If you want leg workouts that will help you build bigger and stronger quads, hamstrings, and glutes, then you want to read this article.

Key Takeaways

  1. The three rules for proper leg training are: 1. Do exercises for the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. 2. Focus on lifting heavy weights. 3. Emphasize progressive overload.
  2. The best leg exercises are those that allow you to safely move heavy loads and most improve your strength.
  3. If you’re an intermediate+ weightlifter and you want to get the most out of your leg training, work in multiple rep ranges and with weights ranging from 70 to 90% of your 1RM.

Hey you, have a high five.

The fact that you’re here means you’re looking for good leg workouts, which means you actually do train or at least plan on training your lower body, which makes you a rare breed (if you’re a guy, at least).

As you well know, most guys rarely get around to leg training what with all the time needed for chest and biceps, and that’s why even the bigger ones in the gym often look a lot like this:

leg workouts

I should know because I used to be one of them. For years I avoided leg days like they were elevator rides with Ray Rice, and after many hundreds of “bro workouts,” here’s what I had to show for it:

leg workout bodybuilding

Unfortunately I don’t have a “before” picture of my upper legs, but the state of my calves tells you everything you need to know.


I’ve since repented and reformed, and while my legs are still lacking the separation and density that comes in time (and I’ve discovered that my calves are more stubborn than a radioactive mule), I’ve finally caught them up enough to where they’re not a glaring weakness . . .

I can also hand-on-Bible swear that I’ve actually come to enjoy my leg workouts.

And in this article, I’m going to share with you all the key lessons I’ve learned about building a lower body that you can be proud of, and I’m also going to leave you with a ready-made leg workout routine that you can put into immediate use in the gym.

By the end, you’re going to have answers to questions about leg training that I’m asked all the time, including . . .  

  • Are squats alone enough to build great legs or should you do other types of exercises, too?
  • Should you use lighter weights for more reps or heavier weights for fewer?
  • Can you do sprints, sled pushes, or other kinds of cardio instead of weightlifting to “tone up” your legs?
  • And more . . .  

. . .  and you’re going to understand the 20% about leg training that will deliver at least 80% of the long-term results.

So, if you want to know how I dramatically improved my legs and how you can build your best lower body ever, too, then keep reading.

The 3 Most Important Rules of Leg Training

Most people subscribe to one of the following leg training philosophies:

  1. You should do a wide variety of higher rep compound and isolation exercises and machines.
  2. You should just SWKAT heavy a few times per week.

Both of these approaches are better than nothing, but neither is optimal for maximizing all-around muscle development and strength gain.

The first approach produces underwhelming leg size and strength and can quickly land you in a rut of little to no progression.

The second approach is generally more effective, but it can also lead to imbalances between your upper and lower body as well as your quadriceps and hamstrings.

The better way is in the middle, and can be summarized like this:

  1. Do exercises for the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes.
  2. Focus on lifting heavier weights.
  3. Emphasize progressive overload.

Let’s look at each.

Leg Training Rule #1
Do Exercises for the Quadriceps, Hamstrings, and Glutes

Your legs are comprised of several large muscle groups including the . . .  

  • Quadriceps, which are the muscles on the front of your thighs.
  • Hamstrings, which are the muscles on the back of your thighs.
  • Glutes, which are the muscles that make up your butt.

(Your calves are also part of your legs, but those bastards will get their own treatment in another article.)

Each of these major leg muscle groups is made up of smaller muscles. Let’s look at them separately.

The Quadriceps

The quadriceps are a set of four large muscles known as the . . .

  • Vastus lateralis
  • Vastus medialis
  • Vastus intermedius
  • Rectus femoris

(Interestingly, new research indicates there’s a fifth muscle involved, so maybe we should be talking about the quintraceps instead?)

Here’s how they look:

leg workouts quadriceps

Together the quadriceps muscles work to extend the knees and flex the hips, which is why quadriceps exercises involve bringing the hips from an extended to a flexed position (bending the joint) and bring the knee from a flexed to an extended position (straightening the joint).

When the quads are well developed, they form the centerpiece of the legs. Case in point:

leg workouts quadriceps muscle

Many people believe that you can get all of the quad development you need from heavy back squatting alone, and while this holds true for some people, most need to do more to develop truly impressive thighs.

(For example, two of my favorite exercises for emphasizing the quads are front squats and lunges.)

The Hamstrings

The hamstrings are a set of three large muscles known as the . . .  

  • Semitendinosus
  • Semimembranosus
  • Biceps femoris, which is split into two “heads” or sections, just like the biceps in your arm.

Here’s how they look:

leg workouts hamstring

The hamstrings work together to flex the knee (think hamstring curl machine) and extend the hips (think hip thrust and deadlift).

Unfortunately, the hamstrings tend to be one of the most neglected muscles of the lower body because most people (knowingly or otherwise) spend a disproportionate amount of time doing exercises that emphasize the quads (like back squats).

While the squat does involve the hamstrings, the quads do the lion’s share of the work, and this is especially true with the type of squatting that you often seen in the gym (quarter- and half-repping).

This can create a muscular imbalance between the front and back of the legs that not only looks odd and limits your strength on exercises like the deadlift, but may even increase the risk of injury in various physical activities and sports.

The Glutes

The gluteus muscles, or “glutes,” are a set of three large muscles known as the . . .  

  • The gluteus maximus
  • The gluteus minimus
  • The gluteus medius

Here’s how they look:

leg workouts glutes

God gave us a booty for more than just twerking, too.

Together, the glutes play a key role in stabilizing your body during all kinds of movements, and as far as weightlifting goes, they also need to generate a tremendous amount of force in exercises like the deadlift and squat.

Now, if you’re training your lower body correctly, you don’t need to do special exercises for your glutes to continue progressing in your workouts. That said, if you feel your glutes are a weak point in your physique, or if you just want a bigger butt, then you should include glute-specific exercises in your workout routine.

Leg Training Rule #2
Focus on Lifting Heavier Weights

I used to think that heavy, lower-rep lifting was for building strength, not gaining size.

I was wrong.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in the last decade of studying, training, and coaching others is this:

As a natural weightlifter, your number one long-term goal should be increasing your whole-body strength.

So long as you make that your primary focus in your training, you’ll have no trouble gaining the size you want.

The reason for this is while you can gain a fair amount of muscle in the beginning without gaining much strength, once you graduate to an intermediate lifter, strength and size become closely correlated.

In other words, once your “honeymoon phase” is over and your body is no longer hyper-responsive to resistance training, you’re going to have to get a lot stronger if you want to continue getting bigger.

How do you best do that?

Well, while exercise science is complex and there are many more questions than answers, the evidence is clear on this one: Heavy resistance training is the most effective way to get stronger.

And that’s why us natural weightlifters need to do a lot of heavy weightlifting if we want to gain significant amounts of muscle and strength.

This isn’t a special rule just for the legs, either. It applies equally to every major muscle group in the body, including the smaller, more stubborn ones like the shoulders, calves, and arms.

Therefore, if you want to get dense, defined, or even just “toned” legs as quickly as possible, then you want to increase your leg strength as quickly as possible, and that means doing a lot of heavy leg training.

And by “heavy,” I mean working primarily with weights in the range of 75 to 85% of your one-rep max (1RM), or in the range of 8 to 10 (75%) to 4 to 6 (85%) reps.

If you’re new to proper weightlifting (less than one year of training under your belt), you could focus exclusively on the 4-to-6 rep range and do fantastically.

Once you’re an intermediate weightlifter, though, you can benefit from adding some higher-rep work into your routines. (There are several reasons for this, but they go a bit beyond the scope of this article. If you want to dive into the physiology, though, check out this article to learn more.)

“But wait a minute,” you might be thinking. “[SHREDDED FITNESS MODEL] does a billion reps in his leg workouts and has legs like tree trunks . . . What gives?”

Unfortunately, steroid use is rampant in this space, and especially among competitors, models, and social media influencers, and these drugs change everything.

With the right drugs, you can just sit in the gym for a few hours every day doing set after set, exercise after exercise, and your legs will just get bigger and bigger. (A bit of reductive, I know, but more accurate than inaccurate.)

For example, one study published in the New England Journal of Medicine gave a relatively small dosage of testosterone (600 mg per week) to one group of weightlifters and a placebo to another group for 10 weeks.

In the end, the natty group gained 4.4 pounds of muscle and added 25 pounds to their squat, which is good progress for intermediate lifters.

The roiderz, however, gained a whopping 13.4 pounds of muscle and added 84 pounds to their back squat, and also walked away with twice the amount of size gained in their quads. In 10 freaking weeks. That borders on witchcraft.

Don’t worry, though. You don’t need drugs to build a set of great wheels. You just need a bit of know-how, hard work, and patience.

Leg Training Rule #3
Emphasize Progressive Overload

leg workouts at the gym

As you now know, if you stop getting stronger, you’ll eventually stop getting bigger.

That’s why you must make progressive overload the key focus of your training.

In simple terms, progressive overload is the progressive increasing of tension levels in the muscle fibers over time, and research shows it’s the most effective way to stimulate muscle growth.

Therefore, you can do all of the drop sets, supersets, eccentric sets, and other fancy training techniques you want, but if you don’t get progressive overload right, you’re always going to struggle to gain muscle effectively.

How do you get it right?

Simple: you gradually increase the amount of weight you’re lifting over time. In other words, you get stronger.

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The 8 Best Leg Exercises

Now that you have some basic theory under your belt, let’s talk leg exercises.

Some are better suited to our goals than others because they allow us to safely move heavy loads and most increase our strength, and these should be the primary focus of our leg workouts.

These exercises are, unsurprisingly, mostly compound movements.

Let’s take a look at each.

Barbell Back Squat

The barbell back squat is the single most effective leg exercise you can do for gaining size and strength.

Its benefits extend beyond that, too, because it’s really a whole-body exercise that engages every major muscle group but your chest.

You want to make sure you do it correctly, though. Bad form not only reduces the effectiveness of the exercise, it also increases the risk of injury.

The main reasons people don’t squat are that it’s hard, it looks dangerous, and it feels awkward when you’re starting out.

That’s why you’re going to enjoy and benefit from squats much more if you learn good form from the get-go.

Here’s a great video that breaks it all down:

Before we move on to the next exercise, let’s take a minute to answer a question you might have:

Should you full squat (“ass to grass”) or stop at/just below parallel?

Well, the full squat makes the legs, and butt in particular, do more work, but it also requires quite a bit of mobility and flexibility—more than most people have. It can also aggravate some people’s hips and low-back more than parallel squatting, without offering much more in terms of muscle growth.

This is why I don’t recommend full squatting unless you’re an experienced weightlifter that a) knows proper form (and how to prevent excessive buttwinking) and b) is flexible enough to “ATG” properly.

If that’s not you, work with the parallel squat instead and you’ll do just fine. Full squatting is not necessary for building a big, strong set of legs.

Barbell Front Squat

The barbell front squat is one of my favorite leg exercises.

Research shows that it emphasizes the quadriceps more than the back squat (which involves more hamstring), but it also places less stress on the knees and lower back, making it ideal for giving your joints a break or working around joint problems.

Here’s how to do it:

And a heads up: this feels as uncomfortable as it looks at first. The more you do it, though, the better it gets, until eventually the bar position doesn’t bother you at all.

Romanian Deadlift

The Romanian deadlift, or RDL, is one of the best exercises you can do for your hamstrings and glutes.

It’s similar to a regular deadlift, except it uses a slightly shorter range of motion and puts more stress on the hamstrings and glutes without overly taxing the lower back.

Here’s how it works:

Bulgarian Split Squat

The Bulgarian split squat is quickly becoming more and more popular among high-level strength and conditioning coaches, and for good reason.

Research suggests that it may be as effective at increasing back squat one-rep max as the back squat itself while placing less strain on the lower back.

Furthermore, it differs from the front squat in that it more heavily involves the hamstrings.

It also prevents you from favoring one leg more than the other, which can happen fairly easily with barbell squatting, making it helpful for preventing and fixing muscle imbalances.

Here’s how it works:

Leg Press Machine

The leg press is one of the few worthwhile machines for leg training, and for building the quadriceps in particular.

There are two types of leg press machines found in most gyms.

One has you seated more or less upright, pressing the weight straight out and back:

leg workouts leg press

And the other has you seated, pressing the weight up at a 45-degree angle:

leg press leg workout

I much prefer the latter as it allows for a fuller range of motion. Here’s how to do it:

Hamstring (Leg) Curl

The hamstring/leg curl is a simple but effective machine for targeting the hamstrings.

Most gyms have machines for both seated and lying curls, and I much prefer the latter because it feels more comfortable (and especially with heavier weights).

Here’s how to do it:

Hack Squat (Machine)

Like the leg press, the hack squat machine emphasizes the quadriceps and requires less technical skill and stabilizing muscles than a free weight squat.

It’s particularly useful for sets that you plan on taking to absolute muscle failure (like rest-pause sets) because if you get stuck, you can easily sit the weight down without getting hurt.

Here’s how to do it:

Hip Thrust

The hip thrust is all the rage these days because, when done properly, it’s one of the best exercises you can do for your glutes.

It can be performed without weight:

Or with weight:

The Hypertrophy-Power-Strength Leg Workouts

In this leg workout routine, you’re going to train legs once per week, and you’re going to rotate between three different kinds of workouts every week (in the following order):

1. Leg Hypertrophy Workout

In these workouts, you’ll work in the 8-to-10 rep range (~75% of 1RM) for all exercises.

2. Leg Power Workout

In these workouts, you’ll work in the 2-to-3 rep range (~90% of 1RM) for your first exercise, and the 4-to-6 range (85% of 1RM) for the rest.

3. Leg Strength Workout

In these workouts, you’ll work in the 4-to-6 rep range for all exercises.

Don’t let the names of these workouts throw you off, by the way. All three will stimulate hypertrophy (muscle growth), power, and strength, but will emphasize each accordingly.

Here are the workouts:

Leg Hypertrophy Workout

Barbell Back Squat

Warm up and 2 sets of . . .

8 to 10 reps (~75% of 1RM)

Leg Press or Hack Squat (Machine)

2 sets of . . .

8 to 10 reps

Hamstring (Leg) Curl

2 sets of . . .

8 to 10 reps

Romanian Deadlift

2 sets of . . .

8 to 10 reps

(Optional) Barbell Hip Thrust

3 sets of . . .

8 to 10 reps

Leg Power Workout

Barbell Back Squat

3 sets of . . .  

2 to 3 reps (~90% of 1RM)

Barbell Front Squat

2 sets of . . .  

4 to 6 reps (~85% of 1RM)

Bulgarian Split Squat

2 sets of . . .  

4 to 6 reps

Romanian Deadlift

2 sets of . . .  

4 to 6 reps

(Optional) Barbell Hip Thrust

3 sets of . . .

4 to 6 reps

Leg Strength Workout

Barbell Back Squat

Warm up and 3 sets of . . .  

4 to 6 reps (~85% of 1RM)

Barbell Front Squat

3 sets of . . .  

4 to 6 reps

Hamstring (Leg) Curl

2 sets of . . .  

4 to 6 reps

Romanian Deadlift

2 sets of . . .  

4 to 6 reps

(Optional) Barbell Hip Thrust

3 sets of . . .

8 to 10 reps

And a few odds and ends on how to do these workouts:

Once you hit the top of your rep range for one set, move up in weight.

This is how you ensure that you’re progressively overloading your muscles.

For instance, if you’re doing the Strength workout and get 6 reps with 135 pounds on your back squat, add 5 pounds to each side of the bar for your next set.

If, on the next set, you can get at least 4 reps with 145 pounds, that’s the new weight you work with until you can squat it for 6 reps, move up, and so forth.

If you get 3 or fewer reps, though, reduce the weight added by 5 pounds (140 pounds) and see how the next set goes. If you still get 3 or fewer, reduce the weight to the original 6-rep load and work with that until you can do two 6-rep sets with it, and then increase.

Rest 5 minutes in between your 2-to-3-rep sets, 4 minutes in between your 4-to-6-rep sets, and 3 minutes in between your 8-to-10-rep sets.

Yes, this is going to feel like a lot of standing around, but resting properly is a hugely important part of heavy weightlifting, especially for taxing exercises like the back squat.

This is the time where your muscles recoup their strength so you can give maximum effort each set.

Lower body exercises like the squat also involve more muscle mass than upper body exercises, like the bench press, and thus generally require more rest between sets.

Make sure you’re eating enough food.

You probably know that you’re supposed to eat a fair amount of protein to build muscle, but total caloric intake also plays a major role as well.

Read this article to learn more.

The Hypertrophy-Power-Strength Leg Workout Routine

This leg workout routine is simple but effective.

For 12 weeks, I want you to rotate between these three workouts—hypertrophy, power, strength—doing one per week. Thus, you’ll do each workout a total of four times over the course of three months.

I also want you to deload as needed (read this article to learn more).

Here’s how this will look:

leg workouts for mass

Once you’ve completed this 12-week training block (mesocycle), you have two options:

  1. You can keep following the routine if you’re seeing good gains.
  2. You can change it up for the next 12 weeks, doing the Hypertrophy workout once per week for 4 weeks, followed by the Power workout once per week for 4 weeks, followed by the Strength workout once per week for 4 weeks.

The first option is straightforward—you just keep plugging along.

If you want to go through the second option, though, here’s what that would look like:

leg workout routine

And in terms of fitting these workouts into your larger workout routine, here are a few pointers:

  • Don’t do a leg workout the day before or after a heavy back/pull workout because your legs and low-back will be fatigued. Put at least one day in between these workouts (two is optimal).
  • If you want to maximize leg development, train them on your first training day of the week, when you’re freshest (and before you fatigue them with back/pull workouts in particular).
  • If you’re rotating between the three workouts and miss one week for whatever reason, don’t skip the workout you missed—just do it the following week and carry on.

What About Supplements?

I saved this part for last because it’s the least important.

The truth is most supplements for building muscle and losing fat are worthless.

Unfortunately, no amount of pills and powders are going to make you muscular and lean.

That said, if you know how to drive muscle growth with proper dieting and exercise, certain supplements can accelerate the process.

Here are the ones I use and recommend:

ATLAS Mass Gainer

In an ideal world, we’d get all of our daily calories from carefully prepared, nutritionally balanced meals, and we’d have the time to sit down, slow down, and savor each and every bite.

In the real world, though, we’re usually rushing from one obligation to another and often forget to eat anything, let alone the optimal foods for building muscle, losing fat, and staying healthy.

That’s why meal replacement and “weight gainer” supplements and protein bars and snacks are more popular than ever.

Unfortunately, most contain low-quality protein powders and large amounts of simple sugars and unnecessary junk.

That’s why I created ATLAS.

It’s a delicious “weight gainer” (meal replacement) supplement that provides you with 38 grams of high-quality protein per serving, along with 51 grams of nutritious, food-based carbohydrates, and just 6 grams of natural fats, as well as 26 micronutrients, enzymes, and probiotics that help you feel and perform your best.

ATLAS is also 100% naturally sweetened and flavored as well, and contains no chemical dyes, cheap fillers, or other unnecessary junk.

So, if you want to build muscle and lose fat as quickly as possible and improve the nutritional quality of your diet, then you want to try ATLAS today.

RECHARGE Post-Workout Supplement

recharge creatine supplement

RECHARGE is a 100% natural post-workout supplement that helps you gain muscle and strength faster, and recover better from your workouts.

Once it’s had time to accumulate in your muscles (about a week of use), the first thing you’re going to notice is increased strength and anaerobic endurance, less muscle soreness, and faster post workout muscle recovery.

And the harder you can train in your workouts and the faster you can recover from them, the more muscle and strength you’re going to build over time.

Furthermore, RECHARGE doesn’t need to be cycled, which means it’s safe for long-term use, and its effects don’t diminish over time.

It’s also naturally sweetened and flavored and contains no artificial food dyes, fillers, or other unnecessary junk.

So, if you want to be able to push harder in the gym, train more frequently, and get more out of your workouts, then you want to try RECHARGE today.

WHEY+ Protein Powder

Whey protein powder is a staple in most athletes’ diets for good reason.

It’s digested quickly, it’s absorbed well, it has a fantastic amino acid profile, and it’s easy on the taste buds.

Not all whey proteins are created equal, though.

Whey concentrate protein powder, for example, can be as low as 30% protein by weight, and can also contain a considerable amount of fat and carbs.

And the more fat and carbs you’re drinking, the less you can actually enjoy in your food.

Whey isolate protein powder, on the other hand, is the purest whey protein you can buy. It’s 90%+ protein by weight and has almost no fat or carbs.

Another benefit of whey isolate is it contains no lactose, which means better digestibility and fewer upset stomachs.

Well, WHEY+ is a 100% naturally sweetened and flavored whey isolate protein powder made from exceptionally high-quality milk from small dairy farms in Ireland.

It contains no GMOs, hormones, antibiotics, artificial food dyes, fillers, or other unnecessary junk, and it tastes delicious and mixes great.

So, if you want a clean, all-natural, and great tasting whey protein supplement that’s low in calories, carbs, and fat, then you want to try WHEY+ today.

whey protein supplement

PULSE Pre-Workout

Is your pre-workout simply not working anymore?

Are you sick and tired of pre-workout drinks that make you sick and tired?

Have you had enough of upset stomachs, jitters, nausea, and the dreaded post-workout crash?

Do you wish your pre-workout supplement gave you sustained energy and more focus and motivation to train? Do you wish it gave you noticeably better workouts and helped you hit PRs?

If you’re nodding your head, then you’re going to love PULSE.

It increases energy, improves mood, sharpens mental focus, increases strength and endurance, and reduces fatigue…without unwanted side effects or the dreaded post-workout crash.

It’s also naturally sweetened and flavored and contains no artificial food dyes, fillers, or other unnecessary junk.

Lastly, it contains no proprietary blends and each serving delivers nearly 20 grams of active ingredients scientifically proven to improve performance.

So, if you want to feel focused, tireless, and powerful in your workouts…and if you want to say goodbye to the pre-workout jitters, upset stomachs, and crashes for good…then you want to try PULSE today.

pulse pre-workout

The Bottom Line on the Best Leg Workouts

Getting great legs doesn’t require overly complex workout plans, endless hours in the gym, or drugs.

So long as you do plenty of heavy weightlifting, get stronger over time, and do a variety of exercises that emphasize the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes separately, you’ll do fantastically.

And that’s exactly what this leg workout routine will do for you.

You’ll also want to make sure you eat enough food and get enough sleep, and if you want an extra boost, take the right supplements, too.

Do all of that, and I promise you’ll be happy with the results.

Want More Workouts?

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Shoulder Workouts

This Is the Perfect Shoulder Workout Routine for Big and Strong Delts

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How to Get Bigger and Stronger Shoulders in Just 30 Days

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The Ultimate Shoulder Workout

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4 Rotator Cuff Exercises That You Should Be Doing (and Why)

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Arm Workouts

How to Get Bigger and Stronger Biceps in Just 30 Days

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How to Get Bigger and Stronger Triceps in Just 30 Days

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The Ultimate Arms Workout

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Back Workouts

The Perfect Back Workout Routine for More Hypertrophy, Power, and Strength

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How to Get a Bigger and Stronger Back in Just 30 Days

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The Ultimate Back Workout

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Leg Workouts

How to Get Bigger and Stronger Legs in Just 30 Days

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This Is The Last Lower Body Workout You’ll Ever Need

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Butt Workouts

How to Get a Bigger and Rounder Butt in Just 30 Days

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The Best Butt Exercises for Building Head-Turning Glutes

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What’s your take on leg workouts? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!