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The Best Lower Body Workouts For Serious Leg Strength

Build strength, stability, and efficiency with these moves to pump power into every step.

best leg exercises
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When it comes to building power in your lower body, we can’t do the work for you, but we can put the best leg workouts for running in one easy-to-find place. These resistance exercises will help you maintain essential lean muscle and improve both your leg strength and efficiency, so you can do more work with less effort, improve your endurance, and pump power into every step you take.

The following are the best exercises to get the job done. Each exercise targets at least one of your major lower-body muscles from every angle. Runners benefit from doing single-leg moves as well to build balanced strength.

[For more amazing Runner’s World workouts, check out the All Out Studio App, available for free to all Runner's World+ members. Join now!]

How to use this list: Rotate through these circuits below, performed two to three days a week, to keep your muscles guessing and prevent boredom or burnout. Each move is demonstrated by Meghan Hayden, certified personal trainer at Performix House in New York City so you can master the proper form.

Pro tips:
• Lift to momentary fatigue—the point at which you can’t perform another rep with proper form.
• Start exercises shown with dumbbells with just your body weight first to perfect your form. Then add weights and slowly progress.
•Some days, go heavy enough you can only eke out 6 to 8 reps. Other days, lighten up and perform higher reps (12 to 15) to fatigue. For jumps, go by feel.
• Plan your strength sessions on the same days as interval workouts. Yes, that makes those hard days even harder—but it allows for proper rest and recovery on easy days.
• Lift seasonally. Carve out a 12- to 16-week period during which to build strength, and transition into an easy maintenance phase after that with workouts once or twice a week. Skip the weights during taper weeks if you’re training to race.

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1 Squat

Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding dumbbells at shoulders, with abs tight. Send hips back and bend knees to lower until your thighs are nearly parallel to the ground. Push back up to the starting position. Repeat.

2 Kettlebell Swing

Stand with feet wide, holding a kettlebell with both hands, arms hanging in front of you. Keeping your back straight and sending hips back, squat and swing the kettlebell between your legs and behind hips. Stand up, thrusting hips forward and swinging the weight to shoulder height. Allow the ‘bell to swing back down and repeat.

3 Single-Leg Deadlift

Hold a kettlebell by the handle in your left hand. Stand on right leg. Keeping that knee slightly bent, bend at the hip, extending left leg behind you for balance. Continue lowering the kettlebell until you are parallel to the ground. Return to the starting position. Repeat for a full set and switch sides.

4 Side Lunge

Hold dumbbells at shoulders and stand with feet hip-width apart. Take a giant step to the left and bend your left leg, lowering hips down and back until your left thigh is parallel to the floor. Straighten the left leg, drawing the right leg in as you stand. Repeat on the opposite side.

5 Box Jump

Stand facing a 12- to 18-inch box or step. Squat back, then jump up, swinging your arms forward for momentum. Land firmly on the box with your knees soft to absorb the impact. Step down and repeat.

6 Leg Press

On a leg press machine, position feet about hip-width apart on the platform. Press the seat away from your feet, straightening legs, and then return to start. Bend at the hips and knees and lower the sled until legs are bent 90 degrees. Push back to start. Repeat.

7 Step-Up With Kick Back

Hold a dumbbell in each hand and stand facing a foot-tall bench or high step. Step onto the bench with left foot. At the top of the move, contract glutes and extend right leg behind you. Keeping left foot on the bench, bring right leg back down and return to starting position. Repeat, completing a full set with one leg. Then switch legs.

8 Curtsy Lunge

Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointed forward. Take a giant step diagonally backward with right leg, crossing behind the left. Keeping your back straight, bend knees and lower hips toward the floor until right leg is bent 90 degrees. Push back up to the start. Repeat on the other leg.

9 Figure-4 Bridge

Lie faceup on the floor with knees bent 90 degrees and feet flat. Cross right ankle over left knee. Push into left foot and press hips into the air so your body forms a straight line from shoulders to bent knee. Return to start. Repeat for a full set, then switch to other leg.

10 Split Jump

Stand with right leg forward and left leg behind you. Bend right knee and dip left knee toward the floor, so you’re in a lunge position. Place your arms straight out in front of you or out to the sides for balance. Swiftly, jump up and switch legs in the air, landing with the opposite leg forward. When the back knee grazes the ground, jump again.

[The best runners don’t just run, they hit the gym. The Beginner’s Guide to Strength Training will teach you all the fundamentals to get the most out of your weight session.]

11 Deadlift

Stand up straight, holding a barbell in front of your thighs, with arms extended and palms facing you. Bend knees slightly. While keeping your back flat, slowly bend at the waist, and send hips back to lower the weight as far as comfortably possible. Pause and contract glutes to raise the weight back to the starting position.

Note: This is an advanced move, so start with lighter weight to get the form down first. Be sure not to use your back to lift.

12 Pendulum Lunge

Stand holding dumbbells at your sides. Take a giant step back with right leg, bending the left knee so that the left thigh is parallel to the floor, and the right knee dips toward the floor. Press into the left foot and bring right leg back up, immediately swinging it in front of you into a forward lunge: Bend right knee, so your right thigh is parallel to the floor, and allow the left knee to dip toward the floor. Continue alternating front and back, then switch legs.

13 Side Step-Up

Stand on the edge of a box or step with only the right foot, allowing the other leg to dangle off the edge, while holding dumbbells at your sides. Pull your navel toward your spine and, keeping your chest lifted, bend at right hip and knee, and send hips back to lower the left foot as far as comfortably possible. Return to the starting position. Repeat, then switch legs.

14 Stability Ball Hamstring Curl

Lie faceup with legs extended and heels on a stability ball. Engage abs, back, and glutes and press into heels, lifting your hips off the floor so your body forms a straight line from heels to shoulders. Bend knees and pull the ball toward your butt, so feet are flat on the ball. Pause, return to the start, and repeat.

15 Jump Squat

Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and arms at sides. Sit back into a squat, lowering hips until thighs are parallel to the floor. Then, jump up as explosively as you can while reaching for the ceiling. Land gently and immediately lower into another squat. Repeat.

16 Step-Up With Leg Lift

Hold dumbbells at sides (or put your hands on your hips if doing it without weight). Stand next to a box, or step with one leg bent and foot planted on the box. All in one move, straighten the bent leg, lifting your body up while swinging the other leg out to the side as high as comfortably possible. Return to the starting position. Complete a set and switch sides.

17 Burpee

Start standing. Squat down and place both hands on the floor. Shift weight to hands and jump both feet back behind you so that you are in a high plank position. Lower belly and chest to floor. Place hands on floor next to chest and jump legs back in and under you to returnt o a deep squat. Jump up reaching for the ceiling and repeat.

18 Pistol Squat

Start standing with feet shoulder-width apart. Beginners should do this next to a wall in case it’s necessary to reach out for balance. Pull shoulders back and keep back straight. Extend right leg and arms out in front of you. Slowly send hips back and bend left knee to squat toward the floor, keeping your heel grounded. Get as low into the squat as possible without losing your balance. Drive back up slowly. Exhale as you rise. Repeat on other side.

19 Bulgarian Squat

Stand holding dumbbells with your back facing a standard bench or box. Reach right foot back and place the top of the foot on the box. Bend left leg to lower right knee down toward the floor. When the left thigh is parallel to the floor, push through left foot to return to starting position. Complete reps then repeat on other leg.

20 Single-Leg Hip Abduction

Place a resistance band around your ankles. Lower into a squat. Keeping torso still, step one foot back at a 45-degree angle. Return to starting position; quickly switch feet. That’s one rep. Repeat, alternating legs.

21 Banded Walk

Place a resistance band around your ankles. With your legs far enough apart to keep tension in the band, walk 20 steps to the right (make sure to pick up your back foot, and don’t allow knees to collapse inward). Reverse to the left to return to start.

22 Hamstring Lift

Lie facedown, arms bent so hands are folded in front of you, elbows out. Rest forehead on hands to maintain a neutral neck. Hold a stability ball between your ankles with a slight bend in knees. Squeeze glutes and lift the ball straight up and a few inches off floor. Lower and repeat.

23 Single-Leg Walkout

Start standing and shift weight onto left leg. Bend at waist and place both hands on floor with a slight bend in left leg as right leg goes back behind you. Walk your hands forward until you're in a single-leg high plank. Engage core to support spine. Slowly walk hands back to left foot and rise up to return to starting position. Complete reps then repeat on opposite leg.

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