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The Best Leg Exercise With Free Weights

author image Patrick Dale
Patrick Dale is an experienced writer who has written for a plethora of international publications. A lecturer and trainer of trainers, he is a contributor to "Ultra-FIT" magazine and has been involved in fitness for more than 22 years. He authored the books "Military Fitness", "Live Long, Live Strong" and "No Gym? No Problem!" and served in the Royal Marines for five years.
The Best Leg Exercise With Free Weights
A fitness group swinging kettlebells outdoors. Photo Credit CREATISTA/iStock/Getty Images

Making up around 50 percent of your total muscle mass, your legs play a vital role in many everyday activities. Strong, toned leg muscles will help make everyday tasks considerably easier, including climbing stairs or bending down to pick up your kids. Free weight exercises are an effective way to work your legs because they are functional, which means they replicate regular movements. This is in contrast to many machine exercises which isolate your leg muscles -- not how they work in nature.

Squat is King

Squats are often referred to as the king of leg exercises. They can be performed with a barbell resting on your upper back or across the fronts of your shoulders or with dumbbells in your hands. Working every muscle in your lower body, squats are a real do-it-all exercise that replicate one of the most commonly performed movement patterns. To squat, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, your chest up and shoulders back. Push your hips back and bend your knees. Squat down until your thighs are around parallel to the floor but do not round your lower back. Stand back up and repeat.

Swing for the Fences

Kettlebell swings hit two of your major leg muscles -- your glutes and hamstrings. To a lesser degree, your quadriceps also get involved in this effective leg exercise. With a kettlebell in your hands, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend your legs a little and lean forward to lower the weight between your knees. Drive your hips forward and swing the weight up to around eye-level. Clench your butt hard at the top. Lower the weight and repeat. Don't round your lower back as this can lead to injury.

Legs Love Lunges

Lunges are one of the best ways to work your legs because they target one limb at a time which can help identify and correct left to right strength discrepancies. They also improve knee and hip mobility and general balance and coordination. To do a perfect lunge, stand with your feet together, chest up, shoulders back and dumbbells in your hands. Take a large step forward and then bend your legs. Lower your rear knee to within an inch of the floor. Keep your front shin vertical and don't lean forward. Return to the starting position and then do another rep leading with your opposite leg. Alternate legs for the duration of your set. For variety, you can do lunges to the rear or side or do walking lunges where you travel forward step-by-step.

Step To It!

Step-ups, especially using a step that is around knee-height, works every muscle in your legs. Because you use one leg at a time, it also develops balance and coordination. With dumbbells in your hands or a barbell across your shoulders, stand just in front of a sturdy step or bench. Place one foot flat on the top of the step and then push down with this foot and stand up. Try not to use your other leg too much -- really focus on pushing down through the step. Step back down and repeat. Perform an equal number of repetitions on each leg.

With Love from Romania

Popular among weightlifters and bodybuilders, the Romanian deadlift provides an effective workout for your glutes, hamstrings and lower back. So-called because it was a favorite among Romanian Olympic weightlifters, this exercise also strengthens your upper back and forearms. Stand with your your feet hip-width apart and a barbell in your hands. Bend your knees slightly and then lean forward from your hips to lower the bar down the front of your legs. Lean as far forward as your flexibility allows but do not round your lower back. Ensure the majority of the movement comes from your hips rather than your knees. Stand back up and repeat.

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