bigger stronger legs 5 exercises

You Want Bigger, Stronger Legs? Do These 5 Exercises

While it may be true that no exercise will build muscle simply by way of “doing it,” there are a number of exercises that lend themselves well to complete muscle fibre activation, creating massive amounts of intramuscular tension, and posses the ability to unload an immense amount of muscle damage when executed with intensity.


For this reason, when executed correctly, the following exercises will contribute to an increase in leg size and strength, in a big way.


Behold, the 5 exercises you need to be doing if you want bigger, stronger legs.

#1. Lying Leg Curls

Depending on how you set up for lying leg curls, you have the ability to target your hamstrings and work them through most (not all) of their functions (hip extension, knee flexion, and internal rotation of the knee).

Since complete muscle development requires stimulus through all functions of a muscle, this is why I have a love affair with the lying leg curl.

Hip extension – push your hips down into the pad and keep your glutes flexed at all times. Ensuring that you move from full extension into peak contraction, think of squeezing the top and bottom of your hamstring together (like you would a biceps curl) as opposed to violently trying to kick the pad up.

Knee flexion – this calls for something a little unorthodox. Instead of laying flat on the pad, kneel on the very bottom of the machine so that your feet are in place, but you’re propped up on all fours. This will put you into knee flexion, and serves as a great alternative if you don’t have a kneeling leg curl (most gyms don’t these days). Curl as you normally would.

Internal knee rotation – to the best of my knowledge, this is the one function that cannot be trained on the lying leg curl. So, we’ll address this later in the article.

#2. Hack Squat

Before we begin, a quick disclaimer. If I have a love affair with the lying leg curl, I have a full-blown marriage, house, and 3 children with the hack squat. The single greatest period of leg gains I’ve ever had came when I swapped any back or front squats in my program for hack squats (I did this for 8 months).

Hack squats are an incredible leg builder because they allow you to tap into the three “keys” to hypertrophy relative ease:

  1. Create an incredible amount intramuscular tension (think heavy sets of 6 with a 2 second pause in the bottom)
  2. You can create a ridiculous pump through the hyperaemia/occlusion effect (think sets of 15 without pausing at the top or bottom)
  3. Doll out obscene levels of muscle damage (think 1 & 1/4 reps out of the bottom, topped with a drop set)

While I’d be lying if I said you couldn’t do the above on traditional back or front squats, you can’t do so quite so safely. Once fatigue sets in and form breaks down, it becomes tougher and tougher to maintain your mind muscle connection during squats because you also have to worry about whether or not you’re going to be able to stand up on your next rep. The relative safety of the hack squat removes that factor, allowing you to push into otherwise unexplored realms of intensity and effort.

Nothing fancy or off the wall here. Sometimes it's just about putting in the reps. #thethickening #theroadtonationals #meatheadmagic

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#3. Bulgarian Split Squats

I know Bulgarian Split Squats (BSS) are a favourite of Jason’s, but that’s not why they’re making an appearance on this list.

In my world, training intensity is the name of the game if you’re serious about your results, and actually want to improve. Thanks to the sheer amounts of effort and intensity that BSSs require, that is why they’re on this list.

One of my favourite applications for them, stolen from the playbook of John Meadows, is to take this already effective, challenging exercise, and throw every intensification technique into the mix.

Give this a shot:

  1. Knock out 10 reps
  2. Come up about 3/4 of the way, pause, and flex your quad hard for 10s
  3. Drop to a lighter weight and knock out 10 more reps.
  4. Rinse and repeat until you’ve completed one massive set consisting of 3 mini sets of 10, and 3 10 second isometric holds per leg.

I suggest taking a minute to rest between legs, and doing no more than 2 sets in this manner.

#4. Leg Press

The leg press is one of the most versatile pieces of leg training equipment at your disposal. To not use it is to do yourself a massive disservice, and withhold yourself from precious gains.

With a few simple tweaks of foot positioning and where you allow your knees to track you can shift the focus from blasting your glutes and hamstrings to annihilating your tear drops to blowing up the entirety of your quads.

Here’s how:

Glute/Ham focus – place your feet high and wide on the platform with your toes turned out 5-10 degrees.

Teardrop focus – bring your feet down to the bottom of the pad, place them 4-6 inches apart, and turn your toes out 15-20 degrees. As you lower, let your knees travel outside your chest.

Quads – move your feet into the middle of the platform just inside shoulder width. As you lower, let your knees come straight back towards your chest/face.

Trust me, you can control the focal point of many exercises with a few simple setup tweaks.

If you don’t believe me, try it. You’ll soon see.

#5. Stiff Legged Deadlifts

Achieving full stimulus of a muscle requires working it through a maximal stretch, and into a full contraction.

Enter the stiff legged deadlift, along with its many variants. You can use a barbell, cables, the smith machine, or dumbbells for SLDs. The tools matters little in comparison to your execution and that the fact that you actually have to do them.

Equally as important to working through a full stretch and contraction, is that this is where you can train your hamstrings in their remaining function, internal knee rotation.

This is most effectively achieved by placing a 10-25 pound plate (depending on the size of your plates and biomechanics) between your feet, and pushing your toes outward, while digging your heels into the plate at the same time. Doing this while you go through a typical SDL motion will allow you to hit your hamstrings while they’re working against the external cue of the plate.

And that, will be the icing on the cake for you hamstrings.

Note: as seen in the video above, when properly executing SDLs it’s important to think of the movement as pushing your hips forward and back, as opposed to moving up and down (which will primarily load your low back).

Putting the above all together

I’d be remiss if I showed you all these fantastic leg movements, but left out the part where I put it all together into a perfect storm of a leg session.

If you think you’ve got the cajones for this…here you go.

A Leg Session O’MASS

A1. Lying Leg Curls

Today, these are all about jamming blood into your hamstrings. Do one set each of 15, 12, and 10. Then do 4 sets of 8 with only 30 seconds rest in between.

B1. Hack Squats

We’re going to go hard and heavy with these today. Do a few feeler sets working up in weight until you hit a hard 10. Then do 5 sets of 8 with the same weight. Use a 3 second eccentric on all reps, pause for 2 seconds at the very bottom, and explode out hard. No pausing at the top. Rest 60s between sets.

C1. Bulgarian Split Squats

Execute exactly as outlined above. Take a feeler sets to find a tough 10 reps, then do the following.

  1. Knock out 10 reps
  2. Come up about 3/4 of the way, pause, and flex your quad hard for 10s
  3. Drop to a lighter weight and knock out 10 more reps.
  4. Rinse and repeat until you’ve completed one massive set consisting of 3 mini sets of 10, and 3 10 second isometric holds per leg.

Rest 45 seconds between legs, and 90 seconds between sets.

D1. Leg Press

I want you to do 2 sets each with the different focuses talked about above.

Glute/Ham – do constant tension sets of 15 with no pausing whatsoever.

Teardrop – sets of 10 using a 3 second eccentric on each rep.

Quads – take both sets to muscular failure.

Rest 90 seconds between sets.

E1. Stiff Legged Deadlifts

As mentioned above, place a 10-25 pound plate between your feet, and actively dig into it with your heels. Knock out 3-4 sets of 12 reps using a 3 second eccentric, and flexing your glutes and hamstrings hard at the top. Rest 60-75 seconds between sets.

And so it is.

Learn The Best Exercise For Building Bigger Legs

(Hint: it’s not squats!)

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About the Author

Alex is a short shorts enthusiast, espresso fiend, and an unapologetic meathead. When he's not training legs or learning how to better serve his clients, he can be found exploring how to write more better, perfect his risotto recipe, or pull the perfect shot of espresso. Alex has polled 19 of the top muscle building minds for their best training tips, and gathered them into one convenient guide. Click through here to grab your copy of the prestigious Hypertrophy Handbook (it's free).