There was a time way back when where #LegDay was a foreign concept to me. Back in the college days where I first met my love for the iron, it was all about that arm pump to ensure the polo would fit extra snug. Training legs was as rare to my college buddies and I as studying was (despite us spending hours at the library on a given day).
It wasn’t until I graduated college that I actually begun to grow an appreciation for leg day. Slowly I started to appreciate the concept of building a balanced physique and that it couldn’t be arm day everyday. This by no means implies that I trained legs properly at this point. I would avoid the squat rack like the plague and the majority of my leg day was spent around the leg press, leg extension and leg curl machines.
I sit here as a 31 year-old man who truly appreciates the sweat and tears that go into building a set of well developed legs. Roughly 3 years ago I embraced the magical powers of the squat rack and I got rid of “bro squats.” I also realized that for me it wasn’t about the snug polos around the arm or the ridiculously shredded 6-pack anymore (don’t get me wrong, both are great) but rather it’s all about a well developed pair of legs. I believe that is a true badge of honor and I can appreciate any man or woman that has taken the time and put in the work to build up an impressive set of wheels.
“You can tell alot about a man by the way he treats his mother and how seriously he takes leg day” ~ Someone
I’m still learning and still finding ways to properly & effectively train my legs. Below I will list my 5 cornerstone exercises that I have utilized in many different ways in order to grow my legs and take them from non-existent to semi-respectable.
(First show in 2014 on left. Last year’s show in April 2015 middle. Current as of 2 weeks ago on right)
Anyone with knee/leg issues aside, if you’re not utilizing these exercises consistently, I would suggest you do so asap!
SQUAT!! SQUAT!! SQUAT!!
There are certain undeniable truths/facts in this world;
~ Pepsi over Coke
~ Dunkin over Starbucks
~ Superman rules all Superheros…
Ok, maybe those are just undeniable truths/facts in my world. When it comes to leg day, however, there is one fact that is universal;
~ If you want massive, well-developed legs – you must SQUAT.
Depending on who you ask, the Squat is the king of all exercises. Some will argue that it is the deadlift (and I can certainly make a case for it), but there’s no denying that at the very least it should be in the top 2 of overall exercises.
Reasons you should be Squatting (and it is not just leg related)
- Total Body exercise which helps in the release of hormones such as Testosterone and Growth Hormone (aka muscle building cocktail)
- Improved Core Strength. Considering the nature of the movement, your core needs to work overtime in order to brace & help prevent injury
- Improved flexibility (hallelujah!) – By taking your body through full range of motion, you’ll improve motion in the entire hip complex. Deep Squats people!
- Reduce Chance of Injury – You’re boosting the muscles surrounding the knees. Crucial for everyday activities or performance based activities such as running & jumping
- Strong Lower Body – pretty self explanatory
- Increased Vertical Jump – For my athletes out there – more squatting = more jumping
- Improved Workout Efficiency – All leg exercises have their place for sure and you should incorporate them to achieve well-balanced legs. But if time is of the essence, you can simply focus on Squats and be on your way
~ One of my top 3 weakest body parts has always been my hamstrings. I’ve worked my butt off to make them respectable. Finally incorporating RDLs into my routine has created massive change in my hamstrings but also making me stronger across the board in a lot of my big lifts.
To effectively grow a body part you must first understand it. The hamstrings are fast-twitch muscles that require high intensity/high load movements to make them grow. Operating in the lower rep range is also optimal. RDLs allow you to check off both high intensity and high load.
Don’t let your hamstrings fall by the wayside and give them a little TLC with some RDLs.
~ Here is an exercise that will challenge every muscle of your lower body. Quads, Hamstrings and Glutes are all called into action with Lunges. In addition, lunges allow you to be varied in your approach. You can do them with barbells, dumbbells or simply with your bodyweight to really fry those legs. Variety is the spice of life!
Your step length will determine what muscle group you hit. Short strides will hit your quads primarily while longer strides will put more of the stress on your Hamstrings and Glutes.
An added bonus of the Lunge is that it will also strengthen your hips. For any of you out there that struggle with weak hips (that would be me), you know how much lagging hips can hinder your leg day performance.
~ The Gluteus Maximus is the largest muscle in your body! The Glutes are sleeping giants – capable of generating incredible force but most of the time they are underused. There is tons of potential in your buns, so lets incorporate some Glute Bridges to unleash that beast!
Everyone thinks that squatting, deadlifting or even lunging will help build massive glutes. The truth is that maximal glute activation comes from bent-leg hip hyper extension exercises such as Glute Bridges/Hip Thrusters.
Buns of Steel coming in hot!
GHR (Glute-Ham Raise)
~ The GHR is one of the most popular posterior chain exercises in the world. However, it is highly underrated and underappreciated in gyms across the world. I blame this solely on the fact that most gyms do not have the proper equipment to perform one.
*Pro-tip – if you have a seated calf raise machine – just load it with weight and anchor yourself in there. Another method is using a lat machine and locking your ankles under the pad.
Glute Ham Raises are effective in strengthening the hamstrings at both the knee and hip joint by working the two primary functions, knee flexion and hip extension. But the benefits do not stop there. GHRs also work your glutes, lower back and even those pesky calves. If you want a better backside, this could be the only exercise you need to do.