Leg Exercises

Leg Training: Bring Out the Big Wheels

Change the game of lower body training for stronger quads, hams, and glutes, and less risk of injury.

Front Squat

Building a Leg Program

The knock on single-leg training has always been the limits on the loads you can use, but Bruno says you can maximize the training effect of light loads with any number of tricks, i.e., make the exercises feel harder. “Rather than trying to lift the most weight possible,” he says, “really hone in on form. You could pause at different points in the range of motion or do 1½ reps,” where you perform one full rep and then return to the toughest point in the range of motion for a half rep. For instance, on a Bulgarian split squat, go all the way down, come halfway back up, go down again, and then stand up completely. That’s one rep. Another favorite method of Bruno’s is what he calls “countdown sets.” You could do five reps of split squats and then pause at the bottom for five seconds. From there, perform four reps and rest four seconds, then three and three, and so on down to one. Any of these approaches will scorch your legs, and, of course, can be used on double-leg barbell squatting lifts as well.

For most leg exercises, Bruno likes to stay in the six- to 12-rep range. “When you go too low on reps, your form tends to be bad, and when you go too high, it breaks down,” he says. Of course, there are exceptions. Deadlifts are such a stressful move that their reps should be kept low for safety’s sake—say, five to eight. The same goes for front squats, since balancing the bar will fatigue your shoulders and upper back. On leg presses, however, where the machine does most of the stabilizing for you, you can use higher reps for a bigger pump, such as 15 to 20 or even more. If you have injuries, avoid heavy loading and err on the higher end of the rep spectrums for all exercises.

How much work you do for your legs depends on how frequently you choose to train them. If you have one designated leg day per week, you may do four or five leg moves of three to four work sets each. But Bruno says if you train only three or four days per week, full-body training may work better for you. “If you do one or two leg exercises per workout, you’re essentially splitting up the same amount you do on a leg day over a week.”

If you choose to do both conventional back squats and deadlifts, try to keep them separated by at least two full days. Performing one lift on Monday and the other on Friday will go a long way toward preserving overtraining and overuse injuries. Eastern Bloc training cycles that have you squatting multiple times per week have come back into vogue, promising that the regular practice will fine-tune your squatting and build strength fast. Bruno doesn’t dispute that they work, but questions the overall cost of doing business. “I think those kinds of programs are very dangerous for the masses. If you’re not a natural lifter, it can be too much.”

As for how to set up a leg day, Bruno likes to begin with single-leg work. When you’re fresh, it’s easier to keep your balance. “It also functions as a pre-exhaust,” he says. If you squat later in the workout, “your lower back is fresh, but your legs are a little tired so your back isn’t the limiting factor. I do front squats or squats at the end of the session. You may not be able to squat as much that way, but your legs are getting a better workout.”

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