Get the most out of your leg training by following these 15 simple rules. These tips will help you build muscle, stay injury-free, and get the most out of your workouts.
Below are the most critical tips to take seriously on your leg workout day.
1. Train Your Legs As A Weak Point
Many amateur athletes suffer from skinny leg syndrome because they focus for a long time, maybe even years, on training their chest and arms to neglecting their lower body. You can’t change what’s already been done, but you can start prioritizing your feet.
If you suffer from this syndrome, professional athlete and bodybuilder Calum von Moger suggests two important ways to help you develop your legs: “If the legs are a weak point, I would recommend training them twice a week, making squats a priority in your training.”
2. Start With Seats
Based on the last tip, you just need to do squats. You might think that any leg exercise will develop your thighs as long as you train hard enough, but that’s not the case.
As with any muscle group, choosing the most challenging movement and doing it first in your workout when your energy levels are high will provide you with the greatest benefits.
“I really believe that squats are the best exercise for gaining muscle as they are a multi-joint movement that uses all the muscle mass in the legs as well as the glutes,” says Calum. “I always do them at the beginning of my training, and I think that’s the only way I can give 100% effort.”
Half squat variations – especially low bar squats (the bar is placed on the shoulder blade) and front squats – are good alternatives that recruit the muscles slightly differently and can be substituted in some cases for better overall strength and development.
3. Go Low
In addition to hiding their legs with long pants many also hide their leg weakness by loading the bar only to perform half the movement. This attempt to hide their weak legs isn’t fooling anyone, and the reduced range of motion also reduces their muscle gains.
“Using a full range of motion is best as it works all the muscles,” says Calum. “If you’re doing half the reps then you’re not fully working the muscle. That being said, an effective way to fully exhaust the muscle is to do half reps after completing all full range reps at the end of your set.”
Going lower engages the glutes and hamstrings more than when you’re doing half the movement, whether you’re doing squats, leg presses, etc. If you have good flexibility, go to a point where your hips are lower than the hip joint in your knee.
4. Change Your Foot Position
You can use any position and leg opening with leg exercises such as squats, leg presses, and hack squats, but for the most strength, choose a position where your feet are about shoulder-width apart and your toes should point slightly outwards. As you’re looking for growth and size, it’s a good idea to add variety to your leg locations.
“I change the position of my feet often so I can aim my feet at every angle,” says Calum. “I’ll do small squats to work the outside of the quads, followed by a wider stance to target the adductors. I apply the same method to push-ups and leg extensions.”
Caution: Do not point your toes inward or excessively outward in movements where your feet are pressed against the ground or a machine, to ensure that you do not injure your knees.
Read also: Leg press foot placement
5. Changes in the placement of legs high and low
Many leg machines including the press and hack squats – have platforms that allow you to use any leg location. Depending on how you place your feet, high or low, is going to make a difference in terms of muscle recruitment.
Lower leg placement targets the quads more, while higher placement targets the glutes and hamstrings more effectively. This doesn’t mean you can isolate these muscles, but if you want to increase muscle tension in a specific area, leg raises are one way to do it.
6. Apply Even The Most Underrated Exercises For Others
Everyone knows that sit-ups are the ultimate exercise, but which exercise is the most underrated when it comes to leg workout day? According to Calum, it’s weighted split squats. “This exercise is great for splitting your quads, but not many people do it,” he says.
To do a dumbbell split squat, start with one leg in front and the other behind. Just bend your knees and come down, then come back up to the starting position. For joint health make sure your back knee is off the floor and the knee of the front leg is in a vertical line over your toes.
7. Emphasize Quadriceps
Leg day consists of a number of muscle groups – mainly the quads, glutes, and hamstrings – but some exercises target one area better than another. Calum’s options that work the quads best include leg extensions, squats, bench presses (alternating each leg), hack squats, sissy squats, and front squats.
He’s also a big fan of the pre-exhaustion method of starting with a single-joint exercise at the beginning of leg training, doing three sets of leg extensions before adding the multi-joint exercises.
8. Increase the Intensity of Your Training
The benefits of a good leg workout can be enhanced when you add any number of intensity-building techniques to extend a particular set by making your workout harder. In addition to the pre-exhaustion method, in which you use an isolation exercise before a compound, multi-joint exercise, Calum also opts for the following three intensity-building techniques:
- Drop sets, where you can quickly drop the weight by about 25% once you reach muscle exhaustion, and continue with your sets.
- Half reps, where you do as many full reps as you can, then do a few more half reps.
- Reducing rest time to increase training intensity.
9. Share The Leg Workout
Leg day consists of exercises for various muscle groups, as mentioned above, and many of the exercises are among the most challenging movements you’ll do in any given week. Sometimes this puts the hamstrings second. Instead of trying to ensure the energy needed for specific movements that work the hamstrings, many bodybuilders simply choose to train their hamstrings on a separate day, usually at least 48 hours after their main quad workout.
“I like to separate the hamstrings from the quads so I’m giving 100% to each muscle group,” says Calum. “Work the quads on the first day, then finish with a hamstring exercise. 2-3 days later, train the hamstrings and finish the workout by working your calves.”
10. Work With More Reps
For almost every exercise it is recommended to choose a weight with which you can perform 8-12 repetitions to stimulate muscle growth (hypertrophy). But when it comes to leg training, Calum says slightly higher reps work best: “I find the legs respond better to higher reps as it takes some time for the blood to get down there and the muscles to fill up”.
Instead of going lower, try doing more reps – up to 15 – on your heaviest set. This is a particularly useful technique to try if your leg workout has become boring and you’re not seeing results.
11. Avoid Locking Your Knees
When you’re exhausted toward the end of a pretty brutal set of squats or leg presses, it’s tempting to take a momentary break and lock your knees. When you lock a joint, some of the stress is shifted from the working muscles to the joint, which puts ligaments and tendons under a lot of pressure. It also reduces tension on the targeted muscle (ie, less growth stimulus), providing instant relief from accumulated fatigue while allowing for a short “break” during the set.
When it comes to joint safety, it’s never a good idea to lock them, especially when training with heavy weight. Perform each rep through a full range of motion for maximum benefit, but stop just before lockout.
12. Stop Following The Rules
When you reach a plateau in your training, it can feel like nothing is going to help you get past it. This is where you should start thinking outside the box. For Calum, this is where he starts breaking all the training rules he usually follows, with a method called muscle confusion.
“I don’t follow the rules, I break them – that’s my secret,” he says. “Feet can be very stubborn. They expect you to follow the rules. So I want to surprise them by doing extra sets, reps, and different exercises than I might have done the previous week. If you struggle to walk properly later, then you know you’ve done enough.”
13. Work Your Hamstrings From The Hip Joint
If your hamstring workout includes exercises like leg curls, standing leg curls, and seated leg curls, you’re only half done. All these exercises start the movement from the knee joint. However, the hamstrings connect to both the knees and hips. You can focus on the upper thigh area by using movements where the action takes place in the hips. The best way to do this is by performing Romanian Deadlifts (RDLs) in your hamstring routine.
Not to be confused with deadlifts, which are an exercise that works more of the lower back, RDLs effectively target the glutes and hamstrings. Although it takes some time to perfect this movement (thrust your glutes back, make sure to keep your back straight throughout, keep your knees bent, and don’t try to lower the weight all the way to the floor) it’s a great way to for the fuller development of the hamstrings.
14. Use Two Movements For Calves
Calves are usually trained last on leg day, and most athletes do one or two exercises to round out their workout. But it would be a mistake to assume that all calf exercises are equal. While most calf movements are done with extended (but not locked) legs, bent-knee calf exercises are different in one important way: the soles of the feet take the brunt of the workload.
This is because the gastrocnemius attaches above the knee joint, making it incapable of strong contraction when the knee is bent. Movements with extended legs work both muscles. Therefore, doing a straight-leg calf exercise in addition to seated crunches targets the calf muscles more effectively.
15. Adjust Your Mind
How can you mentally prepare for a killer leg workout? Try Calum’s approach. “I usually start my preparation the day before a workout by eating plenty of carbs,” he says. “And later I picture the workout in my head as I drive to the gym.”
Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to a good workout, but don’t expect to go in unprepared for an incredible workout. Prepare your mind so that you are ready to work your muscles hard.