Squats are great for definition, but if your goal is to make gains, you're going to need to get more creative on attacking all of the glute, quad, and hamstring family, says YG Studios trainer Joni David-O'Connor. Deadlifts essentially rev up the squat to keep it challenging, and hit multiple muscle groups in your legs.
Want to make squats more versatile... and, like, way harder? Just add more weight! ACE-certified group fitness instructor Caullen Hudson recommends practicing goblet squats -- which, unfortunately, have nothing to do with wine.
Goblet squats are essentially squats that require holding a heavy dumbbell's top section level with your chest as you perform the movement -- making a "goblet" with your hands. "Goblet squats target the glutes and lower back, forcing a larger range of motion than traditional squats," Hudson says. "They're great for going heavy for power and strength training, or for performing an extensive amount of reps for muscular endurance."
Not the Riverdance kind -- step-ups in the gym can add variation to your workout, and work the same muscles as a squat without loading an excessive amount of weight on your knees. For a little extra challenge, Hudson recommends adding a body bar or weighted barbell on your back. Step-ups are effective in building leg strength, power, and cardiovascular abilities.
While the thought of simply getting up from a chair might sound simple, single-leg get-ups are more challenging than they appear, says Tom Holland, exercise physiologist, author of The 12-Week Triathlete, and host of the Bowflex radio show The Burn. "This exercise is incredible at isolating and strengthening the glute, or 'butt' muscles," Holland says. Excessive sitting can weaken your glutes, so Holland recommends doing one to two sets of 10 reps with each leg.
Performing a lunge with one leg elevated behind you on a chair or bench is a powerful way to target the quadriceps or thigh muscles, Holland says. "In addition to sculpting great-looking legs, strengthening these muscles can also help prevent common lower-leg issues, like knee pain." Holland suggests doing two to three sets of 15 to 20 reps. For a little extra challenge, hold dumbbells.
Build your behind with box jumps -- which are really just a more intense and powerful version of the squat. The explosive exercise that requires individuals to jump atop an elevated platform from a standing position requires your fast-twitch muscles to activate, says Mark Ribeiro, instructor at New York City's The Fhitting Room. "Box jumps can also offer cardio when done at a fast pace, making the exercise extremely versatile," Ribeiro says. "The fast pace and explosiveness of box jumps define, tone, and shape the legs."
To get the maximum value out of a box jump, Tamara Pridgett, coach at New York City's Tone House, notes that good form is essential: "It's important to land on your heels and stand all the way up when you reach the top to achieve a full hip extension."
Ribeiro likes to use resistance bands -- or booty bands, as he likes to call them -- with clients to incorporate a low-impact leg and glute exercise into workouts. "This exercise is a great way to fire up the glutes, while putting minimal pressure on the knee joint," Ribeiro says. "To begin the movement, place the band just above the ankle, and start in a high squat position. Kick one leg back at a 45-degree angle in a controlled motion, making sure you keep the band taut throughout the movement. Return to your original position, and alternate legs."
Sprinting uphill undoubtedly sucks, but according to Pridgett, it's one of the most efficient ways to improve speed and power. "You'll work your entire posterior chain and be forced to use proper sprinting technique -- like your arm swing and knee drive -- due to your body's position on the incline," Pridgett says. Treadmills make it easy to control the steepness of your hill, as well as the speed at which you'll climb it, making this a workout you can easily tailor to your specific needs.
Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.
Erin Kelly is a writer, runner, and triathlete living in New York City whose favorite version of leg day involves walking to the ice cream store. Follow her on Twitter at @erinkellysays.