I’ll go as far as saying this will be the ultimate leg workout for training your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves.
If you’re looking for a killer leg workout to build an impressive pair of gams, you’re in the right place.
Building a pair of strong, defined, muscular legs is more difficult and unpleasant than building your bis, chest, or back, which is why many guys will do anything to goldbrick their way out of an intense leg workout. But the fact that you’re reading this tells me you’re up to the task.
In this article, you’ll get the ultimate leg workout for training your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves.
It’s about as close to a perfect leg workout as you can find, because it checks all the right boxes for maximizing leg development:
- It starts with compound exercises that stimulate many different muscle groups at once.
- It includes a variety of “accessory” exercises for all of your major lower body muscle groups, which ensures you end up with a proportionate, symmetrical pair of pins.
- It has you training with sufficiently heavy weights to maximally stimulate your leg muscle fibers and get you in and out of the gym quickly (you won’t find any boring, high-rep “pump” training in this workout).
It takes quite a bit of time and work to build an impressive set of legs and it’s not a simple matter of DOING MOAR SKWAATTZZ!!1!! But follow this “extreme” leg workout routine for 8-to-12 weeks, eat enough calories and protein, and get enough sleep, and I guarantee you’ll have a bigger, stronger pair of legs on the other side.
This intense leg workout includes six exercises in total and will take an hour or slightly more. This leg workout will be taxing, so you’ll want to rest at least 3-to-5 minutes between sets of your first four exercises and 2-to-3 minutes between the last two exercises. Due to these long rest periods, it’s common (and completely fine) for your leg workouts to take a bit longer than upper body workouts.
For the rest possible results, do the exercises in the order they’re given. If you want to speed up your workouts slightly, you can alternate between sets of the leg press and hamstring curl when doing these exercises, but make sure you still rest 2-to-3 minutes between sets. This is a variation of the superset known as an antagonist paired set, which is generally better for muscle gain than regular supersets.
Sets: 3 | Reps: 4-to-6 | Rest: 3-to-5 min
The barbell back squat is hands down the most effective leg exercise you can do for building overall size and strength. It also allows you to use very heavy weights, which maximizes tension on your muscle fibers and thus muscle growth over time.
How to: Position a barbell in a squat rack at about the height of your nipples. Step under the bar, pinch your shoulder blades together, and rest the bar directly above the bony ridges on the bottom of your shoulder blades. Lift the bar out of the rack, take one or two steps backward, and place your feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart with your toes pointing slightly outward. Sit down and remember to keep your back straight and push your knees out in the same direction as your toes throughout each rep. Stand up and return to the starting position.
Sets: 3 | Reps: 6-to-8 | Rest: 3-to-5 min
The Romanian deadlift (RDL) trains the posterior chain in a very similar way to the conventional deadlift. However, because of the difference in form, you put a larger emphasis on your hamstrings and glutes rather than your back. It’s also considerably less fatiguing than the conventional deadlift, which means you can do it more often without wearing yourself to a frazzle.
How to: Stand up straight holding a loaded barbell with a shoulder-width, overhand grip (palms facing toward your body). Lower the weights toward the floor while keeping your legs mostly straight, allowing your butt to move backward as you descend.
Once you feel a stretch in your hamstrings, bend your knees slightly more, and continue lowering the weights until your lower back begins to round—just below the knees for most people, and about mid-shin for those who are particularly flexible. Reverse the movement and return to the starting position.
Sets: 3 | Reps: 6-to-8 | Rest: 3-to-5 min
Research shows that lunges are one of the best exercises you can do to train your entire lower body. The lunge also requires greater balance and coordination than most other leg exercises, which means it also trains smaller, stabilizer muscles throughout your entire body.
How to: Holding a dumbbell in each hand, stand up straight with both feet about shoulder-width apart. Take a long step forward with your right foot—about two-to-three feet. With most of your weight on your front foot, kneel down until your left knee touches the floor. Then, reverse the motion by pushing off the floor with your front foot and leaning slightly backward, allowing your legs to straighten. Once you’re standing, bring your right foot back to the starting position.
Sets: 3 | Reps: 8-to-10 | Rest: 3-to-5 min
The leg press doesn’t require you to balance or support any weight on your back, which means you can use heavier weights than you can while squatting. The leg press is also far less fatiguing than free weight exercises like squats, so you can do it more often without burning out. While it’s no replacement for the barbell back squat, it’s an outstanding accessory exercise.
How to: Load a leg press with plates and adjust the seat to its lowest position (with the backrest closest to the floor, at about a 30-degree angle). Then sit in the leg press seat, and wedge your butt down into the base of the seat.
Place your feet halfway up the footplate a little wider than shoulder-width apart with your toes pointing slightly outward. Bend your knees slightly and use the safety handles to release the weight. Lower the footplate toward your chest until your thighs are about 12-to-18 inches from your chest while keeping your butt firmly planted in the seat and without rounding your back. Next, push the footplate upward until your legs are almost but not completely straight (knees slightly bent). Repeat the movement for the desired number of reps.
Sets: 3 | Reps: 8-to-10 | Rest: 2-to-3 min
Hamstring curls are a great exercise for strengthening the biceps femoris and semitendinosus muscles (which comprise a large chunk of the hamstrings). This not only improves your squat and deadlift strength but may also help you avoid hamstring and knee injuries.
How to: Adjust the leg pad so that it rests against your mid calf when you lie on the machine. Lie face down on the machine and grab the handles, then curl the pad toward your butt by pushing against the leg pad. Reverse the movement and return to the starting position.
Sets: 3 | Reps: 10-to-15 | Rest: 2-to-3 min
The seated calf raise helps you build strength in your calves which is important if you want to run faster, jump higher and further, and improve stability during lower-body exercises like the squat and deadlift.
How to: While seated, adjust the thigh pad so that it rests just above your knee and place the balls of your feet on the footplate. Lift the pad slightly by pointing your toes, and use the safety handle to release the weight. While keeping your feet on the footplate, lower the weight as far as possible by letting your heels move toward the floor. Then, push through the balls of your feet to elevate the thigh pad as high as you can.
This is what makes this leg workout “intense.” In order to maximize muscle and strength gains, you need to take most of your sets close (but not all the way) to muscle failure, which is the point at which you can’t complete another rep with proper form.
To ensure you’re taking your sets close enough to failure, ask yourself this question at the end of each set, just before re-racking the weight: “If I absolutely had to, how many more reps could I have gotten with good form?”
If the answer is more than two, then you should increase the weight or reps to make your next set more challenging. This ensures you’re including the right balance of volume and intensity in your leg workouts.
For instance, let’s say your workout calls for 4-to-6 reps of squats (as this one does). If you get 6 reps for all three sets of squats, add 5 pounds to each side of the bar (10 pounds total) for your next set and work with that weight until you can (eventually) squat it for 3 sets of 6 reps, and so forth.
If you get 3 or fewer reps with your new (higher) weight on your next set, reduce the weight by 5 pounds for your next set to ensure that you can stay within your target rep range (4-to-6) for all three sets.
Follow this same pattern of adding weight or reps to every exercise in every workout. This method is known as double progression, and it’s a highly effective way to get stronger on any exercise.
In order to maximize muscle and strength gain, you need to maintain a mild calorie surplus, or around 110% of your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) every day.
The reason for this is a calorie surplus optimizes your body’s “muscle-building machinery,” so to speak, greatly enhancing your body’s ability to recover from and positively adapt to your training. This is particularly true when you’re thrashing your body with extreme leg workouts, like this one.
That’s not all, though—you need to eat enough protein to allow your leg muscles to recover, repair, and grow effectively, too. Specifically, you want to eat at least one gram of protein per pound of body weight per day.
Unfortunately, no amount of pills and powders are going to automagically give you big legs. In fact, most muscle-building supplements are completely worthless.
But here’s the good news:
If you know how to eat and train to build muscle—following the steps we just covered—certain supplements can speed up the process.
Here are the best supplements for supporting your leg workouts:
- 0.8-to-1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. This provides your body with the “building blocks” it needs to build and repair muscle tissue and help you recover from your workouts. If you want a clean, convenient, and delicious source of protein, try Whey+ or Casein+.
- 3-to-5 grams of creatine per day. This will boost muscle and strength gain, improve anaerobic endurance, and reduce muscle damage and soreness from your quad workouts. If you want a 100% natural source of creatine that also includes two other ingredients that will help boost muscle growth and improve recovery, try Recharge.
- One serving of Pulse per day. Pulse is a 100% natural pre-workout drink that enhances energy, mood, and focus; increases strength and endurance; and reduces fatigue. You can also get Pulse with caffeine or without.
+ Scientific References
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- Helms, E. R., Aragon, A. A., & Fitschen, P. J. (2014). Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: Nutrition and supplementation. In Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (Vol. 11, Issue 1, p. 20). BioMed Central Ltd. https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-11-20
- Wojtys, E. M., Huston, L. J., Taylor, P. D., & Bastian, S. D. (1996). Neuromuscular adaptations in isokinetic, isotonic, and agility training programs. American Journal of Sports Medicine, 24(2), 187–192. https://doi.org/10.1177/036354659602400212
- Arendt, E., & Dick, R. (1995). Knee Injury Patterns Among Men and Women in Collegiate Basketball and Soccer: NCAA Data and Review of Literature. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 23(6), 694–701. https://doi.org/10.1177/036354659502300611
- Holcomb, W. R., Rubley, M. D., Lee, H. J., & Guadagnoli, M. A. (2007). Effect of hamstring-emphasized resistance training on hamstring:quadriceps strength ratios. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 21(1), 41–47. https://doi.org/10.1519/R-18795.1
- Yanagisawa, O., & Fukutani, A. (n.d.). Section I-Kinesiology Muscle Recruitment Pattern of The Hamstring Muscles in Hip Extension and Knee Flexion Exercises. Journal of Human Kinetics, 72(2020), 51–59. https://doi.org/10.2478/hukin-2019-0124
- Alkjær, T., Wieland, M. R., Andersen, M. S., Simonsen, E. B., & Rasmussen, J. (2012). Computational modeling of a forward lunge: Towards a better understanding of the function of the cruciate ligaments. Journal of Anatomy, 221(6), 590–597. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-7580.2012.01569.x
- Krause Neto, W., Soares, E. G., Vieira, T. L., Aguiar, R., Chola, T. A., Sampaio, V. de L., & Gama, E. F. (2020). Gluteus maximus activation during common strength and hypertrophy exercises: A systematic review. In Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (Vol. 19, Issue 1, pp. 195–203). Journal of Sport Science and Medicine. http://www.jssm.org
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