big muscle groups in your lower body.

1. Barbell Deadlift

The deadlift is a great exercise that works a bunch of major muscle groups at once, making it ideal to include in a leg day workout.

The deadlift will target the hamstrings, glutes, and quads. In addition, you will also activate muscles in the core, upper back, and deltoids.

You should really focus on form, and not so much on using a ton of weight when you first start doing this exercise.

This is important to avoid injury.

Gradually increase your weight as you perfect your form and gain strength.

  • Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • Hinge forward at the hips with a slight bend in the knees and grip the bar just outside of legs.
  • Keep the bar close to your body as you straighten your legs and explode up.
  • When the bar gets past your knees and your arms are straight, bring it against your thighs while keeping a straight back.
  • Then slowly lean forward at the hips while also bending your knees a little at the same time to lower the bar back down.
  • Aim for 3 sets of 8-10 reps.

2. Barbell or Dumbbell Squats

Squats are one of the ultimate lower body workouts.

Once again, you will be targeting your glutes, hamstrings, and quads all at once.

This exercise can be done with a barbell or dumbbell depending on how comfortable you are with the movement.

If you're using a barbell, you should always use a spotter, or at least a spotter rack to make sure you are safe doing this movement.

Begin with bodyweight squats if you are new to this move.

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart and squat your hips down and back while you bend your knees.
  • Try to keep your weight in your heels.
  • Then explode back up through your heels to a standing position.
  • Once you have perfected the form you can try holding dumbbells by your side to add weight to the movement.

If you have lower back issues, you can also try front-loaded squats by holding a dumbbell or kettlebell in front of your chest as you squat.

This can help decrease pressure on the low back as you move down into the squat position.

3. Leg Press

If your gym has a leg press machine, this is a great option for leg day, especially if you have low back issues.

Since the leg press machine supports your back, this will keep you stabilized as you work your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves as you press the weight up.

While you won’t get as much of a core workout when using the leg press machine, this is still a great lower body workout.

Research shows that the leg press is one of the best exercises to target the quadriceps, especially the inner quad muscles.

  • Sit on the machine with your back and head resting comfortably against the padded support.
  • Place your feet on the footplate about hip-width apart with your feet flat and your legs at an angle of about 90 degrees.
  • Your knees should be in line with your feet — as you press, make sure to keep this alignment.
  • Grasp the assist handles to provide support and keep your spine and head in position.
  • Push the platform away with your heels and forefoot.
  • Extend your legs and keep your head and back flat against the seat pad.
  • Do not lock out your knees at the top.
  • Then return the footplate to the starting position by gradually bending the knees.
  • Aim for 3 sets of 8-10 reps.

4. Leg Extension Machine

A leg extension is a lever machine that will target the quadriceps muscles in the legs.

Leg extension workouts are great for isolating the front and side of the thighs.

  • The exercise involves bending the leg at the knee and extending the legs (raising a padded bar), then lowering them back to the original position.
  • When using a leg extension it’s important you adjust the seat so that your knees are directly in line with the axis of the machine.
  • Pause at the top of the movement and squeeze your quads to add intensity.
  • Aim for 3 sets of 8-10 reps.

5. Seated Leg Curl Machine

Seated leg curls are one of the main exercises for strengthening and toning the hamstrings.

Besides defining the back and front of the leg, leg curls are used for strengthening the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes.

Another benefit is that they can help in protecting your joints and knees from becoming stressed and injured.

  • Put your legs on the padded lever so it sits just below your calf muscles, and set up the lap pad so it sits on your thighs just above the knees.
  • Lift your legs so they are straight out in front of you and grasp the side handles on the machine.
  • Pull the padded lever down and back towards you as far as you can with your legs, hold for a second, then slowly bring it back to the starting position.
  • Like the leg extension machine, when using a seated leg curl machine you should focus on your body position and the direction of your toes.
  • Remember that your hamstrings are composed of three major muscles; seated leg curls tend to target your inner hamstring muscles, but can also hit the calf muscles as well.
  • You can activate your calf muscles by pointing your toes in different directions.
  • To target different muscles, try alternating sets of leg curls with your toes pointed up with sets of leg curls with your toes pointed downwards.

6. Walking Lunges with Dumbbells

This is another great movement that will hit the glutes, quads, and hamstrings.

It will also help you improve your balance and core stability as you target one leg at a time.

  • Make sure you have a long clear space to walk across.
  • Keep your upper body straight, with your shoulders back.
  • Step forward with your right leg, lowering your hips until both knees are bent at about a 90-degree angle.
  • Make sure your front knee is directly above your ankle and does not track over your toes.
  • Keep the weight in your heels as you push back up to the starting position.
  • Then repeat on the left as you walk forward.
  • Keep alternating legs until you repeat 8-10 reps on each side.

Top 6 Leg Workouts Without Equipment

If you don’t have access to weights or machines, you can still get in a killer leg workout by using your own body weight.

Since you won’t be using extra weight, you will need to really focus on slowing down the movements to really feel the burn.

You will also need to increase your reps to make up for the lack of weight.

1.Wall Sits

This is an excellent exercise to improve muscular endurance while working the quads, hamstrings, and glutes

  • Hold yourself in a seated position with your back against a wall.
  • Try to keep your thighs parallel to the floor.
  • Try to hold this position for 30 seconds to start and gradually work your way up.
  • You can even put a backpack or suitcase on your lap to add some weight when you don’t have any equipment.

2. Pistol Squats

As mentioned above, squats are one of the ultimate lower body workouts since you are hitting your glutes, hamstrings, and quads all at once.

Pistol squats will challenge you by focusing on one leg at a time and will really isolate each muscle group.

This means you don’t really have to use weight to still get an amazing leg workout.

  • Stand with your feet together, then lift your left foot off of the ground and extend it in front of you.
  • Push your hips back and hold your hands in front of you for balance as you go down into a one-legged squat with your right leg.
  • Then drive through your right heel to stand back up.
  • You can use a chair to help you balance until you get the movement down.
  • Aim for 3 sets of 10 reps on each leg.

3. Step Up to Reverse Lunge

This exercise targets the glutes, hamstrings, and quads.

Additionally, it has the added benefit of improving your balance, stability, and core strength.

Like the pistol squat, it isolates one leg at a time to give you a killer leg workout without needing any added weight.

  • Stand with a step between 6-18 inches in front of you.
  • Start at a height that you feel comfortable stepping onto.
  • Step up onto the step with your right foot.
  • Place your whole foot on the surface with the toes pointing forward.
  • Bring your left foot up behind you and up towards your chest while balancing on your right foot.
  • Hold this single-leg stance for a moment.
  • Then move the raised left leg back to the ground.
  • Step back with the right foot so that both feet are now on the ground where you started.
  • Do 8-10 reps on the right, then switch and repeat on the left.

4. Standing Calf Raises

This is an excellent exercise to isolate the gastrocnemius muscles.

You can also do this exercise with a slight bend in the knees and you will hit the soleus muscle in your calves as well.

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
  • Push down into the soles of your feet and explode up to your toes.
  • Then slowly lower back down.
  • Aim for 3 sets of 12-15 reps.

5. Side Leg Raises

Not only is this a great leg exercise to target your glutes, lateral quads, abductors, and abductors, you will also be engaging your core and abdominal oblique muscles.

  • Lie on your right side and raise your left leg up to about 30-45 degrees and hold for a pause at the top.
  • Then slowly lower the leg back down to meet your bottom right leg.
  • Do 8-10 reps with the left leg, then flip over to lie on the left side and repeat 8-10 reps with the right leg.

6. Glute Bridges

This lower body exercise will strengthen the gluteus maximus and medius and will also work the quads and hamstrings.

Strengthening these muscles will not only give you a great looking butt and legs but will also help you improve your other exercises like the squat and deadlift.

  • Lay on your back and bend your knees while keeping your feet flat on the ground about hip-width apart.
  • Bend your elbows to 90 degrees so that only your upper arm is on the ground.
  • Press your lower back down into the ground to create a posterior pelvic tilt.
  • This will help you protect your lower back and engage your abs as well as your glutes.
  • Drive up through your heels and upper back to lift your glutes up off the ground.
  • Drive your hips up as high as possible without arching your back.
  • Focus on squeezing your glutes hard.
  • Squeeze your glutes for a second or two at the top and lower all the way back down to the ground before repeating.
  • Aim for 3 sets of 10-12 reps.
  • Do not rush through this exercise. Take time to hold at the top and feel the glutes activate.

Make Leg Day a Priority

Every workout routine needs to include top-notch leg exercises to build a strong lower body.

These exercises will improve your overall fitness and decrease your risk for injuries, all while giving you a well rounded, ripped physique.

There is no shortage of great leg workouts that can be performed either in a gym or at home.

The Fit Father Project also offers a number of lower body exercises that can be done with or without equipment, so there is never an excuse to skip leg day!

Holly Smith D.O. - Osteopathic Medicine, B.S. - Dietetics, NASM-PES Certified Trainer

Writer, The Fit Father Project & Fit Mother Project

Holly is board-certified in nephrology and internal medicine, has a bachelor’s degree in dietetics, and is a certified personal trainer with NASM-PES certification.

Holly is a keen runner, triathlete, and fitness and nutrition enthusiast. She has completed four full ironmans, twelve marathons, countless half ironmans, Olympic distance triathlons, half marathons, and numerous other road races.

Holly joined the Fit Father Project in May 2019 as a regular writer, contributing articles on health, wellness, exercise, and nutrition.

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