No matter how great you look from the waist up, neglecting the development of your legs will ultimately make your physique appear weird and unbalanced. Leg training isn’t something that should be saved for “later”, once you accomplish your goal of building a humongous upper body.
We get it that you probably find it less appealing than for example, biceps training, but the fact remains that if you’re hoping to build a highly aesthetic and well-defined physique, you need to get as serious about building big legs as you are about building a massive chest.
With that in mind, we offer you a set of five must-do leg moves that will push your lower body growth out of the box and separate your physique from that of the average rabid bench presser. Start today!
Roughly put, leg training begins and ends with squats. This exercise is the single most important one when it comes to adding mass to your lower body, but sadly, its potential often remains untapped due to the lack of focus on form and technique. To make the most out of squats, leave your ego at the gym door and resist piling plate after plate on the bar – instead, try to perfect your form and improve your mind-muscle connection by focusing on maximizing the contraction on every rep.
First, make sure to properly warm-up by doing a couple of sets with only the weight of the bar. This will get the blood flowing to your leg muscles and prepare your joints for some heavy work. As you lower the weight, focus on keeping your back straight. Aim to complete a full range of motion to maximize muscle fiber recruitment.
Pyramid sets work great for building leg strength. Start with a weight that allows you to get around 12 reps with good form, then increase the weight by 20 pounds and perform 10 reps. Increase the weight again by adding 20 reps and perform 8 reps, then add another 20 pounds and go for 6 reps. The next set should be the peak of your pyramid – increase the weight by 20 pounds again (by now you’ve added a total of 80 pounds to your starting weight) and aim to get 4 reps with as strict form as possible.
Now it’s time to come down the pyramid, so remove 20 pounds and try to hit 6 reps, then remove another 20 pounds and go for 8 reps, and so on until you get to the weight you’ve started with and perform your final 12 reps.
#2. Hack Squats
Next, you will get your quads to scream “no more” with hack squats. While performing these, your main focus should be on increasing the time under tension by going through the full range of motion in a slow and controlled manner.
Pick a weight that allows you to get 15 good reps and perform 12 reps with a 4-second lowering phase. Each lifting phase (upward motion) should be performed in a fast and explosive way while each lowering phase should last 4 seconds in a maximally controlled manner with emphasis on keeping the muscles under constant tension. Be careful not to completely lock out your knees however, because this can easily result with injury.
Hack squats deserve a special place in your leg training routine because they place more emphasis on the lower, inside area of your quads than regular squats do. And since hack squats take the upper body out of the equation, they remove potential compensations that might affect your squat depth.
Also, you can change the focus of the exercise by simply adjusting your foot position – a higher foot position will hit the glutes more effectively, whereas a lower foot position will primarily engage the quads.
Hack squats are performed on a hack squat machine which offers additional control and stability of the movement, thereby allowing you to load up the weight. It’s important to make sure that you keep your back in contact with the backrest throughout the entire movement in order to keep your spine adequately supported at all times.
Given that you perform it correctly, this intense exercise will cause your leg muscles some serious pain but it will ultimately bring terrific mass gains. To maximize its benefits, keep your form in check and aim to keep the mechanical tension constant.
Ideally, you should perform 4 sets of 12 reps with a 4-second lowering phase on each rep.
#3. Lying Hamstring Curls
The hamstring curl is a crucial exercise for ensuring complete balance between the front and the back of the leg, which results with improved aesthetics and a lesser risk of injuries rooted in unbalanced muscle development. On top of that, leg curls will work your hamstrings more directly than any other exercise.
Sadly, hamstring training isn’t as popular as quad training is and this causes many lifters to forget about the importance of complete muscle development and leave their hamstrings underworked and unimpressive-looking. The hamstrings cross two joints – the knee joint and the hip joint – so they need to be trained with the help of exercises that target the knee flexion function and the hip extension function of the hamstring muscle separately. The leg curls, you guessed it, utilize the knee flexion function of the hamstrings.
This exercise is best performed in a drop set fashion. Pick a relatively heavy weight and perform 12 reps with good form, then reduce the weight and perform 12 reps again. Drop the weight again and go for 12 reps, then drop it one last time and perform the final set, making sure your form is intact. That’s a total of 4 sets with 12 reps each. Again, aim to maximally exhaust your hamstrings by keeping the muscle tension as intense and constant as possible.
#4. Seated Leg Extensions
The leg extension is a simple, limited movement which occurs only at the knee joint and can be used to strengthen the quads. Leg extensions get a lot of bad rep because there seem to be a lot of guys who believe this is the only move they need to build awesome-looking quads and use it as an excuse to neglect superior exercises like squats and deadlifts.
While it’s true that leg extensions aren’t the greatest leg exercise on the planet, it still has a lot of potential to upgrade your leg development as long as you use it just like you would use any other isolation exercise.
In this context, leg extensions can and will help you build more muscle, so don’t write them off just yet. In fact, this is a key exercise for strengthening the patellar ligament and the quadriceps attachment for the knee, which is super important for maintaining knee health and improving the results of lower body training.
As simple and basic as this exercise is, it’s worth keeping in mind some key form points that will maximize its effectiveness. First of all, you need to adjust the pad so that it falls on top of your lower leg, just above the feet. In addition, make sure that your legs form a 90-degree angle between the lower and upper leg. This will help you avoid placing undue stress on the knee joint.
Again, perform a drop set, starting with a weight that’s heavy enough to make you struggle to get 12 good reps, then drop it and perform another 12 reps. Continue in this manner until you complete 4 sets of 12 reps.
By now your legs will be burning like hell, so if you can’t go through a full range of motion on every rep, go for half reps on the last two sets. Using your quads, extend your legs to the maximum while keeping a slight bend in your knees to protect the joint and ensuring that the rest of the body remains stationary on the seat at all times. Hold the peak contraction for a second, then slowly lower the weight back without letting your legs go past the 90-degree limit.
#5. Static Dumbbell Lunges
To completely drain your leg muscles of any remaining bits of strength, we recommend finishing the workout with a few sets of dumbbell lunges. Lunges are great at engaging your quads and gluteal muscles and can help you improve overall leg definition. But instead of doing forward lunges, you will hold the position for about 30 seconds.
Take a dumbbell in each hand and lunge forward with your right leg, keeping your body aligned and abs contracted. Without moving your feet, lower your rear leg until the knee almost touches he floor while bending your front leg. Hold for 30 seconds, then return to the start position and repeat with the other side. Perform 3 sets of 10-15 reps per side. If you feel like you can do more, increase the weight of the dumbbells and make sure that you struggle at every rep towards the end of the set.
These 5 exercises make up a great basic leg routine that is guaranteed to help you jump start your leg development. If you start training your legs regularly with this workout, you should be able to see noticeable improvements in terms of size and strength pretty quickly.
Good luck and stay focused!