The Best Leg Workouts In 2021

Ready to revamp your leg routine? Incorporating different exercises into "leg day" will prevent you from plateauing and will strengthen different muscles in your legs. Plus, strengthening your legs and overall posterior chain — that is, the muscles in the backside of the body, via Ace Fitness – will help prevent injury and maintain your posture. It will also boost your performance during workouts, help you avoid lower back pain, and help you get your cardiovascular exercise in, according to Healthline and Better Me.

So, where should you begin? First, it's important to recognize that a wide variety of leg exercises target the quads, the largest muscle group in the legs. It's also easier to engage the quads than the back muscles of the legs, the glutes and the hamstrings, per Vida Fitness. As such, we recommend starting your 2021 leg workouts with movements that target the glutes and the hamstrings. It should be noted that you can't selectively train one muscle, because every exercise works more than one muscle, per Health. So, be prepared for all the muscles in your leg to get strengthened from these moves.

This upper leg workout is going to create an intense muscle burn

Butterfly abductions — also called clam shells — are a twist on the classic side abduction, where you lie on your side and lift your leg up and down to target your lateral glute muscles and vastus lateralis, the biggest muscle in your quadriceps. According to Men's Health, strengthening the lateral glute muscles and quadriceps is critical in adding stability to your knees and rounding out your glute strength.  

Side-lying butterfly abductions are harder than they look. While you might think that your upper leg is getting all of the work in this move, your lower lateral glute will feel an intense burn after a few reps, as it works to stabilize your body and hold your weight. To perform the movement, lie on your side with your legs stacked on top of each other, knees bent, and upper body elevated on your forearm. Lift up from the bottom leg, engaging the glute, while simultaneously opening and lifting the top leg into a butterfly position. Slowly come back down and repeat. 

If you want the most out of this exercise, Instagram blogger and certified personal trainer Kim French suggests focusing on the "muscle mind connection." "I personally find this works best with slow bodyweight movements," she wrote in an Instagram post demonstrating the move. "Once you nail this technique and properly feel the muscle engagement with every exercise you perform, you can apply it with heavier weighted workouts too. You will feel and see the difference it makes!" 

The reverse hyperextensions will be change your workout game

While the reverse hyperextension requires a little practice, it is the perfect exercise to incorporate into your routine because it directly targets the glutes, via T-Nation. As an added bonus, reverse hypers — as they are often called — work the hamstrings, per Barbend. This means they will effectively strengthen the connection between your upper hamstrings and lower glute muscles.

To perform this exercise at a gym, lie face-down on a weight bench with only your upper body resting on it. The front of your thighs should not be touching the bench, so that your legs can move freely during the movement. Brace yourself tightly on the bench, then lift your legs off the ground in a bent position. Extend your legs outward and up, while keeping your knees slightly bent. Return to the starting position and repeat.

If you want to perform this exercise at home, consider an alternative demonstrated by health coach and personal trainer, Massy Arias. Arias shows in a video that you can do the reverse hyperextension on a stable chair with your chest elevated at an angle. In this variation, try straightening your legs completely when you reach the top of the movement.

Single-leg glute bridges will transform your leg workout

If you're looking to boost the intensity of your glute workout, forget squats, and look no further than the single-leg glute bridge. This exercise targets all three glute muscles: the maximus, medius, and minimus, according to Women's Health. When you lift one leg instead of both at the same time, it increases the level of difficulty and adds your hamstrings and lower back into the mix. Single-leg glute bridges are hard on their own, but it's easy to add weight or resistance bands to the exercise as you get stronger. Doing so will take your glute muscles to newfound levels of strength.

Influencer, wellness coach, and personal trainer Deanna Lorea demonstrates a variation of the glute bridge where your upper back rests on a bench. To perform this one-legged variation as shown in Lorea's video, begin with your upper back resting on a bench, chair, or low table, with your feet on the ground and knees bent. Lift one foot off the ground and lower your glutes toward the ground. Then, push up to your starting position and repeat the motion. If you are adding weight to the exercise, place the weight on the working leg to increase resistance.