Best Lower Body Exercises

By Yuri Elkaim, BPHE, CK, RHN

Shaping enviable glutes, quads, calves, and hamstrings comes from performing a variation of compound exercises. In fact, many exercises performed hit more than one muscle group, meaning you get the most from your workout in less time. Below is a list of the best lower body exercises and variations of the movement.

The squat is one of the most powerful strength training exercises around. Many people fear squats because they don’t know proper form. The best way to describe a squat is to think of sitting on a chair. Never extend your knees over your toes. A proper squat requires no movement in your knees at all. Changing the variation of your squat allows you to hit different muscle in different ways.

Back squat: rest the middle of a barbell between your shoulder blades. The weight of the bar should be felt in the meatiest part of your upper back. Sit back as though you were going to sit on a chair. Your knees shouldn’t move forward during this exercise. Go to at least a 90-degree angle. To reap the most benefit from your squatting exercise, you should go below parallel, bringing your glutes as close to your ankles as possible.

Front squat: place the barbell across your anterior deltoids by either crossing your arms to hold the bar in place, or by supporting the bar with flexed wrists. This squat requires a considerable amount of flexibility and strength in your wrists. Consider starting with a lower weight until your wrists are able to hold the bar properly.  Move toward a seated position as you do in the back squat. Because of the position of the bar, you will notice a more vertical movement. You can offset this by placing small plates under your feet.

Other squat variations include:

  • Sumo squat
  • Bulgarian split squat
  • Overhead squat
  • Plies squat

Deadlifts are a superior exercise because they involve all of your major muscle groups, though primary muscle involvement includes the hamstrings and lower back. Essentially, you pull a large amount of weight off the floor by squatting down and standing straight up, with a straight back and legs.

Deadlifts come in various forms:

  • Romanian deadlift
  • Stiff-legged deadlift
  • Sumo deadlift
  • Snatch grip deadlift

Some are safer than others, especially for those with weaker back and hamstring muscles. Proper form is essential when deadlift. Though it is a power movement, most gym injuries occur during improper deadlift form.

Lunges hit all the major muscles in your lower body. The split stance puts you in an unstable position, making the move more difficult than squats. Most people start out performing lunges with no weight to gain a sense of proper form.

When performing lunges, stand with your feet positioned together, and then take a big step forward. Keep your front knee at a 90-degree angle, never allowing it to move over your ankle. As you move your back knee toward the floor, keep your torso in an upright position. Never lean forward.

Lunges variations include:

  • Short step
  • Wide step
  • Walking lunge
  • Jump lunges


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