You should never skip leg day, and strong legs and lower body is a solid foundation for any physique. And a great way to get strong legs is with some barbell exercises.
Often gym newbies will avoid a barbell, and we get it; they look intimidating, but they’re an excellent tool for full-body strength, and anyone can use them to see strength and performance gains. Even the bar alone can be a great way to improve your balance and coordination.
Strong legs are great for your performance in the gym, but solid and stable legs are also necessary for daily activities, like getting groceries home in one trip, climbing stairs, and running around after the kids in the park.
If we’ve piqued your interest, here are our favourite barbell exercises to build lower-body strength.
Start by placing the bar behind your head, sitting on your trapezius (the muscle at the top of your shoulders), and engaging your core. Grip the bar tightly, including your thumbs, and bring your elbows down and towards your body. Move into your squat stance. For most people, this looks like your feet hip-width apart, toes slightly turned out.
Next, press evenly through your feet, sitting back into your hips and down; ideally, you want to get your thighs parallel to the ground. Once you’ve hit your deepest range of motion, engage your core and drive through your feet to push back to standing.
Barbell front squat
Like the back squat in terms of alignment, however, the barbell will be in front of you. Your hands can be in two positions, either shoulder-width apart under the bar or crossed over the bar. To maintain a stable shelf for the barbell, your elbows will stay up.
Next, engage your core and get into a squat stance. Push evenly through your feet, thrust your hips back and down, and allow the knees to follow the foot’s midline. Like the back squat, you’re aiming to get your thighs parallel to the floor.
Once you’ve reached your deepest range, engage your core, and push back through your feet to return to the start position.
Single-leg Romanian barbell deadlift
Start by setting up as you would for a stiff-leg deadlift, with your feet hip-width apart and the barbell directly over the center of your feet. Set down the working leg and step your supporting leg back. Push your hips back, grab the bar with hands shoulder-width apart, and engage your core, and pull your shoulders down, almost as if you’re holding something in your armpit.
You want to keep the barbell path close to the front leg as you rise. As you reach your knee, push your hips forward, and when you reach the top, lock in a slight posterior pelvic tilt. Then, as you descend, push your hips back until you get to your knee, and then drop the bar straight down.
Switch your legs and repeat.
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Sumo barbell deadlift
Start by adopting a very wide stance with your toes pointed out. This position should allow for your arms and elbows inside your legs, with your shins almost perpendicular to the floor. With straight arms, grip the bar so it’s lightly resting against your upper thighs.
Imagine pulling it apart; now, pull your shoulders down and back. Engage your core and drive with your legs as you lower the barbell and push your hips back. Like other deadlifts, make sure to keep the barbell path as tight to the legs as possible.
Barbell split squat
Start by placing the barbell across your back, just like you would with a back squat. Create tension in your upper body and engage your core, drawing elbows down and in. You might find it helps keep your gaze forward and focused on one spot.
Next, take a step back with one leg, keeping your shoulders and hips from tipping forward. Drop your back knee as close to the floor and press through your feet to return to your starter standing position.
Complete all reps on one side, and then switch to the other leg.
Barbell hip thrust
You’ll need a low bench (16 inches or shorter) for this one. Start by sitting with your back to the bench, and your shoulder blades should be sitting flush on the top of the bench. Rest the barbell across your hips. You might find it more comfortable with a barbell pad or towel under the bar.
Your feet should be planted hip-width apart, press into your feet and lift your hips off the ground. Your shoulders will be on the bench, your hips lifted off the ground to create a tabletop or bridge position. Once you reach the top of your bridge position, ensure your chin is still tucked in. As you lower back down, control your form and pace.
With these six moves, you’ll never have an excuse for skipping leg day again!
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