The legs. They get you from point A to B. They're a woman's (and man's) best friend. They're the genesis for all skill executions. Throw a ball or other implement, raise a resistance overhead, or perform any activity while on your feet and it starts on the ground with your lower-body musculature. Jumping, sprinting, or changing directions on the playing field? Well, you don't do them while in a handstand position.
Let's look at reality. Go to a gym during the busy times of the day and see what equipment is the most popular. You'll see most trainees lying on the benches, in front of the mirror doing bicep curls, doing flies on the cable crossover device, maybe attempting some chin-ups. How many are squatting or deadlifting? Maybe a few. Do you notice anyone truly grinding out a hard set of leg presses? Probably not. Many leg workouts – if done at all – may consist of a few leg extensions, some half-assed half squats, or leg curls, and all with minimal training intensity. Working the legs properly takes effort, is difficult, and manifests itself in some serious huffing and puffing, which is why many safely opt for the upper body stuff.
But having a strong lower body is way too important to skip out on:
- In most athletic competitions, an enhanced lower-body improves your ability to perform at your maximum potential.
- All things equal, working the legs requires more energy and places a greater demand on the cardiovascular system.
- Similarly, a gut-wrenching leg workout burns more calories, thus contributing significantly to the goal of fat loss.
- Stronger legs equals less risk of serious knee injuries.
- Well-developed glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves augment your appeal when donning a swimsuit.
- A better-conditioned lower body allows you to be more productive if you work on your feet or need that extra burst in your daily tasks.
Training the lower body to achieve measurable results is not fun. It hurts. It can be exhausting. It can mentally break you down. But don't be one of those "upper body-only" people who own a pair of under-developed legs and a disproportionate torso (can you say Johnny Bravo?).
If you’re dreading doing the leg work, here’s some great news: lower body workouts do not have to be painstakingly lengthy. That's right, you can knock them out with a few exercises and few (but demanding) sets.
After digging deep into my workout archives, I selected some time-proven lower body workouts that have worked well for athletes and clients I trained in the past. I know they are productive because I have subjected myself to them as well. They are simple to understand, but difficult to do. After all, that is what proper strength training should be: easy to comprehend, but challenging to do.
Workout 1: 100 Rep Squat x Body Weight
This is about as simple as it can get: load your body weight equivalent on a barbell and perform 100 repetitions. That is, if your scale weight is 205 pounds, load the bar with 205 pounds and go for 100. Most likely, you will not be able to get 100 repetitions in your first bout, so stop to rack the weight to garner a modest break. That's okay. Just don't rest too long – rest no longer than 2:00. Following that maximum of 2:00 between bouts, continue your journey to the 100-rep goal. It may require five to six bouts to get there, but find a way to achieve 100 total repetitions.
Too easy? Well, here's the kicker: the next time you attempt this workout do more repetitions before you have to take your first break, and lessen that 2:00 rest time between sets. Still too easy? Imagine you weigh 25 pounds more than you currently do. Now, try to get 100 repetitions with that resistance.
Workout 2: 3 x 3
Alternate a multi-joint exercise, a hamstring exercise, and another multi-joint exercise to volitional muscular fatigue (VMF) for three rounds, with no rest between each exercise and a 1:00 rest between rounds. An abdominal exercise completes the workout.
- Leg press x 10-14 reps
- Leg curl x 10-14 reps
- Deadlift x 10-14 reps
- 1:00 rest
- Repeat the sequence for 8-12 reps to VMF.
- 1:00 rest
- Repeat the sequence for 6-10 reps to VMF.
- Gather yourself then perform an abdominal exercise that is just as demanding.
Note the rep range decrease from 10-14 to 8-12 to 6-10 when determining appropriate resistances to achieve volitional muscular fatigue on each set. Due to the fatigue induced from prior sets, forthcoming resistances may need to remain constant due the goal of VMF within the lesser rep ranges. If you truly busted your butt, a decrease in the amount of resistance will be required to correspond to the target reps in the second and third sets.
Workout 3: Triple Set
Gee whiz. Here is another extremely simple but demanding lower-body workout that fits your challenging time schedule. No excuses here! Here we go: three multi-joint lower-body exercises performed to VMF with minimal rest between them (minimal means the least amount of time it takes you to move to the next exercise). No matter your level of fatigue or discomfort from the previous exercise, get your butt to the next exercise and get going. Suck it up.
- Barbell squat x 16-20 reps
- Trap bar deadlift x 12-16 reps
- Leg press x 8-12 reps
Simple stuff and maximal results, especially if you attempt to do more reps or use more resistance in forthcoming workouts.
Workout 4: Quick 4 x 1
Do you have only ten minutes to address your lower body? If that is the case, do four exercises, each performed for one all-out set. Use two different multi-joint exercises, a hamstring, and an abdominal exercise all performed to VMF with minimal rest between them (get it done, then move with alacrity to the next exercise). Seriously, with this method you do have time to train the legs. Ten minutes or less is all it takes.
- Dumbbell lunges x 10 each leg
- Leg press x 14-16 reps
- Stiff-leg deadlift x 10-14 reps
- Weight plate crunch ups x 25 reps
Remember: all out effort, zero rest between exercises, and all of it done in under ten minutes. Let me hear your "I don't have time" excuse now?
Workout 5: Sordid Six
Five different multi-joint exercises and one hamstring exercise done to VMF with a maximum of 1:00 rest between exercises. An abdominal exercise completes the workout.
- Goblet squat x 12-16 reps
- Leg press x 20-25 reps
- Deadlift x 10-14 reps
- Machine squat x 8-12 reps
- Single-leg dumbbell squat x 6-10 reps each leg
- Prone leg curl x 10-14 reps
- Gather yourself and do your favorite abdominal exercise.
Workout 6: 20 – 10 – 5
Three multi-joint exercises performed for three rounds of 20, 10, and 5 repetitions each to VMF.
- Dead lift x 20
- Leg Press x 20
- Dumbbell squat x 20
- Repeat the sequence x 10 reps each
- Repeat the sequence x 5 reps each
- Minimal rest between the three-exercise sequence.
- A maximum of three minutes of rest between rounds.
- Perform a hamstring exercise to complete the workout (i.e., RDLs , leg curls, glute/ham raises, or manual resistance leg curls).
Workout 7: Leg Press Strip Set
Three or four consecutive sets to VMF using reduced resistances on the second, third, and optional fourth sets. In the first set, use a 10-14 repetition range. Immediately after VMF in the first set, reduce the resistance approximately 25% (i.e., a partner strips weight plates off the loading arm or moves the selectorized pin to lighten the weight stack). Immediately perform a second set to VMF, then reduce the resistance again and repeat. Do the same if a fourth set is used. Perform a hamstring exercise to complete the workout.
- Plate-load leg press 360 pounds x 12 (strip weight)
- Plate-load leg press 315 x 11 (strip weight)
- Plate-load leg press 270 x 12 (strip weight)
- Plate-load leg press 225 x 14
- Catch your breath then do the hamstring exercise.
So, for all the "I hate doing legs" clan, heed the above. You can address the lower body and in minimal time, but it requires intense effort. Come on, cross the line and give it a try. You'll be happy you did.
Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.