While your workouts are primarily all about being able to develop power, speed and strength to perform major lifts, it’s not enough to just perform the base or main movements. Why? Considering that the base movements are compound, i.e., involves multiple muscle groups and joints, there’s bound to be a weak link that can prevent you from making significant progress or worse, get you injured. For the lower body, we often have muscular imbalances due to our relatively sedentary lifestyles. We tend to be quadriceps dominant with relation to our hamstrings, and our hip & groin muscles are tight from sitting on an office chair all day.
Hence, the need for accessory leg exercises. These are exercises that are performed specifically to develop those reinforcing muscles needed for hoisting very heavy weight when performing the base movements. This may well be one of the most important aspects training your because it allows you to custom fit your training program to the extent that you can strengthen your weak spots. While some movements below are typically thought of as requiring a barbell (such as front squats), many of these movements can either be done solely with your own bodyweight, light kettlebells/dumbbells, or with the use of an elastic resistance band.
Banded Good Mornings -
As with most exercises that are done for a high amount of reps, doing good mornings with a resistance band will help keep you healthy by promoting bloodflow to the lower back, glutes and hamstrings. Not to mention, it is a great finisher after doing squats & deadlifts as your barbell movements by exhausting what’s left with good mornings.
Banded accessories are meant to be relatively light in resistance and performed for a high amount of reps. With good mornings in particular, set a minimum of doing 100 reps total and get to performing 200 reps in a workout where you rotate them in. Try to do the 100-200 reps in as few sets as possible and you’ll feel the effectiveness of doing these.
Front Squat – With Barbell or Kettlebells
An obvious go-to for quad and abdominal development, the front squat is a great tool for developing the quad strength needed to develop a big raw squat. This can be used as either a secondary barbell movement or as a light accessory movement using kettlebells for lots of reps.
Whenever I perform front squats with a barbell, I opt to use a safety squat bar instead of a regular Olympic bar. This helps me load the weight on my traps rather than having it placed on my wrists, which makes a difference for me. Regardless of how you perform a front squat, the key is to stay upright & not allow for the weight to cave you forward as you perform your reps. Use a narrow stance and put emphasis on leg drive while going through your sets.
As mentioned, this can also be used as a light accessory movement with kettlebells and I actually prefer this over using front squats as a secondary movement. It’s just as exhausting when done for 20-25 reps per set and is less impactful on the joints & tendons. Simply hoist 2 kettlebells up in a typical front squat position and start squatting with a close stance.
Hamstring Curls – With Machine or Elastic Band -
If you don’t have access to a Glute Ham Raise machine where you can perform bodyweight GHRs, or want to use a hamstring movement that is less strenuous, hamstring curls are a decent option for hamstring accessory work. If you are training at a powerlifting gym and don’t have access to a hamstring curl machine, using a band tied around a rack will suffice just fine.
The key with this movement (as with most other accessories) is to put emphasis on applying enough time under tension to exhaust the muscle, rather than trying to power through a heavy amount of resistance for a few reps. Move slowly through the motion and aim for a set to last at least a minute.
Dumbbell Step Ups -
This is a good exercise that can help you improve your range of motion on the squats (important for mobility), strengthen your connective tissues, and strengthen the quad muscles, all of which affect the surrounding area around your knees. Here’s how to perform the exercise:
- Working on the right leg first, stand beside a step up platform with your right foot on the platform and your left foot flat on the floor.
- Push yourself up with your right leg – elevating your left leg and feet off the floor – and at the top of the movement, let your left foot make contact with the platform.
- Return to the starting position in a controlled manner, where your right foot is once again still on the platform. Perform 3 to 4 sets of 10 to 15 reps with weights, using dumbbells on both hands.
- Do the same for the left leg immediately after completion of your set, switching positions thereafter.