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Strength Training for More Powerful Legs

Cro Cop vs. Wanderlei Silva
(Cro Cop throws a keadkick at Wanderlei Silva in Pride FC - Final Conflict Absolute)

Whether you’re a grappler or striker, having powerful, conditioned legs will add an edge to your game. Both grapplers and strikers use their legs for balance and stability. Additionally, if you’re a serious kicker, packing some muscle on those limbs will help add more power to your kicks. Just ask Mirko Cro Cop.

Your legs have many different muscles that need to be targeted with different exercises. In brief,the major muscle groups of focus in this article are your calves (at the bottom), your quads and hamstrings (in the middle), and your glutes (at the very top). All of those groups are important and each contribute to your leg strength in a different way.

Here’s series of great leg exercises that will help strengthen all of those muscle groups:

1) Barbell Squats

Photo courtesy of menshealth.com
Photo via menshealth.com

Squats are the most important lift for developing strength in your legs. Before you begin, adjust the bar by putting it on a rack that suits your height. Next, go under the bar and secure it on the back of your shoulders. Lift the bar from the rack by pushing up with your legs. Make sure the bar is firmly secure on the back of your shoulders and step away from the rack. Your feet should be shoulder width apart and your toes just slightly pointed outward. Never look down. Always keep your head up and your back straight. Inhale as you lower the bar by pushing your hips back as if you’re going to sit on a chair. Don’t let your knees bend ahead of your toes. Keep lowering the bar until your hips and knees are at ninety degrees. Next, exhale as you drive through your heels and push upward. During this exercise, it’s important to keep your head up and your back straight the entire time. Try three sets of twelve to fifteen.

2) Standing Leg Curls

Photo courtesy of bodybuilding.com
Photo via bodybuilding.com

Leg curls are great for stimulating your hamstrings. This example uses a standing machine, although depending on what equipment is available you may use a seated or horizontal (lying flat on your stomach) posture as well.  First, adjust the machine according to your height. Next, exhale and curl your leg up as far as you can while gripping the handlebars at the top of the machine. Your inactive leg should remain perfectly still while you workout the other one. Once you’ve contracted your leg as far as you can, hold it for a brief moment and squeeze. Then inhale as you lower your leg back down. Try three sets of twelve to fifteen on each leg.

3) Weighted Lunges

Photo courtesy of woldfitness.com
Photo via woldfitness.com

Weighted lunges can be done with a barbell, a weight plate, dumbbells, or even kettlebells. It just depends on which one you prefer. For the sake of simplicity, we’re going to explain the version with dumbbells. Grab a pair of dumbbells and hold them on your sides with your feet shoulder width apart. This will be your starting position. Inhale as you step forward no more than two feet and slowly lower your hips while keeping your back straight. You should not let your knee bend further than your toes; that will greatly reduce the effectiveness of this exercise. The knee of your back leg should just barely tap the ground before you exhale and drive through your heels back to the starting position. Do NOT bang your knee against the ground and do not rest it on the ground. That can lead to injury or a significant reduction in the efficacy of the activity. Try three sets of twelve to fifteen for each leg.

4) Leg Extensions

Photo courtesy of bigfitness.com
Photo via bigfitness.com

Leg extensions are an exercise that primarily target your quads. Start by adjusting the weight on the machine to your preference. Have a seat and place your shins under the pad while gripping the handles on the side of the seat. Adjust the dimensions of the machine to where the back of your knees are slightly hanging off the edge of your seat. This will be your starting position. Exhale as you extend your quads. Once you’ve reached the extended position, briefly pause and squeeze your quads before inhaling and lowering the weight back to your starting position. Try three sets of twelve to fifteen.

5) Calf Raises 

Photo courtesy of samsfitness.com.au
Photo via samsfitness.com.au

There are seated calf raises and standing calf raises. For this article, we’ve chosen to go over standing calf raises because they stimulate the other muscles in your legs as well. However, if you really want to isolate your calves, seated calf raises will better suit your purpose. For a more in-depth article just on workouts for calves, click here.

Start by adjusting the shoulder pads of the machine to the appropriate height. The balls of your feet must be firmly planted on the platform while your heels hang off the edge. Your knees should always be just slightly bent; they should never be fully extended. Exhale and push up with your calves as high as you can, hold for a brief moment, and then inhale while slowly going down. Make sure to go down far enough to feel your calves stretch. Try four sets of fifteen.