Compound exercises are great for working multiple muscles and joints in one movement rather than simply focusing on one isolated area. By working on multiple muscle groups, you can save time — perfect if you have a busy schedule and are struggling to fit in a gym session.
These compound leg exercises work every muscle group in your lower body, from your glutes to your calves. Some exercises even engage your core and parts of your upper body. Include them in your routine and keep things mixed up. Leg day will never be the same again.
Other benefits of compound exercises include:
- Higher heart rate
- Improved strength
- Increased muscle mass
- More calories burnt
- Set the barbell at shoulder height.
- Get under the bar and rest it on top of your shoulders.
- Secure the bar with your hands, then press up and step back so it’s suspended by your body.
- Squat downwards, keeping your back straight and a neutral neck and spine.
- When your glutes go below your knees, explode back up to the starting position.
Muscles targeted: quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves
For safety, perform this exercise inside a squat rack. Set the bar on a rack that matches your height. Bring your arms up under the bar; keep your arms under the bar and your upper arm slightly above parallel to the floor.
- Rest the bar on top of your deltoids and cross your arms.
- Lift the bar off the rack by pushing with your legs and straightening your torso.
- Step back from the rack and place your legs shoulder width-apart, toes slightly pointed out. Keep your back straight. This is the starting position for the exercise.
- Lower the bar slowly until the angle your upper legs and calves are at slightly less than 90 degrees. Your upper legs should be beyond parallel with the floor. Inhale as you do so.
- Raise the bar by pushing the middle of your feet against the floor. Straighten your legs and go back to the starting position. Exhale as you do so.
- Repeat, keeping your shoulders back and core engaged throughout.
Muscles targeted: quads, glutes, core
Barbell split squats
For this exercise, make sure to initiate the movement with your back leg instead of the front. Create a 90-degree angle with both legs, avoid taking too long a stride, and keep your head up and a neutral spine.
- Retract your shoulders, keeping your chest and chin elevated.
- Lower slowly, flexing at the knee on the front leg, until your back knee is almost touching the floor.
- Keeping your core engaged, rise back to the starting position.
Muscles targeted: hamstrings, quads, glutes, calves, core
Avoid rounding your back and keep the weight close to your chest throughout.
- Stand with your feet shoulder or hip-width apart, toes pointing straight ahead.
- Tighten your abs and hold the kettlebell at chest height, hands either side of the handle.
- Pull the kettlebell close to your body and squeeze your shoulder blades together.
- Sit your hips back and bend your knees to lower yourself into a squat position. Keep your chest up as you go down, keeping your back straight as you squat as low as you can.
- Drive through your feet and squeeze your glutes as you return to a standing position.
Muscles targeted: arms, core, quads, glutes
Front rack reverse lunges
Kettlebells work best for this move, but dumbbells can also be used. Keep your spine neutral and your core braced throughout. The weights should rest comfortably on your upper arms.
- Hold two kettlebells by your sides.
- Swing the kettlebells up in front of your shoulders, facing outwards. The kettlebells should be resting comfortably on your upper arms.
- Stand up tall, with your feet slightly narrower than shoulder width and pointing forwards.
- Begin the movement by stepping backwards, keeping your front foot pointing straight ahead.
- Once on the ball of your back leg’s foot (heel off the ground), start bending the knee of your front leg.
- When your back leg’s knee touches the ground, you have reached the end point.
Muscles targeted: calves, quads, glutes, hamstrings, core
Bulgarian split squats
Keep your core engaged, back straight and your head facing forwards throughout this movement. Your back knee should not touch the floor and the front knee should go beyond your toes.
- Stand in front of a bench with your back facing it and your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Rest one foot flat on the bench.
- While inhaling, gradually lower your front leg until you feel a contraction.
- As you exhale and contract your quads, lift your front leg back to the starting position.
- Complete the desired number of reps and then switch legs.
Muscles targeted: quads, glutes
This exercise can be done with a pair of dumbbells or weightless. Maintain a neutral head and neck position, and keep the movement controlled, with your foot fully on the box/bench throughout.
- Grab a pair of dumbbells and put one foot on a plyometric box or bench. Your other foot should be on the floor.
- The box/bench should allow you to maintain a tall posture and your leg should be bent at a 90-degree angle.
- Push your foot into the box/bench to initiate the upward movement. Keep your chest high, squeeze your glutes, and allow your hips to straighten and move forwards.
- As you finish the movement, squeeze your glutes and quads while maintaining a neutral spine.
- Your opposite foot should finish on top of the plyometric box and your shoulders should finish over your hips.
- Slowly step off the box to begin the downwards movement, maintaining your alignment and a level pelvis.
- Bend your hip, knee and ankle to lower your foot towards the floor until it touches the ground.
- Pause at the bottom, and repeat.
Muscles targeted: quads, glutes, calves
- Lie on the floor with your legs out straight.
- Roll a barbell until it’s directly over your hips.
- Grab the bar with both hands.
- Bring your feet towards your glutes until your feet are flat on the floor.
- Take a deep breath, and then raise your hips off the floor, bringing the bar upwards.
- Squeeze your glutes tight, slowly return the bar to the floor, and repeat.
Muscles targeted: glutes, hamstrings, core
Conventional barbell deadlifts
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, toes pointing outwards at 45 degrees.
- Hinge forwards at the hips, knees slightly bent, and grab the bar.
- Pin your shoulders back and stick your bum out.
- Drive through your heels, push the floor away and stand tall.
- Slowly return the bar to the floor, maintaining control throughout.
Muscles targeted: glutes, quads, hamstrings and lower back
- Place your feet hip-width apart and hold the barbell in line with your thighs.
- Keep your hands shoulder-width apart.
- Keep your back straight, bend at your waist, and extend your hips out, lowering the bar as far as you can.
- Contract your glutes with force and extend your hips further before standing up.
Muscles targeted: hamstrings, glutes, lower back
Cable pull through
- Set the pulley to the lowest height setting on the cable machine.
- Face away from the cable machine and reach between your legs to grab the rope handle with a neutral grip.
- Take a few steps forward to move the weight off the stack.
- Keep an upright posture, your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart and your knees bent slightly.
- Maintaining a neutral spine, hinge at the hips until you feel a stretch in the back of your legs.
- Your knees should remain bent during the backwards movement, and your knees should remain upright.
- At the end of the downwards movement, you should feel the weight in the middle of your foot and heels, without lifting your toes off the ground.
- Maintaining a neutral spine, push your feet off the floor to begin the upwards movement.
- As you begin to stand, squeeze your glutes and allow your hips to move forwards.
- Your shoulders should finish directly over your hips at the end of each rep.
- Keep your body straight and your core engaged. Avoid dropping your shoulders forwards.
Muscles targeted: hamstrings, glutes, lower back, core
Pull your shoulders down and back, and brace your core before starting the exercise. Keep your back straight and ensure you’re hinging at the hips throughout the movement.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, with a kettlebell on the floor in front of you.
- Bend at the waist and grasp the kettlebell handle with both hands. Your palms should be facing your body, and your torso should be nearly parallel to the ground.
- Lift the kettlebell off the ground and allow it to swing between your legs. Your knees should bend slightly during this movement. Keep your back flat and neck straight.
- Forcefully drive your hips forward to propel the kettlebell into the air. Control the kettlebell with your arms, but don’t pull it up. The kettlebell should travel no higher than your shoulders.
- Allow the kettlebell to swing down and back through your legs. Control the descent by keeping your core engaged. As the kettlebell lowers, move immediately and fluidly into the next rep.
- On your final rep, allow it to swing back through your legs, and then place it back in front of you on the ground.
Muscles targeted: full body
Take home message
Combined, these compound leg workouts cover most of the muscle groups in your lower body, while also bringing in other parts for support. If you want to see serious growth in your legs, you need to get some serious moves and volume involved. Mix and match to keep your leg day workout fresh and interesting.
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