There are a billion (precisely…I counted) articles online talking about the best way to train legs, why you NEED to train them twice a week, why training them more than once a week is a bad idea, or why you should only squat and forget everything else.
This is not one of those articles.
Instead I will talk about various approaches you CAN take – the pros and cons of each, and providing some examples – and you can compare this against your own thoughts and biases (when it comes to legs I think we all have a bias…very few of us are indifferent on the subject), and also put these ideas next to what YOU have been doing so you can evaluate your own long-term progress and see if perhaps a shake-up is in order.
So without further adieu – here we go!
Option #1 – skip ’em!
Unless you are the second coming of Tom Platz and your legs so far overpower everything else that you have to wear baggy sweat pants with your XS shirts – this is not an option.
Option #2 – do a little on the side
I’ll never forget a conversation I had in the gym with a complete and total “bro” about 15 years ago when he was giving me the breakdown on his routine (which I did ask him about…oh wait no I didn’t). He said he did legs and back on the same day – about an hour for back, then a couple supersets of leg extension and leg curls, then presumably out clubbing for all I know.
This might be worse than option #1 – because you’re fooling yourself into thinking you’re actually doing something productive when you are horribly shortchanging yourself.
Option #3 – set aside a full day for legs
This is exceedingly common and in most traditional “bodybuilding” split workouts, this is what you’ll find. Personally I’m not a big fan. Legs are complex and there’s a shit ton of muscle in them (or at least there should be) – trying to work them thoroughly and fully in one day a week is a BIG task. If you don’t enjoy training legs, this will easily be your least favorite day and you will dread it, and commonly this can lead to underperforming as you go through it. If you LOVE legs and they are currently well balanced with your upper body, this can be a solid approach. Give ’em a thorough beating and let ’em recover – maybe bump up calories/carbs a bit on this day as well to help fuel the tough session.
Option #4 – hit legs multiple days per week
This is my most common course for most of my clients. This can range from 2 quality sessions up to 3 or even 4 in some cases – but more is not always better. Recovery matters too. You can take the bro approach mentioned in option #2 above and supplement with some additional leg work on non leg days to help bring up lagging areas as well. I personally will do this periodically – hitting some FST-7 leg extensions at the start of shoulder day, for example.
Now option #4 opens up a whole can of worms, so let’s dig a bit deeper into the possibilities here and see how we might break these down further.
Two full and complete leg sessions per week
A solid approach. But – personal opinion here – trying to fully and thoroughly hit quads, hamstrings, adductors, AND glutes (yes, you too guys) in one session can feel like an overwhelming task. I prefer the divide and conquer approach. If you were to do this, it’s pretty easy to come up with an A/B workout structure where both sessions are similar but there are variations between the two. Using different squat variations (front squat one day, back squat the other day), swapping out RDL’s for good morning, varying your foot positioning on a leg press, even going from one leg extension machine to a different one (because they all FEEL different).
One day for quads, one day for glutes and hamstrings
This is what I’m doing currently. The main concept here is that a great deal of glute exercises will also work the hamstrings and vice versa – so this is an efficient approach. You can kick off each workout with a compound movement targeting the appropriate group and plan on going heavy – maybe 5 sets of 5 or something – and this will set the tone for what follows. Some kind of squat for quad day, maybe a sumo deadlift for glute/ham day. The quad workout becomes an all-out assault where they never really have a chance to recover – though with many of the exercises you’re hardly isolating the quads, just focusing on them more. A narrow stance leg press, lunges, step-ups – these will use all the leg but you can direct more of the work into the quads with subtle adjustments. On glute/ham day, you can do a half and half workout where you kill glutes completely before moving on to hamstrings, or alternate exercises with varying emphasis – a hip thrust, followed by a curl, followed by a kickback, followed by an RDL, etc.
One day for thighs (quads/hams), one day for glutes
Similar to the above except this allows for an entire day focusing just on glutes. Bikini competitors, I’m looking at you. Mix it up between heavy, lower rep work and lighter (or unweighted) higher rep/activation work.
One day for quads, one day for hamstrings, and one day for glutes
If everything below the waist is lacking, this divide an conquer approach may help you wrap your head around the situation in the best way. This gives you a single task to focus on each day, and you can work to isolate each group to some extent so that the others will remain relatively fresh when their turn comes around. Intersperse upper body workouts between these as well – either 2 or 3 of those to hit everything, depending on if you’re following a 5 or 6 day split. This will be a BIG change most likely – your legs are lacking probably because they’ve been undertrained at the expense of your upper body, so this is turning that equation on its head and can really force you out of your comfort zone. And if you know anything about bodybuilding, leaving your comfort zone is typically a sign that you’re doing the right thing.
Another thing to consider is the concept of “dominant” days. In a quad dominant workout, you’ll hit a lot of quads but also deliberately hit hamstrings and/or glutes as well. This is also a solid approach that can blur the lines a bit between the black and white divisions mentioned above, which can be a good thing or perhaps less useful – depending on individual training preferences as much as anything.
All of those approaches are valid in their own way – the key is understanding what YOUR body NEEDS – not, generally speaking, what other people are doing or how you want to train. If you’re in this with competitive aspirations or simply to build the most balanced physique you can, you owe it to yourself to look in the mirror objectively and give an honest assessment of what needs work – and then the fearlessness to adjust your plan accordingly and implement it with maximum intensity.