One of the great hurdles of weightlifting is building a balanced physique, and we know this isn’t possible without well developed legs. Many dread it, others avoid it entirely, but sooner or later we all come to the realization that no one can afford to skip leg day. In my personal opinion its not the body part that gives people pause, but the workout behind it.
I’ll be the first to say that I love my legs, but I’d be lying if I said I took pleasure in training them. Maybe a little. Legs are generally the most grueling workouts of any person’s weekly split (as nature intended) and the thought of that alone is enough to discourage many people.
After coming to the realization that leg days are important, the next revelation to come to grips with is; how you train legs is just as important. The gym is impartial- the work you put in is what you’ll get out of it, which means it’s in your best interest not to waste time on workouts that don’t pay returns on your investments. There are quite a few paths you can take to developing strong, muscular legs, and today we’ll look at an approach to ensure that goal.
Training follows a dose-response relationship, meaning you get greater gains with greater volume.
Some part of me wishes there was an easier way, but it looks like there’s no way around it. If you want big legs, you’re gonna have to earn ‘em with a whole lot of sets.
One of my favorite examples in the world of bodybuilding is Tom Platz. If you know anything about Tom Platz, you know this guy had some of the biggest, craziest legs around, and that’s likely because (all performance enhancers aside) he had one of the craziest leg workouts. We’re talking 8 to 12 sets of squats and 6+ sets of everything else!
I’m not saying go nuts like Tom, but you many have to push yourself to do a set or more than what you’re used to for greater development.
One of the best tips for growing your legs is
1) recognizing the different muscle groups within the leg
2) finding the right exercises to work them accordingly
The leg is made up of a dozen+ individual muscles, so to develop a full, well rounded appearance, ALL of the muscles have to be addressed.
Take the glutes for example. Most everyone has heard of the gluteus Maximus, however it isn’t the only muscle that makes up this posterior region. In addition you have the glute medius, glute minimus, and multiple secondary muscles that intersect this area like the piriformis and quadratics femorus.
The multiple muscles of the leg and the nature of muscle activation prompted me to structure my leg workouts as you see below.
The pyramid is broken down into two halves (posterior and anterior) to represent the muscles that make up the front and back of the leg. This helps organize the exercises for each body part in order to create a balanced workout.
The primary section of the workout is designed to target multiple muscle groups simultaneously through compound movements. This category is specifically meant for heavy compound movements like squats and deadlifts that generally put the entire leg to work. With the highest volume per exercise and likely the heaviest weight per exercise, the primary section will develop strength, transfer blood to major points of the leg, and break down muscle fibers all before zeroing in on multiple joint movement . The idea is to start with the macro, the big picture and work your way down to micro accessory muscle groups like the calves and glutes.
The secondary portion makes up the single joint movements and machine exercises that generally focus on one dominant muscle group at a time. Think of the leg extensions machine and its quad dominance. This approach will allow you to adjust the volume for each muscle group in order to grow trouble areas that may need extra attention.
So let’s say for example that my hamstrings are underdeveloped. Because the secondary portion focuses on predominantly single joint movements, I can target the hamstrings specifically with an exercise like leg curls. I can also bump up the number of exercises and sets in the secondary posterior group to “catch my hamstrings up”.
By the time you reach the accessory, it’s all about polishing off the muscle groups that receive the least direct attention, namely the glutes and the calves. If you have enough time you came fit them into the same workout, but to be practical you could switch them between training days
4 Day Split
5 Day Split
Below is an example of how to put it all together
If you’re looking to push yourself even further, you could try the example below. Adding a few more exercises will make it that much more time consuming, but that is often the trade-off of a high volume program. I would suggest you approach it one rep at a time and focus solely on the task at hand. Sometimes I find that thinking about how long the workout is and how many exercises I have left tempts me to cut corners or even cut the session short.
If that sounds anything like you, don’t let it discourage you! Keep your eye on the prize one exercise and rep at a time, and over the passing weeks as you see results, you’ll be that much more motivated to complete each leg day.
There is no way around it- a true, impactful leg day is going to be a pain in the butt. However you’re not in the gym for the path of least resistance, you’re there to make every workout count towards your goals. If I could stress anything from this workout or any leg day like it, it’s that intensity will always overcome the shortcomings you may be facing. If you find your legs or the workouts for them lacking, adding exercises, sets, or weight will help set you on the path for bigger, stronger legs regardless of where you start.