Your legs are composed of various muscles, but when working out, you tend to either focus on your hamstrings or your quads. I have seen and tried more leg exercises than I can count, but following are a few of my absolute favorites/go-tos for the quads.
Basic Barbell Squat: The squat, as you may know, is the most well-known leg exercise, but for good reason. The squat, if done properly, helps to build muscle not only in your quads and hamstrings, but also your glutes and core. There are numerous different methods to squatting, but the barbell squat is by far the best exercise for beginners because by using a lighter weight, you can focus on form. I recommend waiting to use the Smith machine or the squat rack until you are completely comfortable and confident in your form because improper form could lead to serious back injuries. It is only in recent weeks, after switching to using barbells to readjust my form, that I have begun to use the squat rack.
Start the exercise with your feet slightly further than shoulders-width apart and the barbell resting centered on your shoulders. Hold the barbell from underneath with both hands and fingers pointing outwards. Start the squat by pushing your butt back and do not lead with your knees. (It may help to focus on a spot on the wall in front of you). Squat until butt is a little lower than parallel to the ground. Pay attention to your knees and make sure that they do not start to bend inwardly. If that starts to happen, focus on pushing your knees outwards so that they stay in line with your toes. Once parallel, use your heels to push your entire body upwards, and make sure and squeeze your butt at the top to engage the glutes. Squats do not need to be a quick exercise, so take your time lowering your body to ensure a mind-body connection.
Sumo Squats: The sumo squat is almost identical to the original barbell squat as mentioned before, but by starting the exercise with a slightly wider stance, the exercise also engages the inner leg and hip abductors. (This can also be done with the Smith machine and the squat rack). Start with the barbell centered on the shoulders and gripping the barbell from underneath. This time, step out one or two steps further than shoulder-width and keep the toes pointed outwards. Squat as mentioned above, leading first with the butt and keeping your knees pointed out. Also, no matter what type of squat you may be doing, do not lower your chest. Push upwards through the heel and focus especially on squeezing the inner part of your leg.
Bulgarian Split Squat: You can either use dumbbells or a barbell for this exercise, but I recommend starting with dumbbells to engage your arms. You also need a bench or another sturdy raised base to can hold your body weight. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms at the side and palms facing inwards. Stand two to three feet in front of the bench with your feet shoulders-width apart. Extend one leg backwards and place the top of your foot on the bench. Make sure your weight is centered and lower your body so that your rear need almost touches the floor. Pause, then push your body upwards through the heel of your front leg. Do one set, then switch to the other leg.
Stationary Lunge: Lunges are another essential exercise to toning and building muscle in your legs, and there are also numerous variations, but the stationary lunge is easy, effective, and great in gyms with limited space. (These can be done holding dumbbells are without weight). Start with your legs shoulders-width apart. Take a step backwards with one foot and lower the back knee to form a 90-degree angle, press upwards through the heel on your front leg, and return to the starting position. Do as many you’d like on the one leg, then switch to the other.
As I mentioned before, there are more leg exercises out there than I can count, but the ones mentioned above are simple and effective. Remember that form is the most important, not the amount of weight you use. As you get more accustomed to the exercises, you can begin to incorporate as much weight as you feel comfortable with. If you haven’t already, check out my post on exercises for your biceps and triceps!
Also, if you’re looking a really supportive and comfortable sports bra, check out this one by Under Armour. I recently bought one for myself, and I am loving it!
Watch this video if you want a demonstration of the perfect squat. It may be a little easier to understand by watching rather than my description 😉