Building a Solid Leg Day/Leg Week

I love leg day. As someone who has struggled with his weight and suffered through back injuries, having strong legs and executing powerful squats and deadlifts makes me feel good and working the big muscles of the lower body keeps me lean. But I get that a lot of folks dread leg day. The best way to make sure you are getting the most out of your leg workouts is to build and follow a sound program that includes a good warm up/mobility work, all your major movement patterns, load variety (weight placement and modality) and some lateral/transverse movements for optimal joint health. Here is an example of how to build a balanced leg workout whether your goal is general fitness, weight loss, hypertrophy/muscle growth or strength.  

Leg Day or Total Body?

The gold standard in weightlifting used to be the split routine (i.e. focusing each day on one body part/area like "chest day", "leg day", etc). That still works for a lot of people and research suggests it's effective. Increasingly popular is the practice of doing total body workouts on all of your gym days (usually in super sets) which minimizes rest times. Research and common sense suggest this can be equally or more effective for today's average gym goer. I personally like a split routine and my clients are 50/50 depending on their goals, endurance and schedules. It's a matter of what your body and schedule prefer. If you want to review pros and cons of each, check out this post. 

Building a Plan 

The following shows a general road map for planning your leg day. It's not the ONLY way and it's a basic guideline that could and should be customized to your goals and body. You can fit each workout into one "leg day"/week or spread the movements out across several workouts in a week. Follow your plan for 6-12 weeks depending on your results. Once you plateau update it, depending on your goals, either with new movements or by progressing using one of the progressions noted below. Write your program down and keep track either in a notebook or on your phone, Having an actual program will best serve you. 

Week 1

Warm up:

Main Lifts/Movements:

Include 1-2 warm up sets at 50-75% load before your working sets.*** 

  1. Big Squat Pattern - Back Loaded (i.e. Back Squat)
  2. Big Hip Hinge - Front Loaded (i.e. Barbell Deadlift, Hip Thrust or Kettlebell/Dumbbell Deadlift)
  3. Single Leg Knee Dominant (Lunge Pattern) - Side Loaded (i.e. Split Squats, Reverse Lunges, Step Ups, Forward Lunges) 

Optional:

  • Plane of Motion/Sports Specific (i.e. Lateral or Transverse/Curtsey Lunges/Step Ups)
  • Isolation (i.e. machines like quad extension/hamstring curl AFTER your big lifts for hypertrophy training)
  • Sprinting/conditioning/finishers (sprinting can help burn off lactic acid and avoid soreness the next day and can also help you get lean)

    Week 2

    Warm up:

    Main Lifts/Movements:

    Include 1-2 warm up set at 50-75% load before your working sets.***

    1. Big Squat - Front Loaded (i.e. Goblet Squat, Front Squat)
    2. Big Hip Hinge - Side Loaded Loaded (i.e. HEX Bar Deadlift)
    3. Single Leg Hip Dominant - Front, Back or Side Loaded (i.e. Single Leg Deadlifts, Good Mornings)

    Optional:

    • Plane of Motion/Sports Specific (i.e. Lateral or Transverse/Curtsey Lunges/Step Ups)
    • Isolation (i.e. machines like quad extension/hamstring curl AFTER your big lifts for hypertrophy training)
    • Sprinting/conditioning/finishers (sprinting can help burn off lactic acid and avoid soreness the next day and can also help you get lean)

    ***Or goblet squats are a great warm up for big squat lifts. Kettlebell swings are great for hip hinges. And single leg step downs are a great single leg warm up. If you have never done any of the lifts desrcibed in this post, I suggest working with a trainer to get your form down. Teaching how to properly execute them is more than I can cover in a blog post and links to videos just scratch the surface. 

    Picking How Many Reps/Sets

    Choose a rep/set scheme that best matches your goals. In general that's:

    • 12 reps, 3 sets for general fitness, building a strength foundation
    • 15-20 reps, 2-3 sets for weight loss and endurance 
    • 10 reps, 4-6 sets for hypertrophy (building muscle)
    • 3-8 reps, 4-6 sets for strength 

    Ways to Progress

    It's important to stick with and generally follow a program, but don't keep doing the same thing for months/years and expect different results. So if you want to improve/avoid plateaus progress/change your program ~every 6-12 weeks by changing the movements or progressing the current movements with any of the following:

    • Load Amount (increase weight)
    • Volume (increase reps/sets)
    • Load Placement (front, back, side)
    • Eccentric (slow release for hypertrophy)
    • Time Under Tension (tempo/range of motion for muscular endurance) 
    • Plane of motion (sagittal, front/lateral, transverse/rotational)
    • Modality (dumb bells, barbells, cables, TRX, ViPR, etc)
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