There’s the old joke of an empty gym means it’s leg day. Sure, everyone wants to improve the upper body, with wide shoulders and large biceps, yet the lower body may go under utilized. The problem with this is the largest muscles in the human body are located below the belt.
This means you’ll burn more calories, drop more weight and see more gains by implementing a killer leg workout. You’ll even see more upper body gains if you train your lower body as well (thanks to that nice metabolic boost you receive working your legs).
If you’re interested in really training your legs but don’t know what lifts to do, we’ve got the workout for you! You’ll see the gains, increase your strength, and feel the workout burn tomorrow when you wake up.
So what are you waiting for?
Let’s get working those legs!
If you do only one leg lift (you shouldn’t. You should do more) it needs to be the deadlift.
The deadlift hits every single muscle in the lower body. It also hits your core, your lower back and parts of your upper body as well. In terms of versatility, there is no other lift that can match that of the deadlift and there are plenty of variations like the sumo deadlift and more.
However, while you might feel drawn to it, do not opt for the Smith machine deadlift. This completely cuts out all of the stabilizer muscles (which is basically your entire lower back and core). Even if you don’t have a barbell around, using two dumbbells can work in its place.
To perform the lift, load up the barbell. Stand with your legs around shoulder width apart and maintain a straight back the entire time. Hold onto the barbell with your arms on the outside of your knees. Explode up, lifting with your lower body and not with your upper body. Squeeze your butt throughout the lift and, at the top, pull your shoulders back. This will engage the lower back and contract it. Hold for a moment, then return to the starting position, maintaining your straight back the entire time.
If you’re going for strength gains (this will be the same for all lifts), perform three sets of 3-5 reps. If you’re going for hypertrophy (again, this will be the same for all lifts, unless otherwise noted) shoot for 8-12 reps.
Second, only to the deadlift, this is an essential exercise you need to perform on leg day. It likely is already in your lifting lineup, but if it isn’t, now is the time to add it. There are many variations to the barbell squat, though you can’t go wrong with the behind the neck, resting on the shoulders position. With this lift, posture is very important as you want to maintain a straight back.
Load up a barbell and position your hands at a comfortable position on the barbell. Your hands work as stabilizers to prevent the weight from leaning one way or another in case of a wobble, so go with what is comfortable. Stand slightly further than shoulder width apart.
Lower yourself down slowly. The goal is for your thighs to be parallel to the floor before lifting up. Most people actually come back up too soon, which prevents you from really hitting the butt. If you have to, go lighter in order to hit 90 degrees. Hold for a second then push yourself back up.
With this lift, the deadlift and most other free weight lifts, feel free to add in a toe raise. This way you can target your calves at the same time, without heading over to the calve lift machine at the gym.
3 Sets of:
Strength: 3-5 reps
Size: 8-12 reps
Now, this is a move that is going to really work the inside of your quads and hamstrings while really touching your butt. Sadly few people use this lift but it is one of the best. You can use a barbell for the lift if you want, but you may find it easier to use a loaded up dumbbell.
The sumo squat gets its name from your wide stance. Picture a sumo wrestler and mimic the stance, placing your legs extremely far apart. Position the loaded dumbbell between your legs and grab hold with both arms. Like the other lifts, you need to maintain a straight back.
While holding the weight between your legs (keep your chest out and look forward during the squat), slowly lower yourself down on a four count. On four, hold it here for a count of three, then explode back up to start with a single burst. If you haven’t performed this squat before, even if you have been hitting the gym for leg day you are really going to feel this one tomorrow.
2-3 Sets of:
Strength: 3-5 reps
Size: 8-12 reps
Dumbbell Reverse Lunge
This move directly targets the glutes, so if you’ve been wanting to improve your booty, this is a must.
Stand with your feet around shoulder width apart while holding a dumbbell in each hand. With your left leg, step backward while maintaining a straight posture. Lower yourself into the lunge, but stop right before your left knee can touch the floor. Hold for a count then return to the starting position. Repeat with your right leg.
Do 2 sets of 12 reps (of each leg).
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The leg press machine is a great supplemental exercise to go along with your squats.
This workout puts almost all of the weight directly onto your quads and hamstrings, allowing you to go extremely heavy on the weight. It also allows you to obtain a better stretch in the muscles when pushing the weight. Because few stabilizer muscles are needed for this move, using the machine works exceptionally well. As you use a considerable amount of weight with this move you should put it towards the front of your workout.
However, perform most of your traditional squats and deadlifts prior to the leg press as you run the risk of an inferior form should you attempt these lifts after the leg press.
Load up a leg press machine and sit on the chair.
You want your knees close into your chest. The tighter your knees are to the chest on the leg press machine the more of a stretch you’ll get when pushing out, which means you’ll work higher up on your hamstrings into the lower gluteus. When you push out do not completely lock your legs as this puts you at a greater risk of injury. Maintain a slight bend in the knee at the height of the push, then slowly allow the weight to come back down.
Perform 2-3 sets of:
Strength: 3-5 reps
Size: 8-12 reps
Cable Standing Hip Abduction
You’ll notice most of the lifts for your killer leg workout are free weights. When possible, always go with free weights over a machine. However, with that said there are times where you just can’t replicate the angle of a machine.
However, with that said there are times where you just can’t replicate the angle of a machine.
This is one of those times.
At the cable machine, use the floor mount and connect the ankle brace to your left ankle. Place your left foot in front of your right foot, as if you are tight roping the cement curb as a child again. Your left leg should be slightly elevated off of the ground. Use your right arm to hold onto the cable machine to steady yourself. From this starting position, pull your left leg out, keeping your knee straight. This move is going to hit the upper glute muscles, which are often missed during most lower body workouts.
Perform 2 sets of 12 reps (on each side).
Now that you’re on the cable machine and you already have it set up for leg lifts, you might as well stay here and squeeze another lift out of it. The cable kick back works in a similar manner to the other leg extension machines in the gym.
However, as you are not locked into a finite movement provided by a machine, you’ll still work stabilizer muscles with the cable option, making it better of the two options.
Position yourself facing the cable machine.
Stand with the ankle connector around your first leg so it is already taught where you are standing. Brace yourself by using the same arm as the leg you are using and hold onto the cable machine. Slowly pull your leg back behind you, but make sure your back doesn’t arch as this increases your chance of injuring your lower back. Hold for a second with your leg pulled behind you to maximize the stretch, then return to the starting position.
Generally, it is best, to begin with the weaker of your two legs (usually your left leg if you are right handed), but don’t fret if you accidentally start with the strong side first.
Perform 2 sets of 12 reps (on each side).
Bulgarian Split Squat
This is a great exercise that, if you’re not doing yet, you should be and it will help complete your killer leg workout day.
The beauty of the Bulgarian split squat is you isolate each leg during the lift, allowing you to maximize muscle activity and effort. Plus, as you work each side individually, you’ll target a host of stabilizing muscles as well. This particular workout really hits the quads. Now, there are two ways to do this. You can use a barbell and bring a bench to the squat rack.
Or, if that isn’t available, you can use dumbbells and hold each dumbbell at your side. Holding heavy dumbbells at your side will help strengthen your traps (which alone can be a bit tricky to target), but it may just come down to what is available or your personal preference.
Position your stationary leg in front of the bench and then place your opposite leg with the top of your foot facing down on the bench behind you.
Holding onto your weight and maintaining a straight back, squat down. Your knee should come down to almost touching the floor (but don’t). Hold here for a second, then push yourself back to the starting position.
Perform 2 sets of 8-12 reps (on each side).
Walking Dumbbell Lunge
Looking for a great burn out exercise to perform during leg day?
This is it.
Sure, you could just do a traditional lunge, standing in place, but the walking lunge forces you to go further (as you likely need to return to your starting position).
This is also a good exercise for your traps again due to you holding weight down on each side.
During the exercise, you’ll want to take a large step out when you lunge. Don’t go with a small step. Lunge out with your first leg and squat down but do not let your knee touch the ground. You also want to keep your back straight during the lunge. Stand up and bring your other leg up to the foot you just lunged with. Now, repeat with your next side.
There is no set number of reps you should perform. Basically just do it until you can’t walk any longer. Give yourself a minute rest, then do it again.
Chances are you won’t be able to go as far, which is what makes it a great burnout exercise at the end of your routine.
Many people avoid leg day, or at least don’t put in the necessary effort into leg day because they don’t know what lifts they should be doing.
You yourself may not really know what to do other than a squat or lunge.
By following through with this routine, you’ll see a significant improvement in your leg gains. You can also mix and match different variations to keep the workout interesting. With this killer leg workout, you’ll start to feel and see improvements.
Just make sure to stick with it. Who knows, you may discover leg day is your new favorite day of the week.