Total leg workout

Go from average to awesome with this 4-month periodized workout.

woman doing squats on beach

Few myths are as persistent as those concerning the best way to train legs. No. 1 goes something like this: Lifting weights will make my legs and glutes bigger, bulkier and less flexible than they are now. Yet in reality, most women don't have enough naturally occurring testosterone in their bodies to achieve what they'd deem an "excessive" degree of hypertrophy, or muscle growth. (Even women who want to get a lot bigger, like competitive bodybuilders, really need to make a concerted effort to achieve that look.) And weight training, when performed properly, can make you more flexible, not less. In fact, competitive Olympic-style weightlifters are among the most flexible athletes in the world.

Then there's this myth: Certain "alternative" training methods will give me long, lean muscles. Actually, our parents determine the shape of our muscles. If you want the sleek body lines of a ballet dancer, you better hope you were endowed genetically with long muscle bellies and short tendons.

The most common--and damaging--myth goes like this: To reshape my body, especially my legs, my best bet is doing slow, rhythmic cardiovascular activities (stationary bike, treadmill, stair-stepper and so forth) for 45-60 minutes at a time. Wrong again. In reality, resistance training is the key. If you doubt me, just watch a women's track and field event on TV next time you get the chance. First, check out the thin, almost emaciated legs of the long-distance runners, whose training consists of endless hours of cardio-type work. Now scope out the sprinters, with their taut cords of leg muscles underpinning a pair of sculpted glutes. In terms of body shaping, the virtues of resistance training and short, explosive movements vs. cardio exercise and longer, slower movements are readily apparent.

This four-month program doesn't guarantee to build legs capable of giving sprinter Marion Jones a run for the gold, but it will allow you to fulfill your legs' genetic potential and increase their functional capacity for sport and everyday activities in ways that most leg routines can't. What makes it different? First, it uses a periodized approach to leg training, varying factors like volume and intensity in a science-based, systematic way over time. Such variation produces better results than a static approach to training while lessening the odds of overtraining.

What's more, this program targets all of your leg musculature, not just part of it. In addition to training your quadriceps, hamstrings and calves, you'll hit muscles such as the hip flexors, glutes and adductors, the five muscles located along the inner thigh that help move the thigh toward the midline of the body. Even your anterior tibialis muscles get a workout here. (Why bother? Well, for one, weak anterior tibs are a major culprit in shinsplints.)

While this program should cover all of your leg-training needs, keep in mind that sculpting a pair of kickin' legs requires regular cardio and proper nutrition as well. If you aren't already eating healthy, nutrient-dense meals spaced throughout the day, rev up your metabolism by eating smaller meals more frequently. Don't shy away from protein, either: Women who weight-train should consume roughly 0.7-0.8 gram per pound of bodyweight per day, mainly from low-fat sources such as chicken breasts and nonfat dairy products. Get your training and diet working in tandem, and you'll be kicking legs - and butt - in no time.