Most people's leg workout consists of a few leg extensions and some leg presses. And I was guilty of it too. My first three years of lifting involved virtually no leg training. Yes - I was one those guys that benched and curled three days a week.
When I eventually decided that I wanted to try a bodybuilding competition... I knew it was time to get serious about leg training. And I was starting from square one. In fact, in my first bodybuilding contest, I placed second. My legs were my weakest body part.
I lost to someone with much better wheels. So I will outline a program that yielded tremendous results for me. These exercises brought my legs up from my weakest body part - to one of my strongest body parts. Can you see the improvement in less than 2 years?
Exercise 1 Squats
The king of all leg exercises. This movement is the number one mass builder for legs. If you want to build massive wheels... you will have to squat. And squat with good form. When performing this exercise... check your ego at the door.
Take some weight off the bar and perform them correctly. That means arch your back and squat deep. The top of your thighs should be parallel with the floor (or below)! This will ensure a full range of movement - which means maximum stimulation (and maximum growth).
I see way too many people load the bar up to 405 and move the weight 4 inches up and down. What are they really trying to achieve? Perform slow, controlled reps. Do not bounce the weight back up or you will damage your knees.
Stick your butt out - as if you are sitting down into a chair. And remember to spend plenty of time warming up! Do a high rep set of 20 to 25 with very light weight before doing your working sets. I typically perform 4 to 6 sets of squats - as I like to pyramid up the weight. When performed correctly, this exercise will hit the Quads, Hamstrings, and Glutes!
Exercise 2 Lying Leg Curls
A lot of people neglect the hamstrings! Make sure to really focus on feeling the hamstring work. Start with a warm-up set of at least 20 reps. Again, perform smooth, controlled repetitions. I will often hold the rep at the top of the movement and really squeeze my hamstring - just as if you would flex or contract your bicep at the top of a curl.
You can target different areas of the hamstring by pointing your toes toward each other or away from each other. I recommend at least 3 working sets. Each set should be a in the 8 to 15 rep range. When performed correctly, this exercise will really blast the hamstrings.
Exercise 3 Leg Press
This is another good mass builder. Again, make sure you are using a full range of motion. Lower the weight as far as you can - without allowing your lower back to rise off the seat. I also prefer to NOT lock-out (lock my knees) at the top of the movement. This keeps constant tension on my quads and protects my joints.
Again, always perform a high repetition warm-up set before piling on the weight. I perform 3 heavy working sets and will often burn-out my quads with a few drop-sets. This exercise really targets the quads. But if you can safely get deep enough, you will feel the movement in your glutes as well.
Exercise 4 Barbell Lunges
These are great for your Quads and Glutes.
Place the barbell on your shoulders as if you were performing a squat. Take a nice, long step forward with one leg. Make sure your opposite knee just grazes the floor. Do not rest your knee on the floor! Plant that front foot and push off it hard to return to your starting position. Then alternate and step forward with your other leg. I usually perform 3 sets of 20 alternating reps (which equals 10 lunges per leg).
I try to keep the weight as heavy as possible... So that by the last rep... I often can't stand back up (Failure!). So you may want to have a spotter or perform these in a rack.
Exercise 5 Seated Leg Extensions
When performed at the end of your workout... these will really pump up and burn out your Quads. I recommend 3 working sets of about 15 reps. Focus on squeezing or contracting the muscle at the top of the movement. Use a smooth, controlled motion. Do not just bounce the weight up. After your 3 working sets, perform a few drops sets so that you have to crawl out of the gym!
- Barbell Squat
- Lying Leg Curls
3 sets of 8-15 reps
- Leg Press
3 sets (with a few dropsets)
- Barbell Lunge
3 sets of 20 reps (alternating)
- Leg Extensions
3 sets (with a few dropsets)
So there you have it! I have presented five basic exercises that will surely get your legs growing and add more detail. Make the mind-muscle connection. Try to concentrate on what muscle you are training and really feel it work.
Do not get hung up on how much weight you can move. In fact - you may find that lowering the weight and performing the exercise correctly makes the movement more difficult. This is especially true with squats. Also, whenever possible, try to have a spotter on leg day.
Try to find someone that will really push you. Leg training is usually not fun (which is probably why few do it). And if you want your legs to grow... you will have to train to complete failure. Which means you should not be able to perform one more rep (with good form).
The crucial factors to remember are:
- Spend plenty of time warming up (Stretch, perform high-rep, light warm-up sets).
- Use proper form (Smooth, controlled, full range of motion).
Now go build some massive legs!