5 Best Leg Exercises You’ve Never Heard Of
Leg training is tough. A real, comprehensive, intense leg session is rare these days as most lifters rely on the leg press, leg extension and other “safe” machinery to build up their lower limbs.
But this approach provides few results. On the same note, others plant themselves firmly in the squat rack only to mutilate this great exercise by piling on heaps of weight and performing half reps at best.
But that’s not you. You’ve put in your time to perfecting the squat and you include the difficult exercises like Bulgarian split squats and front squats. You hit all the right rep ranges and include enough volume to bury a horse.
You’ve checked all the requisite boxes in order to build an impressive set of wheels. But something’s wrong. When you look down you don’t see a pair of thick tree trunk pylons. Instead you see what you’ve always seen – skinny sticks.
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What went wrong? What happened to all those long hours in the gym sacrificing moments of your social life to spend your due diligence in the squat rack toiling away rep after rep? Maybe you don’t need more of the same. Maybe you need different.
Below are five leg exercises you may have never heard of. Some of these can replace your existing leg program while others would make great additions. Whatever you decide be sure to give each a try and the next time you look down you just might see some new lower limb growth.
5 Best Leg Exercises – You’ve Never Heard Of
#1 – Reverse lunge knee-up
Don’t let the long name or the fact that it’s a bodyweight exercise fool you. This is a classic situation of don’t knock it until you try it. Bodyweight training is undervalued as far as building new muscle goes but it shouldn’t for good reason. Done right and with added progressions specific moves can wreak havoc on your chosen target – in a good way.
The trick is to perform certain bodyweight exercises in a way as to make them as challenging as possible. The reverse lunge knee-up is perfect to be used either as a thigh finisher or to start your lower body training day with.
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Start the exercise by standing with both feet about shoulder width apart. Lunge back (as in a reverse lunge) and lower your rear knee about an inch or two from the floor. Without a pause launch forward with your leading leg and perform a knee-up with the leg that had just lunged back.
Now, here’s the trick. Without coming back to a standing position step back into the reverse lunge. You will finish all reps for one side before switching to the other. This exercise provides a constant tension and includes a plyometric factor to stimulate more muscle fibers than a standard lunge.
#2 – Jefferson squat (straddle squat)
You may have heard of the Jefferson squat but do you really know what it is? A weak link regarding other thigh exercises could be the underdeveloped condition of supportive muscles. If all you ever do is leg presses and squats then you’re only really working in one so-called plane of motion. You put your feet forward and push.
Pretty basic, but incomplete.
You need a little angle in your life – exercises that challenge your stabilizers. What’s the big deal you say? If you have weak glutes, abductors or abductors it can affect your squat strength by limiting your ability to stabilize the weight at specific points during the range of motion.
Load a barbell with a moderate amount of weight and place it on the floor. Straddle the bar with your forward foot perpendicular to the bar and your rear foot parallel with the bar. Your feet should be pointing 90 degrees from each other. Next grasp the bar with one grip behind you and the other in front.
The front grip should be supinated (palm up) and the rear grip pronated (palm down). Pull the bar up between your legs in a slow and deliberate motion. You don’t want to go too fast and risk ramming the bar into yourself. Lower the bar back down to the floor without slamming the weight down. The Jefferson squat should be a fluid motion having you squeeze your glutes, quads and hamstrings with each lift.
#3 – Reverse hack or machine squat
One of the biggest challenges with squatting is the undue stress the exercise puts on your hips and back. Purists will argue that everyone should squat and if you don’t then you’re just weak – physically and mentally. But not everyone is cut out to squat.
Taller lifters, specifically, have a tough time getting into a deep squatting position and can tweak areas of the lower back and create tighter hips, glutes and hamstrings in the process. But there are alternatives that can mimic the benefits of the squat – and I ‘m not talking about leg presses.
Leg presses and hack squats are great alternatives but they don’t allow for much hip movement. Why is this important? For many lifters hip mobility is an important factor for normal lower body functioning.
If the hips aren’t able to move it may, in some, place an enormous amount of stress in the back and hip areas. Over time this can cause pain and chronic damage. Taking a reverse stance on a hack squat or squat machine will allow both the hips to move back and enough stability for taller lifters.
It’s a win-win. Just be sure that you keep your midsection tight and not to loosen your hips and back too much. Just because you’re using a machine isn’t a green light to rely too much on the lever or machine track for stability.
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#4 – Banded dumbbell Romanian deadlift
As one of the absolute best exercises for building hamstrings Romanian deadlifts are hard to beat for the simple fact that, once mastered, you can lift some serious amounts of weight to overload the area. Additionally, they also stimulate major glute muscle fibers, the lower back and other ancillary muscles.
But one area in need of improvement when it comes to the actual exercise mechanics is the fact that you tend to lose tension near the top of the motion. You experience a major stretch at the bottom and midway through but the top has a bit to be desired.
This problem can quickly be circumvented by affixing a band to the exercise. Whether you use dumbbells or a barbell place a band either across each dumbbell or at the ends of a barbell. The middle portion of the band can then be either weighed down by a weighted object on the floor or by stepping in the middle.
Be sure there is amble tension on the band at all times as you don’t want it to become loose near the bottom of the movement. Also, you will want a band strong enough to give you a challenge but not too strong to compromise your form.
Perform the exercise as normal but this time you will feel an intense pull in your hamstrings and glutes at the top of the exercise. Mentally focus on intensely contracting your glutes and hams and squeeze hard. Return to the bottom for more reps slowly and under complete control.
#5 – Full-range squats
Wait. After all this talk about how not everyone is built for squats and the fact that the traditional barbell squat is as common as a political debate I want to explain myself. You find squats everywhere but rarely do you ever see anyone use proper form.
Seeing someone execute a full range barbell squat with proper technique is like going a day without hearing about the Kardashians. So I feel it’s worth having on this list of exercises you least likely see at your local gym.
The squat should be performed with as much range of motion that is technically comfortable for the individual. Notice I said technically comfortable and not personally comfortable. What I mean by this is that the squat isn’t necessarily an easy and comfortable exercise. It’s tough, challenging and includes a ton of technical know-how.
What is meant by technical is that some individuals have certain biomechanics, past injuries and genetics that can somewhat limit their range of motion so that specific consideration should be adhered to. If you aren’t practicing full range squats with textbook form it would behoove you to start practicing today.
The Unheard of Leg Program
- Reverse lunge knee-up (can be used as a dynamic warm-up): 3 x 10-15 each leg
- Reverse hack or machine squat: 4 x 10-12
- Banded dumbbell Romanian deadlift: 3 x 10-12
- Full-range squats or Jefferson squat (straddle squat): 3 x 8-10