The Basic Training Leg Workout
Fill out and then stretch your jeans with this tried-and-true leg workout that is sure to pack on muscle and transform your legs into your best bodypart!
By Jimmy Peña, MS, CSCS
Contributing Director of Strength & Conditioning
Got Legs? If Not, Here’s How To Get ‘Em
Whether you’re coming back from a layoff or injury, are a beginner in the gym or one of those bodybuilders who’s neglected his lower half, the fastest way to add some size to your thighs is to stick with the basics. The concept of overload that governs resistance training is critical now more than ever, because nothing’s going to grow if you don’t challenge it. And that was never more true than on leg day. Your discipline will determine your destiny; when it comes to your legs, yours is still unwritten.
Keys to Leg Day Training
1) Use Compound Forces. Because leg training involves so many muscle groups, it’s critical — at least the majority of time – to begin your routine with multijoint moves. Those are the exercises that use all of the major muscle groups simultaneously in a single exercise. To build your foundation you need to start big. Basically, you want moves that call upon the hamstrings, glutes and quads all at the same time. That means favoring squats and squat variations (hacks and leg presses — which are basically inverted squats in a machine) over single-joint moves like the leg extension and leg curls.
2) Turn Up the Volume. Gaining as much size as possible requires more than just choosing the right exercises and doing them in the right order. You must also do enough sets and choose the appropriate level of resistance. Research has shown that high-volume workouts are important factors in building muscle size, not to mention initiating the release of critical anabolic hormones responsible for muscle growth. Hence you’ll be doing a hefty number of sets on leg day.
3) Pick the Right Rep Range. Because a big muscle is also a strong one, it’s good to make sure you use both heavy and moderate weights to build size and strength. After all, the more weight you can move, the more your legs will respond. For that reason, you’re going to attack a spectrum of rep ranges. Do sixes and eights early in your routine (choose a weight with which you fail at six and eight reps, respectively) for strength, and then shooting for 10s, 12s and even 15s toward the end to expand the muscle tissue. That’s a perfect combination for getting the best of both worlds.
4) Adjust Your Rest Intervals. Typically we suggest you rest 1–2 minutes between sets; just enough time to recoup and recover before your next grueling round of reps. But when it comes to your heaviest sets, we’re adding an additional minute. Resting up to three minutes will ensure you’re completely prepared for the next set or exercise. You want to be as strong as possible on each set, so slowing down your pace on your heaviest sets guarantees just that.
Basic Training Leg Workout
Squat 5 Sets x 6,6,8,12,15 Reps
Hack Squat 5 Sets x 6,6,8,12,15 Reps
Leg Extension 3 Sets x 8,12,15 Reps
Lying Leg Curl 3 Sets x 8,12,15 Reps
Leg-Press Calf Raise 3 Sets x 15, 20, 25 Reps
* Doesn’t include warm-up sets; do as many as you can but never take warm-up sets to muscle failure.
* Choose a weight so that you can reach muscle failure at the target rep. Take weight off on successive sets on a given exercise so that you can reach the higher rep target. Rest up to three minutes before your heaviest sets.
If this is your first time hearing this, it won’t be your last. If you want to build leg mass, this is the move of moves. No other exercise will add size to all the muscles of the lower body better than the squat.
Target: Quads, glutes, hamstrings
Do It Right: Position the bar across your shoulders and stand erect with your chest out and holding a slight arch in your back, feet shoulder width apart and pointed slightly outward. Keep your head facing directly forward (don’t look up). Do a deep knee bend; from the bottom position, press through the floor with your legs until you reach the standing position, flexing your legs and glutes briefly at the top.
Power Pointer: Squat down until you reach at least a thighs-parallel position (90-degree knee bend) to ensure optimal thigh and glute development. Shallow squats work a far smaller degree of muscle mass.