20 Best Lower Body Exercises for Strength and Fitness
A muscular lower body symbolizes strength and is a testament to one’s dedication to fitness. It is essential to build a strong foundation as it enhances athletic performance and promotes overall health and well-being. A review published in the Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging found an association between lower leg power among older adults with chronic health issues like osteoarthritis, diabetes mellitus, and cardiovascular disease. As a personal trainer, I have my clients prioritize leg training, especially in the initial stages. Although most of them hate me for this, they eventually notice a significant improvement in their overall strength gains compared to those who concentrated solely on upper body gains. In this article, I take you over the 20 best lower body exercises, the benefits of training lower body, how to program lower body workouts for different objectives, and the most effective recovery and injury prevention tips.
20 Best Lower Body Exercises
Squats are the king of lower body exercises, making them our top pick for the best lower body exercises. They are one of the most effective exercises to build leg strength and muscle. Squats are a compound lift and should be done early on in the workout when you are still fresh.
How-To: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, toes slightly outward. Bend your knees and lower your hips back as if sitting in a chair, keeping your chest up and knees over your toes. Go down until your upper legs are at least parallel to the ground. Push through your heels to return to standing. Avoid fully extending your knees to keep constant tension on your quads.
Benefits: Enhances overall leg strength. Targets quads, hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. Improves core strength and stability.
Pro Tip: Focus on depth and form rather than weight. Keep your core engaged throughout the movement for stability.
Deadlifts are a powerhouse exercise that targets multiple lower and upper body muscle groups. It is one of the three lifts in powerlifting, including the squats and bench press.
How-To: Stand with feet hip-width apart, barbell over feet. Bend at the hips and knees and grip the bar with an overhand or mixed grip. Keep your back, head, and neck neutral, and lift the bar by straightening your hips and knees. Lower the bar to the ground.
Benefits: Builds overall strength, particularly in the hamstrings, glutes, lower back, and core. Improves grip strength. Enhances overall functionality.
Pro Tip: Keep the bar close to your body. Drive through your heels and keep your spine neutral to avoid strain.
Lunges are a versatile lower body exercise. This unilateral exercise is incredibly effective for fixing muscle and strength imbalances.
How-To: Step forward with one foot. Lower your hips until both knees are bent at about a 90-degree angle. Ensure the front knee is directly above the ankle. Push back up to the starting position.
Benefits: Helps fix muscle and strength imbalances. Works on quads, hamstrings, and glutes. Improves balance, coordination, and unilateral (single-leg) strength.
Pro Tip: Don’t let your knee touch the ground. Keep your upper body straight and core engaged.
The leg press is a safe and effective way to build lower body strength using a machine. Focus on following a full range of motion for optimal lower-body muscle stimulation. It is one of the best lower body exercises where you can lift relatively heavy without significantly boosting your injury risk.
How-To: Sit in the leg press machine with your back and head against the padded support. Place your feet on the platform shoulder-width apart. Extend your legs to unrack the sled and then return to the starting position. Slowly flex your knees and bring your thighs toward your chest. Lower as far as your mobility allows. Return to the starting position.
Benefits: Targets quads, hamstrings, and glutes. Allows for heavy lifting without the stress on the lower back.
Pro Tip: Avoid locking your knees at full extension. Adjust the seat and foot position according to your height for optimal performance.
Step-ups are a functional exercise that mimics daily activities, ideal for building strength and endurance in the lower body. These are one of the best lower body exercises for fixing muscle and strength imbalances.
How-To: Stand in front of an elevated surface like a flat bench or plyo box. Place one foot on the step. While keeping your torso upright, push through the midfoot of the leg on the bench to lift your body up. Pace both feet together on the bench. Step back down. Repeat for recommended reps on one side or alternate between reps.
Benefits: Improves unilateral strength and balance. Engages core and stabilizing muscles. Works quads, hamstrings, and glutes.
Pro Tip: Keep your stepping foot fully on the bench; don’t let your heel hang off the edge. Maintain a steady, controlled pace.
The Romanian deadlift (RDL) is a top exercise for targeting the hamstrings and glutes, with a focus on hip hinge movement.
How-To: Stand with feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent. Hold a barbell with an overhand grip. Position the barbell in front of your thighs. Hinge at the hips and drive them back to lower the bar, keeping it close to your legs. Pause at the bottom of the range of motion. Squeeze glutes to return to standing.
Benefits: Strengthens the posterior chain. Enhances hip mobility. Improves lower back health.
Pro Tip: Keep the back straight and neck neutral. Focus on moving through the hips, not the lower back.
Glute bridges are a superb exercise for loading the glutes and improving hip mobility. However, you must ensure a full range of motion to get the most out of this exercise.
How-To: Lie on your back with your knees bent.