Workout Routines

Foundational Workouts for Bigger, Stronger Legs

Want bigger, stronger legs? Then hit them with the following foundational exercises.

Man Doing Leg Extension Exercise
milan2099 / Getty
milan2099 / Getty
Duration 45 min
Exercises 4
Equipment Yes

The Pareto principle (aka the “80/20 rule”) states that, in a given area, roughly 80% of your results are accomplished by 20% of your efforts. If we were applying this to leg training, then squats, lunges, stepups, and deadlifts would fall into the 20% of exercises producing 80% of your lower-body gains (more or less). All those leg extensions and leg curls are fine, but they’re likely not your true thigh-developing linchpins.

What you’ll find here is a Pareto-inspired Level Up leg workout that builds off its Straight Up counterpart by providing a bit more bang for the buck—variations of lunges, squats, stepups, and deadlifts, and nothing else. Consider this your 80/20 leg day. If you’ve got time later in the week (and aren’t crushed by this workout), then knock yourself out with leg presses, leg curls, and the inner/outer thigh machine. 

Check out both workouts below, and try the Level Up routine for serious leg gains.

The Level Up Difference: Stepups

Perform stepups with either dumbbells or a barbell; when in doubt, go with dumbbells, as they’re a slightly safer option. Plant your foot on the bench or box, heel first, not the ball of the foot.

The Level Up Difference: Reverse Lunge

While comparable, these are more dynamic than split squats. When doing reverse lunges, drive up through the heel of the front foot—as if you were doing a single-leg squat—and minimize the push off from the back leg. 

The Level Up Difference: Goblet Squat

Think of goblet squats as a modified version of a front squat. Keep your torso upright and maintain a tight core, and keep the dumbbell up against your body so it doesn’t pull you forward. 

Straight Up: Quads *As published in the October 2013 issue of 'M&F'.

Exercise 1

Leg Extension
Leg Extension thumbnail
5 sets
10 reps
-- rest

Exercise 2

Leg Press How to
Leg Press thumbnail
4 sets
12 reps
-- rest

Exercise 3

Barbell Split Squat You'll need: Barbell, Squat Rack How to
Barbell Split Squat thumbnail
3 sets
10 reps
-- rest
*per leg

Exercise 4

Stepup You'll need: Box How to
Step-Up thumbnail
3 sets
10 reps
-- rest

Level Up: Quads Warm up with 5 to 10 minutes of low-intensity cardio followed by 1 to 2 sets of light leg extensions and 1 to 2 sets of light lunges.

Exercise 1

Reverse Lunge You'll need: Dumbbells How to
Reverse Lunge thumbnail
3 sets
10 reps
-- rest
*per leg

Exercise 2

Goblet Squat You'll need: Dumbbells, Kettlebells How to
Goblet Squat thumbnail
4 sets
8* reps
-- rest
*Start light and increase weight on every set.

Exercise 3

Stepup You'll need: Box How to
Step-Up thumbnail
3 sets
10 reps
-- rest
*per leg

Exercise 4

Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift
The 6-Minute Lower-Body Assault Workout thumbnail
3 sets
12 reps
-- rest
*per leg
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