The BEST Exercises to Build Lower Body Strength

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Q: Hey Alex, what are some leg exercises that will help build good leg strength? I plan on putting on more weight this off season and was wondering what you would include in workouts? How often would you incorporate legs into the off season?

Justin C. (Elite College Baseball Player)

Justin, when programming lower body strength training sessions for my athletes, I typically separate their “leg day” into three separate parts: I usually start with either a squat or deadlift variation then, I move along to a unilateral (single leg) lower body exercise, and finish with a hip extension exercise. Thatʼs it! All you need are three effective exercises programmed correctly into your training week and youʼll see tremendous results in strength and muscle mass. As for how many days per week, I have my college and elite high school athletes train legs, twice a week. The first day would be a max-effort lower body day (70-90 % of their 1 RM) where strength is the goal. The second lower body day would be considered a dynamic-effort lower body (50-65% of their 1RM). On this day I want my athletes to work with sub-maximal weight and move it quick. Now without further ado, here are my favorite leg strengthening exercises:

• Box Squat/Deadlift Variations (for the purposes of this newsletter Iʼm just going to focus on the box squat) – I donʼt think thereʼs a better exercise for developing explosive strength in your lower half. The biggest coaching point with the box squat is to sit with 90% of your weight. This insures you maintaining tension at the bottom of the lift. This tension is crucial to you overcoming inertia and exploding up fast out of the hole. Many people donʼt do this and “fall” on the box which completely defeats the purpose.

How to incorporate this exercise into your workout routine: I always use it to start off either a max effort day (70-90% of 1RM), or a dynamic effort day (50-65% of 1RM). Knowing you are an elite college athlete I think you should really shoot to squat once a week. If you can squat well, and your recovery permits I say squat twice a week.

Max Effort Box Squats (Performed by Youngstown State University Catcher, Anthony Santoro)

Dynamic Effort Box Squats (Performed by Youngstown State University Catcher, Anthony Santoro)

Rear-Foot Elevated Bulgarian Split Squat – This is my favorite unilateral (single-leg) strength training exercise for a couple reasons. One, itʼs really challenging and provides an unbelievable lower body strength benefit. Second, this exercise improves lower body range of motion, specifically mobility in the hip flexors and groin.

How to incorporate this exercise into your workout routine: I typically use this exercise after a squat or dead lift variation. However, you can also use this in place of a box squat/deadlift if you have limiting range of motion. The ways you can use this exercise are immeasurable. Iso-Holds, and eccentrics (3-6 sec. lowering) are my favorite ways, but a simple set/rep range of 3 sets of 10 reps will work just as well.

Eccentric Rear-Foot Elevated Bulgarian Split Squats(Performed by Toronto Blue Jays Outfielder, Nick Sinay)

Barbell Hip Thrust (Upper Back on Bench) – When training your hamstrings, hip extension exercises are the most effective for building strength. Having said that, barbell hip thrusts are the KING of all posterior chain exercises. The reason being is that you can isolate the glutes and go pretty heavy.

How to incorporate this exercise into your workout routine: I always use this exercise as a conclusion to my lower body days. What I typically have my athletes do is perform heavy sets of 6-8 reps, or ISO holdʼs where their squeezing the hell out of their glutes at the top for 6-10 seconds.

Isometric Barbell Hip Thrust (Performed by St. Lawrence University Starting Pitcher, Emmett Dunn)

There you have it Justin, my top three lower body strengthening exercises. Start incorporating these moves in your lower body workouts immediately for BIG TIME strength gains. I guarantee it!

-Alex

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