If you want to know how often you should do legs if you want them to grow, as well as how many exercises and sets you need in each workout, this page will show you what to do.
What is a Leg Day?
By leg day, I’m talking about a workout that targets your lower body, in particular your:
At the very least, a lower body workout designed to make your legs bigger should include a squat movement (such as the back or front squat) to target the quads and glutes, a hip-hinge movement (such as Romanian deadlifts or the 45-degree hip extension) for the hamstrings, along with a calf raise.
What Are the Benefits of Leg Day?
The first and probably most important benefit is bigger, stronger legs.
You don’t want to be one of those people walking around with a muscular upper body, but with toothpick legs and an arse that’s rivalled only by a pancake in terms of its flatness.
Many athletes will also include dedicated lower body work in their training programs because it helps to improve their performance.
There are many studies out there to show that endurance athletes, cyclists and runners in particular, perform better when they incorporate lower body strength and power work in their training .
Training your legs can also help to reduce the risk of injury, as well as helping existing injuries to heal faster.
In one study, men with patellar tendinopathy who did three leg workouts a week (4 sets of 6-15 reps of the squat, leg press, and hack squat) for six months improved knee pain and function to a greater extent than subjects given corticosteroid injections .
Sample Leg Day Workout Plans
Beginner Leg Day Workout
- Barbell Back Squat 3 sets x 8-12 reps
- Leg Curl 3 sets x 8-12 reps
- Standing Calf Raises 3 sets x 8-12 reps
Intermediate Leg Day Workout
- Barbell Back Squat 3 sets x 5-8 reps
- Leg Press 3 sets x 8-12 reps
- Leg Curl 3 sets x 8-12 reps
- 45-Degree Hip Extension 3 sets x 12-15 reps
- Standing Calf Raises 4 sets x 8-12 reps
Advanced Leg Day Workout
- Leg Press 4 sets x 8-12 reps
- Romanian Deadlift 4 sets x 12-15 reps
- Leg Extension 3 sets x 12-15 reps
- Walking Lunges 3 sets x 8-12 reps
- Seated Leg Curl 3 sets x 8-12 reps
- Donkey Calf Raises 4 sets x 8-12 reps
- Seated Calf Raise 2 sets x 12-15 reps
What if you prefer to train at home rather than a commercial gym, and you don’t have access to a leg press machine or even a squat rack?
If your home gym consists of nothing but a barbell, a bench, and a couple of dumbbells, your leg workout might look something like this:
- Barbell Hack Squat 4 sets x 12-15 reps
- Bulgarian Split Squat 3 sets x 8-12 reps
- Dumbbell Goblet Squat 2 sets x 8-12 reps
- Barbell Romanian Deadlift 4 sets x 8-12 reps
- Dumbbell Leg Curl 3 sets x 12-15 reps
- Dumbbell Single-Leg Calf Raises 3 sets x 8-12 reps
If you’ve never done barbell hack squats before, here’s how they’re done.
In the start position, with your feet hip-width apart, bend down and grab the bar using an overhand grip, with your palms facing behind you.
Keep your knees pointing in the same direction as your feet throughout the movement.
Your hips should stay low and your shoulders high. Makes sure your heels stay in contact with the floor.
On the way down, make sure your knees get to at least a 90-degree angle or below before you return to the standing position. Stand on a raised platform if necessary to ensure the weight plates don’t hit the floor before your knees reach that 90-degree angle.
If your grip isn’t strong enough, use lifting straps. I like Harbinger Big Grip Lifting Straps, mainly because they have a rubber strip that prevents the bar from slipping.
How Often Should You Train Your Legs?
How often should you train your legs if you want them to grow? Is one leg day a week enough? Is three times a week too much?
If you want a short and simple answer to the question, it’s twice a week. There are cases where one lower body workout each week will do the job. But for most people most of the time, twice a week is the sweet spot.
However, the long answer is more nuanced, so let’s take a closer look at what the science has to say about training frequency and muscle growth.
Firstly, no discussion of training frequency is complete without a mention of training volume, which I’m defining as the number of hard sets you do for a given muscle over the course of a week.
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There’s a link, up to a point at least, between training volume and muscle growth. That is, doing 10 sets per muscle group per week will typically lead to a faster rate of hypertrophy than 4-6 sets .
If you’re training your legs twice a week, but only doing 4-6 sets for each group of muscles over the course of that week, the gains will likely come more slowly compared to doing 10 sets just once a week.
In this particular example, one leg workout a week is going to give you faster results than two. But that’s only because of the increase in training volume, rather than because you’re training your legs more often.
That is, the mass-building benefits of two leg workouts a week were driven more by changes in volume rather than frequency.
Is One Leg Day a Week Enough?
You can still hit your legs once a week and make progress. Training them twice a week may well give you faster results, but one leg workout a week is still enough to make your quads and hamstrings bigger.
There was an interesting study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, where researchers got two groups of trained men to lift weights for two months .
Both groups did the squat and leg extension for their quads, for the same number of weekly sets. The only difference was in how often the workouts were performed.
The first group hit their legs once a week, while group two trained their legs twice a week.
Statistically speaking there was no significant difference in results between the two groups. Whether the legs were trained once or twice a week, the gains were very similar.
Here’s a breakdown of the results:
- Group 1 (once a week) + 9.2 %
- Group 2 (twice a week) + 9.6 %
- Group 1 (once a week) + 9.2 %
- Group 2 (twice a week) + 10.9 %
When the researchers looked at total volume load (sets x reps x weight) for the duration of the study, subjects doing leg exercises twice a week ended up doing the most work.
Over a longer period of time, the increase in volume load with the higher training frequency may well lead to faster gains in size.
To quote the researchers directly:
“It is plausible to hypothesize that this greater [volume load] achieved through a high frequency protocol if executed for a longer time frame (more than 8 weeks) may possibly culminate in a significantly greater increase in strength and hypertrophy compared with a single-session.”
With that said, the group hitting their legs just once a week still made gains. Over a period of months and years, the gains may come more slowly compared to twice a week.
But if you’re willing to accept that your legs won’t grow as fast, one leg workout a week is still a viable option.
3 vs 2 Leg Days a Week
Will doing legs 3 times a week make your legs bigger compared to twice a week?
The answer to that question depends a lot on what your weekly training volume looks like.
If you do 6 sets twice a week, or 4 sets three times a week, you’re probably not going to see much of a difference in terms of muscle growth.
That’s because the total number of sets you’re doing over the course of the week is the same. As a result, you’re likely to see very similar gains.
But in practical terms, more frequent training will typically allow for an increase in volume.
That is, adding a third training day means you’re able to do more work for your legs. And the extra work itself may lead to faster gains. But that was because of the increase in volume, rather than the increase in frequency.
In fact, many studies report similar size gains in volume-equated programs irrespective of whether a muscle is trained 1, 2, 3, or 4+ days per week .
For example, Brazilian researchers looked at the effect of two different training frequencies on gains in size and strength in two groups of untrained young men .
- Group one trained their legs twice a week.
- Group two trained their legs four times a week.
The total number of weekly sets was the same in both groups.
At the end of the study, there was no significant difference in terms of size or strength gains between the two groups.
Whether the legs were trained twice a week or four times a week, the end result was much the same.
Similar results were seen in a group of trained men who hit each muscle group two or three times a week .
Changes in the thickness of vastus lateralis, one of the four muscles that make up the quadriceps, were not statistically different between the two groups.
It was the same story with rectus femoris, which runs down the front of your thigh. Gains in muscle thickness were not statistically different whether the legs were trained twice or three times a week.
In fact, the twice a week group did see faster gains, but those gains weren’t large enough to cross the statistically significant threshold.
To quote the study authors directly:
“It should be noted that small, but potentially meaningful differences were observed in favor of training two versus three days per week for every hypertrophy outcome measure studied. These findings suggest a potential hypertrophic benefit to the lower training frequency. It remains possible that small, but potentially meaningful improvements may be elicited by employing a training frequency of twice per week as compared to training three times per week.”
If you’re an advanced lifter doing more than 10-12 sets for your quads and hamstrings each week, then distributing your leg exercises across two training days a week is likely going to give you better results than one.
But if you’re doing less than 10 sets for your quads and hamstrings, chances are you’ll make similar progress irrespective of how often your legs are trained.
Individual Differences and Training Frequency
There are also individual differences from person to person, and no two people respond to the same training program in the same exact way.
In contrast, forty percent registered faster progress with a training frequency of 2-3 days a week. The remaining subjects made similar progress irrespective of how often each muscle group was trained.
From a physiological point of view, a training program that’s optimal for one person might not be optimal for someone else, so you will need to experiment and find an approach that works best for you.
You also need to factor in your own preferences and goals.
How important is it to have bigger legs? Some people aren’t that bothered. They want a bigger chest, back, arms or shoulders, but they’re content to see a slower rate of growth in their legs.
Are you trying to gain or maintain? Maybe your thighs are as big as you want them to be, and you don’t want to make them any bigger.
Maintaining muscle mass takes a lot less work than gaining it in the first place, so you could probably get away with one short leg workout a week, just to keep things ticking over.
How To Split Leg Day Into Two Days
If the thought of devoting an entire training session to your lower body (as you would do with a push/pull/legs routine or upper/lower split) fills you with dread, there’s no rule that says you need a separate day for your legs at all.
For example, you could follow a push/pull workout plan, where you do some work for your quads and hamstrings every time you train.
That is, the push day workouts involve some compound exercises that focus on your quads, like the squat and leg press, while the pull day workouts will include some work for your hamstrings, such as the leg curl and glute-ham roller.
To sum up, if you want your leg muscles to grow, training them twice a week is your best bet.
However, there’s no universally correct training frequency that works equally well for everyone, nor are there rigid guidelines that determine exactly how many times you should train your leg each week.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does leg day increase testosterone?
The leg exercises you do in the gym, such as the leg press or squat, do lead to a short-term increase in various hormones, testosterone in particular.
However, studies show that this temporary surge is too small and too short-lived to have any kind of meaningful impact on muscle protein synthesis, the size of your muscle fibers, or gains in strength [7, 8, 9].
Is leg day good for weight loss?
The calories burned during a lower body workout can certainly contribute to weight being lost. However, the main driver of weight loss is your diet, rather than what you do in the gym. The number of calories burned during a given workout is much less important than making sure your diet is set up properly.
Why do people hate leg day?
People hate leg day because it’s brutally hard work. Why is leg day so hard? Training the large muscle groups in your hips, thighs and lower back requires a lot of effort, both physical and mental. Even exercises like walking lunges and split squats can leave you gasping for breath at the end of a set.
Should I do deadlifts on pull or leg day?
I’d suggest doing deadlifts on leg day. The reason why is that erector spinae (a group of muscles that run up either side of your spine) are worked whenever you do squats and deadlifts.
If you’re following a push/pull/legs split, doing squats on leg day and deadlifts on pull day, the spinal erectors aren’t getting much time to recover before you’re training them again.
That said, if your leg day workout involves exercises like leg presses, split squats and leg extensions, which don’t involve erector spinae to the same extent as regular back squats, programming some kind of deadlift variation (such as rack pulls) on pull day is a viable option.
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