Best Leg Exercises According to Science

What two leg exercises would you add to a training routine when you get back to the gym? It will depend on individual goals and what’s available in terms of exercise equipment. With all things being equal, one way to determine what the best leg exercises are is through research. More specifically, electromyography or EMG research, is a topic that should be part of the decision making process. Previous content that looked at EMG was published here.

Best Leg Exercises via EMG Research

An EMG device is basically used for measuring very small amounts of electricity generated by muscles right below the surface of the skin. The result of electrodes placed on the skin, show what percentage of muscle area is activated during a specific exercise. According to various EMG research data, the following exercises rate highly when looking for the best in class for muscle activation.

Free Weight Exercise: Squat

From an EMG standpoint, the best free weight exercise, no surprise here, is the Squat exercise. It’s a complete multi-joint exercise that is also functional.

Trainer Tips:

  • Doing dropsets is great for improving the amount of weight someone is lifting with the Squat. This is where you reduce the weight by about 25% once muscular failure is reached, and then continue with your set.
  • Manipulate the rest time between sets to increase training intensity.
  • Try to increase reps – on occasion – from 8-12 (for hypertrophy training) to more in the 12-15 rep range.
  • The deeper you go in a Squat, the more you activate your quads & glutes but beware of the knee joint.
  • The best angle is about 70-degree or thighs “roughly” just below parallel with the floor.

Machine-based Exercise: Hack Squat

When it comes to an equipment-based exercise to activate the thigh muscles, run to get in line for the hack squat. EMG data was actually higher in some studies than even a barbell Squat most likely because individuals can push a heavier amount of weight.

Trainer Tips:

  • Once the hack squat is mastered, progress to different foot positions and widths (narrow/wide), and ultimately to one-leg.
  • Switch body position on occasion, facing froward/backward on the machine.
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Jefit Leg Focused Training Programs

The Jefit app features currently more than 3350 different strength training programs on its platform. The following three are just a few with a strong focus on the legs and lower body. Stay Strong!

Lower Body Strength Program

Barbell Workout (3-Day Split)

8-Weeks to Bigger Legs

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