When explaining the human body to people, I generally compare it to a house.
Your legs are the foundation, your torso the frame, and everything else is supporting structure.
Without the foundation, the house sinks and crumbles over time. It is not built to last.
Your body is no different. Your legs are the most important part of your body and only become more important over time as you get older.
Top 5 Leg Exercises
#1: Squat Variations
There are dozens of squat variations out there with hundreds of different resistance tools to use. Start with back squats and front squats. Once you master those you can mix in the other variations, including the single leg variety.
I tend to train squats with low to moderate rep ranges most of the time to build maximal strength. I rarely go above 8 reps here and train with a lot of heavy doubles and triples.
When you feel like you need more volume, throw in high rep sets every now and then. If I’m squatting for say, multiple sets of 300+ with low reps, I may throw in one or two sets at 185 for 20 reps. Your legs will be throbbing, and if you are a pump chaser, this will do the trick.
Some people consider this an upper body exercise (and for good reason) because it will pack a lot of muscle on your back. But it will also build tree trunk legs and help you develop overall body strength and power.
I rarely do these for high reps. I make sure I’m really stacking the weight on the bar and getting after it.
If you want to do high reps here, really tamper down the weight, somewhere in the 50%-70% of your 1RM and perform reps explosively and with relatively high tempo. High tempo is not an excuse for poor form. Form always trumps all.
#3: Good Mornings
A lot of times we focus too much on the muscles we can see, and neglect the posterior chain. Good mornings will build football sized muscle on your hamstrings. The added strength will benefit you in the squat and deadlift as well.
Hit these for moderate to high reps (5-16 reps) for multiple sets. I do these after squats or deadlifts. Keep your form tight to protect your back.
#4: Glute Ham Raise
Another great posterior chain exercise that will beef up your hamstrings. I’d recommend doing these as a warmup, or as a precursor to one of the big leg lifts like the squat. I’ve heard Joe DeFranco talking about his athletes performing upwards of 100 of these (with resistance) before doing anything else.
If you don’t have a glute ham raise machine, you can do these using TRX bands or a stability ball. In the beginning, I would do these at least 3 times a week. When I was trying to strengthen my hamstrings, I did these every single workout, even if I was training upper body.
#5: Jumps (Plyos)
Another great warm up exercise and a key component of training like an athlete. For a while, my cardio consisted strictly of pulling and pushing sleds, and doing box jumps. But plyos build a ton of leg strength and explosive power as well. Coincidently, when I was at peak performance in my jumping, my squat numbers were at all time highs.
Box jumps, broad jumps, one legged jumps; if you can jump it, do it. Work them into your warmup. Start with just 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps a piece. Rest up to 2 minutes in between.
Focus with each rep because jumping can be dangerous, especially when landing. Cushion yourself to absorb the fall and stick the landing.
Check this guy out, really damn impressive…[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGl2XFhpX5k[/tube]
Ok, so what else do you need to know?
In addition to making those exercises are part of your normal training, you need to add the following components as well.
You should be hitting a warm up before every workout. I have my clients do the same warm up every single time. It may sound boring, but it is effective and is something I learned from world class strength coach Zach Even Esh. In our warm-ups, we are hitting bodyweight squats and lunges, various jumps, sprinting, back pedaling, lateral shuffling, and crawling.
This is also a time when you should be foam rolling. Hit your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and inner and outer thighs. If you are hitting squats as the main component of your workout that day, take the foam roller with you. It is not uncommon that I am foam rolling in between sets to keep loosening things up so I can squat deeper.
Hill Sprints and Sled Work
If you know my philosophy, I don’t believe in training muscles as much as I do movements. One of the primary movements that man must perform to survive is “gait”. Therefore you must run. But I also believe in building muscle, so I don’t run for distance. Instead I train high intensity which almost exclusively means hill sprints and sled work. I do this a couple times a week to supplement my normal weight training. Walter Payton emphasized hill sprints in his training and he seemed to have some minor success relying on his legs…
Long muscles are strong muscles. Remember that.
The longer your muscles are the more room you have to pack in dense mass, hence you get bigger. Besides, as you get older, you need to be flexible. You don’t want to be an old person who can’t tie their own shoes or spends half their morning trying to get out of bed. If you are a young’en, you may be flexible now, but don’t think that will last forever. And the more flexible you are, the more range of motion you have; this will come in key for squats, lunges, and jumps.
You can do some static stretching before your workout, but it really should only be the focus after the meat of your training is done. Stick with foam rolling and active movements prior. Then afterwards you can static stretch and foam roll some more and call it a day.
Put all of this together and you will build bigger legs, no doubt.
So if you are serious about training and improving your performance, you must attack your legs with the same ferocity that you would your chest or your biceps. You have the knowledge now, so take action and get it done.
Remember, you don’t build a house without a foundation…