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7 Strength Training Exercises For Your Strongest Lower Body Ever

There's a wide variety of exercises to choose from, and each one uses different muscle combinations.

By PelotonUpdated November 10, 2023


Some call it “leg day”, others call it lower body strength training, but no matter how you slice it, exercising your lower body is vital for building a strong base for every movement. 

Think of your lower body as both your foundation and your power system, guiding and propelling all your movements no matter how small or large. Building strength and mobility in your lower body creates a firm, solid base, which plays a vital role in both your balance and stability, helping improve your overall posture and form. It’s also beneficial for cardiovascular health, along with building muscle. 

From your glutes to calves, and everything in between, lower body strength training encompasses every muscle below the waist, including your glutes (your largest muscles), quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves. Your lower body workout can even incorporate your core and back muscles because your lower body helps to stabilize these. There is a huge selection of exercises to choose from, each using different combinations of these muscles. 

Here’s what you need to know. 

Key Benefits of Lower Body Exercises

Whether you’re adding lower body strength training to your routine to benefit other types of workouts, like cycling or running, you’re hoping to further define muscles in your lower body, or you want to feel stronger in your everyday activities like climbing stairs and walking, there are many benefits to lower-body workouts. 

Importance for Daily Movement

As strength or resistance training can help promote better bone health and improve bone density, lower body strength training can help reduce the risk of potential injury and lower the likelihood of developing osteoporosis. A recent study found that 15 to 20 minutes of strength training, three days a week, can significantly help improve bone density. Along with bone health, building muscle around weak joints and helping to condition muscles can contribute to functional strength, and help prevent injuries or strains.

Cardiovascular Health Benefits

While you may not immediately think of lower body exercises as having direct heart health benefits, strength training has a positive impact on many aspects of cardiovascular health. Over time, strength training can decrease blood pressure and create a leaner muscle mass, improving circulation by strengthening the heart and blood vessels, which reduces the risk of heart attacks and strokes. And, studies have also found that sustained strength training can help reduce levels of “heart fat” which is linked to cardiovascular disease. 

Reduces Your Risk of Injury

Lower body strength training works on your core stability, improving your range of motion and mobility. It builds stronger muscles around key joints such as hips and knees, to help protect against strains and sprains. Strengthening glutes, hamstrings, and your core also helps with posture alignment, correcting any muscle imbalances which can lead to postural issues and pain. 

Increases Your Resting Metabolic Rate

With lower body strength training, you’re building muscle mass over time. As muscle mass needs more energy to maintain, this boosts your resting metabolism, effectively helping you burn more calories, even when you’re not working out. 

How Often Should I Train My Lower Body?

How often you do lower body training sessions will be based on your fitness level and goals. “If you’re brand new to strength training or looking to maintain your strength, once a week is plenty. Just make sure to focus on hitting all the main parts of your leg: quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves,” says Austin Cagley, who leads Global Instructor Development at Peloton. “As you become more comfortable in the weight room and look to add strength or muscle, you can up the frequency to two to three days a week.” 

You can choose workouts that focus solely on the lower body aka your “leg days” on rotation with upper body strength training on different days, or you can integrate as part of a full body strength training workout

“I find people like to do two legs days, with an emphasis on quads during the first one (along with accessory exercises that hit hamstrings, adductors/abductors, and glutes) and an emphasis on hamstrings during the second one (along with accessory exercises that hit quads, adductors/abductors, and glutes),” says Cagley, adding, “Just give yourself enough time to recover between leg days.”

If you prefer to do strength training on rotation, Peloton instructor Ben Alldis offers plenty of advice on creating a well-rounded strength training program, so you can focus on different muscle groups each time.

Warm-Ups For Lower Body Strength Training

All strength training starts with a proper and thorough warm-up. So, to get the most out of your lower body strength training you’ll want to tailor your warm-up to prep the lower body muscles.

By warming up your muscles, joints, and connective tissues you’re slowly increasing your heart rate and blood flow, ensuring more oxygen reaches your muscles. By gradually raising your body temperature, your muscles become warmer and their elasticity improves. Warm muscles also contract more easily, creating better mobility for your workout and reducing the risk of strains or injury.

One way to approach your lower body strength training warm-up exercises is to choose ones that will complement what you’ll be doing in your actual workout. This could be bodyweight squats for any workout using your glutes, quads, or hip flexors or a lunge with hip opener for any hinging exercises like a good morning or a deadlift. 

That said, any lower body warm-up will be better than none, so always make sure you build in time for at least 5 to 10 minutes of warm-up exercises.

Here are a few lower-body strength training warm-ups to help you get started:

1. Jogging in Place or Jumping Jacks

Both will get your heart rate up while moving your lower body at a faster pace. 

Jumping jacks
  1. For jumping jacks, stand with your feet together and arms by your sides. 

  2. Then jump up kicking your legs outwards and raising your arms above your head. 

  3. Jump back to the starting position. Repeat.

Muscles worked: Glutes, hip flexors, quads, calves, hamstrings, abs, and shoulders.

2. Lunge with Hip Opener

This is not your standard lunge but makes a great warm-up if your workout includes lunges

  1. Stand with feet hip-width apart.

  2. Step one foot forward, bending the front knee to 90 degrees.

  3. Lower your back knee to the ground, keeping the weight in your front foot. 

  4. Gently open your front knee outwards while keeping your foot firmly in place. 

  5. Switch sides. Repeat.

Muscles worked: Glutes, hip flexors, quads, hamstrings, calves, and core. 

3. Forward or Lateral Leg Swings

Both of these swings will activate the hips and glutes.

  1. Stand with your feet together and arms either at your sides or out to a “T” for balance. 

  2. Place your weight on one leg and then raise the other off the floor.

  3. Swing raised leg front and back, increasing the range of motion as you swing.

  4. Swing raised leg side to side, in front of your opposite leg, increasing the range of motion as you swing.

  5. Switch legs and repeat, doing at least three sets per side.

Muscles worked: Glutes, hip flexors, quads, hamstrings, calves, and core.

4. High Knees

This will get your heart rate up, depending on how fast you pace it.

  1. Start with your feet hip-width distance apart.

  2. For high knees bring one knee up as high as it goes and raise the opposite arm.

  3. Switch quickly to the other foot and arm, and repeat. 

  4. Speed it up as you see fit. 

Muscles worked: Glutes, hip flexors, quads, hamstrings, calves, and core. 

5. Butt Kicks

Butt kicks are a great way to warm up the glutes, quads, and hamstrings. 

  1. Start with your feet hip-width distance apart.

  2. Bring your one heel up to your butt then put your foot down.

  3. Switch feet and repeat.

  4. Build up speed as you go.

Muscles worked: Glutes, hip flexors, quads, hamstrings, calves, and core. 

Most Effective Lower Body Strength Training Exercises

Once you’ve got your warm-up down, it’s time to get your lower body strength training workout on. Here are some of the most effective lower body exercises you can do to start to make great strides in your fitness journey. 

1. Squats

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder to hip-width apart with a slight bend in your ankles, knees, and hip.

  2. Ensure knees are tracking above your second and third toe at 11 and 1, making sure your knees aren’t falling inwards.

  3. Engage your core and keep your chest upright as you sit your hips back, until thighs are parallel to the floor.

  4. Return to start, activating your glutes at the top of the movement.

For an extra challenge, this move can also be done with weights.

Muscles worked: Glutes, hip flexors, quads, calves, hamstrings, and abs.

2. Deadlifts

Performing deadlifts with proper form will help protect all areas of your back during this movement.

img-2-Are You Doing These 3 Common Lower Body Strength Movements Correctly?
  1. Stand with your feet shoulder to hip-width apart.

  2. Hinge at the hips to keep your spine in a neutral position.

  3. With a flat back, bring your torso towards the floor.

  4. Engage your glutes and hamstrings to return to standing, being careful to keep your spine neutral—although the movement is generated from the hip hinge, make sure to not lock out your knees.

Muscles worked: Glutes, hamstrings, core, back, and traps.

3. Lunges

Follow the form below while you’re moving through either a forward lunge or reverse lunge.

img-3-Are You Doing These 3 Common Lower Body Strength Movements Correctly?
  1. Stand with your feet shoulder to hip-width apart with your toes facing forward.

  2. Take one step forward, and lower your weight straight down towards the floor, ensuring both your front leg and back leg create 90-degree angles.

  3. Make sure that your back knee doesn’t hit the ground--it should just be hovering over the floor.

  4. This movement can be performed with or without a weight.

Muscles worked: Glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves.

4. Bulgarian Split Squats

This one takes some balance and coordination so you’ll want to spend some time getting your footing placement comfortable and stable.

  1. Stand in front of a chair or bench with feet hip-width distance apart and a straight back and shoulders. 

  2. Pick a foot to start with and place it on the chair or bench behind you. Keep it at the hip-width distance apart to maintain balance.

  3. Keep your eyes looking straight ahead, bend your front knee, ensuring the weight is on that front leg not the back—which is there for balance. 

  4. Hinge a little forward at the hips and ensure your front knee is in line with your toes and isn’t moving inwards or outwards.

  5. Lower until your front quad is parallel to the ground and stay down for a beat.

  6. Use that front leg to push upwards to standing, then bring your back leg down. Switch legs and repeat.

Muscles worked: Glutes, hamstrings, quads, calves, and abs.

5. Glute Bridges

This move can be done without weights or by holding dumbbells across your hips for additional resistance.

Man demonstrates how to do a glute bridge
  1. Start with your back flat on the floor and your feet placed shoulder-width apart flat on the floor, creating a 90-degree angle with your knees.

  2. Engage your core and lift your hips up by contracting your glutes and pushing your heels into the floor, keeping a neutral spine and neck. 

  3. Make sure your back is not arched; your body should be in a straight line from the knees to your shoulders. 

  4. Pause at the top, then slowly move your hips down to start position. Repeat.

Muscles worked: Glutes, hamstrings, quads, and adductors.

6. Good Mornings

Depending on your strength training goals, you can add weights to this or keep it just about the movement. Start without weights and build up from there. 

Robin Arzón demonstrates a good morning exercise
  1. Start standing with feet hip-width distance apart. 

  2. If you’re using dumbbells, place them on your shoulders or hols one dumbbell at chest height..

  3. Bend your knees slightly, then hinge forward at the hips bringing your upper body parallel to the floor. 

  4. Keep your core engaged and a straight back. 

  5. Slowly return to start. Repeat.

Muscles worked: Hamstrings, glutes, and abs.

7. Box Step-Ups

Combining the effects of a lunge and a squat, box step-ups are challenging move to progress your training. This exercise can be done with or without dumbbells. You can also progress it by increasing the height of the step.

  1. Using a stable box or a raised platform, place one foot on top of the box and one on the ground. 

  2. Shift your weight onto the foot that’s on the box. 

  3. Drive your weight into your box foot and pull upwards bringing your other foot onto the box. 

  4. Bring your foot back to the floor and your other to join it, then repeat.

  5. Alternate your leading leg or do repeating reps on one side followed by the other. 

  6. You can also change the way you do your stepping to target different muscles and add more weights, as well as varying the speed to get your heart rate up. 

Muscles worked: Glutes, quads, hamstrings, adductors and abductors, calves, and core.

As with any new exercise program, make sure you start off at a comfortable pace adding a few lower body strength training exercises and warm-ups into your workouts and build it up from there. Don’t forget to rotate it with upper body strength training too, or do a full body strength training workout to really get all the muscles working together. 

Depending on how you want to strength train and your fitness goals, you’ll find everything you need over on the Peloton App.