We get it. Leg day is probably one of those days that gives you chills the day before and gets you asking why the day after. Nevertheless, your lower body training cannot be skipped and cannot be an afterthought so, let’s take a look at ways to develop strong and aesthetic legs, even with limited equipment. With only a barbell, some weights and perhaps a power rack, you can make real gains and strengthen your lower body.
In this barbell workout guide, we’ll go over an exercise selection for a great quad, glutes and hamstrings workout, and look at how you can construct an effective program for yourself or your clients.
To get the most out of whatever equipment you have, you should select exercises that allow you to generate the maximum amount of force to build strength and include supplementary movements.
Let’s jump into how you can load these muscle groups to build size and strength. We will categorise the movements into tier-one and tier-two exercises.
Tier One Exercises
Tier one exercises are ideally the “meat and potatoes” of your lower body barbell routine. Compound Movements should be structured in this category as you will get the biggest bang for your buck. These are some of the exercises you can perform using only a barbell:
- Barbell Front Squats
Barbell back squats have tremendous value when it comes to all-around leg development, but if you want to zone in on the quads, then barbell front squats are the way to go. Due to the position of the barbell during a front squat, the anterior chain muscles, such as the core and the quads, are more engaged than during the back squat.
If stiffness or a lack of mobility means you struggle to perform the movement safely or effectively, you can perform a front squat using a box, or start with barbell back squats and work on your mobility.
- Romanian Deadlift
The Romanian Deadlift is a great exercise to strengthen the hamstring muscles using only a barbell. Unlike Conventional Deadlifts, Romanian Deadlifts emphasize the hamstrings and glutes due to the shorter range of motion. If you would like to take Romanian Deadlifts to the next level, then perform the movement on a step for a deeper stretch. You could also get some weight plates and stack them up if a step is unavailable.
- Barbell Hip Thrust
Barbell Hipthrusts are one of the best exercises you could do to strengthen and develop your glutes. Research studies and experience from trainers and their clients point to high muscle activation contributing to the efficacy of this movement. In addition, compared to other glute exercises, Barbell Hipthrusts lend themselves well to heavy weights for greater strength gains.
Tier Two Exercises
Tier two exercises are mostly accessory exercises to supplement the movements in the first category. Since we only have access to a barbell, we will mostly focus on single leg or unilateral movements.
- Barbell Lunge
Most barbell lunge variations will give you a good quad and glute workout based on your knee and foot position. To recruit more quad muscles, try to keep your knee in line with or slightly past your toes. To engage your quads, even more, stack 3 - 4 plates together and perform a barbell lunge with your front foot on the plates.
- Bulgarian Split Lunge
This is one of the best lunge variations considering the stability demands of the movement. To emphasize the glutes, position your foot in line with or slightly past your knee. To strengthen the gluteus medius, try to prevent your knee from “caving in” and keep it outside your foot. If you can access a resistance band, perform lateral tube walks to activate the glute muscles.
- Good mornings
Good Mornings are a great accessory movement for the hamstrings and glutes. The movement pattern of Good Mornings is somewhat similar to that of a barbell squat, only that the knees are slightly bent and there is much more forward lean. It is extremely important that you keep your back neutral and brace your core to prevent injury.
Piecing It All Together
Your needs and goals will often determine the exercises you select and how you order them in your program. They also determine the frequency and your method of progressive overload.
Let us take an intermediate lifter who is on a 4 Day Upper - Lower split. If, for instance, the goal is to strengthen the quads, then the lifter should probably perform Barbell Front Squats on both lower-body days. They could also do barbell lunges and finish off with low-volume good mornings. For the second session, the lifter could perform Barbell back squats, LIGHT Romanian Deadlifts and finish with front foot elevated lunges.
Having limited equipment should not stop you from getting an effective lower body workout. Armed with just a barbell, you can get an effective workout for your quads, hamstrings and glutes.
If you want to take your workout up a notch, check out our Squat Racks