My Favourite Lower Body Exercises

“Building the Booty” seems to have become a major goal for many of us heading to the gym. Meaning that squats are on top.

But what about other lower body exercises?

Admittedly, I do love squats (don’t feel bad if you haven’t quite fathomed the squat rack yet- I haven’t either. I think my mistake upon first using it was the belief that the actual bar weighed much less that it did- hence I tried to squat with quite a few kg more than I usually would), but there’s a multitude of other exercises out there, which you will probably love just as much.

It’s great if you have a big boo-tay, and it’s okay if you want to build one, but if I could go back and tell the Emily just beginning to workout one thing it would be this:

Think of how what you’re doing will impact what you can do in the future, how it will help with both other forms of exercise you enjoy, and day-to-day life. 

Not how it will make you look.

Since I’ve tried to shift my focus to how working out can improve my strength, stamina, and flexibility, I’ve not only made more progress, but I enjoy it more, and I’m happier. Not many people seem to know this, but if you’re a rookie rock climber here’s a tip: you have to push with your legs, as it minimises the pull you have to do with your arms. The stronger  your lower body, the better. Also, lifting weights can help with balance, and so assist anyone wanting to progress to some trickier yoga moves. Since I got into HIIT as one of the only forms of cardio I can stand, I can enjoy longer walks with my dog. Think of things like this when you’re building a workout- what will it help you do better? Run around with your kids more? Help your balance when you ice skate? Will it help you with stamina for a charity marathon? Improve your rock climbing skills?

So, here are a few of my favourite functional lower body exercises! We’ll begin with the obvious, to get it out of the way, and then move on to some other moves you may want to try.  I have a mix of weighted, plyo, and body-weighted for you, so there’s some choice. As always, I’m not a PT, so your best bet is to go and look at, or YouTube channels such as The Lean Machines, Carly Rowena, Zana Van Dijk, Tally Rye, and Cassey Ho for how to perform these moves. The Body Coach is also a great, and I’m currently loving Clean Eating Alice’s FaceBook page for workouts. Also, this isn’t a definitive list: it’s not all of the exercise I do, just an handful of favourites.

  • Squats with a barbell- This will help to work the glutes and your balance. Be careful that you keep your back straight, and your knees don’t go over your toes.
  • Pistol Squats- Squatting, but with only bodyweight, and on one leg. It will work your balance as well as your legs.
  • Lunges- Again, this will work the glutes and your balance; you’ll have to push yourself back up from the lunge and so power through each leg. I personally prefer reverse lunges to forward ones.
  • Hip thrusts– Zana Van Dijk is where I saw this move first. Place a barbell or plate over your hips, lying on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Making sure that your knees don’t fall inwards, push your hip slowly up, and then lower them slowly down. You can increase the difficulty by placing a resistance band around your thighs (I haven’t tried this adaptation yet though, as I don’t own a band), and make sure you’re powering through the heels.
  • Jump lunges- This is a plyo move. Its going to allow you to power through your legs and get your heart rate up. Basically, you start in a position as if you’ve just moved into a lunge, then jump and switch legs into a lunge on the opposite side. When I signed up for a couple of PT sessions at my gym the PT gave me this move in a HIIT sequence. At first I could not do this. No way in hell could I do this. But when you practice you get good really fast.
  • Squat jumps- This move I’ve done in several classes I’ve taken at the gym. Basically, you come down into a squat, jump, and land in a squat. Your legs burn for quite some time afterwards, and as with the above, it will get you heart rate up.
  • Box jumps– Set up a box (make sure its stable), and stand with one foot on either side. Jump, and land with your feet on the box, jump down, and repeat. I either choose a certain number of sets and reps, or do 3-4 lots of 30 seconds for this one.
  • Leg Press- This machine is pretty enjoyable, and doesn’t require much explaining from me, as instructions are usually pasted onto the side somewhere. You adjust the weight, and either push yourself away from the machine, or you push weight away from yourself. Apparently the latter is the better version. So far I have only tried the first, but I’m curious to try the other.
  • Grasshoppers– Okay, no machine required for this one. Cassey Ho’s YouTube channel is where I saw it. You lie on your front, and bend your knees to bring your toes together above your butt. Then, tense your butt muscles (the glutes), and bring your feet upwards, still together. Then lower back down, and repeat for your set number of reps. It works on your lower back too.
  • Calf raises– You can do these with dumbbells or barbells. Hold your weight, and with your feet hip width apart, come onto your toes, then lower back down slowly. This will build strength in the calves. It looks like you’re doing nothing, but after several reps you will begin to feel it in the calf muscles.



And my least favourite…

  • Deadlifts- Everyone seems to love these, but I’m not so sure. I rarely feel as if my form is correct, and I find them pretty boring. They work the hamstrings, claves, glutes, lower back – basically all up the back of the body in something known as the posterior chain. So, they are useful in building strength and working on posture. Doesn’t mean I have to like doing them. Single leg deadlifts can be a little more fun, as they really work your balance. The best advice for performing a deadlift I have seen was on The Lean Machine’s YouTube Channel; when I decide to do this move, I watch the video quickly beforehand to help me out, so I can still reap the benefits of this love-hate move.


There we go, some lower body exercises you may want to try adding to your routine. Soon I’ll have an Upper Body Favourites post as well, so keep a look out for that. Does anyone have an lower body exercises for me to try? Or a favourite that wasn’t mentioned? Leave a comment below if you do…




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