Chicken Legs Don’t Suit You: It’s Leg Day

If you’re embarrassed to wear shorts to the gym, it’s time to do something about it.

Do you ever wonder why so many lifters that train in commercial gyms wear pants? I’d be willing to bet that it’s because those pants are hiding something embarrassing. What good is it to spend all those hours pumping up your upper body without proportionate legs to match?

Do you ever wonder why so many lifters that train in commercial gyms wear pants? I’d be willing to bet that it’s because those pants are hiding something embarrassing. What good is it to spend all those hours pumping up your upper body without proportionate legs to match?

Aside from the aesthetic reasons to build a good set of lower limbs, an effective lower body program will also contribute to an overall increase in strength. The bottom line is that there really is no reason to avoid intense leg training. Don’t neglect the entire lower half of your body and be stuck in pants the rest of your life.

The Challenge of Hypertrophy for Legs

Training for strength is quantifiable: you simply have to drive up the numbers. There’s a lot more to it than that, of course; there are techniques, and programs, and a big heaping scoop of intensity that goes along with it. But strength is tangible—you can see on paper the results of your work.

Hypertrophy training, on the other hand, is a different kind of animal. A more aesthetic goal requires more abstract principles, like specific volumes and shorter rest periods to increase muscle fatigue. Combine these principles with leg training, and you have one tough mountain to climb. If you want significant results, leg training is going to be very, very tough. And that is exactly why so many apply only minimal intensity, or skip leg day altogether.

If you find that you are guilty of minimal leg training and intensity, then you will need to adopt a new mindset; one that will enable you to take on the challenge and reap the spoils of your efforts.

Keep a few of these things in mind when shifting your perspective about leg training:

  • Perfect your form. Trying to increase the weight on the bar while sacrificing form is a recipe for disaster. Allowing the ego to take over on a set of heavy squats is a one-way ticket to injury, and often results in the lifter swearing off the squat for good. Work on your form and perfect it, no matter how “light” you have to go.
  • Think small. With your new emphasis on form, make only small increases in weight. Too big of a leap will affect your technique and leave you with less than favorable results. Small increases with perfect form are far more sustainable.
  • Don’t force anything. Performing a movement to impress others has no place in an effective routine. Don’t force anything out of ego, especially when it comes to machines. Natural movements will always be superior to leg presses and hamstring curls.
  • Challenge yourself. If you’ve relied mostly on machines for leg training over the years, challenge yourself with the more difficult but natural moves. Try front squats, goblet squats, overhead squats, or any other exercise you might be curious about.
  • Go unilateral. One trend that has serious merit is the practice of unilateral exercises. Single limb movements have a powerful impact on your overall performance, as they require less load to be effective, and have a huge benefit in shoring up weak areas.

Laws for Leg Day

As with the upper body, you’ll want to train your entire lower body instead of splitting it up into separate parts. Training quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves all on different days is counterproductive, since all of the muscles in the lower body work together for every exercise. For example, squats stimulate the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes without isolating any one muscle.

Stimulating the entire lower body will also stoke your metabolism, burn massive amounts of calories, and generate superior growth. Isolating smaller areas over several days can’t compare to the massive amount of work from training the entire area at once.

Before I give you some ideas of how to structure your lower body training, let’s lay out a few ground rules. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it will give you a good starting point when constructing your own program.

  • Go compound. The leg extension machine is tempting because it’s easy. Stick with mostly compound movements that work the most total muscle at once.
  • Isolate light. If you do decide you need a few isolation exercises, go for higher reps and light weight. The leg extension, for example, puts sheer force (stress) on the knee, so tread lightly.
  • Go unilateral. Don’t shy away from unilateral exercises. Bulgarian split squats and lunges don’t only challenge your balance and coordination; they will also help shore up any strength imbalances.
  • Skip the machines. It may be tempting to use a variety of machines to avoid the effort and complication of free weight movements. Yes, some machines are useful, but a program without the challenge of free weights will do little in the way of overall lower body size development.
  • Stay consistent. If you’re the type who program hops, then you aren’t really on the road to progress. Consistency is the hallmark of any program, and your success will live or die by that one principle alone.
  • Increase frequency. Training your lower body shouldn’t be a once a week affair. Your legs are resilient, and can learn to recover at a quicker rate than you’re used to. Plan to train the lower body at least twice per week.

Sample Leg Workouts

Below are two examples of lower body plans. Use either one twice per week, or both once per week. Either way, you will want a weekly training frequency of two lower body workouts.

Leg Day Plan 2

Hard Work Isn’t Complicated

It isn’t complicated to formulate a successful lower body program, but the basic principles laid out above are needed to optimize anyone’s results. A few half-rep squats and attempting to lift the entire weight stack on the leg extension machine isn’t even close to adequate. Challenge yourself, stay consistent, and stick with it. In no time, will you want to toss the pants and break out those shorts for good.

The secret to success isn’t what your bros tell you: Prioritize Results, Not Popular Advice