Leg day, like Marmite – you either love it, or you hate it.
It involves some of the more complex movements in the gym, but there are many different exercises you can perform and in plenty of different ways to enhance and grow your legs; one of the biggest and most difficult muscle groups to work on.
People often underestimate how many muscles actually need to be trained in order to achieve a desirable, balanced physique, and work on the assumption that just training the quads will assist their goals of packing on the mass (if leg day isn’t skipped altogether...)
The Leg Muscles
Even if you were to concentrate on training quads a lone – these muscles themselves consist of four sections, so you imagine the importance of training versatility.
The Vastus Lateralis, Vastus Medialis, Vastus Intermedius, and Rectus Femoris.
These muscles consist of: the Simitendinosus, Semimembranosus and the Biceps femoris.
The calf muscles
The Gastrocnemius and Soleus: these are located at the back below the knee cap – they are definitely one of the hardest muscles to develop aesthetically, and they do take patience and hard work to see any results.
Training Glutes on leg day or separate is complete preference – although some compound exercises incorporate the muscle group!
To effectively train all muscle groups it’s important to vary the exercises on leg day – hence why such a large muscle group often has a full day dedicated to it – it’s not common to split muscle groups further e.g. training quads and hamstrings on one and, for example, calves and shoulders on another – just to ensure full concentration on separate groups.
In this case, I’ve laid out an example of an intermediate workout, using 6 exercises mixed up from the usual leg press, leg extension etc. They cover each muscle group, including powerful compound moves to hit few muscle groups at once!
Sets and reps for the following exercises: 4 x 6 reps
#1 Barbell Back Squats
One of the more traditional. popular multi-joint movements.
Main muscles used: Quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, calves, lower back
✓ Head over to the squat rack, positioning the bar on the rack just below shoulder level – with the bar positioned to balanced between your traps.
✓ Concentrate on straightening your torso before using both arms to remove from the rack, powering through your legs.
a) Move away from the bar, position feet just shy of shoulder width apart – maintain a straight torso, point feet slightly outwards and keep head up straight.
b) Whilst keeping a straight posture and head up straight, inhale and begin to bend the hips and knees to lower the bar until you reach a a 90-degree angle (knees shouldn’t be past toes)
c) Exhale and push through the floor with your heel and begin to straight the legs, raising the bar.
d) Return to starting position and immediately repeat.
Perform this exercise as a ‘Hypertrophy’ exercise to really feel the burn in your legs:
5 reps – 20 sec rest – 3 reps – 20 sec rest – 2 reps
Finish off with 1 minute rest after the final two. If you’re feeling confident enough, you can undergo this training for the four sets of the squats!
#2 Standing Calf Raise
This exercise can be performed on a Calf raise machine or using a step/box for those that don’t have the option – or want to perform at home! For this example, it’ll be the latter!
Main muscles used: Calves
a) Find yourself a step box, and grab weights that you feel comfortable enough holding in each hand, whether this is a dumbbell or a plate. Point toes forward.
b) Stand on the box with the balls of your feet – with your heels slightly hanging off the edge and straighten your torso – keep knee’s slightly bent to prevent them locking.
c) Keeping the knee stationary throughout, exhale and begin to flex your calf muscles whilst extending your ankles high as possible.
d) Hold the contraction for a moment before returning to starting position and repeat.
For variety, you can do this single-legged, or even perform it on the Smith Machine, with the bar between your traps again, and this way you can pile more weight onto your calves.
#3 Seated Leg Curl
A killer exercise for the hamstrings!
Main muscles used: Hamstrings
a) Adjust the machine to fit your height, and use the back pad to support your back, and ensuring your sat upright – lower legs should sit on top of the lever.
b) Grasp onto each handle and and ensure legs are straight out – your toes will be pointed out straight.
c) Exhale and begin to pull the lever towards your thighs – really push down through the hamstrings – hold the contraction for a moment.
d) Inhale and make sure to return back to the starting position slowly to feel the burn.
To add variety to this exercise you can do it single-legged to really target each hamstring! Do be careful – try not to ‘swing’ or speed up the move to avoid any hamstring tears.
#4 Front Barbell Squats
Main muscles used: Quadriceps, calves, glutes, hamstrings
Same exercise as the back squat, but a more difficult one to perform, particularly if you’re used to performing back squats – perform in
✓ Put the weight you desire on the barbell and position it match your height.
✓ Balance the bar across your deltoids by bringing your arms underneath and make sure to keep elbows high.
a) Begin to lift the bar by straightening your torso and powering through your legs – immediately step back from the bar and position feet slightly pointed out, shoulder width stance. Keep head up and straighten back to remain focused and maintain the balance.
b) Keeping a straight posture, inhale and begin to bend the knees to lower the barbell – stopping once you’ve reached a 90-degree angle.
c) Push down towards the achilles tendon as you would with a back squat, but make sure your form is correct, because it can quite easily go out the window when a back squat is commonly used. (Don’t let knees go past toes)
d) Exhale and raise the bar by using leg power to straight the legs, returning to starting position,
#5 Romanian Deadlift
Main muscles used: Hamstrings, calves, glutes, lower back
✓ Put the weight plates you desire on the barbell and position yourself shoulder width.
✓ Bend down and grab the barbell with an overhand, palms down (pronated) grip. Use wrists straps depending on the weight used.
✓ Straighten hips and push them back and bend your knees slightly.
a) Ensuring your arms and back are straight throughout the movement, exhale and steadily power through the hips to lift the bar.
b) Once stood straight, keep your chest up, push the hips back and begin to lower the bar to a comfortable position – your knees should be bent slightly.
c) Instead of exhaling straight away, hold your breath before preparing to lower the bar back to the starting position.
d) Immediately repeat the rep.
Try with dumbbells to mix it up a little or if you have back problems. Don’t force too much weight – secure your form and prevent injuries by doing so.
#6 Bulgarian Split Squat
Main muscles used: Quadriceps and Hamstrings
Probably the most complex exercise out of the lot. Involves using a bench, and two kettle bells of your desired weight.
a) Grab a pair of moderate weight dumbbells (check balance before going heavy) and elevate the chosen rear foot onto a weights bench, keeping core tight for extra stability.
b) Letting the dumbbells hang at each side of your body an find a comfortable, balanced position.
c) Keeping a good posture throughout, begain to lower down by flexing the knee and the hip, keeping the front knee in line with your foot.
d) After squeezing the contraction at the bottom of the movement, push through the heel to raise yourself back to starting position and alternate legs.
Doing four sets of six to complete your workout here will really ensure DOMS the next day.
Feeling brave? Try the five, three, two method which was mentioned previously.
Take Home Message
This workout once a week will certainly improve the strength in your legs!
If you’re wanting to pump your calves due to the training difficulty of the muscle group, you can use the seated calf raise machines. Additionally, benefit from placing the ball of your feet at the bottom of the leg press machine and simply rocking back and forward, but squeezing thoroughly at the tip of the contraction.
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