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The Best Leg Exercises With Free Weights

by
author image Andrea Cespedes
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.
The Best Leg Exercises With Free Weights
The Best Leg Exercises With Free Weights Photo Credit Ozimician/iStock/GettyImages

Free weights offer a superior way to train. They engage stabilizing muscles, as well as the primary muscles that you're targeting. Dumbbells, barbells and kettlebells provide versatility and better match real-life movement patterns, which makes your training functional, as well as specific, in building muscle. Use free weights to train your legs, whether you're an athlete, a weekend warrior or just trying to get through life injury-free and healthy.

Standard exercises are among the best leg exercises with free weights because they're easy to learn, safe and effective. However, don't be afraid to mix them up with some creative modifications. That might mean swapping the equipment, changing the position of the weight or altering the angle of your movement.

Squats

Known as the "king" of all exercise to many bodybuilders, squats effectively work your thighs, which contain some of the biggest muscles in your body. By training them with a heavy barbell, you'll gain size and strength.

Squatting is a natural movement that assists you in daily life. You squat to pick something up off the ground, to lift a heavy box or to reach a low drawer.

There's no one absolutely right squat variation. A standard option is back squats, in which you place a barbell across the backs of your shoulders as you flex and extend your knees and hips. Back squats put emphasis on the hips and glutes, as well as the quadriceps at the fronts of the thighs.

To give your quads extra burn while squatting, switch to front squats, which changes the angle of the load. Hold the barbell with an overhand grip at the front of your chest as you squat down and up.

Read More: The Benefits of Lunges

Lunges

Lunges rival squats for the No. 1 spot when it comes to leg exercises. They primarily target the quads but also activate your hamstrings and calves, as well as your glutes.

Lunges train your balance and work each leg independently, which can help prevent a stronger leg from overcompensating for a weaker one. Lunges may also be better for you if you suffer from low back issues because they're often done while holding dumbbells alongside your hips or at the center of your chest. This decreases the load on your vertebrae and, thus, the stress on the back.

If you're new to exercise, start with light weights.
If you're new to exercise, start with light weights. Photo Credit undrey/iStock/GettyImages

Numerous variations of lunges exist and all offer value. Walking lunges have you move, which really activates your leg muscles on landing, lowering and push-off.

To do a walking lunge, stand with your feet hip distance apart and hold a dumbbell in each of your hands, allowing your hands to hang alongside your hips. Take a long step forward with your right leg and bend this front knee so your thigh is parallel to the floor. Then step forward with the left leg to perform the lunge. Continue to alternate legs as you move across the gym floor.

For variety, hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in the center of your chest as you perform the walking lunges.

Dumbbell Step-Up

Step-ups require movement similar to that done during the lunge, but you move your body upward onto a risen platform. You'll build stability and balance as you strengthen each leg individually. Opt for a 13- to 24-inch bench or box.

To do a step-up, hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms alongside your hips. Stand in front of the platform. Position your right foot on top of the bench and push through the foot to rise up and place the left leg alongside it. Step down with your right leg, and then your left. Do the next rep leading with your left foot.

Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift

The single-leg Romanian deadlift engages the backside of the legs, while also forcing your core and buttocks to work. You'll develop dynamic stability in the hamstrings, which improves your ability to push off each foot when you're walking, running or sprinting.

Use a kettlebell or dumbbell to perform the exercise. To do the single-leg Romaniam deadlift, stand with your feet hip-distance apart. Hold the weight in your left hand, hanging in front of your left thigh. Balance on your right leg as you hinge forward from your hips and raise the left leg straight behind you. Allow the weight to travel toward the floor in front of the right shin. Use control to stand back up.

For an extra challenge, do all the desired reps without putting the left foot down; maintain balance on the right leg. Then, switch to do a set with the left leg stable on the floor.

Read More: 22 New Lunges to Supercharge Leg Day

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