Most guys neglect their lower body in favor of “mirror muscles” such as the chest and arms. But if you want more than a pair of toothpick legs sticking out of your shorts this summer, it’s time to be strategic about your lower body workouts, put in the work, and build strength from the ground up. So, if you’ve been skipping too many leg days, or if you just want to bulk up your lower body, here is a powerful, 5-week leg-sculpting program to build strong and well-developed lower extremities in record time.
Warming up is one of the most neglected acts in the fitness world. But it is crucial that you take 10 or 15 minutes to prepare yourself for the workout ahead. Not only will a proper warm-up minimize injury risk, but it will also boost your lifting performance. Here’s how to warm up properly for the 5-week leg-sculpting program.
Phase 1: General warm-up (5 minutes)
Your first goal when doing a warm-up is to raise your core temperature and activate your muscles and nervous system. To do this, simply jump on a cardio device that involves your legs and move for 5 minutes. Two good options are the stationary bike and the rowing machine.
Phase 2: Dynamic Warm-up (optional)
Your goal here is to improve mobility and prepare your joints for the lifts you’re about to perform. If you’re already flexible enough to do your strength exercises, you can skip this phase. But if you lack mobility, as most guys do, take 3 to 5 minutes to work on yours dynamically. Pay particular attention to your ankles and hips – the two areas many lifters are limited when it comes to mobility. Examples of dynamic warm-up exercises are forward and lateral leg swings, prisoner squats, Cossack squats, and mountain climbers.
Phase 3: Specific Warm-up (3 to 5 minutes)
If you’re doing things properly, you will be sweating a bit by now, your joints will feel looser, and you will be mentally and physically ready to jump into your workout. But before you get started, you have to prepare yourself for your first exercise specifically. The way to do this is by gradually building up to the weight you’ll be using in your first working set. Here’s an example of what your specific warm-up could look like if your program calls for five reps on the squat with 225 lbs:
Warm-up set 1: bar x 5 reps
Warm-up set 2: 95 lbs x 5 reps
Warm-up set 3: 135 lbs x 5 reps
Warm-up set 4: 185 lbs x 5 reps
Working set 1: 225 lbs x 5 reps
Here’s What To Do
Let me give you an overview of how the program works. In short, you do 10 leg workouts over a 5-week period. So you train your legs twice per week. Every workout contains two phases. In phase one, you do your indicator exercise. After that, you follow up with a couple of assistance exercises.
Every workout starts off with an indicator exercise. During workout one, this is the barbell back squat. In workout two, your indicator exercise is the deficit deadlift. (More information on those exercises later.)
Your goal here is to increase weekly the resistance you use on those lifts. We call this applying “progressive overload”, which is the single most important factor in developing a muscle . In fact, if you don’t gradually increase the stress you place upon a muscle, there is no reason for the muscle to develop and you will not get better.
For most lifters, the recommendation is to increase the load on the indicator exercises by 5 to 10 lbs each week. But if you’re a beginner lifter, you might be able to make bigger jumps. On the other hand, if you’re an advanced trainee, your progress might be slower. Your goal, however, is to use a heavier load in every workout.
How To Perform the Indicator Exercises
For these exercises, we’ll be using a training style called reverse pyramid training. It may very well be the most effective training method for overloading your muscles, thus strengthening and growing them. It works as follows:
You work up to your maximum weight for the described number of reps. With the back squat, your target is to hit six reps. On the deadlift, it is four reps. So you choose a weight you assume you can hit for that many reps, and you go all out on this set. Try to do as many reps as possible with that weight.
After you’ve done set one, rest for 3 minutes, reduce the weight by 10%, and do your next set. Once again, your goal is to do as many reps as possible. Then, after you’ve done set two, rest for another 3 minutes, drop the weight again by 10%, and go for the maximum number of reps you can manage.
After you’ve done the indicator exercises, you follow up with a series of assistance exercises. These exercises remain the same throughout the 5-week program. They are set up in such a way that every muscle receives an optimal amount of volume.
How To Perform the Assistance Exercises
Nothing special here, just follow the exercises as outlined. You will see, however, that the program describes the rep range as something like “6-8 reps”. This means you pick a weight that you can do for at least 6 but no more than 8 reps. If you can do more than 8, increase the weight for your next set in such a way that you can’t exceed that number. If you can’t manage 6 reps, drop the weight for your next set to get back in the 6-8 rep range.
Caution: When done properly, this program is very taxing on both your muscular and nervous system. Therefore, do not combine it with a high training volume on your upper body – it’s overkill! Instead, put your upper body on “maintenance” while on this program.
Barbell Back Squat
Considered by many the king of lower body exercises, the barbell back squat is perhaps the most effective exercise for building strong and well-developed legs. For maximum stimulation, use a high-bar barbell placement, and squat as deep as you can while maintaining the proper technique.
While the conventional deadlift is a tremendous strength and mass builder, for maximum leg stimulation you have to do the exercises while standing on a 3- to 4-inch platform. This increases the range of motion your lower body goes through, which in turn puts more tension on your leg muscles. It’s important to note that some lifters tend to pull with a rounded back during deficit deadlifts. If you can’t maintain a straight back, use a 1- or 2-inch platform instead.
Dumbbell Walking Lunges
One stimulus lacking in most leg programs are unilateral exercises. Their absence can lead to strength and size imbalance between the left and right size of your lower body. The solution? Adding a unilateral exercise to your program. An excellent choice are dumbbell walking lunges.
Straight Leg Deadlift
As a powerful hamstring, glute, and lower back exercise, the straight leg deadlift is a fantastic choice for strengthening your backside. While doing the exercise, push your hips back and keep your knees only slightly bent – around 5 to 10 degrees. This helps you place maximum tension on your posterior chain.
Like dumbbell walking lunges, step-ups are an excellent way to target your legs one-at-a-time. This treats muscular imbalances between the left and right side of your lower body. The difference between the two movements, however, is that step-ups (when done properly) target your hamstrings and glutes more intensively. To do the exercise correctly and fully stimulate your leg muscles, use a box height that has your knees bent at minimum 90 degrees at the start of the movement.
45-Degree Back Extensions
This is an excellent exercise to strengthen your lower back while also hitting your glutes and hamstrings hard. There is, however, one common mistake you must avoid: lifting your torso above parallel and causing your spine to go into hyperextension. This places great stress on your spine, which can lead to lower back pain. Instead, raise your body until it is in a straight line.
(One-Legged) Leg Press
Both workouts in the program finish off with a leg press version done with a high rep range. When done to the max, this causes a massive release of lactic acid, which in turn triggers the release of various “anabolic” hormones, including human growth hormone, IGF-1, and testosterone [2-3]. These powerful hormones stimulate muscle growth and strength. When doing this movement, go through a wide range of motion while preventing your butt from tucking under.
Here’s What To Do Next
No more excuses! You now have a bulletproof 5-week leg-sculpting program to bring your legs up to par in record time. The only thing that’s left to do is put in the work. And while the program isn’t easy, the results will be more than worth it. Let’s do this!
- American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Progression models in resistance training for healthy adults. (2009). Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 41(3), 687-708. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181915670.
- Schoenfeld, B. J. (2010). The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(10), 2857-72. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181e840f3.
- Schoenfeld, B. J. (2013). Postexercise hypertrophic adaptations: a reexamination of the hormone hypothesis and its applicability to resistance training program design. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 27(6), 1720-30. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e31828ddd53.