Get ready; our 11 best lower-body pull exercises and killer workout plan will make your legs feel pumped. But first, let’s break down the science behind these moves.
Understanding Lower-body Pull Exercises
Lower body pull exercises primarily engage the post-chain muscles, including the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back (erector spinae). They are crucial for several reasons.
Firstly, training these muscles can promote overall lower body strength and stability. This leads to improved athletic performance (faster speed, bigger jumps, change of direction) and functional daily movement.
Additionally, lower body pulls help reduce the risk of injuries like lower back pain, sports injuries like sprains and strains, ACL injuries, and others.
They also contribute to a balanced physique, enhancing aesthetics (rounder butt, wider back) and better posture.
Whether you’re an athlete, fitness enthusiast, or simply looking to build a strong foundation, incorporating lower body pulls into your routine is essential for a resilient physique.
The 11 Best Lower-body Pull Exercises
1. Sumo Deadlift
Sumo deadlifts involve a wide stance with toes out, a narrow grip, and an upright posture. Unlike its conventional correlative, it puts less strain on the lower back, making it suitable for individuals with injury histories.
It’s also suitable for beginners who want to learn the basics of deadlifting while gaining muscle, improving their joint movement, coordination, mobility, balance, strength, and power, as well as advanced athletes looking to develop these areas further and increase their athleticism.
- Start by standing with your feet wider than shoulder-width and point your toes outwards.
- Bend at the hips and knees to lower your body, then grab the barbell with a grip between your knees.
- Keep your chest lifted, maintain a neutral spine, and look ahead.
- Push through your heels as you straighten your hips and knees to lift the barbell.
- Lower the barbell down to the ground in a controlled manner.
- Breathe in as you lift and exhale on the way down.
If you are a beginner, try using a PVC pipe/barbell without weights to focus on your technique.
If you are an advanced lifter, add weight. Additionally, you can experiment with your grips, such as the hook grip. This can enhance your grip strength significantly.
Sumo deadlift is commonly used in powerlifting competitions. If it’s too challenging, or you want to opt for a lighter lower-body pull exercise with more lower-back work, try Romanian Deadlifts.
Unlike sumo deadlifts, Romanian Deadlifts require keeping your legs straighter and lowering the bar from standing to below your knees in a more controlled manner. This variation increases tension in your hamstrings and lower back muscles.
Both exercises build strength, muscle, and athleticism. Choose based on goals and preferences, or alternate for balanced benefits. Prioritize form for safety and performance.
2. Good Morning
The name “Good Morning” might give you a playful vibe, but let me tell you, the benefits and impact of this exercise are seriously awesome!
It can increase your strength, build muscle mass and core stability, and safeguard your lower back during other exercises (squats, deadlifts) and daily movements.
If you are a beginner, start with weights or even no weights at all to focus on mastering the proper technique.
Those recovering from sports-related injuries (hamstring strain, lower back pain) should approach Good Mornings cautiously. I advise you to consult with a qualified strength coach to gain maximum benefits.
While the good morning exercise can assist with technique and form in deadlifts and squats, it should not be solely relied upon if there are issues with mobility or inadequate movement technique.
You have the option of performing it while standing or sitting. The instructions below are specifically for the standing variation, which is commonly used.
Establish your stance and posture
- Stand with feet hip-width apart, toes forward, knees slightly bent, and the barbell resting on your upper traps.
- Inhale as you push your hips back and lower your torso towards the ground until parallel to the floor.
- Maintain a braced core, bent knee, and tension on the hamstrings throughout the movement.
- Exhale, gradually move your hips forward by squeezing your glutes and lifting your torso back to the starting position.
3. Single Leg Deadlifts
This deadlift variation involves lifting one leg off the ground, challenging your balance, proprioception, and coordination, engaging your core, and improving stability.
Beginners can benefit from it to help them learn how to control their body. Use a stick or a wall for support if needed. As an advanced athlete, this exercise can help you identify any side-to-side strength imbalances and aid in better performance and injury reduction.
To make the exercise more challenging and increase resistance, incorporate dumbbells or kettlebells into this exercise.
- Stand straight while holding a kettlebell or dumbbell in one hand.
- Keep your core engaged, and lift one leg off the ground.
- Begin lowering your torso (while holding the weight) until parallel to the floor and your other leg is fully extended behind you.
- Return to the starting position by pushing through the heel of your supporting foot and squeezing your glutes.
- Repeat on the side.
Focus on a point on the floor to assist with balance; avoid looking up or down during the lift. Keep the weight close to your body; avoid letting it drift away from you or swing around, as it can lead to instability, back pain, and inefficient technique.
4. Barbell Hip Thrusts
The barbell hip thrust is a must-have in a pull-leg routine, especially for a perky butt.
Beginners can start with no weight and on the ground (bridges) to focus on correct movement. Advanced athletes can challenge their glutes by adding weight to the barbell and performing it on a bench or box for more range of movement.
- Provides effective activation of the glute muscles compared to other exercises.
- Can improve performance and athleticism.
- Assist in tasks that require hip extension (jumps).
- Reduces the risks of injuries.
- Sit on the floor with your upper back against the edge of the bench.
- Position your feet wider than shoulder-width and your shins vertically.
- Push your hips up (bridge) by squeezing the glutes and pushing through your heels, raising the barbell until your hips and knees are aligned with your shoulders.
- Lower the barbell down to the start position with control.
5. Hack Squats
Hack squats primarily focus on the quadriceps along with the glutes, hamstrings, and calves. Which muscle works dominantly also depends on your stance. You can also perform them using a barbell or a machine, making them suitable for both beginners and advanced.
They offer advantages for strengthening and developing your legs, improving leg power, and enhancing muscular definition.
- Load the machine with weight plates.
- Stand on the foot platform and lean back against the backrest.
- Grasps the handles on each side of the machine to maintain stability and balance.
- Extend your legs to unlock the safety clip.
- Take a deep breath, start bending your knees, and lower your body into a squat position without letting your back push away from the backrest.
- Exhale and push through your heels to lift the weight back up to the starting position, and avoid overextending or locking your knees out!
For those with injuries, it is important to maintain proper form to avoid stress on the knees or back. So, make sure to maintain a straight back throughout the exercise. Additionally, control the movement and avoid any rapid descent caused by the weight pulling you down.
You can also opt for alternatives like V Squats, Narrow stance Leg Press, Frontal or Goblet squats.
6. Cable Pull Through
When it comes to lower-body pull exercises, body cable pull-throughs are often overlooked. However, they have loads of benefits to offer, such as:
- Improving hip flexion and extension mechanics.
- Addressing muscular imbalances, serving as corrective exercises.
- Improving hip hinge coordination.
- Keeping your muscles under eccentric and concentric tension.
- Set up the cable machine with the handle positioned low.
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart while facing away from the machine.
- Grip the pronged rope firmly with both hands, palms facing each other.
- Inhale and hinge at the hips without bending your back, pushing it towards the machine.
- Pause and exhale as you push your hips forward to the start by focusing on squeezing the glutes and engaging the core.
7. Leg Curls on a Stability Ball
The exercise adds more balance and stability to your leg pull days. Some weightlifters choose to do this exercise when they don’t have access to a lying leg curl machine. Hence, It’s still worth considering even if you have access to a machine. Why?
By doing hamstring curls on unstable equipment (swiss ball), you increase the demand for core stability and balance while also strengthening the hamstring muscles without the need for weights. It’s a functional exercise that can improve athletic performance.
Since this exercise is low impact, it can be suitable for individuals recovering from hamstring strains. To make it more challenging, you can perform single-leg curls where you isolate one leg at a time. This requires even more balance and strength.
There are several other alternatives to try if you want to spice up your lower-body pull workouts, such as seated leg curl, lying leg curl, standing leg curl, valslide leg curl, and weighted hamstring curls.
- Lie flat on your back on the floor with arms at your sides. Place your heels on top of a stability ball.
- Push your hips up by squeezing your glutes, creating a line from shoulders to heels.
- While maintaining this bridge position, bend your knees. Curl the ball towards your glutes.
- Gently straighten your legs while rolling the ball back to its position.
- Maintain raised hips and repeat this movement for your desired number of repetitions.
They are particularly advantageous for individuals without access to exercise machines, training at home, or who prefer bodyweight exercises.
8. Glute Ham Raises
The glute ham raise is typically performed using an equipment called the GHD (glute ham developer).
It was originally developed by weightlifters during the 1970s. Interestingly, these weightlifters from the Soviet Union dominated the sport for years and were known for their innovative training techniques. Perhaps this exercise was part of their lower-body pull-day routine, too?
This exercise can be challenging due to the strength and coordination required. If that’s the case, for beginners, I recommend starting with modified versions like Nordics or using a resistance band or a partner to provide support. Another option is to focus on controlled eccentric movement without pushing up.
Advanced athletes can increase resistance by holding a weight plate against their chest or wearing a vest. Completing glute ham raises can reduce the risk of injury like ACL tears and enhance sprinting speed and vertical jumps.
- Adjust the position of the footplate on the GHD machine so that your knees rest at the bottom of the pad.
- Ensure that your feet are firmly touching the footplate while your quads rest on the pad and your body remains upright with a braced core.
- Cross your arms in front of your chest and push against the plate with your toes.
- Move your body forward until you reach a parallel position with the floor and your knees are fully extended.
- To return to the starting position, flex your knees and drive your body backward.
Ensure that your knees are positioned on or slightly behind the pads. If you lean forward with too much of your knee on the pad, it may cause knee pain.
Additionally, if you’re leaning forward, the movement will resemble a Nordic hamstring curl more closely.
The difference lies in the starting position. In a curl, your knees begin at the top of the pad, placing significant stress on your hamstrings. That’s not what you want to achieve with a glute ham raise.
9. Reverse Hyperextensions
Performing hyperextensions can be done on a machine or by lying face down on a bench or stability ball. This exercise pushes your post-chain muscles beyond their range for muscle contraction.
Therefore, it’s a great exercise for any lower–body pull routines to improve posture, enhance knee and ankle health, improve hip range of movements, increase muscle mass, and strengthen the post-chain, improving athletic performance.
Beyond aesthetics, this exercise may provide therapeutic benefits to people experiencing lower back issues when performed correctly. It can help decompress the spine and promote flow to the discs. However, consult a healthcare professional or physiotherapist before incorporating this exercise into your post-injury rehabilitation.
If you are just getting started with weightlifting, practice the movement without adding weight. If you are experienced, you can increase the resistance using ankle weights or a machine designed specifically for reverse hyperextension.
- Lie facedown on a hyperextension machine, glute ham raise developer, bench, or stability ball.
- Your legs should hang off the end while your feet are secured (if using a machine) so your legs can move freely.
- Engage your core and lift your legs behind you until they’re higher or the same height as your hips.
- Hold the lifted position for a second before lowering your legs to the starting position.
- Ensure you do not rely on momentum. It is essential to maintain control throughout the movement, especially when lowering down.
- Engage your core muscles to stabilize your body.
- Strive for a range of motion, extending your legs fully.
Variations to implement: Stability Ball Reverse Hyperextension, 45 or 90 Degree Back Extension, Bench Reverse Hyperextension, Glute Ham Raise, Hip thrusts, Good mornings.
10. Broad Jumps
Broad jumps are explosive exercises that can help improve your strength, power, agility, and coordination. Additionally, it aids in leg muscle development while also improving cardiovascular fitness and burning fat. As a result, you’ll experience increased energy levels and weight loss.
Start with a lower height box to make this exercise more manageable for beginners. Focus on perfecting a soft and controlled landing technique. If advanced, challenge yourself by increasing the distance of your jump or incorporating a vest to add resistance.
If you have knee or ankle issues, approach this exercise carefully. The landing phase of the exercise puts stress on the joints, especially when done incorrectly. In this case, start with a step up. Once you get stronger, progress to a low-box jump.Land gently with your knees slightly bent to absorb the impact.
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, your head and neck aligned, arms by your side, chin tucked, and core engaged.
- Generate momentum by swinging your arms back, bending your knees, and hinging at your hips for increased jump distance.
- Inhale as you swing the arms forward, extend the hips and knees, and push off with the balls of your feet to jump.
- Land in a mid-squat position with soft knees to absorb impact.
11. Bulgarian Split Squat
The Bulgarian Split Squat is a variation of squats where you elevate one leg on a surface while the other performs the squat, bearing most of the weight (80%). Due to this split position, this unilateral exercise effectively targets the quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings like no leg other lower-body pull exercises.
FURTHER READING: Top 10 Single-Leg Exercises for Strength, Mass & Athleticism
The specific muscles targeted during the Split Squat may vary depending on factors such as foot placement, weight used, and how you hold the weight.
- If you stand close to the surface with an upright torso, you will primarily work your quadriceps.
- In contrast, standing away while leaning forward will put more emphasis on your glutes.
Bulgarian split squats are beneficial for addressing muscle imbalances in the legs and aid in better control, stability, and body awareness.
It’s suitable for individuals of all skill levels, ranging from beginners to athletes with modifications like bodyweight BSS, weighted, or jumping.
If you have knee or hip issues, you may need to limit your range of motion or avoid it altogether, especially if pain arises. Consult with a therapist or fitness professional before starting an exercise program.
Additionally, you can opt for variations like dumbbells or bodyweight lunges.
- Position one foot on the bench behind you and the other leg in front, taking a large step away from the bench.
- Lower your body in a controlled manner, bending your knees until your back leg’s knee is just a few inches above the floor.
- Reverse the movement by extending your leg and exhaling.
- Inhale at the top of the movement, then repeat the exercise.
Sample Lower Body Pull Training Plan
Alright, let’s get those legs pumping! I’ve got a real scorcher for you.
|Single leg Deadlift||3||8 each side||30 seconds|
|Sumo Deadlift||2-3||8||120 seconds|
|Cable Pull Throughs||3||12||60 seconds|
|Hip thrusts/Bridges||3||10||120 seconds|
|Swiss Ball Hamstring Curls||3||12||30 seconds|
|Reverse Hyperextension||3||10|| |
|Single leg Deadlift||8 each side|
|Sumo Deadlift||5||5||120 seconds|
|Broad Jumps||8||4||Up to 4 minutes|
|Hack Squats||4||12||120 seconds|
|Swiss Ball Hamstring Curls||3||15||30 seconds|
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