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September 12, 2017

Five Leg Exercises For Building Well Rounded Quads & Hamstrings [NO MACHINES]

Annie Miller of Fitdesignbyannie on how to build well rounded legs without machines

I am a fan of developing leg muscles through functional, compound movements.  In my experience, this has helped develop a balanced, well shaped quad/hamstring pairing.  Working the leg as a functional unit + quads and hamstrings separately also helps prevent injury and imbalances.

I also want to point out that none of the exercises below invlove machines. They can all be done with a barbell, kettle bells, or dumbbells.

There are often risks that can come with using machines that isolate one muscle group at a time. So for now, we focus on functional/compound movements.


Why the front squat and not the famous back squat?

Because the front squat is typically a quad dominated exercises + easier & safer for beginners. Please note that all muscles are always doing something, whether they are the prime movers or not. A given muscle can be a prime mover, a stabilizer or an antagonist [muscle acting opposite of the prime mover].  So, with the front squat, the glutes, hamstrings and quads are all working, but the quads take most of the heat.

If you cannot do a front squat, a goblet squat with a dumbbell at your chest is also a great exercise.

For best results, control the tempo, and do a hypertrophy based set and rep scheme (high total volume like a 4×12).


THE CONVENTIONAL DEADLIFT (as compared to the sumo deadlift)

This movement might be the most well known posterior chain exercise (your back side) in the fitness industry among beginner, intermediate and advanced lifters.

The deadlift like the squat, works both the quads (for the initial pull off the floor – when you should be “pushing the floor away”), and the hamstrings shortly after the first pull.  You want to know where the real magic happens with these bad boys?…

The eccentric phase (the lowering phase).  Control this phase if you want to really damage your hammies, glutes…lats, and every freaking muscle on the back side of your body along with your grip.

Tip: In your set up, search hard for that tension in your hamstrings. Make sure those babies are lengthened and engaged.


The video below shows the movement being performed with two kettle bells (double loaded), and one kettle bell (single loaded). They can be done with no weight, on or two dumbbells, in a front rack position with DB’s or KB’s, and a back rack position with a barbell.

For this post, kettle bells or dumbbells with do just fine.

If you have never done Bulgarians…you have never felt the entirety of your legs feel like they are actually going to pop off, burst at the seams, or like there is acid physically being poured on them…so why do them?

During a Bulgarian split squat a few things are happening. For starters, you are primarily working one leg at a time which is automatically more difficult than bilateral (both limb) exercises. Secondly, your leg is under constant tension. Without locking out at the top, your leg never gets to rest. And trust me, the bottom is definitely NOT a place for resting.

You can adjust your front foot depending on where you feel it the most. Just make sure that front foot is planted and you’re sitting LOW.

Like the squats, control that tempo for a glorious burn + muscle damage and potential for regrowth. #success.



These are by far my personal favorite for hamstring development. The stretch and tension you’re able to create with this movement is THE BEST.

This exercise can be done with dumbbells or kettle bells as well (see second video).  It can also be done in a single leg fashion.

The RDL is a VERY hamstring and glute dominant exercise. You’ll get the best results as far as soreness if you slow down the eccentric phase and really mentally focus on pulling the bar/standing up with the hamstrings and glutes.

Like the conventional deadlift, feel for the tension in the hamstrings. Look for it like your life depends on it, because your hamstring gains do.

Feet can be narrow to just outside the shoulders. I typically go with where I feel most comfortable + where I feel the exercise best.




In the video below I am using kettle bells. Again, you could do bodyweight, one or two dummbbells or kettle bells, a barbell in back, front, or overhead positions.

The walking lunge is an underused exercise in the fitness industry (as I see it).  The exercise uses the leg muscles as the functional unit that they are.

Focus on keeping knees close to 90 degress and keeping the front knee mostly vertical as you pull into the standing position.



P.S. Registration for the first round of Built By Annie closes on the 20th! Click the button below to learn more or shoot me an email at


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I'm an adventurous introvert from Vancouver, Washington who lives on sleep + "me time." I'm a lover of lifting weights, dinosaurs, real talk and traveling with my husband. I am here to help you move better, lift more, bust the myths of the fitness industry, and inspire you to love the process.

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