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Leg Workouts for Women

The Back-to-Basics Leg Workout Every Routine Needs

Streamline your leg routine and speed up your progress toward better, stronger and shapelier glutes, quads and hamstrings.

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Legs are a complicated bodypart — as they should be, considering all the various functions and movements your lower body is responsible for, from running to walking to climbing to squatting to twisting, as well as anything and everything in between.

A functional set of wheels depends on the synergistic action and strength of your gluteus maximus (i.e., your butt muscles), the quadriceps on the front of your thighs and the hamstrings that run down the back of your thighs.

All that said, a complicated bodypart doesn’t mean you need a complicated routine to develop it effectively.

“This back-to-basics workout is well-rounded and hits those three critical muscle groups but in a super-efficient manner with just five straightforward exercises, along with a finisher in which you’ll use just your bodyweight as resistance,” says Oxygen Ambassador Josefine Holmberg, a celebrity trainer, online coach and NPC bikini competitor based in Los Angeles.

Each movement Holmberg includes in the session targets one particular muscle group with added stimulation while also impacting the whole lower body: Hip thrusts target the glutes, Romanian deadlifts target the hamstrings and Bulgarian squats target the quads, while the leg press hits the thighs while also accentuating glute action because of her suggested foot placement close together and high on the platform. The lunge is a great all-around move that calls on the glutes, hams and quads to work collectively to propel you down into a squat, back up and forward.

“This workout will feel especially good if you’re replacing one that’s become overwhelming and includes too many different movements and techniques that you’ve collected over the years,” Holmberg says. “Simplifying your approach is refreshing — it allows you to just focus on mastering these foundational exercises and maximizing the challenge and the benefits of each one.”

Exercise Sets Reps
Barbell Glute Bridge 4 8-10
Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift 4 10-12
Bulgarian Split Squats 3 8-10
Close + High-Leg Press 4 10-12
Walking Lunge 3 12-15 (steps per leg)

Note: Before you begin the workout, warm up with bodyweight or banded glute bridges. Also, do one light warm-up set of each of the five listed moves, 12 to 20 reps or so, to get your blood moving. 

Exercise How-tos

Barbell Glute Bridge

Lie on the floor, head and back flat and your knees bent, feet placed about 6 inches or so away from your glutes. Place a barbell across your hips — a partner can assist with this, or if you have trouble, you can instead use a sandbag, kettlebell or medicine ball for resistance. Place your hands on the bar, and to start the movement, drive through your glutes and heels to bring your hips upward as far as you can, keeping your upper back on the floor. (This range of motion will only be a few inches.) Hold the bridge position —tabletop flat from your shoulders to your kneecaps — squeeze your glutes, then lower the bar down until your lower back and glutes touch down to the floor.

Josefine’s Advice: “I love this exercise because I feel like it isolates my glutes even more than a regular hip thrust. Plus, you don’t need to incorporate a flat bench. It helps to use a pad or a towel across your hips for comfort rather than have the bar in direct contact with your body.”

Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

Stand upright holding dumbbells in front of your thighs, palms facing you, your feet shoulder-width apart with a slight bend in your knees. Keeping your chest up and core tight, lean forward from your hips, pushing them rearward until your torso is roughly parallel to the floor. As you lean forward, keep your arms straight and slide the dumbbells down your thighs toward the floor until they reach your shins. Next, flex your hamstrings and glutes and lift your torso while pushing your hips forward until you bring the weights back to the start position.

Josefine’s Advice: “This one really helps to sculpt your glutes and hamstrings, specifically the glute/hamstring tie-in — the area where your glutes and hamstrings meet. To get the most out of Romanian deadlifts, mentally engage your glutes and hamstrings right before you initiate the movement.”

Bulgarian Split Squat

Holding a dumbbell in each hand, step forward with one foot and rest your rear foot on a bench, top side down. Bend your front leg to lower yourself, making sure that knee doesn’t track out ahead of your toes — if it does, you need to take a longer step out from the bench. When your knee joint reaches 90 degrees, reverse the motion, driving through the heel of your forward foot to return to the start.

Josefine’s Advice: “This one has helped me address and work on unilateral differences in development between my right and left legs. When you take your initial step out from the bench, use your own foot size as a guide — three of your feet away from the bench should give you good positioning, where your front knee can be 90 degrees in the bottom position.”

Close + High-Leg Press 

Sit squarely in the leg-press machine and place your feet on the sled, close together and high on the platform near its top edge. Keeping your chest up and lower back pressed into the pad, carefully unlatch the sled from the safeties. Bend your knees to lower the platform, stopping before your glutes lift off the pad. Hold that for a brief count, then extend your knees to press the weight up, stopping just short of locking out.

Josefine’s Advice: “I like including a heavy yet stable move toward the end of a leg session, so the plate-loaded leg press is a great option. You’ll want to think about pushing through your heels to move the sled and really engage those glutes. If you prefer, you can also switch this exercise out for a goblet squat with your heels elevated on 10-pound plates.”

Walking Lunge 

Holding dumbbells in each hand, step forward with one foot. Bend both knees to lower your torso toward the floor, making sure your front knee doesn’t pass your toes at the bottommost position. Stop just short of your rear knee touching the floor, then drive through the heel of your front foot while bringing your rear leg forward until you reach a standing position. Then step with the opposite leg into a lunge, repeating the pattern, making sure that you maintain a shoulder-width-apart stance on each step to keep optimal balance. Continue alternating down the floor.

Josefine’s Advice: “This is one of my favorites for challenging your core and stability at the same time as you’re working your legs. I suggest starting with no weight as you’re learning the movement, then adding either dumbbells or kettlebells, one in each hand, as you get more comfortable and confident.”

 

Booty Blast Finisher

Exercise Sets Reps
Jump Squat 3 20
Air Squat 3 20
Squat Pump 3 20
Lateral Lunge 3 20(10 per side)

To round out this routine, you’ll do a circuit of basic bodyweight movements, one after the other with no rest in between: 20 jump squats, 20 air squats, 20 squat pumps (which are one-quarter-range “pulse” reps) and finally lateral (to the side) lunges — 10 to the left and then 10 to the right. Pause long enough to catch your breath, then repeat the sequence twice more for three rounds total.

Josefine’s Advice: “The key here is to focus on quality over speed — so make sure to feel each movement and not rush through them. To me, getting a good burn and muscle pump at the end of a hard session is always the best feeling!”