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People look forward to leg day like they look forward do a root canal. Sure, you know you’ll come out better for it but the actual event itself is painful and dreadful. But there’s a difference worth noting: If you have a good dentist, the post-procedure discomfort subsides pretty quickly. If you train legs well, you can count on wincing, shuffling and eyeballing staircases with contempt for up to a week.
But here’s the thing…if you dedicate yourself to training your legs with zeal, not only will you end up with diced, wide-swept thighs, but a bigger, leaner overall physique. How? Because the muscles in your legs constitute so much of your total body mass, the caloric expenditure as well as the resulting spike in growth hormone and testosterone create an ideal environment for improving your physique.
On the pages that follow, our panel of experts offers up its fave selections of daunting-but-productive leg day thrashes – all to be tackled after a thorough, blood-pumping warm-up, of course.
Rob McIntyre, CSCS, trains like a man possessed and so naturally, he expects his clients in the WWE to do the same. With a hard focus on power and performance, this routine misses nary a muscle fiber from the waist down.
1 ¼ Front Squat with Pause 1 4/3
Snatch-Grip Deadlift 3/8
Leg Curl 3/10-12
Walking Barbell Lunge 3/12-16 steps
Rest 2-3 minutes between sets on the first two exercises. Take no more than 90 seconds between the supersets of leg curls and lunges. Rest 60-90 seconds between sets on the leg press.
1 Squat down then come up ¼ of the way and pause for two seconds. Drop down to the bottom once more and squat all the way to the top position. This constitutes one rep.
Leg Press 3/15, 20, 25
Why It Works: Although short, this leg workout can be a bit advanced for those who don’t have proper flexibility. You will need to be proficient in front squat technique so you aren’t struggling for position and can focus on your legs. The first two exercises will work every muscle in your lower body and many in your upper body. Remember, your snatch grip deadlift will be done with much less weight than your traditional deadlift. Take your time on these first two moves. Pick up the pace for the superset. After that your legs should be trying to head for the door. Knock out some high reps on the leg press and hopefully you will have the ability to get to your car afterwards.
Rob McIntyre, CSCS, is a Florida-based strength and conditioning coach for the WWE. For more hardcore training tips from McIntyre, visit his gym’s website at www.hardnockssouth.com or follow him on Twitter @hardnockssouth.
If you’re a serious leg trainer, a quick peek at the routine below should be all you need to know that you can probably cancel your samba lesson tomorrow night. This routine goes beyond quad-centric training and aggressively attacks your hamstrings and glutes.
Barbell Squat 4/3,5,8,12
Front Squat 3/5
Leg Press 1 2/5 (each leg)
Butt Blaster 3/8
Leg Curl 1 2/5 (each leg)
Leg Extension 2 4/50,40,30,20
Glute-Ham Raise 3/6
1 Press with two legs, then lower the weight with one leg, taking a full five seconds on the negative.
2 If you hit failure before your target number of reps, continue performing partials until you reach your goal.
Why It Works: You start off with reverse-pyramid barbell squats so you can elicit the post-activation potentiation effects – this will prepare the nervous system and muscles to handle heavy weight for more reps on the sets and exercises that follow. With the front squats, which move the focus to the quads, you keep the reps low so that the rhomboids (which help keep the bar in the rack position) are better able to keep up from set to set. On the leg press, you will lower for five seconds on each rep because negative overloads have been shown to spark massive hypertrophy. Yes, the butt blaster – this is not just a machine for those donning brightly-colored tights and leg warmers. This provides sorely-needed isolated overload to the glutes. The leg curls will be handled in the same way as the leg press – using negative overload – because the hamstrings are a fast-twitch muscle group and actually respond well to lower-rep training. The glute-ham raises give you a chance to work the hamstrings from origin to insertion because they are working to contract (knee) and stabilize (hip) at both joints that they cross.
Josh Bryant, MFS, CSCS, PES, is the owner of JoshStrength.com and co-author (with Adam benShea) of the Amazon No. 1 seller Jailhouse Strong. He is a strength coach at Metroflex Gym in Arlington, Texas, and holds 12 world records in powerlifting. You can connect with him on Twitter and Facebook or visit his website at www.joshstrength.com.
Leg day doesn’t have to take hours. You can actually get a ton of muscle-stimulating work done in a very short period of time if you choose the right exercises and tactics.
Goblet Squat 3/10
Leg Curl 3/10
Front Squat 1/10 min. 1
Romanian Deadlift 4/8
1 Set a round timer for 10, 1-minute intervals. Perform three reps at the top of each minute using your 5RM weight. Rest five minutes after all 10 work segments are complete.
Why It Works: Most guys will always start with a heavy compound movement for their leg workouts. The problem with this is when you are under a time crunch, you waste a lot of time warming up. Sometimes leg routines can last up to two hours! Not everyone can take that much time, so a more time efficient leg routine like this one packs a ton of volume into a small amount of time. By doing some isolation work in the beginning, you will also notice that your nervous system is turned on, allowing you to focus on moving heavy weight more efficiently. This may not look like much on paper, but after warming up your quads and hamstring with the goblet squats and leg curls, you will be ready for the 10 sets of front squats. You will be in out of the gym in less than 45 minutes.
About zero people out there start a heavy leg day with calves. But how many among us actually have calves worth boasting about? This routine still gives you all the thigh-busting benefits of compound moves but a calves-first focus adds a subtle change and sets the tone for more isolation work later.
Standing Calf Raise 6/10 1
Lying Leg Curl 6/10 1
Leg Extension 3/12 2
Hack Squat 3/12
Leg Press 4/8
Seated Calf Raise 3/12
1 Perform two sets with your feet angled in, two with them angled out and two with them parallel. Rest 90-120 seconds between sets.
2 Perform one set with your feet angled in, one with them angled out and one with them parallel. Rest 90-120 seconds between sets.
Why It Works: To turn you chopsticks in to tree trunks, you need to hit your hams and calves as hard as you hit any other part of your body. Doing calves first may seem counterintuitive, even ill advised. But training them first, when they’re fresh, will help turn them into a centerpiece of your leg development. This program develop each of the muscle groups of the leg completely provided that you choose weights that make the last rep of each set almost impossible to get. Rather than focus on big lower body mass builders like the barbell squat, you’ll target individual muscles at multiple angles to ensure that the entire leg, not just the quads, get worked. The multijoint hack squat and leg press allow you to use heavy weight without worrying about stability – from your fatigued calves or your core. You’ll finish with seated calf raises, which work the deeper-lying soleus muscle to give your calves added dimension.
David Sandler, MS, CISSN, CSCS*D, RSCC*D, HFD, HFI, FNSCA, FISSN has been a consultant, educator, researcher, and strength and conditioning coach for the past 25 years. He is the Director of Science and Education for iSatori and the President of StrengthPro, a training and nutrition consulting group.
Squats and leg presses are two of the main mass-builders in most leg programs. But you shouldn’t get too comfortable with these bilateral moves. Occasionally, it may behoove you to focus on moves that require you to work one side at a time. Exercises such as the Bulgarian split squat allow you to do that, while still overloading your muscles in hypertrophy-inducing rep ranges.
Bulgarian Split Squat 4-5/6-10 (each side)
Alternating Barbell Step-Up 4-5/6-10 (each side)
Single Leg Curl 2-3/8-10 (each side)
Single Leg Extension 2-3/8-10 (each side)
Rest no more than 30 seconds between sets.
Why It Works: Training the legs with these four exercises is a great way to add variation to your typical bilateral leg workouts. These types of moves have several benefits over training both legs together. First off, single-leg exercises will greatly improve your balance and help to eliminate any muscular asymmetries you may have due to bilateral training. Secondly, since many lifters suffer from back issues, unilateral leg training is a more “back friendly” way to strengthen the legs without further stressing the lower back. Working the legs independently of each other offers the perfect complement to your bilateral leg training. Moves like the split squat and step-up also hold great performance training benefits.
Jim Ryno, CPT, is the owner of LIFT Studios, a private personal-training facility in New Jersey.
The majority of the population is quad dominant. Basically this means that their posterior chain isn’t up to snuff like it should be, which can lead to imbalances and injury. So this workout will focus on your backside. But don’t worry about your quads not getting enough attention – they’ll still get plenty of work here.
Exercise Sets/Reps (or Distance)
Deficit Deadlift 4-5/6-8
Reverse Lunge 4-5/6-8 (per leg)
1 ¼ Barbell Squat (Heels Elevated) 3 3-4/6-8
Lying Leg Curl 4 3-4/6-8
Prowler Sled (Low Handles) 2-3/30 yards 2
Prowler Sled (High Handles) 2-3/30 yards 2
1 Rest 45-60 seconds between exercises in this superset. Rest three minutes after all sets are complete.
2 Rest 90-120 seconds between sets.
3 Squat down then come up ¼ of the way and pause for two seconds. Drop down to the bottom once more and squat all the way to the top position. This constitutes one rep.
4 Angle your feet out on all sets.
Why It Works: The focus on your posterior chain lends itself to strength and functionality throughout your entire range of strength, physique and performance goals. If you lack the mobility to a deficit deadlift – a deadlift done on a small platform where the weights can travel below the level of your feet – simply do it from the floor. With the proper intensity this workout will leave you on the ground begging for mercy and breathing harder than ever. “Proper intensity” is marked by a set challenging enough where you are at or near failure at the rep range listed. Same thing with the prowler: make those 20 or 30 yards an extremely hard working set with next-to-nothing left in the tank. And, of course, make sure to refuel your body afterwards. You want your recovery optimal. Wait one week then try this workout again but increase the weights across the board.
Phil Gephart, MS, CSCS, is a certified personal trainer and owner of Newport Fit4Life in Newport Beach, Calif. A former professional basketball player, his CHEK & PICP certifications are recognized as the top in the world in the holistic, corrective exercise approach as well as preparing athletes for competition.
If you spend a lot of time working on the leg extension and leg curl machines, you are missing out on the big gains that can be had by focusing on compound movements. This routine, which appears basic on paper, can help you build huge quads and hams if you pour max effort into each set.
Dumbbell Walking Lunge x/x
Front Squat 3/12
Romanian Deadlift 3/12
Leg Press 3/15
Why It Works: By starting out with walking lunges, you give your body a chance to warm up in a way that recruits muscles in a way that mimics the work ahead. This makes it an instant warm-up winner when compared to the treadmill or exercise bike. Perform as many sets as necessary to get a light sweat going and increase weight each time, working up to a moderate weight load. Keep the dumbbells at your shoulders to maintain a more upright body position. Your first working sets will be done with the front squat, which is a superior mass builder for quads. Research also shows a heavier demand on your core than using a BOSU ball. The Romanian deadlift, which works the hamstrings across two joints, is the ultimate mass builder for your hams. By supersetting RDLs with front squats, you take advantage of reciprocal innervation, which holds that whenever a muscle is engaged, the antagonist muscle is inhibited which expedites recovery. The faster recovery allows us to use heavier loads than you would not ordinarily use performing a superset and saves time in the gym. Saving the machine-based leg press for the end, you are able to go heavy with a compound movement despite the heavy fatigue that you’ll be experiencing by this point. Research shows that legs respond well to higher-rep work and the all-compound exercise nature of this workout is optimal for hormonal responses that trigger hypertrophy.
Kelechi Opara is a fitness model sponsored by Optimum Nutrition and American Bodybuilding. He is the creator of HumanEngine.com and the Nutritionist App for iPhone and Android and has over 15 years experience in the industry.