Do you want bigger legs? Then you better be ready to squat – at least if you want to do the below routine from U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant Nathan Rumbaugh. “This is the leg day killer workout I utilized during my recent combat deployment overseas,” he says.

No wonder the United States has the strongest military in the world. And you’ll soon have the strongest legs in your gym with this workout.

Featured trainer: Staff Sergeant Nathan Rumbaugh is a weapons loader from the 180th Fighter Wing in Toledo, OH. Since graduating from the University of Cincinnati, Nathan has been a traveling freelance photographer and designer. As a photographer for Bravo Sierra, he’s able to combine his passions of military service, fitness, and photography all into one. When he’s not working on the flight line, traveling, or shooting photography, Rumbaugh is working on his private pilot’s license in hopes to soon be flying for the Air Force.

Equipment needed: Barbell, squat rack, dumbbells (glute-ham raise and calf raise machine optional)

Time commitment: Around 45 minutes, depending on rest periods

Workout overview: The best way to describe Rumbaugh’s leg workout is squats, squats, and more squats. Literally, three different squat variations right off the bat: the classic barbell squat, followed by grueling pistol squats, then dumbbell front squats.

After the squatting trio comes a few sets of curtsy lunges to hit the glutes, adductors (inner thighs), and abductors (outer thighs), in addition to the quads. Then you’ll finish with one of the toughest hamstring exercises on the planet (glute-ham raise) supersetted with calf raises.

“If you’re trying to grow meaty quads and strengthen some key core-stabilizer muscles in the process, this workout is for you,” says Rumbaugh. “Compound movements are very important to build functional strength and to grow stabilizer muscles, which not only aid in balance and control, but help keep you safe from injury during your lift.”

Nathan Rumbaugh’s ‘Leg-Day Crusher’ Workout

Warmup: After 5-10 minutes of low-intensity cardio and dynamic stretching for the lower body, perform 3 sets of 20 reps of bodyweight lunges and 3 sets of 12 reps of Good Mornings with an empty Olympic bar (45 pounds).

“This light warmup will get the blood flowing,” says Rumbaugh, “and the good mornings will get your back and core stabilizer muscles woke and ready to carpe that diem.”

The Workout
Exercise Sets Reps
Barbell Squat 4 8, 12, 12, 25
Heel-elevated Pistol Squat 3 12 per leg
Dumbbell Front Squat 3 8, 12, 12
Dumbbell Curtsy Lunge 3 8, 12, 12
Glute-Ham Raise
–superset with–
3 12
Standing or Seated Calf Raise 3 12

Cardio: “It’s rare that I have time to hit cardio right after the weights,” says Rumbaugh, “so I tend to break my workout into two segments: cardio in the morning before breakfast (either a 3-mile run or 20 minutes on the Stairmaster), and then strength training later on that afternoon. My goal each week is to do at least three cardio sessions, or four if my cheat meal happened to include a pepperoni pizza.”

Rest periods: Rest 1-2 minutes between sets. The first three exercises in particular are highly taxing compound moves, so taking a full two minutes is advised for most people. Because the two exercises are supersetted, don’t rest between glute-ham raises and calf raises; after calf raises, rest one minute.

 Exercise notes

  • Barbell squat: The rep counts in this workout represent a reverse pyramid, where you start with the lowest rep count and finish with the highest. If the first set of 8 reps is challenging, you’ll likely need to decrease weight for the next two sets (12 reps); however, if the first set wasn’t taken close to failure, you’ll likely be able to use the same weight for the 12-rep sets. The last set (25 reps) should definitely be done with a lighter weight than the previous two sets of 12. “Great form is always the priority over the amount of weight, so keep a strong core, a neutral spine, and focus on solid breathing,” says Rumbaugh.
  • Heel-elevated pistol squat: Elevating the heel will place more emphasis on the quads than the glutes. Pistol squats are a highly advanced move. Most people able to do them will need to stick to bodyweight only, if not a light dumbbell. If you’re unable to do standard pistol squats even with bodyweight, scale the exercise by holding onto a stable structure with one hand to help assist you on the way up. Other less-difficult versions of one-leg squats include Bulgarian split squats and one-leg box squats.
  • Dumbbell front squat: This is simply the dumbbell version of the classic front squat. Hold the dumbbells either in front of your shoulders or resting on the front delts with a neutral grip (palms facing each other). Make sure your quads reach parallel with the floor on each rep, keeping your back flat and torso upright.
  • Dumbbell curtsy lunge: Standing upright holding a pair of dumbbells at your sides, step one foot back and cross it behind the other leg. Drop the back knee to the floor, then reverse the motion to return to the standing. Repeat on the other side, alternating sides every other rep.
  • Glute-ham raise: If you don’t have a glute-ham raise machine, perform the exercise kneeling on the floor with your feet locked in place under a stable structure. This is a highly advanced exercise; if you’re not able to do 12 reps on the floor version, use your arms to push yourself off the floor at the bottom to create upward momentum. Over time, use less and less upper body assistance.
  • Standing or seated calf raise: Use whichever variation/machine you prefer. If you have both available, alternate every other workout. If you don’t have either machine, do standing calf raises using a block or step to raise your foot and hold a dumbbell for resistance.
Man Doing Leg Extension Exercise

7 Moves to Work Your Legs to Exhaustion

Move beyond your leg-building plateaus with these essential lower-body moves.

Read article