The shear number and breadth of lower-body exercises can make creating a good leg workout intimidating — which is why we’ve done the work for you. These four essential moves make for an efficient and effective leg-strengthening session that’ll have you out of the gym in less than an hour.
While you likely won’t be able to load the bar with the same weight that you would back squatting, the front squat is a great way to build the quadriceps. And because of the core strength needed to stay upright, the lift requires more total-body athleticism than its back-loaded counterpart. The move calls for more mobility in the upper back, shoulder, and ankle, but where most people struggle is with the front-rack grip. To troubleshoot it, watch this video.
The Romanian deadlift requires slightly straighter legs than the conventional deadlift, and this setup better targets the hamstrings and glutes (a perfect counter to the quad-dominant front squat). For lower body strength and size, these posterior-chain muscles are the most important to train. Your goal is to achieve the largest range of motion possible while maintaining a flat back.
Single-leg exercises give the lower back a rest from direct spinal loading, and also create a dynamic movement that targets the glutes through a longer range of motion. Dumbbell walking lunges are a conditioning kick-in-the-pants and they target every muscle in the legs. In many ways, this is the most athletic exercise of the workout; it requires more balance, coordination, and proprioception than classic bilateral movements like squats and deadlifts. If you’re an experienced lifter, try adding double dips to your lunges to scale up (watch an example here).
The leg press is a great finisher exercise for a lower-body workout. The quadriceps respond especially well to high-rep training, so burning out on this machine is a perfect complement to the low-rep front squats at the start of the session.
The Ultimate Leg Day Workout
1) Barbell Front Squat: 6 x 6 reps. Rest two to three minutes between rounds.
2) Barbell Romanian Deadlift: 5 x 10 reps. Rest two minutes between rounds.
3) Walking Lunges With Double Dip: 4 x 20 strides. Rest two minutes between rounds. If you’re a lunge novice, perform a single dip.
4) Two-Minute Leg Press Drill: three rounds. Match your body weight (counting the leg press cradle’s weight), and perform continuous repetitions with good form for two minutes. You’re not allowed to rack the weight until the time elapses, but you can rest-pause with straight legs while you catch your breath. Rest as long as needed between rounds, and aim to keep your number of total reps constant for each of the three sets.