The Best Leg Exercises for Women

STACK Expert Tyler English shares his best calf, glute, quad and hamstring exercises for women.

Hamstring Exercises for Women

Lower-body training is essential for female athletes. Leg exercises will boost your athleticism, help you stay injury-free and improve your overall appearance. Although you can do a variety of exercises in the weight room, not all movements are created equal.

I've put together a list of the seven best lower-body exercises for women, the ones most effective for achieving your goals. Implement them in your workout to become a better and stronger athlete.

Goblet Squat
The Goblet Squat is one of the most popular lower-body movements for women, targeting the quadriceps, glutes and hamstrings. The exercise's front-loaded position—holding a dumbbell or kettlebell in front—engages your abdominals, upper back and glutes through the entire movement. A little-known bonus: the move also increases overall mobility in the hips.

  • Hold dumbbell in front and assume athletic stance with feet slightly wider than hip width
  • Keeping elbows tight, sit back and squat until elbows touch inside of thighs
  • Drive up and forward out of squat position

Reverse Lunge
This exercise can be performed with a barbell or dumbbells. It targets the quadriceps, glutes, inner thighs and hamstrings. The Reverse Lunge is a much safer option than its counterpart, the Forward Lunge, as it allows for better alignment of the ankle and knee.

  • Assume athletic stance with bar resting on shoulders
  • Take large step backward into lunge position, with weight on front heel
  • Keeping front knee behind toes, lower until back knee almost touches ground
  • Drive forward into start position; perform rep on opposite leg
  • Continue in alternating fashion for specified reps

Bulgarian Split-Squat
Don't be scared by the name. By simply elevating a foot on a bench or box, you isolate the quadricep and gluteus maximus muscles of the front leg. This exercise is a highly effective single-leg movement that creates balanced strength on both sides of the body.

  • Stand in lunge or stride position with back foot on bench or box
  • Hold dumbbells in both hands with arms extended at sides of body
  • Bend front knee to lower into lunge position until thigh is parallel to ground; keep front knee behind toes
  • Extend hip and knee to drive up to start position; repeat for specified reps
  • Perform set with opposite leg

Romanian Deadlift (RDL)
This is another lower-body movement that you can perform with dumbbells or a barbell. The RDL is a hip-dominant movement that targets the muscles of the posterior chain (back of the body). The RDL belongs in your lower-body workout simply because of the work it forces your glutes and hamstrings to perform. Due to the position of your chest and torso, the Romanian Deadlift also forces your abdominals to contract and engages the obliques, giving you a core workout along with a lower-body exercise.

  • Assume athletic stance, holding barbell just above knees with palms facing body
  • Keeping core tight, back flat and feet flat on floor, bend at waist and lower barbell down front of leg as far as flexibility allows
  • Forcefully contract hamstrings and glutes to rise to start position
  • Repeat for specified reps

Physioball Hamstring Curl
This hamstring and glute exercise makes the Leg Curl Machine obsolete. By forcing your glutes and hamstrings to work simultaneously in a Bridge position, the Physioball Hamstring Curl is a highly effective core exercise. The body position alone requires the muscles of your hips, glutes, low back, abdominals and obliques to work as a single unit.

  • Lie with back on ground, hands out to side and feet on physioball
  • Bridge hips toward ceiling and dig feet into physioball
  • Flex knees and hips to roll ball toward glutes until feet are directly under knees
  • With control, extend knees and hips; slowly return to start position
  • Repeat for specified reps

Jump Squat
Jump Squats are a great plyo exercise to increase lower-body power, particularly in the quads, glutes and calves. This is also a great conditioning exercise, elevating your heart rate and forcing you to produce power for extended periods of time.

  • Assume athletic stance
  • Perform Squat and explosively jump as high as possible
  • Land softly in squat position and immediately perform again
  • Repeat for specified reps

Walking Lunge
Whether they are performed with dumbbells, kettlebells, a barbell or a weight vest, Walking Lunges stimulate the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and calves. Perform this exercise at the end of your workout for distance or repetitions. It's guaranteed to elevate your heart rate.

  • Assume athletic stance, holding dumbbells at sides
  • Step forward and lower into lunge, keeping front knee behind toes and back knee slightly off ground
  • Drive through heel of front foot to rise out of lunge and bring back leg even with front
  • Repeat with opposite leg and continue alternating for specified distance or reps


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