Forget deadlifts — sculpt your glutes, quads and hamstrings using this 5-move leg workout

Man in a squat position holding a kettlebell with both hands against grey backdrop
(Image credit: Shutterstock images)

Kick deadlifts to the side for this one — here’s a five-move leg workout that sculpts your glutes, quads and hamstrings using just two kettlebells.

The Kettlebell Tree Trunk Leg Workout has been curated by fitness director and Onnit gym coach Juan Leija to build lean muscle mass and a thicker set of legs. And despite the dubious workout name, if there’s anyone we trust to develop lower-body muscle and strength, it’s the legends at Onnit. 

You could easily slip this into your home workout routine or hit the gym using one or two kettlebells. If you don’t have kettlebells, grab some of the best adjustable dumbbells instead, and give this a try. 

Juan Leija's 5-move Kettlebell Tree Trunk Leg Workout

Watch the video below for each exercise and a run down by Leija himself. He’s comprehensive, but if you're unsure, ask a personal trainer to check your form. If you experience pain, stop immediately and speak to a medical professional. 

Warm-up

  • Jump rope: 3 minutes

Workout

  • Heavy kettlebell swings: 5 sets x 10 reps
  • Rear foot elevated split squat: 4 sets x 5 reps each side
  • Squat jump w/ reset: 4 sets x 3 reps
  • Kettlebell goblet squat: 3 sets x 10-15 reps
  • Suitcase walking lunges: 100 reps (break up the sets however you want 10x10, 5x20).

According to the team, “Kettlebell training combines explosive strength with muscular endurance to provide an efficient and athletically optimized full-body workout.” We couldn’t agree more. These highly accessible bells are the most versatile and creative kit you can train with. 

We love training with kettlebells, having already put together 7 best kettlebell ab exercises and a 4-move single kettlebell workout for your entire body in under 20 minutes, among many others. 

If you’re looking to build muscle definition and grow thicker legs, this five-move leg workout could help you along the way. But remember, building muscle takes work — a combination of protein intake, a consistent strength training program and factors like progressive overload training principles, meaning adapting and challenging your muscles to grow.

Now, let’s get down to the good stuff — the leg workout. Leija sets you up with a three-minute warm-up jumping rope. We recommend using one of the best jump ropes and checking out what happened when I tried jumping rope every day for a week to learn some benefits, including whether jumping rope burns more calories than running

The warm-up raises the heart rate and increases blood flow to the muscles. Then, you’ll move through five exercises for the sets and reps listed above. 

Aim to lift heavy during the kettlebell swings, developing snappy power through the hip flexors and posterior chain muscles, including the lower back, core, glutes and hamstrings. Be fast and explosive, keeping the bell close to your crotch. 

Rear foot elevated split squats (known as Bulgarian split squats) require you to drive through the front foot. “The back foot is really just there to balance you out,” the team says. 

As you perform the jump squat, remember to hit reset before moving into the next rep. You want to explode high upwards, driving energy into the ground and landing in a strong position. 

Kettlebell goblet squats (see above) are a staple in many killer kettlebell workouts but are easy to get wrong. Leija and Onnit suggest engaging your upper back and core muscles and driving your knees out to hit the glutes properly. Wait until you reach the top to give those quads and glutes a squeeze. 

Saving the best until last, max out your legs with 100 reps of walking lunges. The team suggests breaking it up however you want, but we’d recommend sets of 20 reps (10 per side) at a time. 

You want to achieve enough reps that you feel uncomfortable, working the legs hard without burning them out too early. Take big steps without stopping and avoid excessively leaning forward; a subtle lean can help activate the glutes. 

Perform as a standalone workout or tack onto an upper body workout for a full-body session next time you hit the gym.

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Sam Hopes
Senior Staff Writer - Fitness

Sam Hopes is a level III fitness trainer, level II reiki practitioner, and senior fitness writer at Future PLC, the publisher of Tom's Guide. She is also about to undertake her Yoga For Athletes training course. Having trained to work with mind and body, Sam is a big advocate of using mindfulness techniques in sport and fitness, and their impact on performance. She’s also passionate about the fundamentals of training and building sustainable training methods.  When she's not writing up her experiences with the latest fitness tech and workouts, you’ll find her writing about nutrition, sleep, recovery, and wellness.