Training legs can seem like a punishment, at times, it can even be painful. Most lifters have a love/hate relationship with leg day, they either love it or hate it. But everyone can agree that although leg training can be painful, the pain is all worth it once you start seeing results... Hence the popular phrase, "Don't skip leg day."!
Although you might get results at the beginning of your journey to stronger legs, sometimes the results are not what you're expecting and suddenly you can't see a difference anymore! The strong legs you were hoping for seem farther away than you thought, no matter how hard you push yourself, the results just aren't coming. Don’t let this discourage you. Keep squatting, keep being consistent with key leg exercises, and make sure you're paying extra attention to your leg workout routine. With that being said, we want to help you enhance your lower body workouts by giving you our favorite seven pieces of advice for leg day! Following these will make sure you're on the right path to those strong legs you've been dreaming of 😉
Don't forget to squat
Squats are and will always be your key compound lift for getting your legs in shape. When you lift heavy with proper form, you’ll burn fat and build muscle in all the right places! If your training sessions already include squats, then you're on the right track! If they're not, and you're leg pressing your life away then it's time to start squatting! The leg press is a great piece of exercise machine that you should include in your workout routine, just make sure you don't cut out squats completely because it can't replace all the effects of barbell squats or any other type of weighted squats.
Another piece of advice... When you're training legs, prioritize squats! After your warm-up, you want to do the most challenging exercises first, this goes for any muscle group. You want to do this because the beginning of your workout is when your energy levels are the highest, meaning you can give the exercise your maximum effort. You don't necessarily need to do squats first, there are other challenging leg exercises like deadlifts, but squats are known in the fitness world as the best exercise for building muscle. That's because they are a multi joint movement that works multiple muscle groups and joints at the same time. So it pretty much hits your entire lower body in one exercise - Glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and even your calves! Plus it strengthens the smaller stabilizer muscles and ligaments that support the main muscles in your legs.
Just don't expect to get massive results by lifting the same weight! Make sure to practice progressive overload so you can work your way up to heavier weights. Aim to lift heavier weights with a 5-7 rep range for best results.
Warm-up and activate your glutes
Warming up and activating your muscles before lower and upper body workouts is the key to muscle growth and reduce your risk of injury. Neglecting to warm-up can cause unwanted injuries that will definitely put a damper on your gains! And neglecting glute activation before leg day is not going to get you any closer to building nice round glutes you've always wanted...
Not only that, but the glutes are a huge muscle group that helps us move forward, jump higher, and even pick up things! Neglecting to activate them before your workouts will lead to weaker glute muscles which means you'll be less prepared to handle strenuous leg exercises and end up recruiting other muscles to help. Keep in mind, we are also sitting on this muscle group a lot throughout the day, so they can get pretty weak. To strengthen your glute muscles implement glute activation into your routine by doing the following...
Before you start your leg workout, pick 2-3 glute activation exercises, and perform at least 2 sets and 10-15 reps, use a resistance band to really fire up the glutes! Perform the exercises slowly and in control making sure to focus on the glutes doing the work.
Play around with foot placement
The great thing about leg exercises is that most of them can be easily tweaked to hit specific muscles. You can use a number of foot positions and widths, for example doing sumo squats, opposed to narrow squats, with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart and toes slightly pointing outwards will hit your inner thighs and glutes more. Narrow squats are more quad-focused. The same principle applies when using exercise machines like the leg press. You can place your feet high, low, wide, or right in the middle. Doing this will help work one muscle group more than the other. For example, placing your feet lower will increase the engagement of the muscles around the knee joint, thus working your quads more. A higher placement places an emphasis on the glutes and hamstrings. So don't be afraid to switch up your foot positions, it's a great way to target specific leg muscles that you want to grow!
If you want to work your leg muscles completely then you have to practice going through the full range of motion. The problem with partial reps (going through the movement halfway) is that they don't target all the muscle fibers in the targeted muscle group. So you're not working the muscle completely thus minimizing your results.
Let's take squats for example... Going deep in your squats will help you build stronger legs because you’re engaging every muscle in the lower body, including your core and traps (upper back muscles). Meaning you'll not only build strong legs, but you'll also build overall strength! This applies to any multi joint movements that require a deep knee bend. Going through the full range of motion is more difficult, but work your way up to it. You might need to start with a lighter weight, or even just bodyweight, and do the movement through the entire range of motion. Once you're able to do it for 10-15 reps with good form then you can increase the weight and continue making progress! So, remember, take it slow and practice makes perfect!
Mix it up
Don’t do the same exact thing every leg day! Your legs are made up of dozens of muscle groups of varying sizes, you can’t possibly hit them all with just 3-4 lifts! This is why you should do a combination of heavy key lifts, like squats, deadlifts, lunges, and lighter isolation lifts, like leg curls, leg extensions, calf raises. Also, try different and more challenging variations! There are so many different exercise variations you can do like pistol squats, front squats, split squats, Bulgarian split squats, curtsy lunges, staggered stance deadlifts, etc. Trying different variations will help make sure that you're targeting every muscle possible. So remember to do key lifts, isolation exercises, and try challenging variations as you make progress.
In fact, the founder of UPPPER, Iulia has her own app - Fit With Iulia - that focuses on creating goal-focused workout plans. One of the programs is Build a Booty, and like with every program, she plans new workouts every week with an effective training split (more on this later) and includes various different leg exercises to ensure you hit all of the muscles in your legs to get the best results possible. Try it out, the first workout for every goal is available for everyone to try for free!
Add explosive movements
When it comes to building muscle, weightlifting is the best route to take... But that doesn't mean you should neglect cardio exercises completely. If you want strong legs consider adding plyometric moves to your routine! These types of exercises require a lot of power and jumping, but they are an excellent way to work your leg muscles differently and get your heart racing! Exercises you can try are...
- Squat jumps
- Jumping lunges
- Box jumps
- Weighted lateral jumps
- Long jumps
- Single-leg deadlift into a jump
Just keep in mind that these exercises are more taxing on your joints, so work your way up to them, get your form down first, and then progress into jumping movements.
Leg day is NOT every day
Although leg day is painful, you might be training it too often expecting to see results faster. Here's why you don't want to do that... On a typical lower body workout, you are exercising more than half your body’s skeletal muscle weight! Yeah, that’s a lot. You can’t exactly fix that overnight… So make sure you give yourself at least 24-48 hours to recover from your workout with plenty of water and nutritious foods! Remember, rest is when the real muscle building happens, so instead of training your legs every day, give the muscles time to rest by implementing training splits.
Training splits divide training by body regions - Lower body and upper body. But you can take it a step further and get more specific of the muscle group you want to train. For example, if you want to train your legs more, but want to make sure you're getting enough rest then consider splitting your lower body workouts. You can do more quad-focused workouts along with a few other leg exercises one day and then do hamstring-focused workouts another day. That way you're training specific muscle groups extensively and still allowing them to rest in between each session. Whatever training split you decide to do, remember to have an adequate amount of rest before hitting a specific muscle again!
In summary, training your lower body the right way will help you build strong legs, glutes, and overall strength! Don't get discouraged if the results don't come right away, building muscle takes time, but implementing these strategies will ensure that you're on the right path. Also, keep in mind that lower body workouts are tough and require a lot of energy, so don't forget to prepare mentally and physically. To prep for your leg day workout get enough rest, eat plenty of carbs, and hydrate!