5 Ways to Strengthen Your Lower Body

Romanian Deadlift

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Lower body strength is vital for a healthy, well-functioning body. Glute, leg and hip strength can help protect your back and knees from pain and injury and keep you performing well in everyday activities and sports.

Building strength in your lower body is different than building muscle size (hypertrophy). While building lower body strength will inevitably lead to gains in muscle size, the type of exercises and program design for building strength is different.

Strength training focuses primarily on full-body compound movements that increase stability and power in multiple muscles as they work together. Below are some of the best lower body strength training exercises to try.

The Importance of Lower Body Strength 

Lower body strength is vital for keeping you fit and active throughout your lifespan. Strong hips and glutes increase your chances of staying injury-free, without back or knee pain or strain.

Building and maintaining muscle with strength training can improve quality of life, prevent age-related muscle loss, and boost metabolism. Lower body strength is also an essential factor in sports performance, increasing the speed, power, and ability of athletes in any sport.

Exercises for Lower Body Strength 

The best exercises for building lower body strength include heavy, compound movements that use multiple body parts. These are variations of the squat, deadlift, and lunge. Depending on your ability and access to equipment, these exercises can be performed with a barbell, dumbbells, a resistance band, or bodyweight.

Choose a weight appropriate for your abilities. You should feel challenged through the entire set with the last couple of reps feeling very difficult. Approaching your maximum (but not always to failure) during each session will ensure you build strength.

Barbell Back Squat

Barbell back squats are likely the best lower body exercise you can perform for building strength in your entire lower body. They primarily work your quadriceps and glutes, with little action for your hamstrings and calves.

Squats are a functional movement that requires a strong stabilization component from your core, especially when performed with a barbell at a sufficiently heavy weight.

Position the squat rack so the bar sits on your upper back across your shoulders. Place your hands evenly on the bar, bent and gripping with palms facing forward.

  1. Adopt a wide stance, with your feet under the bar. Lift the bar by pushing up with your legs. You should distribute your weight evenly across the front, ball, and heel of your feet.
  2. Take a deep breath in and engage your core as if you will be hit in the stomach. Maintain this column of support. This is extremely important.
  3. Slowly hinge your hips, pressing them backward while keeping your chest up as much as possible. Lower, bending your knees when you must. Continue lowering until you reach at least parallel.
  4. Reverse to the starting position, maintaining a straight back and pushing through your feet. Exhale as you push to return to standing.
  5. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

How deep you go in the squat depends on your anatomy and mobility. Do not allow your tailbone to tuck under (butt wink).

Sumo Deadlift

Sumo deadlifts are more lower-body focused than the traditional deadlift, which is primarily a back exercise. Due to the unique, wide-angled stance of the sumo deadlift, you will work your glutes, adductors, hamstrings, quadriceps, back, core, and calves.

Set up by standing in front of a loaded barbell in a wide stance with your toes pointed slightly out. Your arms will be positioned inside of your knees. Your elbows will be just inside your knees with your hands on the bar inside your feet.

Your shins will remain perpendicular to the floor for most people, with your shoulders above the bar and your back flat. Your anatomy may dictate some variations to this. Push out your knees so that your outer hip muscles feel activated. Keep your torso upright.

  1. Brace your core, bringing your hips toward the bar and bracing your lower back, legs, and glutes.
  2. Turn your quadriceps so your femurs are rotated open in your hip sockets. Line up your knees with your feet and toes.
  3. Grasp the bar (overhand or mixed grip), slide your shoulder blades back and down, and lock them into place.
  4. Pull up on the bar until the weight plate contacts the bar. Press your legs into the floor. Do not lift the bar off the floor yet.
  5. Inhale and push your legs into the ground while simultaneously pulling the bar upward. Your chest is high, and your hips are down.
  6. Pull the bar along your legs as close to your body as you can and press through your heels as you push through your legs to raise up.
  7. Contract your glutes, locking out your knees and hips at the top position.
  8. Slowly reverse the movement. Keep the bar close to your body and shins while reversing to avoid injury to your lower back.

Barbell Front Squat

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

The barbell front squat is another squat variation that challenges your quadriceps and core muscles more than back squats.

  1. Step under a racked barbell, and rest the bar on your upper chest. The bar should be near your neck, without touching it.
  2. Grip the bar with your hands shoulder-width apart and fingers under and around the bar, elbows lifting forward. Alternatively, cross your arms over your chest, holding the bar with an overhand grip. Take a deep breath in, engage your core, and keep this sturdy column throughout.
  3. Push your legs up to unrack the bar and take a step back. Place your feet a bit wider than hip distance apart in a comfortable stance. Toes may be pointed slightly out, or ahead, depending on your hip anatomy.
  4. Keep your torso in an upright position with your weight evenly placed over your feet.
  5. Hinge back, push your hips back, and lower, bending your knees until your legs are at or below parallel. How deep you go will depend on your anatomy and mobility.
  6. Reverse by pushing through your feet to rise to the starting position, fully locking out at the top.
  7. Repeat for desired repetitions.

Dumbbell Lunge

Dumbbell Lunge

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Unilateral exercises such as lunges are vital for building lower body strength. Working one leg at a time can help address muscular imbalances, utilizes more stabilization muscles and core activation, and more closely mimics functional actions such as walking and climbing stairs. Unilateral movements are excellent for athletic performance as well.

You'll build strength primarily in your quadriceps and glutes, with plenty of work being placed in your hamstrings and calves.

Stand holding a dumbbell in each hand, arms at ​your sides. Palms should face your thighs with your feet placed about shoulder-width apart.

  1. Take a step forward about 2 feet in front of you with your right leg, placing your weight on your right foot.
  2. Bend your right knee until your thigh is about parallel with the floor. Your left leg will bend at the knee and balance on the ball of the foot.
  3. Step the right foot back on an exhale to return to the starting position. Alternatively, you can keep the leg extended and lower to repeat.
  4. Repeat the movement with the left leg or complete all reps on the right before moving to the left.

It is a misconception that your knees should not go over your toes. Knees tracking past the toes is acceptable for most people and depends on your anatomy. Those with long limbs will likely need to have the knees track past the toes to perform the movement properly. Not doing so could put excess strain on the hips.

Romanian Deadlift

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Romanian deadlifts are unlike a traditional or sumo deadlifts in that the movement begins from the top position (standing) and does not include touching back to the floor. The primary muscle groups worked are the hamstrings and glutes. You will need to go much lighter than traditional or sumo deadlifts for this movement.

  1. Stand with your feet about hip-width apart, holding a loaded barbell with your hands. The bar will rest on the front of your thighs with your hands about shoulder-width apart.
  2. Maintain a slight bend in your knees, and roll your shoulders back and down.
  3. Inhale and hinge your hips back, leaning forward with your torso. Focus on pushing your hips and butt toward the wall behind you. Do not bend at the waist.
  4. Keep the barbell close to your thighs and shins while you hinge forward, slowly lowering. Keep your back arched, with your tailbone up to protect your back from rounding.
  5. Stop the motion when you feel a significant stretch through your hamstrings. The barbell does not have to reach the floor, but for some, you will touch the floor. Others may need to elevate themselves on a step if they are very flexible.
  6. Exhale and contract your hamstrings and glutes to pull your body back to the starting position. Maintain your arch and do not round your back or bend at the waist.
  7. Repeat for desired repetitions.

If your back begins to round, you risk injury and you will no longer be activating your hamstrings. Use an appropriate weight, maintain your arch, and only lower until you feel a stretch in the hamstrings.

A Word From Verywell

Lower body strength training is very challenging due to the large muscle groups involved. However, the work is worth the effort when it comes to building a functional, powerful body that is less at risk of injury.

Choosing exercises that are efficient and work multiple muscles at once are best for strength training. Keep the weight challenging and continue progressing heavier throughout your program. Seek the guidance of a personal trainer for proper form technique and program design.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can I workout my legs every day? 

    You can work out your legs every day if you choose different muscle groups each day, such as hamstrings, then quads, etc. However, the muscle groups used will overlap for most lower body strength exercises. For this reason, it's best to rest between lower body sessions.

  • Can I just do lower body workouts? 

    It is not advisable to just do lower body workouts. You may develop imbalances and weaknesses. However, several lower body movements also work the upper body fairly effectively such as squats, deadlifts, and lunges.

  • Is running enough for lower body workouts? 

    Running is not enough for lower body workouts. Running is a form of cardiovascular exercise, not a strength-building exercise. Strength training helps strengthen muscles that may not be used during running and may prevent running injuries. Additionally, high volumes of running may reduce your muscle mass.

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