The Absolute Best Leg Exercises For Men

7 Workouts For Building Mass in the Glutes, Hamstrings and Quads

Leg-day tends to divide bodybuilders. There are those who really enjoy a hard leg-based workout and those who’d rather replace leg day with chest day. With so many methods and pieces of equipment at our disposal, it can be challenging to know where to start.


The methods employed and the exercises selected should be dictated by the primary goal that has been set. While it’s true that there will be similar components with the majority of leg workouts, each one should be tailored to a specific goal.

For example, understandably squats tend to be a part of the majority of leg workouts – however, there are a number of squat variations which can be used to focus on a specific muscle group. Additionally, there are a number of advanced training techniques – such as supersets and pre-exhaust – which can be utilized in order to bring about specific changes to the muscle.

To highlight the importance of specificity in training, let’s take an individual who is looking to start bodybuilding. It would not be sensible for them to immediately dive in to heavy squats, leg presses, and deadlifts, considering their lack of experience and readiness. Instead, they must first lay a solid foundation by establishing efficient movement. Only once this has been done, can they consider gradually moving on to heavier, more complex exercises.

7 Leg Workouts For Every Type of Goal

Taking this into account, the following 7 workouts all have a different focus. Each workout has been carefully designed so that it can easily be incorporated into a typical bodybuilding “split” program. Providing consistency and intensity are prevalent in one’s training, the muscles of the legs will be forced to adapt and improve in strength and size.

1) Building Foundations

The first workout of the 7 is perfect for the beginner or novice. There is no denying that the squat is one of the best leg development exercises that can be performed. However, being able to squat with safety and efficiency does not happen overnight – practice is required.

When learning to squat, or when learning any new skill, the movements may initially feel strange, uncoordinated and unstable. This comes down to the nervous systems control over the body. When learning a new skill, it takes time and repetition in order to establish neural pathways in the brain and allow the body to “understand” the movements required (1).

The best example of this is a toddler learning to walk. Initially, they are unstable and can’t manage more than a few steps before falling to the floor. However, with practice, these neural pathways become established to the point that they can efficiently walk and falling over is no longer an issue.

Therefore, with this workout, the goal is to allow the user to get to grips with the movements required for the squat. Gradually, as efficiency and confidence improve, the load being lifted can be increased to maximize changes in leg strength.

The rest of the workout is heavily machine based, as machine-based exercises do not require as great a degree of coordination and understanding of movement as the squat. Incorporating weight machines at this stage is recommended as they will provide a controlled introduction to weight training and effectively load the muscles without running the risk of sustaining injury.

 

Exercise Sets x Reps
Goblet Squat 4 x 10 – 12
Leg Press 3 x 10 – 12
Leg Extensions 3 x 10 – 12
Leg Curls 3 x 10 – 12
Calf Raises 3 x 15 – 12

 

2) Mass Building

When it comes to building size, it is important that we focus first on “big” compound exercises which target the greatest number of muscles. These exercises place a large stress on the muscles which forces them to adapt in size. It would make sense to start with the exercises that require the largest degree of exertion and energy as these are the exercises that will have the most profound effect on developing size.

Additionally, it is imperative that the overall training volume is relatively high and that we train to muscle failure often as a studies have indicated that these are important factors when it comes to packing on size (2).

Finally, it may be sensible to change the dynamic of specific exercises in order to target the muscles in a slightly different way. A good example that may be worth considering is altering foot placement with the leg press or squat. A slightly wider stance will take the emphasis from the quadriceps and shift it onto the glutes and hamstrings, whereas a narrower stance will accentuate the quads.

This workout involves a number of free weight and resistance machine exercises that target all 4 muscle groups of the legs – the glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves. Additionally, it uses an advanced training method known as the reverse pyramid which simply involves varying the number of reps and load lifted per set.

The reverse pyramid is beneficial as it accommodates for muscular fatigue and allows the user to continually hit maximal fatigue with each and every set. As the rep range increases, look to decrease the load that is being lifted and look to reach muscular failure with each set.


Exercise Sets x Reps
Barbell Squat 4 x 6, 8, 10, 12
Leg Press 4 x 8, 10, 10, 12
Dumbbell Walking Lunges 3 x 10, 12, 14
Leg Extensions 3 x 10 – 12
Lying Leg Curls 3 x 8, 10, 12
Calf Raises 4 x 10, 10, 12, 12

 

3) Improving Definition

For many, the belief is that high reps and light weight is optimal for building muscle definition. However, research does not seem to support this theory. Application of heavy loads are equally as effective at maintaining muscle size and developing muscle tone.

Ultimately, the strength training method used will be less significant than one’s nutrition when it comes to enhancing leanness. If leanness is the goal, the primary focus should be on nutrition to bring about a reduction in overall stored body fat. Without a thick layer of body fat over the top of the muscles, they will immediately look more defined and lean. This can only be done by maintaining a calorie deficit over a prolonged period.

Strength training is super important in a calorie deficit. Without appropriate training, there may be a reduction in muscle size along with a reduction in body fat, however, regular strength training can prevent muscle atrophy (3).

The workout involves a multitude of compound exercises, straight sets and supersets to target all muscle groups of the legs. Supersets involve completing one exercise straight into a second exercise (with no rest); this method can be used to effectively increase the overall volume of one’s training and therefore assist in maintaining muscle size.

 

Exercise Sets x Reps
Smith Machine Squat 4 x 8 – 10
Leg Press (Superset 1) 3 x 10 – 12
Goblet Squat (Superset 1) 3 x 10 – 12
Barbell Reverse Lunge (Superset 2) 3 x 10 – 12
Leg Extensions (Superset 2) 3 x 12 – 15
Lying Leg Curls (Superset 3) 4 x 10 – 12
Donkey Calf Raises (Superset 3) 4 x 12 – 15

 

4) Glute Building

The following 3 workouts will target a specific muscle group. For many bodybuilders, they may find that a specific muscle group is perhaps lagging behind the others and therefore requires additional attention. Selecting the correct exercises is imperative when looking to target a specific muscle group as some exercises are undoubtedly superior than others.

With this in mind, each of the following exercises has been carefully selected based on the fact that they activate the muscles of the glutes to a large degree. The workout structure is similar to the mass gaining workout and uses a reverse pyramid to encourage muscular fatigue with each set.

 

Exercise Sets x Reps
Wide Stance Barbell Squat 4 x 6, 8, 10, 12
Leg Press 3 x 8, 10, 12
Barbell Reverse Lunge 3 x 10 -12
Unilateral Cable Kickback 3 x 8, 10, 12
Romanian Deadlift 4 x 8, 8, 12, 12

 

5) Hamstring Building

Unfortunately, for so many individuals, the hamstrings are neglected as many of the movements and exercises that we regularly perform are quad and glute dominant. This can lead to an overdevelopment of the quads and glutes while simultaneously underdeveloping the hamstrings. Failing to develop the hamstrings will not only hamper bodybuilding progress but can actually increase the risk of injury.

Once again, the exercises that have been selected place the greatest demand on the hamstrings and will therefore accelerate the rate of hamstring development. The romanian deadlift, for example, has been found to be one of the best exercises for activating the hamstrings and increasing overall hamstring strength (4).

Following a similar structure as the glute-specific workout, this workout uses reverse pyramid sets to increase volume, intensity and accelerate the rate of muscle hypertrophy.

 

Exercise Sets x Reps
Romanian Deadlift 4 x 6, 8, 10, 12
Hamstring Bridge 3 x 8, 10, 12
Glute Ham Raises 3 x 8, 10, 12
Leg Curl (Dropset) 3 x 10, 10, 12

 

6) Quad Building

The final muscle-specific workout, is the quad building workout which places a greater emphasis on the quads through the use of compound exercises, such as the front squat, and isolation exercises, such as leg extensions.

Using a combination of compound (multijoint) and isolation (single joint) exercises is recommended for all muscle-targeted workouts. Compounds contribute towards making substantial improvements in terms of leg strength and size whereas the isolation exercises will place a greater load on a specific muscle (in this case, the quads), to promote growth further and assist in improving compound lift performance.

The quad workout follows exactly the same structure as the hamstring specific workout. This is because, ideally, these muscles should develop at a similar rate in terms of both strength and size. Equal development is important when we consider that these two muscles work together to control and generate movement around the knee and hip. Having one muscle group significantly stronger than the other may increase one’s injury risk.

Exercise Sets x Reps
Barbell Front Squat 4 x 6, 8, 10, 12
Hack Squat 3 x 8, 10, 12
Leg Press 3 x 8, 10, 12
Leg Extensions (Dropset) 3 x 10, 10, 12

 


7) Plateau Busting

In any bodybuilding journey, there will be times where a plateau is reached. This is simply where strength and size gains have become stagnant. To efficiently move past any plateau, changes need to be made to one’s training in order to introduce a new training stimulus to the body (5). As a result of this new stimulus, the body will react by adapting and improvements in strength and size will recommence.

This workout uses an advanced training method known as pre-exhaust. The purpose of this method is to partially fatigue the muscles through an isolation exercise before moving onto a heavier compound exercise. This method will push the muscles to their limit and as a result, force them to adapt.

Do be aware that with this method, it may be necessary to lower the weight for the compound lifts. This is because the muscles will already be fatigued prior to performing the compound lift and as a result, it may not be possible to lift as heavy as normal.

 

Exercise Sets x Reps
Leg Extensions 5 x 8 – 10
Smith Machine Squat 4 x 8, 10, 10, 12
Hack Squat 3 x 10 – 12
Dumbbell Lunges 3 x 10 – 12

 

Final Word

In order to maximize results and advance towards the set goal, look to perform the chosen workout over a 4-8 week period. After completing this stint, assess progress and consider switching over to another specialized leg workout to continue improving. By doing this, significant changes in leg size and strength will occur, providing that the workouts are performed consistently and with the right intensity.

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References:

 

1- “Neural Centers Responsible for Movement”.

2- “Resistance Training Volume Enhances Muscle Hypertrophy but Not Strength in Trained Men”.

3- “Preserving Healthy Muscle during Weight Loss”.

4- Schmitt, Kayla (September 28, 2017). Electromyographic comparison of the hamstring muscles during various exercises

5- Sports Health. 2010 Nov; 2(6): 509–518. doi: 10.1177/1941738110375910. PMCID: PMC3438871.PMID: 23015982

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