Ask yourself this: when was the last time you put into a good, hard leg workout? Been a while? If you’re like most guys, you skip leg workouts. And who can blame you. They’re hard. Brutally hard. But let me tell you, they are your solution to just about everything as far as your aesthetics is concerned.
Want to burn fat?
Leg workouts should be a go-to.
Want to build muscle?
Again, leg days create the hormonal response that will certainly help you move towards that goal.
Want to simply build an impressive physique?
You won’t be turning any heads if you get a jacked upper body and have chicken legs supporting it.
Legs are everything. But yet, leg workouts often get left out of the picture almost entirely. Or, if you do hit them, it may just be a matter of tossing in some leg extension and hamstring curls at the end of your back workout.
That’s unfortunately not enough.
Let me take you through what proper leg workouts should look like. I think when you see these exercises, you’ll agree that chances are, whatever you have been doing is simply not enough. Get ready to make some changes.
Intro To The Balloon Method
Before we dive into the leg workouts, let me tell you a little about my balloon method, which you’ll be using here. The balloon method entails three different steps.
First is creating metabolic stress. This is done through time under tension sets that will have your muscles screaming for mercy once you’re finished and help to result in greater rates of protein synthesis in the muscles, hence growth (1).
The second step is ensuring there is sufficient mechanical overload. You simply can’t get better if you don’t challenge yourself so this step is all about doing more weight. Applying the traditional and foundational concept of progressive overload.
Third you have muscle damage. When the first two steps are done properly, you’ll evoke a high level of muscle damage, that when left to recover and you’re fueled properly, will produce lean muscle gains all while possibly also helping you burn body fat as well.
Now let’s show you the exercises for an amazing leg workout.
Exercise 1: Leg Extensions With A Wide Foot Angle
Before we dive into your heavy compound lifts, we’re going to prep your legs with some leg extensions. For this one I want you to use a T30 or T45 protocol, meaning you’re going to perform the exercise for 30 or 45 seconds straight without rest.
NOTE: You should be keeping the tension on the muscles the entire movement. This does not mean performing the leg extension and then resting for a few seconds at the bottom of the move. Anyone can do that for minutes if they had to. You want to come down only so far that you nearly touch the weights to the rest of the stack and then reverse directions right away once again.
I like using a 1:0:1 tempo pattern, so one second to lift the weight, a 0 second pause at the top (or bottom) and 1 second to lower the weight.
When sitting in this machine, place the legs wide to help focus on the inner thighs and keep the toes pointing up for best results. Rest for 60 seconds between sets and do three sets before moving on.
Get ready to feel that burn.
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Exercise 2: Leg Press
Now it’s time to get heavy. You’re going to be doing some anabolic drop sets using the leg press and stacking on as much weight as you can to challenge your body. I love the leg press because I can get great quad activation – even better than on a squat I find – so it’s a series size builder.
For the anabolic drop set protocol, you’ll do 10 reps until near failure, drop the weight by 30% and then do another 10 reps until near failure. You want the weight to be consistent with the reps you’re doing. So push it hard so that by the time that 10th rep is up, you need to stop.
You’ll want to adjust your tempo slightly on the two sets using a 2:1:1 tempo for the heavy set and a 1:0:1 for the lighter set.
We do this to help maximize total muscle fiber recruitment while also stimulating optimal metabolic stress as well. On the 2:1:1 set, you’ll go slower on the eccentric portion of the exercise which will help to recruit as many muscle fibers as possible into each rep and on the second set, because you’re going quicker without any pause at the top, you’ll be placing more constant tension on the muscles, activating your metabolism.
This is a recipe for growth and fat burning if done right.
The rest between each anabolic drop set should be approximately 90 seconds to two minutes and you are to complete two sets total.
Exercise 3: Dumbbell Stiff Leg Deadlifts
If you’re like me and most guy, you’re weakest link is your hamstrings. It’s normal to be stronger in your quads than your hamstrings but this doesn’t mean it’s okay. You should constantly be looking for ways to close the gap on this strength disparity.
Luckily, the dumbbell stiff leg deadlift is going to help do just that. You’ll be able to focus on progressive overload with this exercise, slowly adding more weight as you get stronger.
The key when doing this exercise is to ensure you keep your chest out and back straight. When you round your back, you’re immediately taking the stress off the hamstrings and transferring it to your spinal column – something that will surely lead to injury over time.
Instead, focus on keeping the core tight while you feel a nice deep stretch in the hamstrings as you lower the weight down. Then as you begin to pull up, think of pulling from the hamstrings and glutes, not the back. This will help you ensure proper form. A good mental hack for this exercise is to squeeze your glutes as hard as possible at the top of each rep.
For this exercise you’ll want to do three sets total, doing 8-10 reps to near failure on each set. Your rest time will come in at around 2 minutes to allow for good recovery and your tempo should be kept at a 2:0:1 pace. Again, slow on the way down is going to help recruit all those muscle fibers in the hamstrings we’re aiming to target.
Exercise 4: Dumbbell Walking Lunges
Moving to the four exercise, we’re getting back into more quad work with a dumbbell walking lunge. Note with lunges that how you do this exercise greatly dictates the nature in which you’re going to feel it.
Take a wider step forward and you’ll get more hamstring and glute activation while if you take a closer step forward, you’ll get more quad stimulation. Whichever method you use, just do be sure that you aren’t leaning forward too much or this lead to serious low back pain over time.
You’ll do three sets on this exercise, doing 8-10 reps to near failure on each set. Your pace should be that 2:0:1 tempo and your rest time two minutes.
Walking lunges are going to be killer for boosting cardiovascular fitness, burning calories, jacking up your metabolism, and getting those legs growing.
Exercise 5: Donkey Calf Raise With 3 Foot Positions
Another very critical mistake most guys make with their leg workouts is completely neglecting their calves. It’s such a small muscle group, it’s easy to overlook but at the same time, if yours are significantly lagging, it’s also one that will definitely draw attention. When you don’t have them, it gets noticed.
The donkey calf raise is a great exercise to really bring up those calves and by using three different foot positions while you do it, you’ll ensure that you aren’t leaving any muscle fibers untouched.
You’ll do three sets total on this exercise, doing 8-12 reps per variation on the first two, dropping the weight on the second and then dong a 30-45 second time under tension on the third set. The first variation is toes pointed ahead, the second is toes pointed in and the third is toes pointed out.
This is a perfect example of the balloon method at work and how it’ll help you see incredibly gains.
Your pace on this exercise should be a 2:1:1, so there’s a short stop at the top of the movement. Interestingly, while pausing at the top of most exercises provides a bit of a rest period (something you don’t want), on calves, it actually intensifies the movement. It also helps you avoid bringing momentum into the mix and activating that bounce reflex that makes it all easier.
After each triset you do, rest for 45-60 seconds and then get back at it for the next two sets.
If you really want to burn out your calves, you can take this one step further and perform an isometric calf raise hold between each set. Simply holding the body in the elevated position is going to tire out those calves and ensure they reach a point of full fatigue.
If you don’t have a donkey calf raise machine in your gym, this exercise can also be doing using the leg press and placing the feet low on the platform so your heels hang off. It’s not quite as ideal, but it will get the job done.
Like this article? Check out our workouts directory for more ideas to help you make gains.
1. Burd, Nicholas A., et al. “Muscle time under tension during resistance exercise stimulates differential muscle protein sub‐fractional synthetic responses in men.” The Journal of physiology 590.2 (2012): 351-362.
I’m Troy and I’m the creator of SuperHuman You and Co-Founder of Alpha Lion.
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