7 Of The Best Compound Leg Exercises

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There are many movements you can add to your leg workout routines. Find out what leg compound exercises work many muscles at once.

The walkthroughs of the exercises below mention specific leg workout equipment options but you typically don’t have to stick to these.

You mainly want to implement enough resistance to work the strong muscles in your legs. This can happen in many ways.

1. Barbell back squats

Barbell back squats are one of the most fundamental compound leg exercises out there. Take the following steps to do this exercise:

  1. Rack the barbell at about chest height and put on the desired amount of weight.
  2. Stand under the barbell with your upper back against the bar. Hold it in place with your hands at a comfortable distance.
  3. Push up the barbell to unrack it and take a step or two back so you have room to do the exercise. Put your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  4. Slowly lower your body as far as comfortable by folding your knees. Keep your spine straight and your knees above your feet.
  5. Push your body back up again in a controlled motion until your legs are slightly less than stretched.

Barbell back squats are a leg exercise that focuses on your quadricep (front thigh) muscles. Additionally, you work your erector spinae (lower back), glutes (butt), hamstrings (back thighs), and calves in nice amounts.

Because squats are a two-legged exercise, most people will need a lot of resistance to make it challenging enough. They are typically done as a barbell leg exercise because this piece of equipment can hold a lot of weight.

That aside, you can likely also make something work at home by using a workout sandbag, dumbbells, and a weighted vest.

2. Barbell deadlifts

Similar to squats, you likely want to implement deadlifts if you are somewhat serious about having a great compound leg workout routine.

Since this is another two-legged exercise, you will likely benefit from having a barbell with weight plates to add resistance. Once you have these, take the following steps to do a deadlift:

  1. Load the barbell with the desired amount of weight, stand in the middle, and put your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Keep your spine straight and your knees above your feet throughout the rest of the movement.
  2. Slowly stand upright with the barbell by stretching your legs until they are only slightly bent and tilting your upper body back. Keep your shoulder blades pulled back.
  3. Lower the barbell back to the ground.

Deadlifts are a somewhat straightforward compound exercise for your legs and more specifically your glutes and hamstrings.

Besides these muscles, deadlifts also work your quadriceps, erector spinae, forearm grip muscles, trapezius, and calves.

While the movement is straightforward, you do want to make sure you get the technique attention points of deadlifts right.

Because of the heavy weight, this compound leg exercise can be punishing for people who use suboptimal technique.

3. Leg presses

To do this next exercise you will need a specific leg gym machine called the leg press. You can describe this as a slanted sled where you push a weighted platform up with your leg muscles.

Once you have that, take the following steps to do a leg press:

  1. Adjust the machine for your personal body proportions and put the desired amount of weight on the sleeves.
  2. Sit down on the leg machine and put your feet flat on the platform and about shoulder-width apart.
  3. Push the platform up slightly and twist the handles next to you to remove the safety bars.
  4. Slowly lower the platform as far as comfortable by folding your legs. Keep your knees above your feet.
  5. Push the platform up in a controlled motion until your legs are slightly less than stretched.
  6. After your set is done, twist the handles next to you to hold the platform up.

You can say that leg presses are a compound leg exercise but only barely so. They will work your glutes and hamstrings to some extent but the main focus will be on your quadriceps.

Additionally, because you are using a machine with a fixed range of motion, you work a variety of stabilizing muscles to a smaller extent.

4. Lunges

Lunges are a great example of an at-home friendly leg compound exercise for beginners. Take the following steps to do two repetitions of the walking variation:

  1. Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Take a big step forward and put your front foot on the ground at a distance where you can achieve the position of the next step.
  3. Land and lower your hips until both of your knees are at 90-degree angles. Your back foot should only touch the ground with the front part.
  4. Push yourself up with your front leg and move your back foot next to your front foot.
  5. Repeat the same motion starting at step 2 but with your other leg taking the step.
How to do walking lunges

Exactly what lunge variation you do will influence what muscles you work the most.

The version above works your quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings a lot. You also work your calves and potentially other muscles depending on how you do lunges with weights.

For example, if you make lunges a leg dumbbell compound exercise, you will also work your forearm grip muscles and upper trapezius a lot.

That being said, many resistance training beginners can already see nice results with bodyweight lunges. Adding extra resistance may not be needed yet.

5. Bulgarian split squats

To do this next exercise you want some type of elevated platform at about knee height. With this, take the following steps to do a Bulgarian split squat:

  1. Stand in front of the elevated platform with your back toward it. Put one foot on the platform with the upper part against the surface.
  2. Hop forward with your front foot to the desired distance. Your choice will depend on what muscles you want to target with this compound leg exercise.
  3. Lower your body as far as comfortable in a controlled motion by folding your knees. How much you tilt your upper body forward again depends on your training goals.
  4. Slowly raise your body again until you are back in the position of step 2.
  5. Complete your set on one leg and then repeat the same number of repetitions with your other leg in front.
How to do a Bulgarian split squat

Bulgarian split squats are a great exercise for people who want to work their leg muscles at home without a lot of equipment.

The reason for that is that you put most of your body weight on the front leg by raising your back leg. In turn, this offers more muscle growth and strength potential.

Another benefit of Bulgarian split squats is that you can influence what muscles you focus on.

By keeping your front foot close to the elevated platform and keeping your body upright, this exercise focuses a lot on your quadriceps.

On the other hand, putting your foot farther and tilting your upper body forward will make it so Bulgarian split squats work your glutes and hamstrings to nice extents.

6. Step-ups

Step-ups are another compound leg exercise where you need an elevated platform at about knee height. This time it needs to be strong and stable enough to hold your full body weight.

Once you have that, take the following steps to do a step-up:

  1. Stand in front of the elevated platform with your face toward it. How far depends on what leg muscles you want to focus on.
  2. Put one foot on the elevated platform.
  3. Raise your body in a controlled range of motion by pushing through your front leg until it is slightly less than stretched. The lower leg should not really do any work.
  4. Slowly lower your body until your lower foot is on the ground again.
  5. Complete your set on one leg and then repeat the same number of repetitions on your other leg.
How to do a step-up

Because you put your full body weight on one leg, step-ups are another great compound leg exercise for people who don’t have a lot of fitness equipment at home.

This movement works your quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings a lot.

Additionally, because you spend a lot of time balancing on one leg, your hip abductors (outer thigh muscles) and hip adductors (inner thigh muscles) have to work in nice amounts too.

It is also possible that you need to do weighted step-ups to see your desired results. In that case, you preferably use one-handed weights so that you can easily balance yourself.

7. Box jumps

To do a box jump you want a good plyo box or a similar sturdy elevated surface. Once you have that, take the following steps to do the movement:

  1. Stand in front of the plyo box with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Lower your hips as far as comfortable by folding your knees. Keep your spine more or less straight and your knees above your feet.
  3. Push yourself up explosively with enough power to jump at the top of the movement. While in the air, fold your legs slightly so you can easily complete the next step.
  4. Land with your legs slightly bent to absorb some of the impact.
  5. Step down to do the next repetition.

Box jumps are an explosive compound exercise for your legs with a focus on your quadriceps. Other muscles you work include your glutes, hamstrings, erector spinae, and calves.

By working your body more explosively, you can train your leg muscle power.

Additionally, many people will be able to see muscle growth too.

One potential downside is that box jumps can be somewhat punishing if you don’t do them right. For this reason, you preferably want to start with a very low plyo box and slowly build up from there.

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Author:

Matt Claes founded Weight Loss Made Practical to help people get in shape and stay there after losing 37 pounds and learning the best of the best about weight loss, health, and longevity for over 4 years. Over these years he has become an expert in nutrition, exercise, and other physical health aspects.