With all the tools and machines in the gym that hold the promise of delivering muscle mass and leanness, it can be a challenge to decide which one to use. Some equipment provide obvious benefits over others and sometimes the differences between them are so specific that it takes a seasoned gym veteran to decipher which to use, and when.
When it comes to the barbell, that’s not the case.
The barbell is one of the most versatile and useful gym tools you’ll find. There’s an endless number of both lower body and upper body workouts you can try with a barbell. If you’re looking for workouts that target the leg muscles, you won’t run out of exercise options.
Below, we’ve included a list of the most effective leg workouts using a barbell.
6 Best barbell leg exercises
The following is a list of our favourite barbell leg workouts for a killer leg day. Fair warning, you may have trouble walking the day after crushing these at the gym:
1.Barbell back squat
The barbell back squat is the most well-known of all barbell leg exercises. It’s also one of the leg exercises that can really boost your self-confidence because you’re able to withstand more weight given the stability that your upper and lower back provide. Tinkering with rep ranges is important for back squats because while low reps with more weight certainly produces results, lighter rep squats have also been shown to promote the body’s production of growth hormones which help increase muscle mass and strength. What works for one body may not work for you, so be sure to experiment and track your results to understand how your body reacts to various rep ranges.
To perform barbell back squats, follow these steps:
- Step under the barbell, place it on your traps, unrack it, and take a few steps back.
- Ensure you have a sturdy, yet comfortable grip on the barbell that allows for shoulder mobility.
- Set your feet at your preferred squat stance, this means feet shoulder width apart or hip width apart.
- With your chest up, take a deep breath, then squat down to a comfortable depth, making sure to keep your chest raised.
- Drive your feet through the floor and squat back upward. Repeat for reps.
The barbell back squat is a great exercise to include in your leg workout routine, as it engages your quads, glutes, and hamstrings.
The best rep range for beginners is 3 sets of up to 10 reps with light weights to master the technique. In order to build muscle, it’s recommended that you do 4 to 5 sets of 6 to 8 reps with moderately heavy weights. To gain strength, the optimal range is anywhere from 3 to 8 sets of 3 to 5 reps with heavy, yet manageable weight.
2. Barbell standing calf raise
As the name indicates, barbell standing calf raises target the calves. Calf exercises are incredibly important to your overall ability to squat and deadlift heavier weights. They’re also important when it comes to playing sports. For these reasons, training your calves can have a positive impact on your performance as an athlete. If you don’t have access to a standing calf raise machine, a barbell can be a great substitute.
How to perform a standing calf raise:
- Set up the barbell just as you would for a back squat. In other words, step under the barbell and place the barbell on your upper traps.
- Unrack the bar and take a few steps back
- Stand up with your back straight and your glutes and back contracted, then raise your heel off the ground and as high as it can go.
- Pause in this position for a few seconds then lower your heels back to the ground slowly.
- Reset to the starting position and repeat for reps.
If you’re a beginner, start with 2 sets of ten to fifteen reps. The most optimal range for reps is between ten to twenty-five reps, so you can increase your reps as you develop strength.
You can also add more weight for higher resistance once you’ve built up your strength. If you struggle with the standing calf raise, you may opt for a seated calf raise. In this version of the calf raise, sit on a bench and rest the barbell on your lap as you push your heels off the floor.
3. Barbell hip thrust
The barbell hip thrust is just one of the many variations of hip thrusts that you can do. Using a barbell rather than a dumbbell allows you to load it with much heavier weights as you progress in your weight training. The hip thrust is a great hinge exercise because it allows you to isolate your glutes and activate your hip flexors. Unlike the deadlift, which also works on your glutes, hip thrusts require you to lift in the horizontal rather than vertical plane. As such, it’s one of the barbell leg exercises that focus on glute contraction, primarily working out your glutes and hamstrings.
To perform a barbell hip thrust, follow these steps:
- Sit with your back against the edge of a bench
- Place padding across your pelvis for protection, and roll the loaded barbell into the crease of your hips.
- Once you’ve secured the barbell in place, position your feet shoulder width apart and directly underneath your knees, making sure that your neck remains neutral.
- Using your upper back as a hinge, thrust your hips up to raise the barbell.
- As you thrust upwards, engage your glutes and raise your hips until your thighs are parallel to the floor and knees are perpendicular to the floor.
- While in the raised hip position, hold and squeeze your glutes for a few seconds and then slowly lower your hips back to the floor. Repeat for reps.
The best rep range for barbell hip thrusts are between 6-15 reps. Note that the wider your foot placement is, the more glute activation you’ll experience. Experiment with your foot positioning to determine what works best for you.
4. Barbell Split squat
Barbell split squats are not known to be the easiest of barbell leg workouts but they are great for developing equal muscle mass on either side of your body. This is because the exercise reduces muscle imbalances on either side. This exercise also improves your ability to perform deadlift splits squats and your barbell squat as it improves your leg drive needed for these exercises. This exercise targets your quads and glutes.
To perform a barbell split squat, follow the instructions below:
- You can choose to place the barbell either on your back or the front squat rack. The back will allow more load, while the front rack will provide more anterior core strength and will engage your quads more.
- Position your torso forward and make sure that your shoulders are down, then move into a split squat position.
- Drop your rear knee towards the floor until your front leg is nearly parallel to the ground.
- Push your front foot through the floor to return back to the starting position.
- Reset and repeat for reps.
- Alternate sides.
For barbell split squats, aim for 2 to 3 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions for each leg. The proper form is very important to make sure your body is positioned correctly throughout the sets and repetition. If necessary, start with low weights while you perfect your technique and increase the load as you master it.
5. Barbell Romanian deadlift
The peculiarly named Romanian deadlift is a favorite among weight enthusiasts, and for good reason. RDLs are used to develop the strength of the posterior chain muscles including the erector spinae, glutes, hamstrings, and adductors. When done correctly, the RDL strengthens both the core and the lower body in one move. Although you’ll use less weight than the traditional deadlift, you’ll add a considerable mass to your glutes and hamstrings as a result of the increased time under tension. RDLs will also improve your lockout strength for conventional deadlifts.
Steps to complete a barbell Romanian deadlift:
- Stand up straight with your feet hip width apart.
- Grip the barbell with an overhand, shoulder width grip, parallel to your thighs.
- Keeping your chest up and shoulders down, take a deep breath and hinge your hips down keeping the rest of your body stationary, until the barbell is below your knees.
- Pause for a second, let out a deep exhale, and use your hamstrings and glutes to hinge your body back upwards to the starting position.
For RDLs, repetitions are most optimal between 8 to 12 with moderate to heavy loads for a total of 3 to 5 sets. For beginners, performing a few RDls with light loads for 8 to 12 reps can ensure that the lifter is focusing on the movement and muscular contraction, developing basic hypertrophy, and minimizing excessive damage and muscle fatigue.
6. Barbell lunges
Barbell lunges are leg exercises that target the hamstrings, quadriceps, and glutes. They’re a weighted variation of the forward lunge and are an excellent way to supplement other lower body exercises while building lower body strength.
A notable benefit of the barbell lunge is its versatility—you can choose from numerous variations. For instance, you can alternate doing reps, lunging forward with one leg and then extending the opposite leg for the next rep. You can also place one foot on the floor and do stationary lunges before switching to the other leg. Another version of the barbell lunges is the barbell walking lunges. You can even reverse lunges to activate your posterior chain and exert less stress on your knees.
To perform a barbell lung, try the following steps:
- Set up the barbell inside or outside the squat rack. The barbell should be a bit lower than your shoulder blades.
- Facing the barbell, step underneath it and place your hands on both sides. The barbell should rest on the muscles of your upper back. Rotate your shoulders outward to engage your lats and upper back.
- Remove the barbell from the rack and take a few steps backwards. Stand straight with your feet a little wider than hip width apart and knees slightly bent.
- Take a step forward, bending your hips and knees to the floor until your back knee is an inch or two from the ground.
- Pause at the bottom, keeping your chest high, then lift yourself backward by pushing your foot into the ground.
- Both legs should land next to each other as you return to the starting position. Repeat on the same leg or opposite leg.
For barbell lunges, you should begin with 2 to 3 sets of 5 to 10 reps on each side. You can choose the weight you apply based on your ability to maintain good technique throughout all of your sets. With that said, once you master your technique you can progressively increase the amount of weight you load onto the barbell.
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What makes the barbell so great?
The benefits of using a barbell are plenty, but the greatest advantage of using a barbell is that it allows you to carry heavier loads, leading to more strength and more mass. In addition to heavier loads, the barbell focuses your center of gravity. Unlike free weights, a barbell gives you the ability to move a heavy load in a straight vertical line over your center of balance. This allows you to carry out fundamental human movements like hinges and squats with heavy weights which you can increase over time, helping you get bigger and stronger.
In addition to that, barbells allow you to increase your load with small increments and add heavier maximums as well simply by adding or removing weight plates. This is different from kettlebells or dumbbells which cap at a maximum weight, requiring you to purchase additional kettlebells for weight variation. Finally, because barbells lock you into a specific range of motion, they offer stability that other weightlifting equipment lack. Although freedom of movement is great for certain workouts, the stability that barbells afford will allow you to lift heavier weights without worrying about a sudden shift in motion.
Get killer results with a barbell leg workout
The leg exercises listed above are only a small selection of the many potential barbell leg exercises you can do. There are many more you can experiment with and the lower body workout program you choose will differ depending on the goals you’re trying to achieve.
A good rule of thumb to remember is that barbell exercises that train the most muscle require the most energy and should come first in your routine. When you’re fresh and your muscles are not yet fatigued, you’re more likely to have the best form while using more weight. Finally, remember to warm up so that your muscles and joints are ready for the work ahead.
A killer leg day requires killer equipment
Ready for leg day? Set up your gym with high quality barbells and bumper plates from Montreal Weights. Our olympic barbell will allow you to push yourself to new levels and bumper plates are constructed from rubber to protect your floor from the shock of heavy lifts.