A friend once said to me, “It wasn’t until I started to do squats that I began to really grow…”
There’s not much that can really discredit that statement, and I completely agree with it. Legs are either the topic of jokes or the subject of praise. Hundreds of memes have surfaced joking about, if you don’t train legs [insert punchline here]. I have a few jokes about those that do not train legs for whatever reason. I call them flamingos, martini glass, lamps, umbrellas… the list goes on. Now, don’t get me wrong I’m not a complete jackass. Some people can’t train legs for various reasons and I get that. However when the guy at the gym walks in all big up top, but looks like he’s walking on stilts, I can’t help but face palm.
The way that I look at it is, my legs probably make up almost half my bodyweight, and they carry the rest of me around all day. I should at least make them stronger, and look better, right? I have put together 5 of my favorite (and most exhausting) legs training moves that I use, no matter what my training split looks like from week to week.
Squats aka SQUAWTS!!!
Muscles Targeted: Quads, Hamstrings, Calves, Glutes
The King!! When someone has ever asked, “How can I get my legs bigger?”, my answer is always the same “Ya gotta squat!” Now, you don’t have to squat a Prius, but you have to squat and you should work your way up to heavier weight in progression. I admit, I tend to watch my powerlifting friends hitting insane numbers on the squat. Then, I get to the gym and feel a bit like a punk because I top out at a measley 405 for a good depth. I am a bodybuilder though and my aim is to grow muscle for the sake of presentation and competition (and to be the biggest that I can be, of course). So, I like reps and a lot of them. I mean ALL the reps. This means, I will load a bar with more weight with each set until I get to a point where 4-5 reps is a serious struggle. I always make sure to control the bar and execute the movement through the proper range of motion in good form. I have seen a lot of ego lifters on leg day. I have seen those that load the bar, unrack the bar, then proceed to a 3 inch ROM (range of motion)! All while their unaware friends give high fives and chest bumps for not snapping their knees or throwing out their spine. Yeah, good job, dude.
- Practice your form with light weight. The squat is NOT one of those moves that you just jump into. It’s a compound move, which means that more than one muscle group will be working.
- Again, practice with lighter weight until you certain that you can begin to add weight.
- In the video, I show you my squat. I would like to point out that not every one has the same exact pelvis, joints, ligaments, spinal, feet, or core structuring. Looking at a skeleton, you will see what the skeletal system looks like, in general. But, if you lined up 10 random people and x-rayed them, you would find each person to have a unique skeletal positioning. This can alter the individual’s squat, and that’s not a bad thing. Focus on form, but know that we are all made a little different.
Muscles Targeted: Quads dominate, hamstrings, calves, glutes
The last time I participated in a bodybuilding competition, the judges mentioned that I needed to have more of a quads sweep. More quad sweep means they needed to flare out a little, which basically means they needed to be bigger (particularly in the Vastus laterilus). This also means as Rectus Femoris, or the outer and middle portion of the upper leg, can also be bigger. Along with back squats, a closer stanced front squat has given me more sweep in the quads. As a competing bodybuilder, this gives the appearance of a smaller waist, especially if my lats flare out wide as well as my quad sweep. Some people want the Y-shaped physique, where as I want to look like the letter “X”. Now, the front squat requires the barbell to be positioned on the front delts and the top of the chest. A very uncomfortable position for me to hold the bar in but again practice makes perfect. I generally can’t go as heavy on the front squat as I do with the back squat. So it’s one of those moves that I am progressing in and using my reps to stimulate growth while fine tuning my form (as you will see in the video demo). I keep my feet about 1′-2′ feet apart, which will target more of the vastus medialis as well as the rectus femoris.
Remember, with any squat movements, keep your chest high and your head up.
Muscles Targeted: Quads, Hamstrings, Glutes, Calves, Abs
How many variations of the leg press are there? Several. There is the Lying Leg Press, the Angled Leg Press, the Leg Press Machine, the Iso-Leg Press, and others. Most gyms will have the Angled Leg Press and the Machine Leg Press. In the video demo, I show the angled version. This is a movement where you can really load up the weight. This means it’s even more important to always practice safety. You have to understand that your ego can lift more than your body actually can, which is a recipe for disaster. Most of the plate loading presses have a braking mechanism, just in case you decide to test the strength of your ego. With variable feet positioning, the leg press allows you to hit the legs in different ways. If I set my feet far apart on the deck, I will engage more hamstrings, glutes, and vastus medialis (or that teardrop looking muscle on the inside of the quad). If I go with a standard position on the deck, which is about shoulders width apart, I will mostly hit the rectus femoris, as well as the lateralis and medialis. Placing my feet nearly together on the deck it targets mostly the lateralis. I use all the positions to ensure that I cover the entire upper portion of my legs, so I go with quite a few sets on the press. Also, as I stated earlier, I love high reps with moderate to heavy weight. On the press I typically rep to failure. Always full ROM and deep contractions. You can also use various rep and set schemes. One of my favorites being the pause rep method.
Muscles Targeted: Quads, Glutes, Lats, Traps
See! I told you guys… Squats are KING!!! I don’t care what anyone says. If you want overall muscle growth, you must squat. This one is not one that you will see a lot of. The Jefferson Squat– probably an unparalleled movement when it comes to developing the inner quads, as well as the outer. The great thing I find about performing the Jefferson (the exercise, not George) is that the movement can be adjusted to fit your overall stance and bar positioning. Now (like the back squat) some serious weight can be used progressively. If traditional barbell squats are out of the question, the Jefferson squat is a good go to, since you won’t have a lot of weight sitting on your back. Another name for this move is “Straddle Deadlifts”, obviously because of the position you take over the bar.
Bulgarian Split Squats
Muscles Targeted: Hamstrings, Glutes, Quads
There are a few ways this one can be done. One would be using a free barbell across your back with one foot positioned on a flat bench behind you, while the other foot is placed forward in front of you. Similar to a squat and a lunge, the BSS will certainly require some serious balance and core strength, and lighter to moderate weight. Now, for the sake of a little more safety (and balance), this can also be done using the Smith Machine, or using dumbbells. When I tell you the burn and pump come quick, believe me. I, typically, use this at the end of my legs session, just to make sure that I have completely killed it.
There are the 5 I promised, but I would be wrong not to mention another move, the Stiff Legged Deadlift. This really targets the hamstrings and glutes like no other movement. It can be done using a barbell or dumbbells. Just be sure to really feel that stretch in the hammies with each rep. If your range of motion is shortened because you happen to be a bit more flexible, I have been known to do these while standing on aerobic steps or a flat bench. Either way, be sure to utilize your core for balance. There’s nothing more embarrassing than doing SLDs and falling over, so use a weight that you can handle and mentally connect with the hamstrings and glutes.
There you have it. My 5… oops, 6, favorite leg movements that have helped me developed relatively larger quads, decent hamstrings, and glutes. It has taken time and consistency, but growth hath cometh. Enjoy the D.O.M.S.!! You’re welcome.