Leg day…the most polarizing day for lifters and exercise enthusiasts around the world. Some love and revel in the amount of punishment that they’re going to put themselves through. Others dread it and avoid it as much as they can, especially if they mostly train their upper body and have Johnny Bravo-like proportions.
No matter what your fitness goals are, you need to have strong legs. Aesthetically, you want to have a good balance between your upper and lower body. Furthermore, having a great looking pair of legs will turn heads wherever you may go.
Performance wise, if you play a sport of some kind or do a recreational activity involving any athleticism, having a strong lower body will make you faster and more explosive. Not only that, you’ll increase your strength endurance and improve your balance.
If you sit all day and have lower back pain, then you most definitely need to be working your lower body. By strengthening your hamstrings and glutes and taking each exercise through a full range of motion, you’ll improve your hip mobility and hamstring flexibility, reducing your pain.
So how do you build a pair of strong legs? Let’s break it down:
A crucial aspect of training your legs is the exercise sequence. Most people are very quad dominant. Because of that, we need to balance out the strength ratio between the quads and hamstrings and glutes. So what you want to do is in the beginning of the workout, target the hammies and glutes first.
When those muscles are warmed up, any squatting movement feels better as well. Many of my coaching clients have told me their squat form feels way better when I had them do leg curls and hip extension exercises in the beginning.
Start off the workout with band walks or any hip extension exercises to activate the glutes or isolate the hamstrings with a leg curl variation.
Once the glutes and hamstrings are activated and warmed up, it’s time to move onto a squat variation. Depending on your build, mobility, and strength level, you can pick between the dumbbell goblet squat or the barbell back squat and front squat. You can also use the trap bar deadlift as well as a variation.
After the squats are done, you’ll move onto single leg exercises. In order to balance out the strength and mobility between the left and right leg, you want to work them one at a time. The best single leg exercises are split squats, lunges (walking and reverse), and step ups.
When you finish up all the sets and reps of the single leg work, it’s time to move onto another hip extension exercise. By now your legs are going to be pumped full of blood and may be a little jelly. I recommend doing Romanian deadlifts with either dumbbells or a barbell to stretch your hamstrings and work the glutes.
Finally, we can’t neglect the lower half of your legs, the calves. You also want to have a nice pair of calves to match the upper thighs. Training your calves also will improve your ankle mobility.
There are two types of calf exercises to do: one with your legs straight to target the gastrocnemius, and the other with your knees bent to target the soleus. The most important thing with calf exercises is that you need to pause at the bottom for at least two seconds to get a full stretch before coming back up.
The Achilles tendon carries a lot of elastic energy, allowing us to spring up with power when we jump around. By pausing at the bottom, we eliminate that and focus on working solely the calves. Also, by having that pause, you aren’t using any momentum and bouncing off of your Achilles tendon, reducing any risk of injury. When you do come back up, be sure to push from your big toe as you complete the rep.
Finish off the leg workout with a calf exercise and call it a day.
Volume and Intensity
Now that we’ve broken down the exercise sequence, we’re going to figure out the sets and reps used.
Depending on your goal (strength or hypertrophy, aka size gain), the amount of reps you’ll be doing per set is going to be different. If you’re chasing strength, opt for higher sets (4-5) of 5-6 reps, with longer rest periods.
If hypertrophy is the goal, then moderate to high reps (8-20+) with shorter rest periods will be the key for your exercises. Not sure what to focus on? Improve your strength in the squat variation and work on hypertrophy in the other exercises.
With that said, when training your legs, you’re going to have to work hard during the session. One of the biggest mistakes that people make when training their legs is not using enough weight and not training with enough effort.
Pick a weight that is challenging to where the last 2-3 reps are a grinder but still doable. You should be able to maintain good form and tension in the muscles the entire time while you’re working them. If you’re huffing and puffing the entire time of the workout, then you know you’re doing it right.
Putting It All Together
So Here are two sample leg workouts for you to try out:
A. Lateral Band Walks – 3x10 reps each direction
B. Stability Ball Leg Curl – 4x15 reps
C. Barbell Back Squat – 4x8 reps
D. Dumbbell Reverse Lunges – 3x10 reps each leg
E. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift – 3x12 reps
F. Seated Calf Raise – 3x30 reps
A. Dumbbell Hip Thrust – 2x15 reps
B. Barbell Back/Front Squat – 4x6 reps
C. Bulgarian Split Squat – 3x10-12 reps each leg
D. Barbell Romanian Deadlift - 3x12 reps
E. Standing Machine Calf Raise – 4x15
Wrapping It Up
So there ya have it. Training your legs is crucial for any strength training regiment no matter what your goals are. Incorporate a leg day into your workout routine using either one or both of these workouts. Train them hard with these workouts for a month and watch your legs grow and athletic performance improve.