Leg strength is essential in many sports and activities, such as generating acceleration in sprinting or providing a source of power in Olympic lifting. Although there are different modalities in strengthening your legs, physical therapist and strength coach Gray Cook recommends you start with three basic exercises that develop a strength foundation, which are the squat, stepup and lunge. These movement patterns are often used in many court and field sports and work all leg muscles together. Once you are familiar with these exercises, progress to power training to develop quicker reflexes and force production.
Warm up with a five minutes of jogging or jump roping, and perform dynamic stretches for your whole body. These should include moves like leg swings, Sun Salutation, neck rolls and standing torso twists.
Start with the squat in a standing position with your feet about hip-distance apart. Hold a medicine ball with both hands close to your body near your chest. Inhale as you squat down until your buttocks move past the level of your knees. Keep your back straight and avoid hunching your shoulders throughout the exercise. Exhale through your mouth as you push your feet against the floor to stand straight up.
For stepups, put your left foot on top of a workout bench or a similar platform that is as high as your knees. Exhale as you push your body up onto the bench, then raise your right knee toward your chest as you balance on your left leg for one second. Inhale as you step down to the floor. Keep your shoulders and arms relaxed by your sides throughout the exercise.
Stand with your feet together, and step about 2 feet in front of you with your left foot. Inhale as you lunge down by bending both legs together until your right knee gently touches the floor. Keep your back straight and your shoulders and arms relaxed by your sides. Exhale as you push your left foot against the floor to step back to the standing position. Rest for one minute and repeat the steps two to four more times. Add resistance, such as holding a kettlebell or two dumbbells by your sides or close to your shoulders, to increase exercise intensity.
The number of sets and reps you do for strength conditioning depends on your goals and fitness level. The National Academy of Sports Medicine recommends you perform four to six sets of one to five repetitions at an intensity of 85 to 100 percent of your maximum effort. However, if you're new to exercise, perform one to three sets of 12 to 25 reps at 50 to 70 percent of your maximum effort to develop exercise familiarity and endurance.
Progress to plyometric training to increase power in your legs, such as vertical jumps, box jumps, depth jumps and linear bounding. You can do these exercises one set at a time or use the interval training method, which has you perform a bout of high-intensity plyometric exercise followed immediately by a lower-intensity exercise, such as body-weight lunges and squats.
See a qualified medical professional if you feel pain in your legs, hip or back before you resume training. Work with a qualified exercise trainer or strength coach if you're new to strength and power conditioning before training on your own.