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Top 12 Best Lower Body Exercises For Muscle Mass

Ah, the eternal quest for powerful, sculpted legs!

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably tried a myriad of exercises hoping to develop those teardrop quads, diamond calves, and hamstrings that ripple with every step

From my early days of trying out every new gadget on the infomercials to my later years, immersing myself in the world of traditional weightlifting – I’ve experienced it all.

Through trial and error, years of sweat and a fair bit of muscle soreness, I’ve curated a list that represents the crème de la crème of lower body exercises. 

These are not just movements I’ve read about in books or seen on social media; these are exercises I’ve personally integrated into my workouts and seen transformative results from.

So, whether you’re just starting your fitness journey or you’re a seasoned gym-goer looking for a spark of inspiration, this list of the top 12 lower body exercises for muscle mass is tailored just for you.

Buckle up, it’s time to elevate your leg day!

Read our Medical Disclaimer before starting any exercises.

What muscles are in the lower body?

The lower body is a powerhouse of muscles, each playing a unique role in movement, stability, and overall strength. Let’s delve into some of the major players:

Quadriceps (Quads)

Location: The quads are located at the front of your thigh.

Role: This muscle group is responsible for extending your knee and is crucial in activities such as running, jumping, and squatting.

Whenever you climb the stairs or push the pedal of your bike, you’re engaging your quads.


Location: Found at the back of your thigh.

Role: The hamstrings are responsible for bending the knee and extending the hip. They play a significant role in activities like running, walking, and any motion where you pull your heel towards your buttocks.

Gluteals (Glutes)

Location: Your glutes are the muscles in your buttocks. This group comprises the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus.

Role: They’re involved in hip rotation, abduction, and extension. If you’ve ever admired a toned backside, you’ve appreciated the hard work of the glutes!

They play a crucial role in maintaining an upright posture and provide power in activities like jumping and running.


Location: Located on the inner side of your thigh.

Role: These muscles pull your legs towards the midline of your body, assisting in stabilising your pelvis and aiding in side-to-side movements.

They’re particularly engaged when you perform movements such as side lunges or certain martial arts kicks.


Location: The back portion of your lower leg, below the knee.

Role: The calves consist of two muscles: the gastrocnemius and the soleus. They play a pivotal role in pushing off the ground when you walk, run, or jump.

Whenever you raise yourself onto your tiptoes, you’re activating these muscles.

Tibialis Anterior

Location: Located at the front of your shin.

Role: This muscle is essential for dorsiflexion, which is the action of pulling your toes up towards your shins.

It plays an essential role in activities like walking, as it helps control the foot’s descent onto the ground, preventing any slapping motion.

With each of these muscle groups playing their part, it’s no wonder the lower body is often referred to as the foundation of our strength.

Ensuring they’re well-conditioned not only enhances athletic performance but also supports daily life movements with ease and grace.

Best Leg Exercises For Muscle Mass

Here are 12 of the best lower body exercises for muscle mass. Add a handful of these to your workout routine to see HUGE development in your lower body muscles.

Who doesn’t want an impressive set of legs, right?

1. Squats

Illustration of a squat.

Muscles Targeted: Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Glutes, Lower back, and Core.

How to do it:

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Keep your chest up and core engaged.
  • Lower down by bending at the hips and knees, ensuring your knees don’t go past your toes.
  • Push through the heels to return to the starting position.

My Thoughts: In the world of lower body exercises, squats reign supreme. They are the foundation of any serious leg workout.

Not only do they target multiple muscle groups, but they also improve your functional strength.

In my experience, there’s nothing quite like the feeling after a good set of squats; it’s the king of leg exercises for a reason. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned lifter, squats should be in your routine.

2. Deadlifts

Muscles Targeted: Hamstrings, Glutes, Lower and Upper back, Forearms.

How to do it:

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart, barbell in front.
  • Bend at the hips and knees, gripping the barbell with both hands.
  • Keep your back straight and lift the weight by extending your hips and knees.
  • Return the weight to the ground controlled.

My Thoughts: Deadlifts are an absolute powerhouse exercise. Not only do they target the legs, but they also engage the entire posterior chain.

It’s been a game changer in my routine, helping in developing a strong back and hamstrings.

Though they can be intimidating at first, with proper form, they’re an excellent addition for intermediate and advanced lifters.

Check out our round up of the best barbells or our dedicated review of the Mirafit Olympic Barbell.

3. Lunges

Lunge illustration.

Muscles Targeted: Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Glutes.

How to do it:

  • Start with feet together.
  • Step forward with one leg and bend both knees to lower down.
  • The back knee should hover just above the ground.
  • Push back up and return to the start. Alternate legs.

My Thoughts: Lunges have always been a love-hate relationship for me. They’re challenging and can leave you sore for days, but oh, the results!

They’re brilliant for toning and offer variations to suit all levels, from beginners to experts.

4. Bulgarian Split Squats

Bulgarian split squat illustration.

Muscles Targeted: Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Glutes.

How to do it:

  • Stand a couple of feet from a bench.
  • Extend one leg behind you and place the top of your foot on the bench.
  • Lower down into a lunge, keeping the chest up.
  • Push up to start. Switch legs after the set.

My Thoughts: This exercise takes lunges to a whole new level. Incorporating Bulgarian Split Squats in my routine always adds that extra burn.

They’re particularly good for those looking to focus on single-leg strength and balance.

5. Leg Press

Leg press illustration.

Muscles Targeted: Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Glutes.

How to do it:

  • Sit in the leg press machine and place feet shoulder-width on the platform.
  • Release the safety and lower down until your legs are at a 90-degree angle.
  • Push through your heels and extend your legs fully.

My Thoughts: The leg press machine was my go-to when I first started my gym journey.

It provides controlled movement and is a safer way to push heavy weight, especially for beginners. 

It’s great for developing all areas of your lower body, and you can adjust your foot position to target specific areas of your legs.

6. Romanian Deadlifts (RDLs)

Muscles Targeted: Hamstrings, Glutes, Lower back.

How to do it:

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding a barbell in front of you.
  • Keep a slight bend in the knees, hinge at the hips and lower the barbell, maintaining a straight back.
  • Squeeze the glutes and return to the start.

My Thoughts: For me, Romanian Deadlifts have been instrumental in targeting my hamstrings.

It’s a fantastic complement to the conventional deadlift, focusing more on the back of the legs and less on your lower back. If you want thick looking hamstrings, I can’t recommend these enough.

7. Calf Raises

Calf raises illustration.

Muscles Targeted: Calves (Gastrocnemius, Soleus).

How to do it:

  • Stand upright, feet hip-width apart.
  • Push through the balls of your feet and raise your body upwards.
  • Slowly lower back down and repeat.

My Thoughts: Ah, the calves. They might be a small muscle, but their impact is significant, especially aesthetically.

Calf raises have been my trusted companion in adding definition to my lower legs. It’s straightforward and can be done almost anywhere, making it suitable for all fitness levels.

8. Glute Bridges

Glute bridges illustration.

Muscles Targeted: Glutes, Hamstrings, Core.

How to do it:

  • Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  • Push through your heels, lifting your hips towards the ceiling.
  • Lower back down with control.

My Thoughts: A personal favourite, glute bridges have done wonders for my posterior chain development.

They’re deceptively effective and are great for activating and isolating the glutes. Ideal for those looking to sculpt their backside.

9. Hip Thrusts

Hip thrusts illustration.

Muscles Targeted: Glutes, Hamstrings.

How to do it:

  • Sit on the ground with a bench behind you and a loaded barbell over your hips.
  • Lean back against the bench so your shoulder blades are near the top of it.
  • Drive through your feet and extend your hips, lifting the barbell.
  • Slowly drop your hips back down.

My Thoughts: A step up from glute bridges, hip thrusts have transformed my glute workouts.

Incorporating weights and allowing for a greater range of motion, they’re a must-try for anyone keen on building powerful glutes.

10. Leg Curls

Leg curls illustration.

Muscles Targeted: Hamstrings.

How to do it:

  • Lie face down on a leg curl machine with the pads resting just above your ankles.
  • Curl your legs up towards your glutes, contracting your hamstrings.
  • Slowly return to the starting position.

My Thoughts: Leg curls, especially on the machine, have been instrumental in chiselling my hamstrings.

They offer a targeted approach to muscle engagement and are perfect for isolating the hamstrings.

11. Box Jumps

Box jumps illustration.

Muscles Targeted: Quadriceps, Glutes, Calves.

How to do it:

  • Stand in front of a box or platform.
  • Lower into a half squat, then explode upwards, jumping onto the box.
  • Land softly with knees slightly bent.
  • Step back down and repeat.

My Thoughts: Nothing gets my heart racing and legs burning quite like box jumps. They add an explosive element to my workouts and have significantly improved my functional power and athleticism.

Especially beneficial for those looking to improve their athletic performance.

12. Step-Ups

Step ups illustration.

Muscles Targeted: Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Glutes.

How to do it:

  • Stand in front of a bench or platform.
  • Holding weights at your sides or a barbell on your back, place one foot on the bench.
  • Push through the heel of the elevated foot, raising your body onto the bench.
  • Return to the starting position and alternate legs.

My Thoughts: Step-ups might seem simple, but they have always tested my endurance and strength.

By incorporating dumbbells or barbells, I’ve been able to intensify the burn. They’re excellent for unilateral strength and balance.

Lower Body Workout Routine For Muscle Mass

Beginner Lower Body Workout:

Bodyweight Squats

  • Sets: 3
  • Reps: 12-15


  • Sets: 3
  • Reps: 10 each leg

Glute Bridges

  • Sets: 3
  • Reps: 12-15


  • Sets: 3
  • Reps: 10 each leg

Bodyweight Calf Raises

  • Sets: 3
  • Reps: 12-15

Rest: 60-90 seconds between sets.

Intermediate Lower Body Workout:

Barbell Squats

  • Sets: 4
  • Reps: 8-10

Romanian Deadlifts

  • Sets: 4
  • Reps: 8-10

Bulgarian Split Squats

  • Sets: 3
  • Reps: 8 each leg

Leg Press

  • Sets: 4
  • Reps: 8-10

Leg Curls (Machine)

  • Sets: 3
  • Reps: 10-12

Weighted Calf Raises (Machine or Dumbbells)

  • Sets: 4
  • Reps: 10-12

Rest: 60-75 seconds between sets.

Advanced Lower Body Workout:

Front Squats

  • Sets: 4
  • Reps: 6-8

Deadlifts (Conventional or Sumo)

  • Sets: 4
  • Reps: 5-7

Hip Thrusts (with weight)

  • Sets: 4
  • Reps: 8-10

Walking Lunges (with dumbbells)

  • Sets: 3
  • Reps: 12 each leg

Single-Leg Romanian Deadlifts (with dumbbell)

  • Sets: 3
  • Reps: 8 each leg

Pistol Squats (or assisted Pistol Squats)

  • Sets: 3
  • Reps: 6 each leg

Box Jumps (for plyometric work)

  • Sets: 3
  • Reps: 10

Weighted Calf Raises (Machine or Dumbbells)

  • Sets: 4
  • Reps: 8-10

Rest: 45-60 seconds between sets.

Note: It’s crucial to incorporate a proper warm-up before starting any workout and cool down afterwards. This will ensure your muscles are primed for the exercises and can help prevent injury. 

As you progress from one level to another, always prioritise form over lifting heavy to ensure safety.

Developing Lower Body Muscle Mass FAQ

How often should I train my lower body for muscle mass?

Training frequency largely depends on your individual goals and recovery capability.

For most individuals aiming for muscle mass, training the lower body twice a week allows for optimal muscle stimulation and recovery.

Can I just focus on compound exercises for lower body development?

Compound exercises, like squats and deadlifts, are excellent as they engage multiple muscle groups, offering more bang for your buck in the gym.

However, to achieve a balanced and well-developed lower body, it’s beneficial to incorporate isolation exercises like leg curls and calf raises.

This ensures all muscle groups receive adequate attention.

I’m new to weightlifting. How do I ensure I don’t injure myself?

Always prioritise form over the weight lifted. Starting with lighter weights and perfecting your form can prevent injuries.

It’s also beneficial to include a warm-up before your workout and a cool-down stretch afterwards.

Seeking guidance from a personal trainer, even if just for a session or two, can provide invaluable insights on proper form.

How important is the role of diet in building lower body muscle mass?

Diet plays a crucial role. Training stimulates the muscles, but diet provides the building blocks to repair and grow them.

Ensure you’re consuming enough protein and overall calories to support muscle growth. Consider consulting a nutritionist or using online calculators to determine your caloric and protein needs.

If you’re struggling to get enough protein through diet alone, check out Bulk’s Protein powder which we’ve tested and reviewed.

For a high protein snack, check out our review of Graham’s 25g Protein Pouches or Bulk’s Macro Munch bars for a quick protein boost.

Can I build lower body muscle mass without using weights or going to the gym?

Absolutely. While weights can expedite the process, bodyweight exercises like squats, lunges, and plyometric exercises can still be effective for building muscle.

The key is to continually challenge your muscles, whether it’s by adding repetitions, modifying the exercises to make them more difficult, or incorporating resistance bands.

Do I need to take supplements to boost my lower body muscle development?

While supplements can be beneficial, they are not a necessity. A balanced diet should provide most of the nutrients needed.

However, some individuals find value in taking protein powders to meet their daily protein requirements or creatine for enhanced performance in the gym. 

Before starting any supplement, it’s advisable to research its benefits and consult with a healthcare professional.

In Conclusion

Building formidable lower body strength and muscle mass is a journey that involves dedication, proper technique, and a mix of exercises that target all the essential muscle groups

From the foundational squats to the explosive box jumps, each exercise in our list offers unique benefits and challenges. 

But remember, it’s not just about the exercise itself; it’s about consistency, the right diet, and ensuring that you’re always focusing on form

By incorporating these top 12 lower body exercises into your routine, you’re setting yourself up for a holistic development that’s not just about aesthetics, but also about functional strength and long-term health.

Happy lifting, and here’s to powerful legs and a strong foundation!

Looking to build your upper body? Check out our round-up of the best upper back exercises.

Medical Disclaimer

Medical Disclaimer: The content on this fitness website is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended as, nor should it be considered a substitute for, professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult with a qualified healthcare professional before starting or changing any exercise, diet, or wellness program, particularly if you are pregnant, nursing, have any pre-existing medical conditions, or are taking medications.

Illustrations © Lio Putra |

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