Sure, keeping the leg muscles strong makes you look toned, but they’re also really important for overall functioning. You need leg strength to move around effectively and support good posture standing up, says Rondel King, CSCS, a corrective exercise specialist and New York City-based personal trainer. “It’s your foundation.”
Consider the quadriceps, for example. These muscles, which are the most voluminous ones in the body, help you complete regular daily movements, such as climbing up the stairs, rising from a chair, and extending your knee, according to research.
The hamstrings, quadriceps, adductors, and calves are the major muscles of the leg, though you can also count the glutes, too, King says. Technically the glutes are part of the muscles of the butt, but they’re involved in pretty much all movements that utilize the lower extremities and are called on during most leg exercises (including the ones below).
“The glute is made up of three different muscles that assist with the abduction and medial rotation of the hip, as well as stabilizing the pelvis,” says Sarah Browning, an ACE-certified personal trainer based in Huntsville, Texas. “Whether you are doing squats, deadlifts, or lunges, you are definitely activating your glutes.”
Strong leg and glute muscles will also help prevent injuries. “[Strong legs] do have a protective effect and make you more resilient and guard against injuries,” King says, particularly for athletes completing dynamic moves like jumping and cutting. By having strong legs, you have more control over your body and will be better able to recover if you lose your balance or fall in an awkward way, for instance. “Being weak in the lower extremities exposes you to various injuries and ailments,” King says.
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Plus, the leg muscles are a major source of power for your body. A stronger lower body can improve athletic performance, too. “For athletes, strength is the foundation of athletic movement where speed and power are involved,” King says. “Having that baseline of strength will make you a better athlete.”
Finally, researchers have linked leg strength and healthy aging. According to one study, increased leg power (and greater muscular fitness overall) led to improved cognitive aging among study participants.
Which exercises are best for stronger legs? Here’s a seven-move workout designed by Browning to help you build lower-body strength. It’s adaptable whether you’re a regular exerciser or beginner.
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7-Step Leg Workout for Stronger Glutes, Quads, and Hamstrings
Start with a solid warm-up to get the blood flowing, such as three to five minutes walking on the treadmill or on the elliptical or jogging in place, Browning suggests. Then, complete a few dynamic stretches, such as walking lunges, runner lunges, monster walks, or jumping jacks, before starting the workout. (Dynamic stretches are moves that lengthen the muscles as they’re in motion.)
Do the following moves as described with little rest in between. That’s one round. Repeat for two to three rounds total, resting for one or two minutes in between each round.
Browning suggests doing this workout two to three times per week; it can be added to your current fitness routine. She notes, however, that these exercises are designed for people who are healthy and have no known injuries or health concerns. If that’s not you, it’s best to consult a personal trainer or physical therapist to help you build an individualized routine.
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