If you've been overlooking leg day and are ready to step it up, it can be hard to know where to start in terms of the best leg exercises for building mass. While shaking up your routine regularly with different exercises is the best way to prevent a plateau, having four core exercises that you can fall back on is a great place to start. Building mass with only 4 exercises does sound too good to be true, but when done right, these four exercises can hit the optimal number of muscle fibres to achieve an overall bigger look.
The Best Leg Exercises
Squats come in many forms. By slightly altering your stance, the start and end position of your squat, the range, reps and amount of weight you lift, squats are far more diverse than many people realise.
In the spirit of keeping things simple, go with the standard squat, for which you'll need a squat rack and barbell. If you're new to squatting with weights, it's worth doing some practice squats with a weightless bar to get a feel for it. Once you've got your form perfected, it's time to load up with a few weights and then, eventually, all the weight you can handle.
When you're comfortable in your ability and smashing out squats daily, simply working the reps might not be enough. You need to go heavy once a week to build your strength, but changing your weights, reps and stance can be a way to shake things up a bit to make this one of the best leg exercises.
Deadlifting is your first stop for building bigger hamstrings. A correctly executed deadlift will bear the weight in your hamstrings while strengthening your posterior chain, back, and shoulders.
There are many popular variations that could work your hamstrings in different ways. Using a trap bar will shift some of the weight down your centre for an upward thrust, making it harder to cheat. Or you could try the ‘clean deadlift’, which involves a wider grip and footing so that you lift from lower on the ground - putting your glutes and hamstrings to greater use.
The leg press is a friend to all who have trouble balancing, an injury or want the gains without working the auxiliary muscles associated with deadlifts and squats. It’s far from an isolating exercise though, as you work several muscles with each press.
This one of the best leg exercises for mass builders because you'll be able to press a considerably greater volume of weight than you would be able to squat or deadlift. Plus, you'll find that doing one actually benefits the other, as by improving your strength (and mass) with the leg press, you'll be indirectly improving your squatting ability.
If it’s the mass look you’re going for, compound lifts are the way to go. However, to really pump up your quads at the end of a leg day workout, increase the weight and lower the reps on the leg extension machine. Better yet, work one leg at a time.
Isolating exercises are not usually the best way to build mass, nor the healthiest for your joints, but combined with compound lifts you can isolate your thighs (or hamstrings with leg curls) for greater gains.
Be aware that without heavy-weighted compound lifts, leg curls and extensions will not be as effective with long-term strength and mass building.
Tips For Mass
You can be a boss at these 4 best leg exercises and still not see results. This is because nutrition is key — if you want the size you'll need to consume the fuel to get you there.
There are a few other variables you can play around with to achieve mass gains. As touched on before, you should focus on a heavy weight. We’re talking 80 percent upwards of your one-rep maximum potential — if you can squat 100kg, work at a minimum of 80kg.
You want to focus on full-range reps to hit as many muscle fibres as possible. To do so, break up your reps into more sets so that you have more recovery time in between. A good starting point is 5 sets of 5 reps. Each time you find this comfortable enough, increase the weight and lower the reps until you are able to do 5 reps of that — and repeat. This could take weeks, and won’t happen overnight.
Partial reps can help by strengthening and developing the muscles that they target. Partial reps won’t build mass the same as they won’t hit the same volume of muscle fibres, but they can assist full range reps in the longer run.
The same goes for extensions and curls — they won’t get you there alone, but combined with compound lifts they can definitely support a longer term plan, as well as pumping up muscles for an immediate aesthetic mass look.
Take Home Message
The best leg exercises are what works for you. Variation is key to healthy and successful muscle building, so start with these exercises before incorporating them into a wider range of leg workouts. It's all about testing what your body is capable of and improving on that, so don't be afraid to grab some weights and give these exercises a go. Get your reps, weight and regime down and you'll have the buffest legs in the gym in no time.
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