Think about the number of muscle groups in your legs.
You have the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and (the regrettably often overlooked) calves. And that’s not even counting the individual muscles within those major muscle groups:Quads: 4 muscles (rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius) Hamstrings: 3 muscles (semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and biceps femoris) Glutes: 3 muscles (gluteus maximus, gluteus minimus, and gluteus medius) Calves: 2 muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus)
That’s 12 individual muscles in total!
It would be very difficult to use only isolation exercises to target and grow each of those muscles in your workouts.
Even if, on the off chance you could … you'd be spending a large chunk of your day in the gym and potentially sacrificing the growth of other muscle groups.
So, thankfully, we have compound exercises.
These multi-joint movements work muscle groups — saving you precious time (that said, they’re not without their downsides, but more on that later).
For now, let’s talk about the top 10 compound exercises for legs. More specifically, for each exercise, I’ll share:Which individual muscle groups of the legs it targets Crucial form and technique tips that’ll help you maximize gains while minimizing injury risk Exercise variations and modifications for differing lifting experience, mobility limitations, and injury history
Equipment needed: Barbell and squat rack
QuadsVastus lateralis Vastus medialis Vastus intermedius
Why this exercise?
Look at every “” I’ve come up with, and you’ll definitely spot the barbell back squat.
It’s an excellent exercise that’ll target your quads and glutes.
Now, note that the of muscular activation and, thus, resulting muscle growth on the squats can vary according to your squatting form.
Depending on your anatomy and bar placement (i.e., high vs. low bar), you may squat with a more upright forward-leaning torso. The more upright your torso, the more forward your shin angle (i.e., more knee flexion) — and this.
The opposite holds.
The more your torso leans forward, the more you’d involve the glutes compared to the quads.
However, this doesn't mean you should force yourself to squat with a torso angle you're uncomfortable with to prioritize your quads or glutes. Instead, you should stick with a torso angle that fits your anatomy and preferences.
Need help with that?.
As for how deep you should go on the exercise? My answer is as deep as possible ( shows this maximizes hypertrophy) sacrificing.
Exercise variations and modifications
The barbell back squat can be a challenging exercise. Here are a few alternatives to consider if you …Are new to the squatting motion: Dumbbell goblet squat Struggle with shoulder mobility: Safety bar squat Have limited ankle mobility: Elevate your heels (e.g., with elevated-heel shoes or placing weight plates under your heels) Want more stability: Smith machine squat, landmine squat, and leg press (we cover this in more detail in a bit)
By the way: if you lack mobility, the only way you can eventually progress to barbell back squats is if you actually work on — and improve — your problem areas. So you should see the modifications listed above as stopgap measures.