This Workout Will Make You develop Monster Legs
1. Start With A Free-Weight Squat Variation
Squats are the obvious place to begin your leg-day thrashing. Why? Let us count the ways. Squats are the most challenging leg movement, you can move the most weight with them, they recruit all the lower-body musculature (and more core and upper body than you might think), and they've been shown to spike muscle-building hormone release better than any other movement.
Squats are actually a family of exercises that combine hip and knee extension, and there are any number of variations, all of which have their own value. Some differ by bar placement, others by type of equipment used, and still others by foot position.
Yes, you could start your leg day with front squats or a single-leg squat variation. But for this mass-building routine, we're going with the high-bar back squat, in which the barbell sits atop the upper traps. This version is preferred by most bodybuilders because it hits the lower-body musculature fairly evenly, and because you can move more weight with it than most other variations.
The most common recommendation is to squat at least to a point at which your thighs are about parallel to the floor, but honestly, that's relative to each individual and their flexibility. No matter how deep you go, it's paramount that your spine remains neutral and never rounds into what is known as 'butt wink', which can put dangerous forces on the discs.
The solution: Work on your flexibility; tightness in your hip flexors and calves can also affect the depth of your squats. That, along with tightening up your technique will pay off big time—as long as the form is good, a deeper squat is always a better squat.
2. Do Another Squat Variation, Adjusting The Intensity And Angle
No, it's not time to start doing machines yet. In this workout, you won't even go near a machine until the end of your training session.
We're still looking at nee- and hip-extension movements, and your best choice is probably one that matches up best with your personal weaknesses. Most recreational lifters come up a little short with quad development, so the front squat is the on-deck hitter in this routine.
The simple change of moving the bar from behind your head to the front changes how the load is distributed over the lower-body musculature. It emphasizes the quads over the glutes and hams, which means you'll have to lighten the load. The movement also requires that you maintain a more vertical position, which can be kinder to your back while also enabling you to squat deeper.
3. Add A Heavy Posterior-Chain Movement
The Romanian deadlift is the perfect backside builder to slot in after your squats. It's an upper-hamstrings/glute exercise that's unlike most other single-joint moves because you can really overload it. Plus, most hamstrings exercises are leg-curl movements (which work around the knee joint), while this one is performed by bending at the hips. It's vastly underutilized in most trainers' workouts, another reason it's probably a good fit in your routine.
But as with most heavy movements, the key is to not do it wrong, which can put your back at risk. With RDLs, you never want to allow your lower back to round or the bar to drift away from your shins. If this makes it really hard to go down to the ground, good—you shouldn't be going all the way to the ground on RDLs anyway. Just get a good stretch, go down as far as you can while keeping your back neutral, and come back up.
Learning good form is imperative, so keep practicing with light weight. Once you've got the technique down, start loading this up, but always be cognizant of keeping your back flat.
4. Include A Unilateral Movement To Work Each Leg Individually
Now that you've got the heavy bilateral work out of the way, it's time to work each of your legs individually. The Bulgarian split squat, where you stabilize your rear leg on a bench behind you, is an ideal choice. Elevating your rear leg forces the front thigh, especially the quad, to pick up more of the workload, while also torching the glute of that leg. If the balance component is too difficult at first, you can substitute split squats or lunges. In a pinch, you can do these on the Smith machine.
Don't let the fact that you can't load these up like back squats fool you into thinking this is a weak movement. On the contrary, it's a leg builder of the first order, according to strength coach and researcher Parker Hyde. "Some EMG evidence suggests that 4 sets with your 10-rep max with Bulgarians aren't too different from back squats," Hyde says. "The same study also found similar testosterone responses to Bulgarians and back squats."
5. Add Volume As You Train For The Pump
You won't build great legs with machines alone, which is why the leg press isn't very high on the list. But machines are ideal at increasing your training volume later in your workout, when your thighs are fried and you have trouble maintaining balance and good form.
What's more, you can adjust your foot position to change the focus. Higher on the sled hits the glutes and hams more, while lower on the sled shifts more of the focus to the quads. Likewise, the deeper you go, the more the hams and glutes have to work.
Since this portion of the workout is when you're looking to deliver a serious pump to your muscles, ropsets make far more sense here than, say, with back squats. The pump promotes hypertrophy by driving blood into the tissue, a different growth mechanism than the tension generated by those heavy squat sets early in your routine.
6. Finish The Hamstrings With A Single-Joint Movement
The hamstrings are antagonists to the quads, so you want to ensure they're getting plenty of work to match what you've been doing for the front side of your body.
A leg-curl movement, which better emphasizes the lower half of the hamstrings above the knee, is also a nice complement to the upper-hams-focused RDL. It's a pump movement of the first order as well, making it a perfect finisher before you stagger into the locker room