The ultimate leg day workout starts with understanding that leg workouts are not as simple as just squatting. No disrespect to the squat series – they are great exercises and should certainly be a part of your workout program, but they are not the be all and end all of leg training.
The best leg day workout combines many different movements that engage all the major and minor muscles of the leg.
We don’t just want to hit the quadriceps – we also want to hit the glutes, adductors, calves, and hamstrings. Hitting all of these muscles requires a complete leg training series.
By combining a variety of powerful leg exercises we are helping to condition the body for long-term growth. Growth that will push our big lifts like squat and deadlift further, helping us to train for greater hypertrophy down the road.
Let’s break down the most effective way to crush your leg workout and build mass through your training routine.
Leg Day Workout
High Bar Back Squat
When completed correctly, the high bar back squat is one of the best ways to hit the major muscles in the legs. The quads will handle a lot of the weight but you will also be training your glute muscles (the most powerful muscles in the body).
When performing the high-bar back squat your main goal should always be form and function. There is no glory in squatting if your form looks terrible, and with bad form you won’t be able to lift very much weight and could be inching closer to injury territory every day.
Check out the video below for a brief refresher on how to perform the correct squat.
Hands down the most applicable exercise to sport scenarios. In this exercise you will be forcing the glutes and hamstring to work overtime. Performing the bulgarian lunge is similar to a traditional lunge except your back foot is elevated and your front foot should take “most” of the weight.
Perform this exercise with moderate reps and low weight. The emphasis here is on stability and strength – not how much weight you can lift.
Shoulders Elevated Glute Bridge
A personal favourite of mine. The shoulder elevated glute bridge might look a little silly, but all strength trainers or bodybuilders will admit this is probably the most effective way to isolate the glutes and develop transferable strength to exercises like the deadlift, box jump or the romanian deadlift.
This is an exercise where you will want to start off light to get the form down correctly. Once you have your form down correct you can then start packing on the weight – you’d be very surprised how much weight you can push in this exercise (the glutes are very strong).
Reverse Hyperextension Hold
Hyperextension always goes under the radar in most people’s programs – but you’re not most people. If you want the results you have to do the exercises no one else is doing.
The reverse hyperextension is an exercise that will train your lower back, hamstrings and glutes for a static hold – developing isometric strength and stability. For best results try to hold for at least 30 seconds and take long rest periods. This is all about rep quality.
|ULTIMATE LEG DAY WORKOUT
|High Bar Back Squat
|Shoulders Elevated Glute Bridge
|Reverse Hyperextension Hold
Tips for Your Leg Day Routine
Now that you have three great major exercises and a minor exercise in your leg day routine let’s help you find how you can incorporate traditional strength training principles into your routine for optimal results down the road.
1. Hit The Biggest Muscles
This might seem obvious – but you need to hit the biggest muscles for growth. This means focus on the glutes first, quads second and hamstrings third. Not only will this help you to develop better strength down the road but you are building the correct muscles for force translation – essential for your big lifts.
2. Take Long Rest Periods
Rest periods are the second most important aspect of any training routine, but it is especially important during a leg day routine.
Rest period determines how much muscle glycogen you can resynthesize before your next bout of training.
Too much rest and you start to feel cold, not enough rest and you will notice that you have very little power during your training session.
Our suggestion would be to have about 3 minutes rest between each of your big, compound movements and about 1-2 minutes rest between the smaller accessory exercises.
3. Use 2-3 Primary Exercises
The structure of your ultimate leg workout will be different every time you train. It is important to have a list of your primary exercises to start with and to select the most important 3 for that particular workout (depending on the workout focus or goal).
In the Ultimate leg day workout above our core 3 exercises are the high bar back squat, bulgarian lunge and shoulders elevated glute bridge (sometimes called hip bridge).
4. Include 1-2 Accessory Exercises
Accessory exercises are exercises that “help” your primary exercises. These are exercises like side lunges or glute activation. Of course they build strength, but this is not their primary goal. Most accessory exercises should be performed in a higher volume with greater time under tension.
5. Bar Placement Changes Everything
If you’re a barbell finatic, understand that the barbell placement changes everything. A high bar position will emphasize development in the quads, whereas a low back bar position will use the hamstrings and glutes more. In contrast, a front bar position (like in a front squat) will also use the quads more (but this exercise is more difficult to perform correctly).
Ensuring that you incorporate multiple bar placements will help your body to adapt to a variety of stimuli and also improve your balance and strength throughout the leg muscles.
Adapting the Workout for Mass Training
Everyone wants to pack on more muscle – am I right? Well, mass training, at its core, is actually quite simple. Your goal is to continuously stimulate the muscles for hypertrophy – the increase in muscle cell size. Creating a leg day routine that emphasizes mass can be done by understanding three important concepts:
Concept #1: Incorporate Tempo
Tempo training is the fine art of using “rep speed” during your training. The goal during a workout should always be to stimulate the muscles for growth. Tempo training does this by telling your muscles when to work hard and when to work a little less.
Want to learn more about tempo training? Checkout our article on tempo training and take your leg workout to the next level.
Concept #2: Machines Can Be Useful
This might aggrivate the hardcore lifters but the truth is machines do have a place in your strength training program. Machines help to stimulate mass because they are simple and do not have very many variables attached to them.
Take for example the leg press… Most strength athletes can push more weight on a leg press than they could in a back squat – even though it’s almost the exact same movement.
The main difference here is that the back squat has multiple variables – many of which take years to develop and train. The leg press, and other machine lifts can be used to put more pressure on the muscles without adding additional variables to the equation.
Concept #3: Get Your Nutrition In Check
Training is only one side of the coin. Elite athletes and all the guys you see in the gym that are pushing heavy weight will always have a keen interest in nutrition. The fuel you put into your body will have a direct correlation to the performance you demonstrate during your leg day routine.
When it comes to training your legs for mass you should always consider a diet that is high in carbohydrates, relatively high in protein and low in fat. A higher carbohydrate diet rich in whole grains, fruit, legumes and vegetables will provide your body with an abundance of muscle glycogen – the fuel for your workout. Try to consume about 8-10g/pound of bodyweight.
Leg Day Wrap-up
Training can always be simple. You can always be that person that goes to the gym and enjoys the activity and puts on strength over time – but if you’re the person who wants to push their physical limits it means understanding when and how to do that.
Be sure to include periodization training into your workout routine and ensure success. Enjoy the gains.
CSEP – CPT, Expert in Exercise Physiology
Gabriello is a writer and strength expert best known for his science-based and practical approach to Exercise Physiology, Nutrition and Strength. After serving in a directors position for The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology Gabriello moved towards writing to help more people understand the importance of living a healthy life. Gabriello’s writings have been published in several languages on some of the largest health and fitness websites helping people learn, grow and understand the complex components of optimizing human performance in a simplistic way.
Gabriello also takes on specialized, high-performance athletes who are in need of strength, mobility and conditioning programming to optimize their fitness through his Earned Fitness program.