Have you ever skipped leg day? Don’t worry, everyone has at some point.
Training legs is tough, but rewarding. And not for the faint-hearted. You will suffer DOMS, miss PBs and struggle to fit into old jeans. But don’t fret. Training legs has some incredible benefits.
As well as building the muscles in your quads, hamstrings and calves, leg exercises provide a solid foundation of strength for other lifts, helping you to create a well-rounded, healthy and functional physique. Nothing good comes easy, and it’s the same with training legs.
Here we cover the best leg workouts, leg exercises and routines, sext time you step into the gym for leg day, you’ll know what you’re doing.
What are the best leg exercises?
Probably the first movement you think of in terms of leg day.
Squats are performed by standing with feet shoulder-width apart, lowering your body by bending your knees and hips, and then returning to the starting position. They primarily work the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, lower back, and core.
Leg press works similar to squats – a pressing movement, but they are more accessible than squats, since you don’t really have to worry too much about your back stability.
On a leg press machine, sit down and place your feet shoulder-width apart on the platform, then push the weight upward using your legs. Leg presses target the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes.
Romanian Deadlifts (RDLs)
Romanian deadlifts are executed by holding a barbell or dumbbells in front of your thighs, hinging at your hips to lower the weights while keeping your back straight, and returning to an upright position.
The difference between Romanian deadlifts and deadlifts is down to the action of the knees. In RDLs, the knee is slightly bent and stays there, while on a deadlift, the knee will bend as you sink down. RDL targets the posterior leg muscles, including the hamstrings and glutes.
Leg extensions are performed on a machine. Sit down, slide your legs under the machine, and lift the weights by extending your knees. With control, lower them back to the starting position. Leg extensions isolate the quadriceps.
These are the hamstring version of leg extensions. Lie face down on a leg curl machine, curl your legs upward by bending your knees, and lower them back down. Leg curls isolate the hamstrings.
For lunges, stand with feet hip-width apart, take a step forward with one leg, lower your body until both knees are at a 90-degree angle, and return to the starting position. Lunges work the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and calves.
Bulgarian Split Squat
This is kind of like a lunge, but uses two benches to create a greater range of motion.
To perform Bulgarian split squats, stand a few feet away from a bench, place one foot behind you on the bench, and lower your body by bending your front knee. They primarily target the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. Bulgarian split squats are one of the best gym exercises for footballers.
Squats, but a machine. On a hack squat machine, place your shoulders under the shoulder pads and push the weight upward using your legs. Hack squats work the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes.
To do calf raises, stand on the edge of a step or platform, raise your heels as high as you can, then lower them down below the level of the step. Calf raises primarily target the calf muscles.
Many people with large calves tend not to train them. Yeah, it’s pretty unfair, right? Genetics.
But still, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t train them. Calf raises is one of the best exercises to build the calf muscle.
The king of compound movements, deadlifts can feature on either leg day or pull day.
For deadlifts, stand with a barbell in front of you, bend at your hips and knees, grip the bar, and lift it by extending your hips and knees. There’s plenty of resources if you want more detail on how to increase your deadlift.
Deadlifts work the entire posterior chain, including the lower back, glutes, hamstrings, and also engage the erector spinae, core, and upper back muscles. They also engage the anterior chain, with the quads, core and even parts of the upper body. For which muscles deadlifts work, see the graphic below.
LEG DAY WORKOUT ROUTINES: TWO EXAMPLES
LEG DAY WORKOUT 1: SQUATS
Squat 5×5 / 4×6 (alternate between these rep changes week by week)
Leg press 4×8
Leg Extension 4×8-12
Leg Curl 4×8-12
Accessory of your choice
LEG DAY WORKOUT 2: RDLs
RDL 5×5 / 4×8 (you could change the RDL here to conventional DL)
Hack Squats 4×8-10
Calf Raises 4×12
Accessory of your choice
Most people won’t be training legs twice per week. At least not full-fledged, leg day-only sessions. Lots of people will add other movements, such as back exercises, into the mix. Especially if they already have one full leg day.
For leg day routine 2, feel free to add some pull day exercises in there too, such as pull-ups. It may help provide a break between leg exercise sets.
Leg day warm-up
Warm-ups are important for every session, but for leg days they are absolutely crucial. If you don’t warm-up properly, expect to have a poor session. Or even pick-up an injury.
The best leg-day warm-up depends on the session itself. You’ll want to work in some light sets of your chosen compound movements. So for squats, for example, begin with some reps on an empty bar. Hold a squat at the bottom, using the rack if you need some support.
Leg day workout tips
DOMS are to be expected
When you first start training legs, it’s going to hurt afterwards. Be prepared to be hobbling down some stairs for a couple of days. Your first few sessions will induce some intense DOMS. But that’s okay. That’s normal. In fact, it probably means you’re doing something right.
You just need to be serious about your recovery and prioritise your nutrition. Up your protein, up your carbs. You’ll be feeling good in no time. Once your first few sessions are completed, you’ll find DOMS will affect you less and less.
You probably understand the paramount of form. Without it, you’re prone to injuries, muscular imbalances and, worst of all, missing out on gains. Whether you’re a beginner or an expert, sticking to form is always a priority.
It’s easy to go off course as you grow more experiences, so getting into good habits early on will make things easier for you. Don’t rush to big weights. Nail the form with smaller weights first.
What should I eat before a leg session?
Leg sessions tend to need more fuel than Push Day workouts or Pull Day exercises. This is because the muscles in the leg are much larger, and therefore require more energy to move. It’s important, therefore, to get the right nutrients before you step into the gym.
Carbohydrates are crucial here. You need to ensure your glycogen stores are full, otherwise your muscle will burn out, and you’ll be forced to drop the weight. You don’t want that. You want to maximise your session.
Getting some protein in is also a good idea. For an optimal meal, wholefood carb sources such as oats, rice or pasta consumed one to two hours prior is ideal.
However, that’s not always possible. Therefore a protein shake and a banana is enough to give you that boost. These are fast-absorbing and should be there to provide energy for your session.
If you want some advanced supplementation, you may want to try Highly Branched Cyclic Dextrin. Providing 25g of gradual release, premium complex carbohydrates, it helps maintain energy levels throughout your workout. It’s used by many endurance athletes and powerlifters to help them perform for tougher sessions.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does training legs increase testosterone?
Yes and no. Some research has found that intense resistance training, including leg workouts, can temporarily increase testosterone levels in men. Those benefits aren’t guaranteed for everyone, though. Also, the spike will last only about 15 minutes to an hour after the workout.
Studies found a similar effect when exercising the upper body too.
How many leg exercises should you do per workout?
To avoid overtraining, we recommend not doing any more than five leg exercises per workout. However, this rule may be broken if you are doing lots of specific isolatory work.
How long should a leg day workout be?
As long as it takes. Some sessions may take two hours, others may only take 45 minutes. It depends mostly on the rest times. If you are going heavy on squats, for example, you may be doing six-plus sets with five minute rest times. That’s half an hour just on rest times.
So don’t worry too much about the time. Plan the workout and see it out accordingly. Move swiftly between exercises to avoid any wasted time.
How many calories does leg workout burn?
Leg days burn the most calories out of all the splits. This is because leg muscles are the largest, and therefore require the most calories.
A general weight lifting will burn around 120-150 calories. Leg sessions will burn over 200.
Is training legs once a week enough?
Yes. Training legs once a week is good for a 3 day or even a 5 day split. However, if you are targeting your legs specifically, adding a second day will help you with that goal.
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