Leg Training Advice for the Beginner, Intermediate & Advanced

Leg Training

There's Something About Leg Day

fitFLEX Articles - Learn, Share and Discover

Leg-training is one of those facts of life that most of us would just as soon avoid if we could. It's a necessary evil founded on the premise that all good things happen at times we like least. A strange excitement accompanies the anxiety as you envision loading the bar with plates and lifting a ton of weight. We may not look forward to the sick feeling in the pit of our stomach as we try to steady the weight behind our neck, but - let's face it - there's just something about leg-training that keeps us coming back for more.

Spending 45 minutes under a pile of plates helps make accomplishment real. No matter how often you puke or feel you're going to die, or how many days you spend recuperating from the ordeal, the experience is one you cannot go out and buy. If growth depended solely upon the utter ass-pounding of a hard leg day, most guys would be dropping like flies.

A hard day of leg-training is tough both physically and mentally. The enduring pain and suffering and the sheer magnitude of squatting thousands of pounds are gut wrenching, but they're also a bit like an endorphin after-party that makes showing up to the venue worth every penny of the admission price.

Several factors make a leg-training routine a success - not just exercises but also the manner in which you execute them. Take squats for instance. Anyone can load a bar, sling it behind his neck, and bend and straighten his knees. You don't have to read my column to know how to do that. You could simply go to the gym and watch. On the other hand, if you loaded the bar with 50 percent of the weight you normally use, put your feet closer together, bent your knees so that your thighs were completely parallel to the floor with each repetition, held the position for a count of 2, went down and came up slowly, and repeated this action for a minimum of 25 times, the picture might change in terms of execution because that's what post set pukes are all about in the world of leg-training.

The type of exercise you choose, the workout schemes you employ, the amount of rest you take between sets, and the kind of sets you do (supersets, straight sets, etc.) will have a dramatic effect on the outcome of your workouts. Many variables go into setting the standard for how mediocre or excellent a routine is. In the long run, how you use and combine those variables will affect how much size you pack on.

If you take nothing else away from this article, try to stay away from any preconceptions about leg-training. The notion that high-rep work makes size gain impossible is a myth. You can't overtrain the legs unless you run for two hours before a workout and then train for two hours. Remember that when you're planning your workout, and you'll be halfway home. The legs are the absolute largest muscle group in the entire body. Though not impossible, the likelihood of over training them is almost nil on a scale of one to ten, despite what all your buddies may tell you. The key to leg-training is in finding the limits within yourself that maximize growth and development while minimizing exhaustion and sticking points. The level of intensity is what dictates growth, not the volume of work.

None of the regular rules of engagement applies when you're talking about training legs. Sadly, there are no all-encompassing rules for every bodypart, least of all for quads. What works for one person won't for another, and what worked yesterday might not work tomorrow.

My quad-training routine consists of five exercises over the course of one training cycle (usually 12 weeks minimum). You may use variations of one exercise (walking lunges or stationary lunges or two different types of leg press), but you may not substitute other exercises. I specify these rules for two reasons: First, these exercises best stimulate quad development, and second, exercises can also be considered variables. Don't confuse the issue by making a lot of changes. If you begin to pack on mass, you may not know which exercise or technique is working for you, so don't add so many variables that you can't properly evaluate your routine.

The 5 exercises (for 12 weeks):

Squat, leg press, hack squat, lunge and leg extension.

I have selected these five exercises because they are the absolute best for all-around development and growth in the quad region. The list includes both mass movements and finishing exercises. In a workout where you're training a smaller muscle group, one mass movement is ample. However, because the legs are the largest single muscle group, you need two or three mass movements followed by two or three finishing exercises.

Always begin any workout with a mass movement and then use exercises that exert less stress on the body toward the middle and end of the session. For example, begin with squats and go to the leg press next. If you're following a total-growth program, include a third mass movement (hack squats, for instance). Finish with at least two exercises that work the quads for shape and endurance.


Each of us has a different amount of fast-and slow-twitch muscle fiber that deter-mines whether we'd be better at quick-burst or endurance pursuits. That may explain why your workout partner can do three mass movements while you struggle with just one or two. If you can nail down your fiber type and relative content, based on genetic factors and experience in the gym, you can adjust your own routine to accommodate the genetic makeup that you had no part in developing.

One option might be to ease back from an intermediate or advanced routine to a beginner's program if endurance work suits your body better. This doesn't mean the routine should be elementary or that you won't get anything out of it. You can adjust rep, set and weight schemes to fit your level of development and your goals. A completely overpowering mass workout won't build mass if you're more an endurance type, as strange as that sounds. You have to work within your own boundaries. Rather than using a traditional mass-building variable such as weight, vary intensity instead. This change allows you to do fewer power movements at first, but tc work more intensely on a few exercises. / faster pace, for example, compensates for your inability to withstand great force an quick bursts of strength at one time. Plan your workout according to your training level, your fiber type, and what degree of intensity you can withstand.


The beginner's routine is intended to introduce a solid quad workout to someone who may not yet have the stamina to include more than three or four exercises, yet still wants to see results as fast as possible. Remember to do 2 warmup sets before any mass movement, to warm up the knees and get the blood flowing into the muscle. This warmup ensures the body will suffer less shock once the actual workout starts. Lunges, if included, will be difficult, so lunge only one leg at a time instead of alternating or doing walking lunges. Trainers using the beginner's routine should rest 60 to 120 seconds between sets. Do all exercises in straight sets - no supersets or giant sets here.\


The intermediate routine will test the novice who is outgrowing the basic workout. I have added hack squats into the mix, in addition to a greater workload all around. The set loads remain within a manageable range to allow for growing pains without injury or over training and excessive fatigue between sessions. The rep ranges stay about the same in all three workouts because they are conducive to mass-building.

In this workout hack squats and leg presses will constitute a superset for at least 2 of the designated sets. Try to take each set to failure and start each set with a different beginning exercise. For example, do 1 set of leg presses and then immediately finish with 1 set of hack squats. Reverse the order in the next set, beginning with 1 set of hack squats and ending with 1 set of leg presses. Continue this pattern for another 2 supersets, or just do 2 straight sets each of hack squats and leg presses. Finish with lunges, alternating legs on each repetition. Try to vary weights used in these exercises, but use as heavy weight as possible on the power movements. Rest should be about 60 to 90 seconds between sets. Do not rest between sets in a super or giant set.


The advanced routine is for people who have been training more than a year or two and want to see the kind of results in a quad-training program that would indicate they are maximizing their genetic potential. At this juncture training should be a commitment like no other. Start by pyramiding the weight in your squat session. Do 2 warmup sets (those don't count) and increase the weight until you've hit a max weight in the third set. Then begin reducing the weight for higher reps.

Do a giant set of hack squats, leg presses and leg extensions in at least one workout per week if you are training legs more than one day a week. Walking lunges with dumbbells or a barbell occur once a week in a two-session-per-week workout schedule.

With this sort of workload a partner is essential for drop sets, pyramid sets, supersets and giant sets. Try to find someone with similar goals. Maintain a pace that will allow you only enough rest time to change or reload weights. Definitely incorporate as many different types of set schemes as possible. Use forced reps, and think of each one as a means to save your life!


Beginner - Do this workout two or three times per week. The easiest approach is to divide your body into halves (upper and lower) and do each three times weekly. Breeze through this workout as if you were doing a circuit at least once a week. Goal: Find some kind of connection between your mind and the muscle you're working.

Intermediate - Each week: two days per week/no minimum time. Every three weeks increase number of sets and reps for one week. Try to include some supersets, and have a spotter help you with drop sets on leg extensions and lunges. Goal: Start finding endurance in your workouts before moving on.

Advanced - Every odd week: Do this workout one day per week/two-hour minimum workout. Every even week: Do this workout two days per week/90-minute minimum workout. Regularly include supersets, giant sets and drop sets. Work toward a rapid pace of 30 seconds between sets (except super and giant sets). Goal: To move faster, with more accuracy and intensity, during heavy workouts. To increase your workload without decreasing performance

Related Articles