You ever go to the gym and notice the guys with huge upper bodies and toothpicks for legs. You don’t want that for you, do you? Do NOT ignore your lower body. Respecting the major compound lower body lifts will not only build your legs, but abs/lower-back and could even help your posture (and make that backside look nice and toned).
First and foremost, we have the…
This is perhaps the most foundational bodybuilding exercise there is. You should really learn this exercise and perform it often. It targets a great deal of your lower body, from your quads to your glutes to your hamstrings, and does it well. You may hear a good deal about it being unsafe/detrimental to your knees, etc. –that’s all bs. Any such claims come from those you do not perform a proper squat. I had an old sports knee injury alleviated from doing squats. You can perform a squat with either dumbbells or barbells without any significant difference.
With the bar racked at upper chest height, and position it high on the back of shoulders and grasp barbell with either a shoulder-width or wide stance depending on preference. Bend knees forward while allowing your hips to bend back behind, keeping your back straight and your knees pointed in the same direction as your feet. Bend until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor. Then extend knees and drive up until legs are straight. Repeat.
Stand with dumbbells grasped at sides. Bend knees forward while allowing your hips to bend back behind, keeping your back straight and your knees pointed in the same direction as your feet. Bend until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor. Then extend knees and drive up until legs are straight. Repeat.
Next we have the:
I love this exercise. It gets my blood pumping and making all sorts of primal noises. Can you think of a better test of strength then picking up the biggest weight you can off the floor? It’s a bodybuilding stalwart for good reason. In addition to targeting many of the same lower body muscles as the squat, the deadlift exerts a huge focus on lower back development. Again, dumbbell or barbell, makes no difference, just do it.
With the bar on the floor, squat down (DO NOT BEND OVER) and grasp bar with shoulder width or slightly wider grip. Your hands should either be both overhand or one overhand, one underhand, whichever you prefer. Lift the bar by extending knees to full extension (much like the squat). Pull shoulders back at the top of the lift if they are rounded. Then return the weight to the ground by squatting down and repeat.
Dumbbell deadlift. Squat down and grasp the dumbbells from the floor. You can either use two dumbbells shoulder width apart or one dumbbell in between your legs held by both arms. Extend your knees until your legs are straight just like the squat. Pull shoulders back at the top of the lift if they are rounded. Then return the weight to the ground by squatting down and repeat.
Those are the only two exercises you really need to know about. There are a few useful variations like the front squat or Romanian/stiff-legged deadlift that I may cover in the future, but you can stick to these with no worries.
Many people also like to do an isolation exercises targeting the calves. I myself have tried calf raises and found them ineffective, but you can try them if you wish. I noticed that most people with great calf development are athletes who use those calves often: basketball players, volleyball players, etc. What do they have in common, they JUMP! So if you would like a fun exercise to hit those calves, take a dumbbell in your right hand and hop on your right leg until your can’t jump any more…then switch legs. Then watch your calves explode.
Alright guys, that covers the core lower-body lifts you need to know about. Yeah, I know after you start doing them, you might find those squats and deadlifts to be a pain. They are tough lifts that really tax the body. But after you do them, you feel awesome for quite a while, like you actually did something! And by God, do they work!