If your goal is a rock-solid body, strong and lean legs are a primary focus. Some athletes may not care about their legs being lean, but everybody wants them to be strong. You’ve probably heard it said that if you want strong legs, you’d better do squats.
While squats, deadlifts, and lunges are three of the most popular exercises for shaping legs, they are certainly not the only way to get the job done. Today I am going to show you that a few more general exercises can yield big results, especially when used in addition to your regular lower body training.
General physical preparedness (GPP) exercises are normally intended to build overall fitness—general strength, healthy movement quality, and an increased work capacity. Many GPP movements involve a high workload on your lower body, particularly the largest muscles like the glutes, quads, and hamstrings.
As an added benefit, many simple GPP exercises, such as pushing a sled, are almost completely concentric in nature, which means they will inflict less damage to the muscle fibers. This will allow you to recover more quickly than you would from traditional squats, lunges, and deadlifts.
Basic Leg Functions
There are many muscles that make up our legs, and most are involved in multiple movements. Some are primary movers, others are assistant movers. They work together to create each of the movements described below.
Linking each of these movements to an exercise will help to develop strength in your legs and a well–rounded lower body.
- Hip abduction: Movement away from the center line of your body
- Exercise: Standing lateral leg raise
- Hip adduction: Movement towards the center line of your body
- Exercise: Squeezing a stability ball between your legs
- Hip extension: Straightening the hip joint to increase the angle between your thighs and torso
- Exercise: Glute bridge, bird dogs, or the upward motion of a squat
- Hip flexion: Decreasing the angle between thighs and torso
- Exercise: Knee raises
- Hip Rotation: Rotating your upper leg towards (internal) or away from (external) of the center line of your body.
- Exercise: Lateral band walks with a band either around your feet, below your knee, or above your knee
- Knee Extension: Opening the knee joint
- Exercise: Quad extension machine or any kind of front kick movement
- Knee Flexion: Curling the lower leg towards you, bringing your heels towards your bottom
- Exercise: Butt kicks or leg curls
GPP Movements for Stronger Legs
Squats, deadlifts, and lunges are often drilled into our brains as the only exercises to build strong legs. While I agree that they are great exercises, incorporating GPP exercises will help to give your legs a more well-rounded training exposure to build upon your current shape and strength.
Choose exercises that will compliment your existing lower body training, or that you can easily interchange with similar movement patterns. Here are my favorites:
The sled push is a wonderful exercise that hits all the main muscles in the leg. If performed correctly, you should get a nice pump in your glutes and hamstrings.
The backwards drag can be used with any piece of equipment that has a handle or something you can pull on. It is important to get a nice backwards lean to work your quadriceps more.
This is performed just as a normal cable pull through, the only difference being that you are walking with it. In this video, I demonstrate with a carpet sled with added weight.
If you have a regular sled at your gym, you can hook a rope to it and perform the same exercise. You want to focus on pulling through with your legs and squeezing your glutes all the way through.
Lateral Band Work
Band work is often forgotten in resistance training. Exercises such as the lateral shuffle and skaters target the inner and outer areas of your legs, while the back pedal really targets your quadriceps. Because the resistance of the bands is very high, performing higher reps provides more benefit.
Sample GPP Leg Workouts
Here are three different workouts using the movements above. Incorporate them either at the end of a lower body day to get that last bit of burn, or use them on an active recovery day.
Workout 1: Sled push/pull – 80 feet, 10 rounds
Push your sled 40 feet, and then drag it backwards another 40 feet. Rest 30-60 seconds between sets
Workout 2: Backwards sled drag/walking pull-throughs – 6 rounds
Drag the sled backwards 80 feet, then perform 40 feet of walking pull-throughs. Rest 30-60 seconds between sets.
Workout 3: Resistance band work – choose from the following
5 sets, resting 30 seconds between each:
- 10 lateral shuffles (each side)
- 10 skaters (each side)
- 10 back pedals
5 sets, 1 minute rest between each:
- 30 seconds lateral shuffles (each side)
- 30 seconds rest
- 30 seconds skaters (each side)
- 30 seconds rest
- 30 seconds back pedal
These three workouts are guaranteed to get the job done, but make sure you program them each week so that you are progressing. For example, on workout 1, increase your rounds to 12, or go a further distance.
Even reducing your rest time is progressing. I always treat these sessions as I would a regular lifting session. The more you increase your workload, the stronger you become.
Whether you are an athlete or someone simply looking to get stronger, incorporate more GPP into your training plans. Does it all have to be lower body? Absolutely not, but who wants weak legs?
Stop hiding in your pants: