Our largest muscles are located in the lower body. The glutes, the quads, and the calves usually take the top three spots for muscle group size.
We ask a lot from our lower body, so conditioning the muscles in it is so important. When strength and endurance increase in these areas, we’ll soon feel our energy levels and overall fitness improve.
So, when building a workout routine that targets all these major muscle groups, here are the 6 best ones to include.
Deadlifts work wonders for your posterior chain. That includes all the big muscle groups that run from your back down to your calves. The extensive list of muscles engaged during deadlifts means it’s very effective in building lower body strength.
Many people think that deadlifts are reserved for only the most elite of lifters when, in reality, they are an accessible exercise that anyone can do. With dumbbells, a resistance band, or nothing at all. The movement just takes a little bit of getting used to.
How to do a deadlift:
1. Start with your feet shoulder-width apart. If you’re using a weight, hold it with your arms extended down just outside your legs.
2. Sit the hips back and bend the knees to run the weights down your legs toward the ground.
3. Maintain a flat back at all times by keeping your chest and head up.
4. Lower until you feel it in your hamstrings.
5. Pause, then drive the hips forward and extend the legs back up so that you’re standing again in one explosive movement.
You can’t have a list of lower body exercises without featuring the squat. There’s a reason it crops up so often. The squat is one of the most important functional and compound movements that trains the lower body muscles.
There are so many variations of it that there’s no need to get bored of it featuring in your workout routine.
Top tip: hold a weight at your chest to recruit more of your core and down by your sides to allow your legs to work harder
3. Split squats
Split squats are essentially a unilateral version of the traditional squat. By working one leg at a time, you can further develop your strength on each side and challenge your core at the same time.
It looks a lot like a lunge, but there’s no need to step in and out of it. By staying in the split stance position throughout the full rep range, you can focus on getting the movement right.
If you’re looking to make it even harder, placing your back foot on a raised surface turns it into a Bulgarian split squat: a notoriously quad demanding exercise.
4. Hip thrusts
Hip thrusts are an underrated exercise that might not yet have a place in your routine. Here’s your sign that it should.
The hip thrust not only develops strong glutes and hamstrings but also teaches you the correct hip hinging action that loads of lower body exercises rely on. Improving your power, and testing your full range of motion, hip thrusts deserve their place on this list.
They can be done with a heavy barbell in the gym, or just perched up against your sofa from home. Here’s how to do a hip thrust:
1. Start with your lower back against the side of the bench or whatever raised surface you’re using. Your bum will be on the floor, and your knees bent with feet flat on the floor too.
2. If you’re using a weight, place it on or across your hips.
3. Lift your bum off the floor by driving your hips up and forward to create a robust straight line with your torso and thighs.
4. Squeeze those glutes at the top and return slowly to within an inch of the ground under control.
5. Don’t let your bum drop back to the ground to keep the tension between reps.
5. Forward lunges
You’ll probably be familiar with the lunge, but if you want to pick the most effective one for your routine, go for the forward lunge.
The forward version increases the focus on the quadriceps at the front of the thigh, and the need to step forward and push back to standing increases the challenge on the core. It’s much more demanding, meaning it’ll probably get your heart rate a little higher too.
6. Cossack squats
Cossack squats don’t feel too natural when you first do them but practising this unilateral movement can help you develop balance, strength, and range of motion. They’re an extremely challenging lower body exercise.
Gaining depth in the Cossack squat comes with practice, so don’t be disheartened if you can only lower yourself so far on the first try. It’s all in the name of progression.
1. Start with a wide stance.
2. Shift your weight to one side, sitting the hips back and bending at the knee as you do so.
3. Turn onto the heel of the opposite foot to increase your depth and focus on the bent leg.
4. Maintain a straight back throughout the movement.
5. At the bottom, push back up to standing through the heel of the bent leg.
Building lower body strength depends on your current ability and what you enjoy. Use our favourite 6 lower body exercises to create a workout routine that works for you or to try something new. Just keep fitting fitness in. Whatever fitness means to you.