My favorite day.
For most people — especially guys — it’s not. In fact, the opposite is true. Every other day besides leg day is a good day.
I think it’s because it’s hard. Working out your legs is hard, and doing movements like squats and deadlifts takes a lot out of you. This makes many people develop an aversion to it, so they skip it.
What happens, however, is that lots of gains are being left on the table, even for your upper body movements. You can only go so far before your arms and shoulders stop picking up the slack that your legs could be helping you with if you were stronger in the lower half. For instance, being able to use leg drive and have a strong core for pressing is paramount. Have strong legs helps you have that since that is what you are training. Your legs and core. They go hand-in-hand and skipping it is not the best option.
So, what do you need to do?
TRAIN YOUR LEGS.
Start training your legs for mass and strength, and you’ll be surprised at how much your lifts will start to increase across the board. Your pressing and pulling will be better because with stronger legs you have a stronger base. Your legs are part of your foundation and without it you’ll likely experience plateaus and, perhaps, greater chance for injury since you likely have a tendency to compensate more when lifting. Take a barbell row. If you don’t have a good posterior chain your lower back will take over right away. Instead of your lats being the center of attention, your lower back becomes the star. Not good. All because your legs aren’t strong enough to provide support.
How can you avoid this?
Train you legs?
I’ll give you 4 BASIC PRINCIPLES that will help you build your legs to get BIG and STRONG.
Squat, squat some more, and don’t be afraid to go heavy
There’s just no getting around it. To build massive legs you’ve got to squat, in some way. Leg curls, extensions, and leg presses only go so far. Look at anyone who has massive legs and you will find that they can squat, and largely, squat heavy (relative to their size at least).
Because the squat if the “KING” of leg exercises. There is no exercise that hits your quads better, and throw in variations, like box, front, tempo, chain, and goblet squats, you’ve got a powerful combination to grow HUGE legs that don’t neglect the hamstrings and glutes either.
The squat will also teach you to use your core better, and make it super strong to handle heavy-ass weights that lead to thick, strong, and powerful legs. If you want to run faster, jump higher, and have defined legs, then you have got to squat in some way. Obviously, the back squat is the go-to lift and it’s what we mean when we say “SQUAT.” That said, squatting is a fundamental movement that all of us need to do, and without it, you’ll have a damn hard time creating the legs you want.
BUT, what if you have bad knees, a messed up back, and bad ankles?
BIG DEAL. Find a way to squat.
I believe you should be able to squat down your entire life, given you have legs and no extraordinary physical impairments. It’s a fundamental movement for everyday living and if you can’t squat what really is your quality of life like, let alone your “GAINS” in the gym? Probably nothing to be proud about. Therefore, find a way.
If you can’t do load on your back, for instance, think about doing a belt, goblet, or Bulgarian split squat instead. All those don’t stress your back, are largely easier on your joints, and allow extra stress with dumbbells, kettlebells, and other weights. If you can’t do those because of bad knees or ankles, SCALE an exercise to where you can do it. For instance, if you have a hard time doing an air squat, do it with a box. Progress and work from there and you might be surprised on how quickly things start to improve.
So, squat and then squat some more, and don’t be afraid to go heavy every now and then too. Just be sure to periodize and plan your training (linear, undulating, de-loading, etc.) to continually challenge your legs as to not over-train and destroy your central nervous system (CNS). This way you will keep making good progress, and avoid plateaus and injury as much as possible.
Rule #1: FIND A WAY TO SQUAT AND SQUAT
NOTE: If you need some help listen to the “Rhino” Stand Efferding in his 10 minute walk videos about fixing his bad knees and back that may help you.
Also, check out Trevor Bachmeyer and his incredible channel with endless ways to heal every part of your body, including your knees and back.
Deadlift heavy and add variation
Deadlifts are arguably the best full body exercise, and they never seem to stop from beating you up. It seems they are a battle every-time you do them, and if you do them right they’ll reward you with a strong body.
That said, the debate whether or not to do deadlifts on leg day or back day remains high. In my opinion, I believe deadlifts are much more a lower body exercise, than back exercise, even with conventional.
Sure, you have got to have a strong back, but if you do them right your legs will be beat up.
My preferred style is sumo, which naturally places more emphasis on the legs. That’s obvious. That said, don’t forget that conventional will toast your hammies if done right. That is why some sort of deadlift variation is a must do on leg day.
What is important is that you factor in your intensity for the day, as far as if you are squatting heavy that day or not, which will dictate the intensity of any deadlift you may do. If heavy squats, then it’s probably a good idea to at least to do a deadlift accessory, even if you’re not powerlifting training.
For example, if you went heavy in the squats, then a variation deadlift would do just fine. The easiest variation to do is the opposite of your preferred style of deadlift. For example, if you’re preferred style is conventional then try sumo. It’s that easy. Make sure to do more volume with it too, at a lighter intensity. Throw in stiff-legged, deficit, or paused deadlifts and you should be smashing those legs good.
Rule #2: DO SOME DEADLIFTS. Your legs will thank you.
Effectively periodize volume with intensity
Doing the first two things – squatting and deadlifting – will do wonders for your legs. That said, being able to periodize and structure your training, to attain enough volume/hypertrophy work with strength/power work, will take you to that next level of size, mass, and strength for your legs.
As you may know, powerlifting great, Ed Coan, did blocks of hypertrophy work throughout the year. A large reason for this was to allow his body to get more blood-flow to all his muscles and tissues to aid in the recovery process, and make sure his muscle mass – what he calls his engine – was there.
Just look at him.
Tell me he ain’t jacked? His legs are like tree trunks – massive and thick with great strength and power.
What Eddy did was rotate his training. He made sure to include hypertrophy/volume work to keep or build his muscle mass, especially in his legs.
That’s why it’s important to periodize (rotate) your training with specific blocks and cycles of training, over the course of weeks, months, and even years.
There are so many programs out there, and, really, all of them work as long as you stick to it. That said, balancing out specific modes of training, such as bodybuilding or powerlifting, is essential. For instance, factoring specificity in your training can help you zero-in on a particular goal. If your main goal is strength, for instance, then less volume and higher intensity, overall, will be better for you. That said, however, if you have no base – no engine to produce that power you want – then you have got to do some hypertrophy/volume type of training, like Ed Coan did, to build your “engine” to have the muscle capable of producing the strength and power you want when training for strength.
From there, it is all about effectively loading (increasing your intensity over-time) and de-loading (decreasing your intensity) with the appropriate volume, as based on your specificity for that period of training (what your main goal is: strength, hypertrophy, endurance, power, etc.).
A simple periodized training for strength and mass might look like this:
Month 1 – Volume/Hypertrophy at moderate intensity
Transition 1/2 Weeks – Slight peak/followed by slight de-load
Month 2 – Strength Based at moderate to higher intensity
Transition 1/2 weeks – Slight de-load/followed by slight peak
Month 3 – Repeat month 2 with slight increase in intensity as needed
Transition 1/2 weeks – Slight de-load/followed by peak
Month 4 – Repeat month 1
Learn how to do moderate your volume and intensity somewhat effectively, like following the above outline for block periods out of the year, and you are going to like the way your legs look.
Rule #3: ROTATE AND PERIODIZE YOUR TRAINING
Always do some form of unilateral work, no matter the goal
It is important that you do some form of unilateral work to get great, strong looking legs. Not only that, but you are reducing the risk of injury because you are working on correcting imbalances by working only on one leg at a time.
That is what unilateral work is: working on one side (or leg) at a time.
Will it cure everything? No, of course not. But, what it will do is provide an opportunity to spot weaknesses and start addressing them, and that’s BIG.
Furthermore, if you are an athlete it is a requirement. No questions asked. To be able to cut, jump, juke, lunge, and do whatever else you need to do, you need to have superior single leg strength. Practically everything you do as an athlete will be on one leg. Thus, you must be strong when on one leg.
And, if you are not an athlete in sport, it will help your longevity in lifting by helping prevent injury because both legs will be equally strong, or close to it, reducing the need for compensations that lead to irregular movement patterns (leaning to one side in a squat, for instance), which promote excessive pressure on joints. This will promote overall integrity and health of the musculoskeletal system (bones, joints, connective tissues, muscles).
What are some good unilateral exercises for legs?
Pick from the list below. That will get you started.
- Bulgarian split squat
- Any type of lunge (forward, reverse, lateral, with weights or without)
- Banded work (hip abduction/adduction, glute kickback, clamshell, lateral walk, etc.)
- Single leg Romanian deadlifts (RDLs)
- Single leg box squat or pistol squat (if capable)
- Skater jumps
- Single-leg jumps
Also, even though I am not a big fan, you can definitely add in machine work, like leg curls, extensions, kickbacks, leg presses, and so on. Just don’t make them your focus when it comes to unilateral work, but they do provide value, like if coming off an injury, or working on that mind-muscle connection to understand how certain muscles (hamstrings, abductors/adductors, quads, glutes, etc.) work when you’re doing a squat, deadlift, or anything else.
Rule #4: DO AT LEAST ONE UNILATERAL MOVEMENT EVERYTIME YOU HIT LEGS
LEGS are often overlooked in training because they are a hard area to hit and work effectively. Often times when people do legs, it’s only the quads doing the work, with compensations happening every-where (leaning on your toes, back rounding, hitching, etc.). This leads to inefficient movement, leading to poor gains, increasing the chance for injury, and no one wants that. What you need to do is make leg day your new favorite day, and focus on what you really are doing.
Having the awareness to know what you are doing will go a-long-way, especially with your legs.
Following the 4 BASIC PRINCIPLES OF BUILDING YOUR LEGS and you will have a good opportunity to start making MASSIVE GAINS in your LEGS.
So, let’s start hitting legs.