An expert trainer says you only need these three leg exercises to build lower-body strength

Strengthening your lower body with these three moves can build muscle, boost your metabolism, and protect from injury

Sweat app trainer Katie Martin in a gym
(Image credit: Sweat app / Katie Martin)

Leg workouts lay the foundations of any good training plan, but which moves should you be focusing on for maximum results? We asked an expert personal trainer to design a short lower-body routine and offer her top tips on how to get started. 

The good news is that you don't need much equipment to get started — the best adjustable dumbbells (a useful companion for all home workouts), a kettlebell, and then just unroll a yoga mat to give yourself enough grip and some support. 

Sweat app strength training expert Katie Martin says there are three "must-do exercises" that should be present in any effective lower-body workout, and she spoke to Fit&Well to explain why.

The three exercises are the squat (including any variations), single-leg Romanian deadlift, and Bulgarian split squat. These are accessible as you can do each one at the gym or at home, with a range of equipment, whether you're training with a barbell, kettlebell, adjustable dumbbells or just your bodyweight.

If you want to turn these three exercises into a workout you can try for yourself, Martin says to do "8-12 reps of one exercise for four sets, resting for 60 seconds between each set. Once all four sets are completed, move on to the next exercise and repeat."

Watch Katie Martin's three top leg exercises

They're compound exercises, meaning that they are going to work multiple muscle groups at once, making your training more efficient. And there's a mix of unilateral and bilateral (single-leg and double-leg) exercises. You are not only going to work your lower body, but also work on any imbalances between your two legs. 

This translates into everyday activities like running, walking up the stairs, picking items up. The more we strengthen everyday movement patterns in the gym, the less chance we have of becoming injured or tweaking something.

To that end, Martin says that you should "start nice and light with the weights and focus on perfecting your technique." This will reduce your risk of injury and ensure you're hitting the targeted muscles with each movement.

Focusing on your lower-body has some specific benefits too, like "increased lean muscle mass, decreased chance of injuries / day to day pain, improved posture, improved sleep, improved metabolic function, reduced stress and improved weight regulation," explains Martin. 

However, if you're used to other types of exercise like HIIT workouts for fat loss or running, strength training may feel a little alien at first. "My first piece of advice for someone doing strength training for the first time is to just take it slow," says Martin. 

"Expect your muscles to be sore (sometimes referred to as DOMS) for the first few workouts," but there are things you can do to ease this post-workout pain. Giving your body all the protein it needs to repair the tiny tears in your muscle fibers is a crucial step. 

You can get most of the protein you need from your diet, but the best protein powders for weight loss are a great way to stay topped up without adding extra fat or sugar into your diet. Plus, you can blend them into a hydrating post-workout smoothie for when you're done exercising. 

Harry Bullmore
Fitness Writer

Harry Bullmore is a Fitness Writer for Fit&Well and its sister site Coach, covering accessible home workouts, strength training session, and yoga routines. He joined the team from Hearst, where he reviewed products for Men's Health, Women's Health, and Runner's World. He is passionate about the physical and mental benefits of exercise, and splits his time between weightlifting, CrossFit, and gymnastics, which he does to build strength, boost his wellbeing, and have fun.

Harry is a NCTJ-qualified journalist, and has written for Vice, Learning Disability Today, and The Argus, where he was a crime, politics, and sports reporter for several UK regional and national newspapers.