The Best Lower Body Strength Exercises

Woman doing deadlifts in a gym
Peathegee Inc / Getty Images

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. It can also improve your performance during athletic activities like running and 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 multiple muscle groups and joints in compound movements. The exercises below can be performed together as a complete lower-body workout or incorporated into a total-body weight training routine.

You'll see these lower body strength exercises performed in gyms with equipment like barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, and machines. But 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.

Choose a modification if you are newer to lower body strength training, or 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.

Lower Body Strength Training Workout

  • Dumbbell lunge
  • Dumbbell shoulder squat
  • Bulgarian split squat
  • Deadlift
  • Hip thrust
  • Side lunge
  • Weighted step up
  • Good morning
  • Barbell jammer press

Dumbbell Lunge

The basic lunge is one of the most effective lower-body exercises because it works the hips, glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and core. It can also be a good stability challenge.

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

You should master the basic lunge before adding resistance in a dumbbell lunge. When you add dumbbells, start with light resistance (2 to 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.
  4. Repeat the sequence on the same leg several times before switching to the left side, or you can alternate sides with every rep.
  5. Try to do at least 5 to 7 repetitions on each leg.

To make the move easier: 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. This movement is easier to control.

To make the move harder: 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.

If you are looking to add 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– to 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.
  5. Perform 7 to 10 repetitions.

To make the move easier: If you are new to strength training, you may want to start by doing this squat without weights. Once you feel more comfortable, add the weights in.

To make the move harder: If you can do 10 to 12 reps with good form, consider adding weight or choose a weighted squat variation, such as the goblet squat with a kettlebell or dumbbell. The front barbell squat is another challenging variation that places greater emphasis on the quadriceps and glutes.

You can also use a barbell to perform these squats. The most basic version of a barbell squat is with the bar placed behind the neck, on the trapezius muscles.

A smith machine squat is another option, where the barbell is fixed between steel rails so that it cannot fall forward or back.

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. Form is important, so work to master this first.

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Prepare for the Bulgarian split squat by standing with feet hip-distance apart and about two feet in front of a chair or bench.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Pressing through the right heel, lift the body to the starting position and repeat.
  4. Complete 7 to 10 repetitions on the right leg, then switch sides and complete the same number of repetitions on the left leg.

To make the move easier: Learn to do this move without weight before adding resistance.

To make the move harder: If you're up for a challenge, try this exercise with more weight using a barbell or a smith machine.


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.

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

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

  1. Hinge forward at the hips, bending the knees.
  2. Grab the bar with an overhand grip. Hands should be placed about shoulder-width apart.
  3. Engage through the hips, glutes, and core and stand tall lifting the bar as you become fully upright.
  4. Now reverse the process, bending the knees and bringing the hips back to lower the bar. Keep the torso strong and the back straight.
  5. Once the bar touches the floor, repeat the sequence and lift again.
  6. Complete 7 to 10 repetitions.

To make the move easier: 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 use a pole, which is lighter, yet still provides a sense of the movement.

To make the move harder: Add more weight.

Hip Thrusts

The barbell hip thrust 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.
gilaxia / Getty Images

You should carefully set up your weight bench to prepare for the hip thruster. Make sure the bench is no higher than your knees. The long end of the bench should be positioned against a solid surface like a wall so it cannot move while you are lifting.

  1. Place your upper back (lower scapula) against the center edge of the bench and place the weight bar across the hips.
  2. 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).
  3. Slowly lower the bar down until the hips are just a few inches off the floor.
  4. Squeeze the glutes and lift again.
  5. Perform 10 to 12 repetitions.

To make the move easier: 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 move harder: Add more weight or do a one-legged version (lift one foot off the floor while lifting and lowering the hips).

Lateral or Side Lunge

The side lunge forces you to work in the frontal plane of movement where your body moves laterally (side to side), engaging the muscles that stabilize the hips. Most lower body exercises only use movement in the sagittal (forward and back) or median (up and down) planes.

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.
  2. Keep the left leg straight, foot firmly grounded on the floor. The upper body remains tall and the chest stays open.
  3. Pushing off the right foot, lift the body and bring yourself back to the starting position with feet together.
  4. Repeat on the left side by stepping the left foot out to the side.
  5. Do 10 to 12 repetitions, alternating sides.

To make the move easier: Take a smaller step and don't lunge as deeply.

To make the move harder: Add weight by placing a kettlebell or dumbbell in your hands and holding it steady at chest level while you lunge from side to side.

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 tasks like carrying groceries up stairs or stepping onto an elevated surface are easier.

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You'll need a sturdy step or box for the weighted step-up.

  1. Start by standing in front of the box, holding a weight in each hand at shoulder height.
  2. Step onto the box with the right foot, making sure the entire foot is on the box.
  3. Press through the right foot and bring the left foot up to meet the right.
  4. Step off the box with the right foot, then the left.
  5. 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 followed by 10 starting with the left.

To make the move easier: Try this exercise without weights or use a shorter step or box.

To make the move harder: Add more weight or increase the height of the box.

Good Morning

The good morning exercise works the hamstrings and core but also strengthens 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.

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

To prepare for a good morning, stand tall with feet hip-distance apart.

  1. Place a barbell on your shoulders, resting it on the trapezius muscle. If you added weight to the bar, be sure the weight plates are secured with a collar.
  2. 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.
  3. Once your torso is parallel to the floor, return to the starting position.
  4. Complete 10 to 12 repetitions.

To make the move easier: Do this exercise with an unweighted pole or barbell.

To make the move 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 need a barbell to perform the jammer press and you should be able to perform a squat with good form.

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 your 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.
  5. Repeat this move 10 to 12 times.

To make the move easier: Do the jammer with no weight at all or use very light weights.

To make the move harder: Increase the amount of weight you use.

How to Design a Lower Body Strength Workout

Before you begin any lower body strength workout, ensure you warm up thoroughly by performing dynamic movements that mimic the exercises you will be doing, such as bodyweight lunges, lateral lunges, squats, gate openers, and bridges.

To choose your exercises, include one or two for each body part including quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. How many exercises you choose depends on your fitness level, available time, and goals.

Complete two to three sets per exercise if you are relatively new to a consistent lower body strength routine. If you have been consistent over several weeks and months, you can do three or more sets, up to six.

Choose weights that challenge you so that by the end of your set, you feel as though you could not complete more than five additional reps before you'd experience muscular failure. Never sacrifice your form to complete more reps and ensure you use full range of motion for best results.

A Word From Verywell

Lower body strength training is helpful for building strength, stability, and functional ability. Working your lower body at least twice a week is ideal, choosing one to two different exercises per body part. If you are unsure of how to perform any of the above exercises, seek the guidance of a personal trainer.

4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Andersen E, Lockie RG, Dawes JJ. Relationship of absolute and relative lower-body strength to predictors of athletic performance in collegiate women soccer playersSports (Basel). 2018;6(4):106. doi:10.3390/sports6040106

  2. Paoli A, Gentil P, Moro T, Marcolin G, Bianco A. Resistance training with single vs. multi-joint exercises at equal total load volume: Effects on body composition, cardiorespiratory fitness, and muscle SstrengthFront Physiol. 2017;8:1105. doi:10.3389/fphys.2017.01105

  3. American Council on Exercise. Different lunges and their benefits.

  4. Neto WK, Soares EG, Vieira TL, et al. Gluteus maximus activation during common strength and hypertrophy exercises: A systematic reviewJ Sports Sci Med. 2020;19(1):195-203.

By Malia Frey, M.A., ACE-CHC, CPT
 Malia Frey is a weight loss expert, certified health coach, weight management specialist, personal trainer​, and fitness nutrition specialist.