When it comes to training and working out, there are no two words that’ll make you want to skip the gym faster than “leg day.”
But while it’s far and away most guys least favorite day of the week, it’s one of the most important. A strong, powerful set of wheels is not only critical for overall health and functionality, but it’s also a vital component to a pleasing physique.
And unfortunately, while it’s no real challenge to find endless articles on how to build your chest and arms, when it comes to legs, finding specific, actionable advice can be a change. This is why today’s article is all about how to train, build and develop the lower body.
Quads and Hamstrings
Let’s start with familiar territory and talk about the muscles of the thigh- the quadriceps and hamstrings. These two muscle groups are what most people think of when they think of “training legs.”
Your quadriceps run through the front of your thigh and are made up of four muscles – the Rectus Femoris, the Vastus Laterallis, the Vastus Medialis and the Vastus Intermedius.
Running directly behind those muscles (the back of your thigh) are the Semitendinosus, the Semimembranosus, and the Biceps Femoris. These muscles are referred to as your hamstrings.
With the exception of the glutes, the muscles of the thigh are the largest in the body, and they’re also typically the easiest to hit. As long as you’re engaging in compound lower body exercises (squats, deadlifts, leg presses), you should have no problem engaging these muscles (most guys find that the thighs have a tendency to “take over” during these exercises anyway).
With that said, some guys do find that their quads develop a bit fast than their hamstrings. If that’s the case, feel free to add in a set of leg curls or Romanian deadlifts to balance things out.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last few years, you’re likely aware that the world’s gone “ass crazy,” and it’s not just women that are looking to build a rock solid backside.
Generally speaking, your butt consists of three main muscles- the gluteus maximus, the gluteus minimus, and gluteus medius. Development of your butt will focus mainly on the gluteus maximus (while still working the other two, smaller muscles).
These muscles not only look phenomenal when properly developed, but also contribute to overall function and stability. A strong set of glutes will assist in everything from athletic performance to a strong, stable lower back.
The glutes are trained during almost every variation of the squat (particularly the back squat), but for most men, squatting usually isn’t enough (remember, your thighs take over and do a disproportionate amount of the work). Try adding in a few sets of barbell hip thrusts or barbell glute bridges to activate this underworked part of your lower body.
The calves run through your lower leg under the knee and behind the shinbone, and they’re made up of two different muscles- the larger gastrocnemius, and the smaller soleus beneath it.
They’re also, for many guys, one of the most frustrating muscles to build and add size. For the most part, it’s simply a matter of genetics.
Every human being has different “muscle insertions” (i.e., the way your muscle sits on your frame). This explains why every guy has certain muscles that grow like weeds, and others that take a lot more time and effort.
For example, guys who are naturally barrel chested find they have a really easy time blowing up their torso but a harder time with their arms. On the flip side, guys with naturally short, thick arms have the exact opposite problem.
The calves are no exception, and unfortunately, they’re just one of those muscles that most men drew the genetic short stick on.
But that doesn’t mean that all hope is lost. It just means that you’re going to need to a.) hit them directly, and b.) ramp up the volume. Whereas most muscle groups respond favorably to training them once, maybe twice, per week, most guys calves are so small and stubborn that hitting them three times per week is what it takes to get them to grow.
As for which exercises to choose, there’s no secret to it – it’s calf raises, calf raises, and more calf raises. Add them on to the end of each workout, and make sure you keep the volume nice and high.
Remember how we were talking about the quads, and how they tend to respond quite well to compound lifting. Well, of the four quadricep muscles, there’s one in particular that tends to respond less well, and that’s the Vastus Medialis Oblique (or the “VMO”).
The VMO represents the lower thigh and is the muscle that controls knee extension in the leg. It’s also one of the smaller muscles and, unfortunately, tends to get neglected during exercises like the squat.
Not only is a strong VMO crucial for a well-functioning lower body, but it also looks amazing when properly developed. Known in bodybuilding as “ the teardrop” for its shape, a well-built VMO will make the thighs not only look more muscular but will create the appearance of a longer, leaner leg as well.
To develop the VMO, you’ll need to add in exercises that isolate it. A few in particular that work well are the Bulgarian split squat and the wide stance leg press.
Putting It All Together
The following is a complete, lower body training routine for you to add to your workouts. One day per week is sufficient, but if your wheels could use some work, try doing this twice per week (feel free to alternate other exercises mentioned in this article).
Quads/Glutes/ Everything Else: Barbell Back Squat (5 sets of 5 reps)
Glutes: Barbell Hip Thrust (3 sets of 8-10)
Hamstrings: Stiff Legged Deadlift 3 sets of 8-10 reps)
VMO: Bulgarian Split Squat (3 sets of 8-10)
Calves: Calf Raises (5 sets of 8-10)
*Note: Regular deadlifting isn’t included in this workout, mainly because trying to do full-on deadlifts AND squats on the same day is usually too much. With that said, they’re a fantastic lower and upper body builder, and should be fit into your workout routine on another day (back day would work well).