The “No Pain – No Gain” Leg Workout

One of the saddest sights in every gym is the sight of a well developed upper body and a pair of toot-stick legs that look like they are going to give up at any moment under the weight of the heavy torso, arms and shoulders.

Building bigger legs is not all about aesthetics – there is a functional benefit too. If you play sport, almost any sport, a good set of wheels can be all that separates winners and the runner-ups. Jumping, running, sprinting, kicking and even punching all improve with increased leg strength, power and endurance.

The Workout

The fact is, to build muscle you have to challenge yourself and as your leg muscles have the potential to be very big and strong, you have to work them especially hard. I think this may be why so few gym-goers can boast a great pair of legs while well-developed arms are two-a-penny. Squats are hard, barbell curls are not. And this is where the problem lays…

Warm up by performing 5 to 10 minutes of light cardio followed by some dynamic stretches and joint mobilization exercises such as lunges, leg swings, hip circles and progressively deeper squats to get the blood flowing through your leg muscles.





Training System

1 Breathing Squats



5 minutes

Straight Set

2a Leg Extensions




 As many as you can in 5 min.
2b Leg Curls
3 Romanian Deadlift


12, 10, 8, 6

90 seconds


4a Squats Jumps



60-90 seconds at the end of the 3rd exercise


4b Lunges

15 each leg

4c Wall Squats

60 seconds


Exercise Descriptions and Tips

Breathing Squats
Targets: Quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, erector spinae, traps, heart and lungs!

How to Perform: The breathing squat is a very straight forward exercise. Take a weight you can just about complete 12 repetitions with and perform 20 reps. This might sound impossible but it’s quite doable. Not easy though! With the bar racked across your upper back and your feet shoulder-width apart, perform as many reps as you can and then rest. Do not re-rack the bar while you rest – keep it on your shoulders. Breathe deeply and perform more repetitions. Keep resting, breathing and squatting until you have completed the designated 20 repetitions. Rest for as long as necessary and then move onto the next exercise. If you are asking if one set will be enough, you clearly have not tried this exercise yet!

Tips: Make sure you squat down until your knees are bent to 90 degrees and your thighs are parallel to the floor. Anything shallower than this is not a true squat!

Leg Extensions
Targets: Quadriceps
Leg Curls
Targets: Hamstrings

How to perform: This exercise pairing uses a training system called EDT, short for Escalating Density Training. The aim of this system is to perform as many repetitions of each exercise as you can in a 5 minute period – called a PR or personal record zone. Move back and forth between the two exercises as fast as you can until you run out of time. On completion, note how many reps you performed and try to beat this total next time.

Tips: Use around 60% of your one repetition maximum (1RM) and don’t take the first few sets to failure. Remember, the aim is to perform as many reps as possible and going too hard too soon will stop you achieving this.

Romanian Deadlift
Targets: Hamstrings, gluteus maximus and erector spinae

How to Perform: Grasp a barbell with an overhand, shoulder-width grip and stand with your feet hip-width apart. Bend your knees slightly and stand up straight. Push your b**t back and, without bending your knees any further, hinge forwards from your hips. Lower the barbell down the front of your legs as far as your flexibility allows – do not round your lower back. Stand back upright and repeat.

Tips: This exercise uses the pyramid training system. Perform 12 repetitions with a light to moderate weight, rest, increase the weight and then perform 10 repetitions. Add more weight, rest and then perform 8 repetitions. Continue until all sets and reps are completed.

Squats Jumps
Targets: Quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus maximus, gastrocnemius

Targets: Quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus maximus

Wall Squats
Targets: Quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus maximus

How to Perform: The final section of the workout uses a bodyweight-only tri-set. Work your way though the three prescribed exercises without resting. Try to squat jump as high as you can, lunge out with the biggest step you can safely muster and then push as hard as you can against a wall in the wall squat. Do not rest between exercises but, instead, rest for 60 to 90 seconds at the end of each triplet.

Tips: Even though these are bodyweight exercises, in your now-fatigued state they should provide quite a challenge. Perform the squats and lunges using a brisk pace but make sure you maintain good technique throughout. For the wall squats, don’t just lean against the wall, try and push it down!

Other factors to consider…

While this workout will pack mass onto your legs, it will work better if you get all of your lifestyle ducks in a row. Make sure you eat well and include plenty of protein, vegetables, fruits and whole grains in your diet. Get lots of quality sleep and try to keep your stress levels to a minimum. Avoid over exerting yourself except during training and cut back/out on cardio and other activities that will rob you of valuable recovery resources best directed towards muscle growth.

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