Leg training isn’t easy and you may think your exercise arsenal is limited at best. You may be under the impression that when leg day rolls around you are chained to such traditional moves such as squats, leg presses, leg extensions and leg curls. Sure, you might get a little creative and use a squat or Smith machine, but everywhere you go on the internet and everyone you ask sing the praises of the basics when it comes to packing on muscle to your lower half.
You seem to get inventive when it comes to chest and arm training so why not legs? Why not try some crazy but effective moves that will not only challenge your mettle, but earn you some sought-after muscle mass.
Below are five unorthodox leg building exercises that are worth a try. At first you may find yourself acting like a newborn fawn; unbalanced, shaky and a bit confused. But do not fret. Learn these moves over time, get better at them and reap big gains.
1. Barbell Hack Squats
What, you say? You’ve heard of the hack squat machine before but what about where it came from; the origin of the actual exercise. Many decades ago, before weight machine was ever a term, there were barbells and dumbbells. The hack squat was performed with a barbell but soon evolved into its machine form that we all are familiar with today.
Think of this move as a reverse deadlift but with greater emphasis on your legs and with a fairly steep learning curve. But don’t worry. That is the beauty of this version. Many times with a steep learning curve comes new challenges and new muscle.
Stand away from a loaded barbell (the bar behind your calves and with a light weight to start off with). Bend down as if you were about to perform a deadlift: at the knees, straight back and either an overhand or underhand grip. With your back straight and your core tight, lift the bar off the ground in a straight line toward the ceiling. Once at the top, the bar should be rested against your glutes and your legs flexed. Descend with the bar in reverse order without slamming the bar to the ground.
2. Barbell-Banded Rear Leg Elevated Bulgarian Split Squats
Yes, long name but serious gains in not only muscle but strength as well. Using bands in any exercise is utilizing a technique known as linear variable resistance (LVR). This enables a load to increase as the weight is lifted. Many studies have touted the positive effects of LVR for its accelerated increases in strength versus traditional lifting.
This is a tricky move so you may want to master unilateral exercises first before adding any bands. Stand with your back to a bench and a loaded barbell on your back. The barbell should have a band strapped to each end and your foot stepping on the middle portion below on the floor. At a few feet in front of the bench, put your free foot on the bench behind you. Now you are in position so keep a tight core and total focus. Lower your body in a straight line to the floor just before your knee touches. Reverse your movement and flex your thigh without locking your knee. Complete all reps for one leg before moving on to the other.
3. Reverse Walking Lunges
This is actually a fun exercise that can be challenging but still a true test of coordination and concentration. Since it requires your utmost attention to detail, not to mention a good spotter, it will spawn some much-needed growth to your lower body. It might also gain a few looks of confusion from your fellow gym-goers but what will that matter? You are here for growth not to just do whatever everyone else is doing, right?
These can be performed either with a pair of dumbbells held by your sides or a barbell resting on your shoulders. With one foot, lunge behind you and then launch back with your forward leg explosively. Take another step back with that leg and continue lunging until you have met your required number of steps.
A word of caution: Be sure to have an attentive spotter guiding you the entire way. The last thing you need is a collision risking you not only injury but also being banned form the gym!
4. Bench Pistol Squats
If you aren’t familiar with the pistol squat then you are in for a rude awakening. The bench pistol squat is like the nastier, bigger brother. Difficult and requiring plenty of practice this variation will skyrocket your strength like nothing else. It will also increase balance, shore-up your weak side and activate muscle you never thought you had.
If you are already familiar with the traditional pistol squat and are ready for a new challenge then listen up. Stand on a bench with one leg on the bench and the other leg hanging over the side. Begin to bend down as if you were to squat down while your free leg jets out in front of you for balance. For this bench version allow your free leg to go below the level of the bench before pushing back up to the starting position.
5. Elevated Dumbbell Squats
Many years ago in Europe, many lifters used to perform what was called stone lifting. An individual would straddle a stone with a single handle affixed at the top while standing on an elevated structure. The stone was then lifted between the legs to a standing position.
For your purposes you can use a dumbbell and two steps or benches. Stand with one foot on each elevated surface with the center area open for a dumbbell or kettlebell. Hold the weight between your legs and descend with a straight back and squat into the space between the benches. Be sure to lower the weight deeper than foot level to get an intense stretch and a full range of motion in your legs.
Be sure that your knees travel in-line with the direction of your feet and avoid locking your legs at the top of the movement. Return to the starting position and repeat for reps.
Try any of the variations listed above on for size. A word of advice: try just one at a time; master it and then move on to something else. Also, many of these moves can be performed several times per week or as just a part of your existing routine. Whatever you decide, initially use a light weight to practice your form and technique and you will be well on your way to more muscle and strength.