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Legs of Steel: Unveiling the Ultimate Leg Day Workout for Women!

Ask almost any trainer to name the best leg exercise, and they’ll probably say barbell back squats. That makes a lot of sense, given their status as the crowned king of exercises. However, after almost 35 years working in the fitness industry, I don’t always support this point of view.

While I have nothing against them, I know that many people find traditional barbell back squats uncomfortable or impossible to do correctly. This is especially true for women. Unlike most male exercisers, women don’t usually have a beefy set of traps on which to rest the barbell. With no natural padding, upper back and neck pain are common.

While I could just say, “suck it up,” and keep on prescribing back squats to clients who don’t like them, that’s no way to encourage long-term exercise adherence. Rather, it’s more likely to earn me a whole lot of ex-clients, many of whom may quit working out altogether.

Because of this, I have more than squats in my lower body training arsenal. I still prescribe squats to some of my female clients, but it’s rare that we do the barbell back squat variation. After all, there are plenty of equally effective but more comfortable exercises to do instead.

In this article, I share my (and my client’s!) favorite leg exercises for women. Plus, I’ve also got a workout for you to try.

The 12 Best Leg Exercises for Women

Develop the lower body of your dreams with these proven leg exercises for women. I use each one of these moves with my female clients, so you can rest assured they’re all safe and effective.

1. Booty Band Goblet Squat
Muscles worked: Quadriceps, gluteus maximus, hamstrings, abductors, core.

While barbell back squats are not a very female-centric exercise, this squat variation is a lot more women-friendly. In fact, if you only do one exercise from this article, this is the one I recommend. Why? Because it offers the biggest bang for your workout buck!

Steps: Put a booty band around your legs, just above or below your knees. Step out so your feet are roughly shoulder-width apart, and turn your toes slightly outward. Hold a kettlebell or dumbbell in front of your chest. Pull your shoulders down and back, and brace your core. Bend your legs and squat down until your thighs are roughly parallel to the floor. Take care not to round your lower back. Stand back up and repeat.

Tips: Keep pushing your knees out against the band throughout. Pause at the bottom of each rep for 2-3 seconds to make this exercise more challenging. Lift your heels on blocks to increase squat depth and quads engagement.

2. Deficit Reverse Lunge
Muscles worked: Quadriceps, gluteus maximus, hamstrings, adductors, abductors, core.

I love lunges and think they’re an excellent alternative to squats. Working one leg at a time, lunges are great for spotting and fixing left-to-right strength imbalances. They’re also good for your balance and coordination. This is probably my favorite lunge variation, as they’re so darn effective.

Steps: Stand on a low platform with your feet together and arms by your sides. Brace your core and pull your shoulders back and down. Step back and place your foot on the floor behind you. Bend your legs, and lower your rearmost knee down to an inch above the floor. Push off your back leg and return to the platform. Step off with the other leg and repeat. Continue alternating legs for the duration of your set.

Tips: Make sure you lower your rear knee down below the level of your front foot. Hold dumbbells in your hands to make this exercise more challenging. Do all the reps on one side before switching if you prefer.

3. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
Muscles worked: Hamstrings, gluteus maximus, core.

Butt and hamstring exercises don’t come much better than Romanian deadlifts. While it’s traditional to do this exercise with a barbell, my female clients like it better when we use dumbbells. This variation is much more lower back-friendly, and dumbbells are usually easier to handle than a heavy barbell.

Steps: Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms by your sides. Bend your knees slightly, brace your core, and pull your shoulders back and down. Hinging from the hips, lean forward and lower the weights down to about knee height. Feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Stand back up and repeat.

Tips: Initiate each rep by pushing your hips backward. Take care not to round your lower back, as doing so increases your risk of injury. Do this exercise with a barbell if you prefer, but dumbbells are usually easier to use.

4. Barbell Hip Thrust
Muscles worked: Hamstrings, gluteus maximus, core.

The great thing about the barbell hip thrust is that it puts very little stress on your lower back. As such, it’s great for anyone with lower back pain. This exercise is very popular with athletes and “booty girls.” It is arguably one of the safest and most effective ways to train your glutes and hamstrings.

Steps: Sit on the floor with your legs straight and your upper back resting against a study bench. Roll a barbell up your legs and rest it across your hips. Bend your knees and plant your feet flat on the floor. Brace your core. Drive your feet into the floor and lift your hips up so you form a straight line between your knees and shoulders. Lower your butt back to the floor and repeat.

Tips: Place a cushion between your hips and the bar for comfort. Make sure you fully extend your hips but take care not to hyperextend your spine. Drive your heels into the floor to emphasize your hamstrings and glutes.

5. Stability Ball Leg Curl
Muscles worked: Hamstrings, gluteus maximus, core.

Seated and lying leg curls work your hamstrings, but that’s all they work. I think this is a very inefficient way to work your legs. In contrast, stability ball leg curls work…

Stan Quinn
Stan Quinn
Stan Quinn, the founder of "The Body Builder" and formerly Body Guider, isn't just a business owner – he embodies the spirit of holistic fitness. With a degree in sports nutrition, Stan blends academic knowledge with practical expertise, ensuring that his gym members receive not just physical training but also nutritional guidance tailored to their unique needs. Over the years, Stan's passion for fitness has extended beyond the gym's walls. As a fervent sports enthusiast, he understands the intricacies of athletic performance and is dedicated to helping both amateur athletes and fitness novices achieve their goals. Under his leadership, "The Body Builder" has grown from a mere gym to a comprehensive fitness hub where every member feels empowered, educated, and inspired. Stan's commitment to excellence, combined with his in-depth understanding of sports nutrition, makes him a revered figure in the fitness community.
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