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Compound leg exercises allow you to target and strengthen several lower body muscles at the same time.
Many lifters and exercisers tend to ignore their leg day for various reasons, but doing so could leave you with a disproportional figure – a herculean upper body with chicken-like legs.
You may have many reasons for not wanting to commit many hours to training your legs, but you can still strengthen and build lower body mass by opting for compound leg exercises. That could save you time and allow you to have the proportional body of your dreams.
Apart from being time-saving and efficient, compound leg exercises will allow you to build lower body power and explosiveness, allowing you to perform many physical activities.
Best Compound Leg Exercises For Building A Strong Lower Body
Below are some of the best compound leg exercises for your training regimen. Incorporate these into your leg day and lower body workouts to improve your fitness and well-being.
Stiff Leg Deadlift
The stiff-leg deadlift is a popular and one of the best compound leg exercises for building the hamstrings.
Aside from the hamstrings, the stiff-leg deadlift engages other muscles in the posterior chain, including the calves, quads, and glutes.
Opting to use a barbell for the exercise allows you to go heavy, compared to the dumbbell variation.
You can include the stiff-leg deadlift in your leg and pull day training programs. It will also fit into any full body workout.
Steps to follow
- Use an overhand grip to grasp the barbell. Your palms must face downward and shoulder width apart.
- Stand upright with feet at hip width, holding the barbell in front of your thighs, and slightly bend your knees.
- Inhale and lower the barbell past your knees by hinging forward and pulling your hips back. Ensure you keep your knee still and your back straight. Keep the bar a few inches from your legs as you lower it.
- Continue moving forward as if picking some item from the floor until you feel a stretch or two in your hamstrings and the bar is around the mid-shin. Keep your arms extended as you do this.
- Pause briefly, extend your hips and raise your torso to your starting position.
Reorganize your thoughts if you think jumping rope is just for kids.
Jump rope is a full-body workout for both adults and kids.
It is one of the best compound leg exercises that help improve cardiovascular fitness, burn calories, and strengthen your muscles. And the good thing is you need one of the simplest and cheapest gym equipment for jumping ropes.
Incorporating jumping rope into your workout can help strengthen your lower body muscles, including your thighs and calves, and upper body muscles, such as the shoulders and biceps.
Jumping ropes require good communication between your legs, torso, and arms. Thus, the movement can help boost your balance and coordination.
Due to the repetitive nature of jumping ropes, they are some of the best compound leg exercises for developing lower body power and explosiveness.
You can include jumping ropes in your fitness routine as part of your warm-ups, leg day, or general workout.
Trap Bar Rack Pull
Rack pulls are a variation of deadlifts. The exercise targets the hamstrings, lower and upper back, quads, core, and glutes.
They are some of the best compound leg exercises for lifters with back pain who can’t do deadlifts.
You will need a squat or power rack and a trap bar for the exercise, making it possible to use a heavy load compared to deadlifts.
Using a squat rack for the rack pull exercise makes it feasible for the elderly and beginners.
They are some of the best leg compound exercises for novices to master deadlifts and improve pulling strength.
They can also help strengthen your muscles and condition them for such pulling exercises as bicep curls and dumbbell rows.
Using a trap bar for rack pulls allows you the weight around your body, making it much safer than with a barbell. It also makes it possible to use a neutral grip and maintain a neutral spine, helping to reduce the risk of injury.
Steps to follow
- Place the trap bar below knee height on the safety pins on the power rack and load the appropriate weight.
- Get inside the trap bar with feet at hip width.
- Hinge forward by pushing your hips back and grasp the trap bar handles with a neutral grip.
- Start the movement by pulling the slack out of the bar. To do this, inhale, pull your body up on the barbell to create tension through your spine, hips, and back, and drop your hips in a seesaw manner.
- Engage your lats and hamstrings, and place your armpits directly over the trap bar.
- Push through your feet, and pulling the barbell in a straight line, extend your hips and knees to stand upright. Ensure you lock out your hips at the top of the movement.
- Slowly return the bar to the safety pins under control.
Barbell Back Squat
The barbell back squat is an effective compound exercise for building lower body muscles and strength.
It is one of the best compound leg exercises for the posterior chain and working the whole body.
Regarded by many as the king of all exercises, it can build mass and strength in the hamstrings, glutes, core, and quads. Starting your leg day with barbell back squats can help boost cardiovascular health and conditioning.
While the exercise primarily targets the quads, the glutes, hamstrings, core, back, arms, and shoulders work together to help make the movement possible.
Including squats in your training regimen can help improve your performance in many physical and sporting activities.
It is best to perform the exercise on a squat rack.
Steps to follow
- Place the barbell on the rack slightly below shoulder height and load it with the appropriate weight.
- Position yourself under the bar with feet at shoulder width and let the bar rest on your top back muscles. Ensure you don’t rest the bar on your neck. If necessary, place some padding under the bar to make you comfortable.
- Using a wide grip, grab the bar.
- Bend at the knees, and push your back up to remove the bar from the rack. Ensure you keep your eyes up and back straight.
- Take a step or two back to put some space between you and the rack.
- Without leaning forward and looking straight ahead, drop your hips, and bend your knees to go into a squat until your knees and the floor are parallel.
- Push through your heels and extend your knees to return to your starting position. Ensure you don’t lock your knees out
- Repeat up to 20 or more reps.
The barbell front squat is a variation for building lower body muscles.
Loading the barbell in the front of the body emphasizes the quads and glutes. It will also work and strengthen the upper back and core muscles.
It is an alternative to the back squat and one of the best compound leg exercises for ankle, hip, and shoulder mobility. Many athletes and lifters prefer the front squat, believing it puts less stress on the spine than the back variation.
You can include the front squat in your leg day training or full body workout.
Steps to follow
- Place the bar below shoulder height and set the safety stops at about waist height on the rack.
- Cross your hands at shoulder height and place them under the bar. Keep your elbows at shoulder height as well. Alternatively, grasp the bar with your grips at more than shoulder width.
- Get below the bar, and let it rest on your shoulders. Ensure you raise your elbows to shoulder height.
- Breathe in, push your hips back, and extend your knees to unrack the bar,
- Take a step or two back to give yourself some working space. Keep your feet below shoulder width.
- Bend your knees, push your hips back and squat until the floor and your thighs are parallel.
- Reverse by pushing through your feet and extending your knees and hips to stand upright.
- Repeat up to 20 or more reps.
Barbell Lateral Lunge
The barbell lateral lunge is an effective leg exercise for strengthening the hamstrings, glutes, and quads.
Stepping sideways for the movement emphasizes the inner thigh and helps to improve balance and stability.
Using a barbell for the lateral lunges increases the resistance on your muscles and helps improve results
Steps to follow
- Stand upright, holding a barbell on your back. Keep your feet at shoulder width and rest the barbell across your lats.
- Take a big step sideways, bend your knee and lower your body until the thigh is parallel to the floor while keeping the other leg straight.
- Engage your core, extend your bent knee, and return to your starting position.
Barbell thrusters combine front squats with overhead presses in one movement for a full-body exercise.
Thrusters, which are popular in CrossFit workouts and strength training, are some of the best compound leg exercises for strengthening lower body muscles, including the hamstrings, glutes, quads, and core.
Thrusters will also work the shoulders, upper back, and triceps.
Steps to follow
- Place the barbell below shoulder height on the rack and load it with the appropriate weight.
- Stand with feet at shoulder width and grasp the bar with a pronated grip, palms at more than shoulder width.
- Get under the bar and unrack it, ensuring your spine is in a neutral position, and hold the bar at shoulder height.
- Take a couple of steps back, breathe in, and with the bar on your shoulders, do a squat until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
- Push your feet onto the floor, extend your knees, and just before your reach your starting position, forcefully push the barbell straight up until you lock your elbows.
- Exhale, and slowly lower the bar to chest height to start another cycle.
Barbell Bulgarian Split Squat
The Bulgarian split squat is one of the best compound leg exercises for working one side of your body at a time. That allows you to emphasize your weaker side and allows you to build a more symmetrical body.
The exercise involves placing a barbell on your upper back, elevating one foot on a raised platform behind you, and squatting.
The barbell split squats are also some of the best compound leg exercises for improving balance and coordination.
It is a hip-dominant exercise that puts minimal stress on your joints, making it suitable for newbies and those with knee joint issues.
Goblet squats involve squatting while holding some weight, like a kettlebell or dumbbell, in front of your chest. Holding the weight at the front of your body, instead of behind you as you do with back squats, reduces the risk of lower back injury.
Goblet squats, like the back squat, are some of the best compound leg exercises that can target the quads and the glutes.
You can include the goblet squat in your leg day training or your full-day workouts.
Final words from LiveLIfe
Compound leg exercises are some of the most efficient ways to work and strengthen your lower body muscles. They allow you to target many muscle groups at the same time.
Incorporate these in your workout regimes to help maximize the results.
- Andrews E. (2015). 5 compound exercises you should add to your workout. American Council on Exercise (ACE)
- McCall P. (2016). 5 Benefits of Compound Exercises. American Council on Exercise (ACE)
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- Olivia Bruce, Kimberly Moull, Steven Fischer. 2017. Principal components analysis to characterise fatigue-related changes in technique: Application to double under jump rope. PMID: 27556961 DOI: 10.1080/02640414.2016.1221523. National Library of Medicine
- Gregory D. Myer, Adam M. Kushner, Jensen L. Brent, Brad J. Schoenfeld, et al. 2015. The back squat: A proposed assessment of functional deficits and technical factors that limit performance. doi: 10.1519/SSC.0000000000000103. PMID: 25506270. National Library of Medicine