Everyone loves leg day – that's why you've probably heard, "never skip legs"! However, if you want to build strong sculpted legs, you'll want to do more than just endless squats.
Learning how to build strong legs is not overly complicated, you just have to be patient and know how to plan your leg day accordingly. Don't worry – we're going to help you build the perfect leg workout routine! Implement the tips below on your leg days and you'll start seeing the muscle growth you've been wanting in no time!
Properly warm-up and activate your glutes
Before your leg workouts or any workout, you have to warm up! Warming up will help prep your muscles and joints for the heavy lifting they're about to do. However, on leg day you want to take your usual warm-up and take it a step further... include some glute activation exercises!
Glute activation exercises are essential on leg days because they activate the glutes, which tend to be inactive and weak. Most people spent a good portion of their day sitting which leads to the glute muscles being relaxed and tightening the hip flexors. Weak and inactive glutes will be less prepared to handle heavy leg exercises that use them, like hip thrusts and squats. While tight hip flexors can lead to an unwanted injury. So, glute activation has more to do with than just trying to get a pump and grow bigger glutes – it'll help you have a better leg workout!
So, before you start your workout, include a few lower body dynamic exercises and pick at least two glute activation exercises. Perform 10-15 reps with a resistance band to really help fire up your flutes!
Here are a few of the best glute activation exercises:
- Glute bridge
- Donkey kick
- Banded lateral walks
- Fire hydrants
- Standing glute kickbacks
To ensure you're activating all of the muscles in your glutes, pick one lateral move (like banded lateral walks), and one sagittal plan move (like the glute bridge).
Prioritize the right compound exercises
Compound exercises train several muscle groups and joints at the same time. These exercises should be the bulk of your workout routine because you're able to recruit more muscles and lift heavier thus maximizing muscle growth!
To build a great lower body workout routine you want to choose the best compound exercises for your goals. So, which one's should you be prioritizing?
These are the top 4 compound exercises you should be doing on your leg days:
- Squats: The barbell back squat should be your bread and butter on leg day, but don't neglect other variations, like the front squat, goblet squat, split squats, and Bulgarian split squats. Having a variety of squats will ensure you're hitting your leg muscles at every angle.
- Deadlifts: Deadlifts aren't only a killer back exercise, they seriously work your entire lower body. Include different variations, like the sumo squats and Romanian deadlift, if you want to hit your glutes and hamstrings!
- Lunges: Squats and deadlifts are typically seen as the best leg exercises, but lunges are just as good! Lunges work your entire lower body and it also challenges your balance since you have to shift your weight as you move forward. Walking lunges with any free weight are a must, but don't leave behind reverse lunges, curtsy lunges, and front and reverse lunges!
- Hip thrusts: Hip thrusts aren't only a glute exercise, they hit your entire posterior chain which includes your hamstrings! Even if building bigger glutes isn't your goal, they should still be a part of your routine to help you build better overall strength.
Hit your legs at every angle
Aside from prioritizing the right compound exercises, you want to include different variations as we mentioned above to hit your legs at every angle. Another way you can hit your legs at every angle is to adjust the placement of your feet! For example, placing your feet hip-width apart as opposed to a wider width when squatting will target your quads. While adopting a wide stance targets the glutes more!
Another way to hit your legs at different angles is by using different machines at the gym! The barbell is by far the superior free weight, with dumbbells and kettlebells following closely behind, but you don't want to neglect gym equipment. Using the cable machine, the leg press machine, and other equipment can help further target your lower body. For example, the leg press mimics a squat, but you can do a side leg press to help hit the side of your glutes. Using the cable machine for Romanian deadlifts will hit the same muscles but in a different way.
By changing up your foot placement and using different equipment, you'll be hitting your legs at every angle while giving your muscles a different challenge to overcome to maximize growth!
Don't neglect single-leg exercises
Everyone focuses on bilateral movements (exercises that use both sides of the body) and leaves unilateral exercises behind. Unilateral exercises work on one side of the body to help fix a muscle imbalance. Fixing muscle imbalances will help improve your form and your overall technique on crucial bilateral exercises, like deadlifts and squats. Most importantly, they are difficult and can challenge you to drive more progress!
So, once you've mastered all the important compound exercises, and want to take things a step further incorporate single-leg exercises. Some of the best to include in your routine are...
- Single leg deadlifts
- Split squats
- Bulgarian split squats
- Single leg glute bridge with feet elevated
- Single leg extensions
Go through the full range of motion
When it comes to strength training, going through the entire range of motion on any given exercise is crucial for better results. Granted, this may be difficult at first, but you should work your way up to it. Neglecting to move through the entire movement, and only hitting it halfway, won't engage all of the muscle fibers you're trying to grow.
To effectively target major muscle groups and maximize your training efforts, work your way up to moving through the full range of motion. This means going deep on your squats and deadlifts, making sure you're locking out at the top of your hip thrusts and glute bridges. Start by practicing the exercises slowly and with a lighter weight, as you start improving your form, increase the weight or reps!
Choose your cardio wisely
It doesn't matter if your main goal is to build stronger legs – don't neglect cardio! Cardio is good for minimizing fat gain and maximizing muscle gain, but also it's great for heart health. However, not all cardio may be suitable for those whose main goal is to build muscle.
If you want to grow bigger glutes and stronger legs, try something other than running or jogging. Running is a great form of exercise, there's no denying that, but it can cause muscle breakdown if done too much.
Instead, walk on an incline, hit the StairMaster, or do 2-3 HIIT workouts a week! Walking on an incline or doing a StairMaster workout engages your lower body by requiring you to move uphill. This helps to build and maintain muscle in that area. HIIT also engages your lower body and other major muscle groups. However, you don't want to overdo it, especially since lifting weights is already a high-intensity workout. So, only do HIIT 2-3 times a week and other forms of cardio 3-4 times a week!
Get your energy high before leg day
If you want to have the best leg day, get your energy levels up!! Supplements aren't necessary, but having a good pre-workout beforehand can make a huge difference in your training. Pre-workout supplements contain effective doses of energy and performance-enhancing ingredients that can help you push through more reps and help you achieve the pump you're looking for.
However, you don't need a pre-workout supplement to get your energy up. You can always use a more natural way to increase your energy, like green tea or having a nutritious pre-workout snack filled with protein and good carbs. Even listening to a good playlist will help get you pumped and ready for your workout!
Leg day is not every day! Many people think that more means better and faster results, but that may not be true when it comes to strength training... real muscle-building happens when you rest. So, make sure you rest at least 48 hours between your leg days. In between those days you can work your upper body and/or do cardio while your legs recover.
On top of resting enough between workouts, make sure you're hydrating enough, getting enough sleep, and eating nutrient-dense foods to boost your muscle recovery. All of these things will make a significant difference in how you recover and your results.
Now you have the tools you need to build the perfect and most effective leg day that will maximize your results! Remember to always warm-up, include a variety of exercises that hit your legs at every angle (compound, isolation, and unilateral exercises), practicing going through the full range of motion, be smart about your cardio, get your energy levels up, and most importantly, rest!
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