The Best Leg Exercises for Size and Strength

Written by the Boostcamp staff
Dec 11,2023|10 min| 2580

Best Leg Exercises: Building Size and Strength

Blow up you legs through these key exercises

When it comes to hitting legs, you probably think of the basic leg day exercises which typically consist of squats, maybe some hack squats, then some leg curls for the hamstrings, and of course some Romanian deadlifts. While there are so many leg exercises to choose from, including the popular leg workout, which ones are the best leg exercises for size, strength, and staying free of injury?

We have compiled a list of our favorite leg exercises to build up size and strength, so whether you are powerlifting, bodybuilding, Olympic weightlifting, or just looking to look good and be strong, you can benefit.

Leg Training Overview

We all want those muscular and strong legs, but more often than not skip over some great exercises for them, leaving people with skinny, disproportionate legs compared to their upper body. While people believe that making their legs bigger and stronger just provides a better aesthetic, there is much more in terms of benefits than just appearance and great gains.

For one, more size and strength in the lower body makes for a better base which transfers over to other lifts. Think about it, you use your legs even when you are doing something such as bench pressing, which requires leg drive. However, bigger and stronger legs also help complete everyday tasks, such as walking, standing, going up and down stairs, and so on. Resistance training with free weights or weight machines is a great way to improve leg strength and add an extra kick to the latter stages of your run and walk. Elevating your heart rate is also important for leg training, as it helps prepare your body for the exercises and can improve overall performance. Stronger legs also help with protection from injury, making strength training an essential component of any leg training program.

Also, training legs has shown to increase hormones such as human growth hormone, as well as testosterone. These two hormones are necessary for recovery and building muscle mass.

Best Leg Exercises for Size and Strength

Now that we have addressed the reason that training legs is so important, let’s discuss which exercises are the best for gaining size and strength.

Back Squats

Pictured: Chloe Butler Squatting

There is no doubt that squats would make it on the list, they are a staple of a good leg day and are recommended by a number of online fitness sources. Whether you are a bodybuilder or powerlifter, or average gym goer, squats bring so many benefits to the table.

The back squat, also known as the standard squat or barbell squat, actually activates all of the muscles of the leg, including the posterior chain. In particular, the standard squat will hit the quads and glutes as well as the hamstrings. Besides working the legs, you'll also engage your core muscles, as bracing the midsection helps to keep you upright and tight during the movement (A weightlifting belt also helps with this). Performing back squats, also known as the standard squat or barbell squat, will add size and strength to the legs through the use of leg power, and back squats also result in more calories burned, higher jumping ability, and a healthier body overall.

Hack Squats

Hack squats are another classic exercise, used largely by the bodybuilding community for its ability to isolate and put extensive stress on the quads. Quite honestly, you might take one look at the hack squat and think that it is the same exercise as the back squat or leg press, but it certainly is not. The hack squat is much more of an exercise to focus on the mind muscle connection, as it just about eliminates the lower back activation and strain, and allows you to focus entirely on working the leg muscles and stabilizing muscles to move the load through a greater range of motion with higher reps.

The load is still placed at the back of the lifter, typically there will be shoulder pads to place yourself under, and much like a regular back squat the hack squat will force the lifter to brace the core muscles. However, with a hack squat you should be able to lift heavier weights compared to the classic back squat. Use the hack squat if you want to hone in only on the larger leg muscles, especially the quads, as you can alter foot placement easily to adjust where the emphasis will go. For example, famous bodybuilder Tom Platz would place his feet directly below him in a “duck stance” or “sissy squat” stance to really work the quads at shoulder height, or you can target the front of your body with a squat rack and a front squat.

The hack squat is also great if you are trying to come back from an injury. Due to the many different variations and benefits it brings, the hack squat had to make the list of the best leg exercises for strength and size.

Leg Press

No list of leg exercises for strength and size would be complete without the leg press machine. This piece of equipment is great because it removes the necessity to bear the load on your shoulders, so you are left pressing solely with your leg muscles. Because of this, you'll be able to load up heavy loads compared to a barbell back squat or even a compound lift like the leg extension or hack squat, which can help stimulate new muscle growth and train to muscular failure.

The leg press is not necessarily a replacement to the squat, you should instead use the leg press as an accessory to the squat. Similar to the hack squat, you won't have to use smaller stabilizing muscles to control the load as much, so you can really concentrate on the mind-muscle connection and stimulate the growth. 

Another benefit of the leg press is that it allows for several training modifications in terms of volume, rep ranges, drop sets, and so on, with relative ease and effectiveness. They can be done safely and simply. Also, the leg press is another exercise that can be a good option for those experiencing low back pain or even injuries, as it allows for the legs to be worked without lower back stimulation.

Romanian Deadlift

When it comes to the backside of the legs, the Romanian Deadlift, otherwise known as the RDL, is one of the best exercises for targeting the hamstrings and building size and strength. The RDL does not solely isolate the hamstrings, but is rather an overall backside of the leg grower. This exercise to hit the hamstrings, glutes, erector spinae, as well as the core and body weight with proper form. The RDL made the list of the best leg exercises to pack on size and strength, as it allows you to use heavy weight and really kill the hamstrings and glutes, and even the erectors while maintaining a straight line from head to toe.

Lunges

Last but not least on the list of the best leg exercises for size and strength are lunges - a simplistic but very effective exercise for building leg muscle and strength. Lunges are a perfect multi-muscle exercise that can add some serious size and strength to all of the leg muscles, including: your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves, making them one of the largest muscles in your body. The lunge is a great compound exercise, meaning it targets multiple muscle groups at once, and is ideal for correcting muscular imbalances.

Lunges, specifically the reverse lunge, stretch the hip flexors while requiring a good amount of balance and stability, as well as some serious coordination. We added lunges, specifically the reverse lunge, to the list of best leg exercises for size and strength because it is great for those two things, but is also a super functional movement that will help you move better in your day to day life, especially targeting the rectus femoris and incorporating the gluteus maximus.

You can do lunges with all different types of equipment, from barbells to just wearing a weighted vest or plate carrier.

Best Leg Exercises for Size and Strength Wrap Up

Overall, training your legs is essential not only for your overall aesthetic, but to improve functionality and your other lifts. You also need strong legs for everyday tasks. Do you agree with our list of the best leg exercises for size and strength?

Boostcamp

If you are looking to stay on track and continue with linear progression, then finding a good workout program is the key. Where do you look for a good workout program? Check out the Boostcamp App for some great programs. Also, be sure to follow Boostcamp on Instagram and subscribe on YouTube!