The Best Lower Body Strength Exercises

Woman doing deadlifts in a gym
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Doing a regular lower body strength workout can help to shape your legs, hips, and butt by building lean muscle mass in those areas. You'll strengthen muscles in the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. Having a fit strong lower body also helps you to move through your day with greater ease and can to improve performance during athletic activities (like running, cycling) or team sports like soccer or football.

There are countless leg, hip, and glute exercises to choose from. But the best lower body exercises involve large movements and also challenge your stability and improve core strength. The top lower body exercises below can be performed together as a complete lower-body workout or incorporated into your total-body weight training routine.

9 Best Lower Body Exercises

You'll see these top lower body strength exercises performed in gyms around the country with equipment like barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, and machines. If you don't have access to a gym, don't worry. Most of these movements can be performed with different types of resistance equipment or with just your own bodyweight.

You'll also see variations provided for these exercises. Choose a modification if you are newer to lower body strength training or pick a challenge if you're ready to work harder. And remember to seek clearance from your healthcare provider if you are returning to exercise after illness, injury, or pregnancy.

Dumbell Lunge

The basic lunge is one of the most effective lower-body exercises because it works the hips, glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and core, but it can also be a good stability challenge. You should master the basic lunge before adding resistance to the dumbbell lunge.

dumbbell lunge
Verywell / Ben Goldstein

When you add dumbbells, start with light resistance (2–5 pounds) and add weight as you become more comfortable with the movement.

  1. Stand with feet hip-distance apart with one dumbbell in each hand. Let your arms hang at ​your sides with the palms facing the thighs.
  2. Take a big step forward with the right leg, bending at the knee until the front thigh is about parallel to the floor. The left leg will also bend to accommodate the right and the left heel will come off the floor.
  3. Push off through the right heel, engaging through the core, hamstrings, and glutes on the right side, and bring the right leg back to the starting position.

You can repeat the sequence on the same leg several times before switching to the left side or you can alternate sides. Try to do at least 5–7 repetitions on each leg.

If you're not quite ready for a forward lunge, try a reverse lunge. It's a similar movement, but you'll step back with each leg instead of forward.

If you're ready for a challenge, try walking lunges with dumbbells. In this variation, instead of stepping forward and back to the starting position, you continue to step forward alternating sides in a walking pattern.

Lastly, if you are looking to add some high-intensity cardio to your workout, consider dropping the weights and doing a few lunge jumps to build explosive power in the lower body.

Dumbbell Shoulder Squat

The basic squat is another foundational lower body exercise that you should master if you are serious about training the hips, thighs, and glutes. Once you have good form perfected on the squat, add resistance with dumbbells or a barbell if one is available.

squat with dumbells
Ben Goldstein

To perform a dumbbell shoulder squat, start with 2–5 pound weights. Once you feel that you can maintain good form, add more weight to challenge yourself.

  1. Start with feet slightly wider than hip-distance apart. Rest one dumbbell on each shoulder.
  2. Drop the hips back and down as if you are reaching your glutes toward a chair behind you. The knees will bend but the heels stay planted on the floor. The torso stays tall and strong with the chest open and facing forward.
  3. Continue to lower the hips until the thighs are parallel to the floor (or lower).
  4. Press into your heels to lift the body back to the starting position.

Perform 7–10 repetitions. If you can do 10–12 reps with good form, consider adding weight. Or choose a weighted squat variation, such as the goblet squat with a kettlebell or dumbbell.

You can also use a barbell to perform squats. The most basic version of a barbell squat is with the bar placed behind the neck on the trapezius muscles. You can also do a smith machine squat, where the barbell is fixed between steel rails so that it cannot fall forward or back. The front barbell squat is another challenging variation that places greater emphasis on the quadriceps and glutes.

Bulgarian Split Squat

The split squat allows you to focus the effort on one leg at a time. Because one leg is elevated and you're balancing your weight on the working leg, it also challenges your stability. Learn to do this move without weight before adding resistance.

bulgarian split squat
Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Prepare for the Bulgarian split squat by standing with feet hip-distance apart about two feet in front of a chair or bench. Lift the left foot and place it on the bench behind you. Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in your hands in front of your chest.

  1. Bend your right knee, lowering your body into a one-legged lunge. The shoulders stay elevated over the hips as the hips and glutes descend to knee level.
  2. Pressing through the right heel, lift the body to the starting position, and repeat.

Complete 7–10 repetitions on the right leg, then switch sides and complete the same number of repetitions on the left leg. If you're up for a challenge, try this exercise with more weight using a barbell or a smith machine.

Deadlift

A deadlift is usually performed with a barbell. If a barbell is not available it can be performed with dumbbells. As always, learn the movement with proper form without weight before adding resistance.

Deadlift
Verywell / Ben Goldstein

To prepare for the deadlift, stand tall with feet distance apart and place a barbell at your feet. Make sure that the weight plates are properly secured with a collar.

  1. Hinge forward at the hips, bending the knees. Grab the bar with an overhand grip. Hands should be placed about shoulder-width apart.
  2. Engage through the hips, glutes, and core and stand tall lifting the bar as you become fully upright.
  3. Now reverse the process, bending the knees and bringing the hips back to lower the bar. Keep the torso strong and the back straight. Once the bar touches the floor, repeat the sequence and lift again.

Complete 7–10 repetitions. If you don't feel ready to lift a lot of weight, simply do this exercise with a barbell that has no weight on it. You can also simply use a pole to get a sense of the movement. To make this harder, add more weight.

Hip Thruster

The barbell hip thruster has become the go-to exercise to train the glutes. Some gyms have a dedicated machine for this move, but you can also do it using a weight bench or step. It's smart to master the bridge exercise on the floor before using a bench or adding weight.

Hip thrust exercise.
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You should carefully set up your weight bench to prepare for the hip thruster. Make sure that the bench you use is no higher than your knees. The long end of the bench should be positioned against a solid surface like a wall so that it cannot move while you are lifting. Place your upper back (lower scapula) against the center edge of the bench and place the weight bar across the hips.

  1. Squeeze the glutes and press the bar straight up until the hips are in line with the shoulders and the knees. The bench should support the mid-scapula area. Keep the core tight and maintain a slight chin tuck with your focus down your body (a few inches above the bar).
  2. Slowly lower the bar down until the hips are just a few inches off the floor.
  3. Squeeze the glutes and lift again.

Perform 10–12 repetitions of the hip thruster. If you have mastered the bridge, but don't feel ready for the elevated version, simply add weight (a barbell or dumbbells) to the bridge exercise on the floor. To make the hip thruster harder, add more weight or do a one-legged version (lift one foot off the floor while lifting and lowering the hips).

Side Lunge

The side lunge is a smart addition to your lower body strength workout because it forces you to work in the frontal plane of movement where your body moves laterally (side to side). Most lower body exercises use movement in the sagittal plane (forward and back) or the median plane (up and down). A side lunge engages the adductors and abductors that help stabilize the hips.

woman doing side lunge exercise
undrey / Getty Images

To prepare for this exercise, stand tall with feet together. Be sure that you have several feet of space on your right and left sides.

  1. Take a big step, lunging to the right side with the right foot. The right knee will bend deeply to accommodate the lunge and the hips will drop back. Keep the left leg straight, foot firmly grounded on the floor. The upper body remains tall and the chest stays open.
  2. Pushing off the right foot, lift the body and bring yourself back to the starting position with feet together.
  3. Repeat on the left side by stepping the left foot out to the side.

Do 10–12 repetitions alternating sides. To make this exercise harder, add weight. Place a kettlebell or dumbbell in your hands and hold it steady at chest level while you lunge from side to side. To make the exercise easier, take a smaller step, and don't lunge as deeply.

Weighted Step-Up

The step-up (with or without weights) is an exercise that mimics activities of daily living. It's a great exercise to work the legs, increase your heart rate, and to keep your body strong so that daily tasks like carrying groceries up stairs or stepping up onto an elevated surface are easier.

Weighted Step up
Verywell / Ben Goldstein

You'll need a sturdy step or box for this exercise. A taller box is harder, a shorter box is easier. Start by standing in front of the box, holding one weight in each hand at shoulder height.

  1. Step onto the box with the right foot making sure that the entire foot in on the box.
  2. Press through the right foot and bring the left foot to meet the right.
  3. Step off the box with the right foot, then the left.

You can do alternating step-ups by changing the foot that steps up first. Or you can do 10 step-ups starting with the right foot, then 10 starting with the left. To make this exercise harder, add more weight.

Good Morning

The good morning exercise works the hamstrings and core but also strengthens the muscles in the lower back. If you have lower back issues, check with your healthcare provider for guidance or modifications. Do this exercise with no weight and get comfortable with proper form before adding a barbell.

goodmorning exercise
Verywell / Ben Goldstein

To prepare for a good morning, stand tall with feet hip-distance apart. Place a barbell on your shoulders, resting on the trapezius muscle. If you added weight to the bar, be sure that the weight plates are secured with a collar.

  1. Bend the knees slightly and hinge at the hips bringing the torso forward and hips back (as if trying to shut a car door with your butt). Maintain a straight back and a strong core.
  2. Once your torso is parallel to the floor, return to the starting position.

Complete 10–12 repetitions of this exercise. If you want to make it easier, do the exercise with an unweighted pole or a barbell. To make it harder, add more weight.

Barbell Jammer Press

This total body exercise works the upper body when it is performed without a squat. But adding a squat increases the challenge and strengthens the quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. You'll need a barbell to perform the jammer press and you should be able to perform a squat with good form.

Jammers exercis
Verywell / Ben Goldstein 

Prepare for the jammer by placing a bar on the floor vertically in front of you. If you choose to add weight, place a plate on the end closest to your body. The far end should be anchored against a wall (a corner works best).

  1. Sit into a deep squat and grip the bar by cupping the palms over the end of it.
  2. Press through the hips, quads, and glutes to stand up and drive your hips forward to straighten your legs. Continue to hold the end of the bar.
  3. When you are almost standing, press the bar up and overhead, keeping the back tall and strong.
  4. Once the arms are fully extended, begin to reverse the movement. Lower the bar and bring the body back into a squat position to begin again.

Repeat this move 10–12 times. Make it easier by doing it with no weight at all or using very light weight. Make it harder by adding more weight.

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