Today, we’ll follow your friendly neighborhood Doe supreme as she kills yet another legs workout on her way to destroying any and all competition.
Consider this article the subtitles to go along with the exercises. Naturally, we’ll start with the foundational workout. The necessary staple for anyone looking to grow. You know what it is…
A compound movement that recruits most muscles, meaning it uses multiple muscle groups and joints to complete. The muscle groups recruited in a traditional squat are the; glutes, quads, hamstrings, and core. The primary joints involved are the hips, knees, and also ankles.
Note: There are variations of squats utilized to more directly target certain muscle groups, as well as powerlifting squats. Seeing as this isn’t an article all about the squat and its variations, I will be focusing only on the conventional squat.
To perform a squat properly and safely doesn’t start on the first rep, or even after you’ve stepped away from the rack. It starts AT the rack. To begin, step under the bar. Place your hands a little wider than shoulder width. Whether squatting with a high or low bar placement, create a shelf with your upper back by squeezing your shoulder blades together. Tighten your grip around the bar. When I say tight, I mean white knuckle that s***. With the bar gripped, pull it down on your back (not to be confused with taking it off the rack), pointing your elbows toward the ground.
Position your feet so that they’re a little wider than shoulder width apart, toes pointing slightly outward. Now you’re ready to unrack
Your journey from the rack to where you’ll perform your squat should not be a long one. Staying in line with your previous foot placement, don’t take more than two or three steps back after you un-rack. The more steps you take, the more time you have the bar on your back, resulting in best case scenario extra expended energy prior to starting the set, and worst case scenario, injury — the injury part isn’t really common but can happen, especially at heavier weights…
All right, now we’re under the bar, and in position.
- Once in position, reaffirm your feet are in the right position.
- Take a deep breath, get ready for glute gains
- Initiate the squat through the hips by engaging your core, controlling your spine and pushing your hips back.
- The bar should travel in a vertical path above the center of your feet throughout the movement.
- Keep your upper back tight, chest up to avoid leaning too far forward. Knees should stay directly in line with your toes, and don’t let them bow in.
- When thighs are parallel to the floor (or slightly below if you’re one of those deep humans), press through your heels to straighten your legs and lift your torso to the initial position.
Modification: Bodyweight box squats: These are pretty similar to with a bar, just, you know, you won’t have a barbell on your back. Think about the same mechanics. For the most part, it will be pretty intuitive. We’ve all sat down into a chair before.
Considered by many to be the ultimate booty building exercise, hip thrusts are a powerful compound movement, which effectively targets the glutes, while also recruiting abdominal muscles and hamstrings. Other benefits include; requires minimal equipment, can be done pretty much anywhere, considered low stress on the joints, and again, who doesn’t want a good butt?
- Sit on the floor with your back against a bench. Ideally the bench’s height is about 16”. A typical flat bench works just fine, but make sure it’s one that’s bolted into the ground.
- Plant your feet on the floor in front of you. As you lift your body onto the bench, your feet should form a 90 degree angle with the floor and your body.
- Push through your heels, laying shoulders on the bench (shoulders act as pivot point), raising your hips upward until your hips are in line with your shoulders, and knees are at a 90 degree angle. Shoulders should be firmly on the bench. Tuck your chin and look forward (not at the ceiling or at the person checking out your ‘shelf’ booty)
- When you get to the top of the movement, concentrate on flexing your glutes. Contract and push your hips forward, until you feel them fire. Try to hold the contraction for 2-5 seconds.
- Slowly descend. Repeat.
Modification: glute bridges. These are essentially a hip thrust without any weight. Alternatively, you can do them off the floor, which makes the movement that much easier.
DB Straight (ish) Leg Deadlifts:
We’ve all heard the massive benefits from performing the traditional deadlifts. However, when it comes to better isolating the hamstring muscles, the straight leg dead reigns supreme. This form allows you to focus more on building the desired muscle as opposed to building overall size for back and what not.
Performing them with dumbbells (DB) adds an extra element of isolation and control as you can feel more tension in each leg, allowing you to improve the mind-muscle connection, which is critical for growth. And no, that’s not just a broscience thing. The mind-muscle connection has to do with the excitatory threshold of any given muscle group. So, for those of you who are glute dominant — I’m looking at you women who only do squats, regular deads, hip thrusts, and whatever those kickback things are called — these are a super effective way to target hamstrings. And because I just gave the women flack, and am all about equality: for you men, these are a great option because you can almost trick yourself into thinking you’re training upper body — 97% of you don’t train legs enough — and they don’t create as much of a painful (painfully glorious that is) burn in the hamstrings.
Now that I’ve finished scolding (i.e. projecting my own legs day woes), here are the steps.
- Grab a pair of dumbbells that make it possible to perform about 8-15 reps with proper form.
- Hold the dumbbells so that they’re in front of your thighs
- With a slight bend in your knees, move your feet shoulder width apart.
- While keeping your balance on your heels, inhale and lower the weight down toward your ankles. Keep your core engaged, and back in a solid line.
- Slide your hips back as you lower the weight, until you feel you can no longer move your hips further. In other words, until your lack of flexibility makes it impossible to go any further.
- Because you should be using weight you can easily control, feel free to do a little pause when in maximal stretch position
- Exhale, and move back toward the starting position, by moving your hips forward.
Modification: Resistance band stiff leg deadlifts. Only difference is that you’ll slip the resistance band under your feet.
Rear Foot Elevated Split Squats
A stellar exercise for building up quads, glutes, hamstrings, as well as improving overall core stability (especially when adding dumbbells), rear-foot elevated split squats are one of those exercises that need to be implemented into any routine of someone who desires legs for days…or you know, aesthetic legs.
One of the reasons they can be so effective for developing quality proportions and symmetry in the lower body is due to them being single leg movements, which allows you to put more focus into the targeted muscle. Not only are single leg movements beneficial for aesthetics, those like split squats can seriously enhance athletic performance as well, because of the required strength and stability of the lead leg (the rear foot is used only for stability since the purpose is to drive through the front leg.)
Here are the steps:
- Position a flat bench behind you, and place your foot on the bench. Set up your front foot in a split stance position with your hands by your sides.
- Engage your core, because you should be doing that with nearly any free weight compound movement.
- Descend by flexing both knees simultaneously and continue until the front thigh is parallel with the floor — or a little deeper depending on flexibility/mobility.
- Drive through the front foot and extend the knee as you return to the starting position.
- Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
Modification: Single leg split squat. This is the same thing but without either foot being elevated, and of course, without weight. It’s suggested to master this movement prior to moving to the rear-foot elevated placement.
I won’t harp on your guys anymore about neglecting hamstrings. Actually, yes I will. I know they hurt. But so do calves and you’d never neglect training ca…never mind. Ooops. In that case, since you’re already neglecting calves, you can’t really afford to neglect hamstrings too. It’s like someone who never hits back. Oh, wait. Crap.
Basically, what I’m saying is hamstrings are one of the most underrated muscle groups on the body, which is a shame considering how much they add to an individual’s overall aesthetic. They’re like the biceps of the leg. A nice peak to hamstrings, coupled with sweet separations is impressive, and when it comes to that glute-hamstring tie in…it’s just a beautiful thing. Beauty should not be neglected, especially when it comes to building your dream physique.
Bonus: calves slightly recruited during hamstring curls too. This way, you can justify not directly training the lower body’s diamonds by saying that typical copout stuff so many use to neglect abs: Abs get trained in compound movements bro!
Anyway, the lying hamstring curl is one of the tried-and-true isolation movements when it comes to really developing the back of the thigh. Oftentimes, I’d suggest doing an explosive positive portion of the exercise, but in lying hamstring curls, I have to politely demand you go slower. Far too many well-meaning lifters have lagging hamstrings due to dominant glutes (i.e. glutes with a low-excitatory threshold) taking over right off the bat, or alternatively…somehow utilizing their lower back. Here’s the how to:
- Get on the machine by lying flat on your stomach
- Adjust the heel pad so it sits right above your heels and just beneath your calf muscles.
- Make sure your legs are fully extended.
- On a quick inhale, grasp the hand grips at the front of the machine and keep your abdominals tight.
- Without pulling with your glutes or using momentum, slowly bend your knees, pulling your ankles as close to your butt as possible.
- Hold this contracted position for a one second count.
- In a controlled manner, slowly unbend your knees and allow your feet to return to starting position.
- Repeat for 10 to 15 repetitions — or until failure. Or beyond failure by doing a drop set. Pin loaded machines are excellent for this.
Modification: Natural bodyweight leg curls. Lock your ankles under something relatively comfortable. Start in an upright kneeling position. Slowly lower yourself to the ground until your hands touch, then push up. These can be done on their own or as a super set with the hamstring curls.
The quad shaper, and more often than not, a guy’s go to way of saying they hit legs without ever actually hitting legs. Because of negligent bros across the nation (possibly world, but I’d have no real way of knowing), leg extensions have gotten a bad rap when it comes to being an effective method for building stellar, shapely quads. Quite a shame considering high-quality ladies and gentlemen have been using leg extensions to condition their quads since the dawn of the machine.
You too can throw them into your legs day routine and see some epic gainz. Just, you know, do the aforementioned exercises too. To perform a leg extension:
- Step 1: Sit on a leg extension machine. Position your legs under the pad and grasp the side bars with your hands. This is the starting position.
- Step 2: Extend your legs to the maximum, exhaling as you do so. Pause a second in this contracted position. Or pause for five seconds. Choice is yours…just choose wisely (go for intensity).
- Step 3: Lower the weight back to the original position as you inhale. Make sure your legs don’t go past the 90-degree angle point.
- Step 4: Repeat for the desired number of reps. The desired number of reps is as many reps as you can possibly get before total muscle failure. Then add in some slow half reps to finish those quads off.
Modification: Natural bodyweight leg extensions. This is only for those with good mobility. In a kneeling position with the back of your thighs resting on your calves, and body slightly leaned back, slowly bring yourself up until your knees are at a 90 degree angle. Can be done on their own or super setted. And, to reiterate, don’t do these unless you have the mobility.
Knees weak, quads are trembling (Go home, for thou hath conquered)
Now you’re finished. Go immediately drink your All Bulk No Bloat for ultimate recovery, then follow it up with some BCAAs 30 minutes later to seriously increase protein synthesis and make the most out of your post-workout meal. Following that, have yourself some Buck Feed grass fed whey protein, along with your healthy gluten free pizza and shredded chicken (cheat meals don’t count on legs days).
Then sleep like a beast, beauty, or whatever moniker you wish to give yourself. Alternatively, you could watch your preferred online streaming service to avoid sleep since you know when you wake up getting out of bed will be brutal.
That is, unless you’ve followed the previous instructions and taken your optimized recovery stack.