Muscle for life

The Ultimate Leg Workout: The Best Leg Exercises for Big Wheels

The Ultimate Leg Workout: The Best Leg Exercises for Big Wheels

Nothing makes or breaks a physique more than the legs, and in this article, you’ll learn the best leg exercises for building wheels that wow.


If you’re hitting the weights regularly but neglecting your leg workouts, I want to warn you of what is to come…

best leg exercises


In all seriousness, I understand the temptation to skip legs day.

I used to do it all the time and, well, looked more like the guy in the picture above than I would have wanted to admit.


I’ve repented and changed my ways and while my legs are still lacking the separation and density that comes in time, I’ve finally caught them up enough to where they’re not a glaring weakness…

best leg exercises for men bodybuilding

I’ve also…gasp…come to actually enjoy my leg workouts.

Anyway, the bottom line is it takes quite a bit of time and work to build an impressive set of legs and it’s not a simple matter of DOING MOAR SKWAATTZZ!!1!!

Yes, squat exercises are a vital part of leg training, but if that’s all you’re doing, you could be getting more out of your time in the gym.

So, in this article, I’m going to share with you what I’ve learned about building big, strong legs, including…

  • The most effective way to program your leg training
  • The best leg exercises and how to do them
  • My favorite leg workout that you can put to use right away
  • And more…

Let’s get started!

Understanding the Anatomy of the Legs

best thigh exercises men

Before we get to the training, I’d like to quickly review the major muscles of the leg so we know what we’re looking to develop.

The quadriceps is a group of four muscles that comprise the bulk of the muscle on the front of the thigh. The four “heads” of the quadriceps are:

  • The rectus femoris
  • The vastus lateralis
  • The vastus medialis
  • The vastus intermedius

Here’s how they look:

quadriceps muscle

The back of the leg is dominated by three muscles that contract the hamstring tendon:

  •  The semitendinosus
  • The semimembranosus
  • The biceps femoris

Here’s how they look:

hamstring muscles

And last but not least is the calf, which is comprised of two muscles:

  • The gastrocnemius
  • The soleus

And here’s how they look:

calf muscles

As you can see, the bulk of the calf is the gastrocnemius muscle, and the soleus lies under it.

So, those are the major leg muscles that we’re concerned with in terms of visual development.

There are quite a few smaller muscles that will greatly affect our ability to properly train these larger muscles, but we don’t need to review each of them.

By following the advice in this article, you will develop them along with the larger groups.

The Simple Science of Effective Leg Training

best leg workouts

The three biggest mistakes most people make in their leg workouts are:

1. Doing the wrong leg exercises.

Many people focus too much on machine and isolation exercises, which should be seen as supplementary work, not the core of your leg workouts.

2. Squatting incorrectly.

And I’m not just talking half-reps. There are plenty of other common mistakes such rounding the lower back, excessive “buttwinking,” and bowing the knees in.

3. Doing too much high-rep training.

This mistake will stunt the growth of every major muscle group in the body.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned about lifting and building muscle naturally is the more you emphasize compound movements and heavy lifting (80 to 85% of 1RM and higher), the better your results.


“But wait a minute,” you might be thinking. “[SHREDDED FITNESS MODEL] does a billion reps in his shoulder workouts and has cannonball shoulders… What gives?”

If only you had his #dedication. All 2 grams of it that he injects every week.

I know, that might sound cynical, but it’s true.

When the right steroids enter the picture, achieving muscle growth is mind-numbingly simple: sit in the gym for a few hours every day doing rep after rep after rep, exercise after exercise, and muscles get bigger and bigger.

In fact, when steroids are involved, focusing on high-rep training is generally recommended.

Steroids cause muscles to grow rapidly but don’t help tendons and ligaments keep up, so weights that feel manageable can simply be too much for connective tissues. 

This is a common way that steroid users screw up their joints.

Anyhoo, don’t despair–you can build a great set of legs without drugs.

For example, check out the following bodybuilder that competes in natural bodybuilding shows:

best leg exercises for men

He may not actually be natural (getting around the drug testing in many “natural” federations is so easy it’s a joke), but I think his legs represent a realistic ceiling for natural leg development.

Getting there–or anywhere close to there–just takes a bit of know-how, hard work, and patience. The strategy is simple enough:

1. Focus on lifting heavy weights in your leg workouts.

If you want your legs to get big and strong, you’ll want to focus on the 4 to 6 or 5 to 7 rep range.

2. Focus on the leg exercises that safely allow for progressive overload.

As a natural weightlifter, you can take this to the bank: if you don’t continue to get stronger, you won’t continue to get bigger.

The number one rule of natural muscle building is progressive overload, which means adding weight to the bar over time.

Well, certain exercises don’t lend themselves well to both heavy lifting and progressive overload. Leg extensions, for example, cause a lot of strain in the knees.

Another aspect of your leg training that you have to get right is volume, or the total amount of reps you do each week.

This is especially important when you’re doing a lot of heavy weightlifting because the general rule is this:

The heavier the reps, the fewer you can do each week.

Heavier weights necessitate more recovery, which means you can’t do as many every week without risking overtraining.

I’ve tried many different splits and frequency schemes and what I’ve found works best is in line two extensive reviews on the subject.

When your training emphasizes heavy weights (80 to 85%+ of 1RM), optimal volume seems to be about 60 to 70 reps performed every 5 to 7 days.

This not only applies to the legs but to every other major muscle group as well.

Alright, now that we have basic training theory under our belts, let’s look at the best leg exercises for building muscle and strength.

Use this workout and flexible dieting program to lose up to 10 pounds of fat and build muscle in just 30 days…without starving yourself or living in the gym.

The Best Leg Exercises

best legs exercises for mass

Like with most muscle groups, there are scores of leg exercises you can choose from but only a small handful are really necessary.

In fact, as you’ll see, the list of the best leg exercises is quite small: a few types of squats and lunges and a couple machines and that’s about it.

Before we look at them, though, let’s talk Smith Machines…

What About the Smith Machine?

best leg exercises for strength

When it comes to squatting, the main drawback of using the Smith Machine is it produces smaller gains in muscle and strength than the free weight squat.

One of the major reasons for this is the bar on the Smith Machine moves on a fixed, vertical movement path. The free weight bar, on the other hand, requires that you stabilize it to keep the bar level and prevent horizontal swaying.

I used to do all my squatting on the Smith Machine and never got higher than 235 pounds for a few reps. When I first switched to the free weight squat, I struggled with 185 pounds.

That was several years ago and I’ve since built my free weight back squat up to 365 pounds for 2 to 3 reps and my front squat up to 275 pounds for the same (not outstanding by any means but respectable and a work in progress!).

The Power Rack is your best friend.

A squat stand is fine if you have a spotter, but if you don’t, you’re probably not going to be able to push yourself as hard as you want for fear of getting stuck in the bottom of your squats.

Even if you have a lot of weightlifting experience and a good feel for your body and when you’re going to fail, there are going to be times where you either could have squeezed out another rep but didn’t go for it or where you do go for it and get stuck.

















Enter the Power Rack. Here’s a fantastic one made by Rogue, which I highly recommend:

squat rack for sale

The safety arms are what make it so useful. Set them at the right height and they will catch the weight when you fail. Here’s how to do it:

Alright then.

Let’s now review the leg exercises that I recommend.

1. Barbell Back Squat

No surprise here, of course.

The barbell back squat is hands down the most effective leg exercise you can do for building overall size and strength.

Many people think of it as just a leg exercise but it’s much more than that–it’s a whole-body exercise, really, because it engages every muscle group but your chest.

It must be performed correctly, however. Bad squat form not only makes the exercise less effective, it increases the risk of injury.

Here’s a great video that breaks it all down:


Before we move on to the next exercise, let’s take a minute to talk the full squat (or “Ass to Grass” squat as the cool kids like to say).

First, here’s what it looks like:

While there are benefits to the full squat (it makes the legs, and butt in particular, do more work), it requires quite a bit of mobility and flexibility–more than most people have.

It’s for this reason that I don’t recommend full squatting unless you’re an experienced weightlifter that a) knows proper form (with special attention given to preventing excessive buttwinking) and b) is flexible enough to “ATG” properly.

If that’s not you, work with the parallel squat instead and you’ll do great. Full squatting is not necessary for building a big, strong posterior chain.

Now, before we move on, let’s talk a little more about how lower body flexibility and mobility affects your ability to squat safely, heavily, and properly.

Lack of hip flexibility is probably the most common problem that prevents people from squatting properly, but hamstring tightness and even calf and ankle stiffness can cause problems as well.

Fortunately, you can fix and prevent these issues fairly easily using this squat mobility routine.









2. Barbell Front Squat

The barbell front squat is, by far, my second favorite legs exercise.

Research shows that the front squat emphasizes the quadriceps more than the back squat (which involves more hamstring), but it also places less stress on the knees and lower back, making it ideal for people struggling with back or knee problems.

Here’s how to do it:

Yes, this feels quite awkward and uncomfortable at first, but the more you do it, the better it gets.

When I started front squatting, 135 pounds actually kind of hurt my shoulders. Now I’m up to 275 pounds without even slight discomfort.

3. Barbell Lunge

Although the lunge is generally thought of as a quadriceps exercise, research shows it relies more on the hamstring and glutes.

Nevertheless, it’s a worthwhile inclusion in your leg workouts.

Here’s how to do it:

4. Romanian Deadlift

The Romanian deadlift, or RDL, is one of my favorite exercises for isolating the muscles of the hamstring.

Here’s how it works:

5. Bulgarian Split Squat

You don’t see many people at the gym doing Bulgarian split squats but it’s not some random “foo-foo” exercise.

In fact, the split squat is quickly becoming more and more popular among high-level strength and conditioning coaches, and for good reason.

Research suggests the split squat may be as effective at increasing back squat one-rep max as the back squat itself while placing less strain on the lower back.

Furthermore, it differs from the front squat in that it more heavily involves the hamstrings.

6. Hack Squat Sled

While I’m generally not a fan of machines, I like the hack squat sled for emphasizing the quadriceps.

Like front and split squats, it’s an effective way to train the legs and hips while minimizing stress on the lower back.

7. Leg Press Machine

The leg press is another worthwhile machine for leg training and for building quadriceps strength in particular.

There are two types of leg press machines found in most gyms, though.

One has you seated more or less upright, pressing the weight straight out and back:

upright leg press machine

And the other has you seated, pressing the weight up at a 45-degree angle:

45 degree leg press

I much prefer the latter as it allows for a fuller range of motion. Here’s how to do it:

8. Hip Thrust

While this exercise looks silly, it’s one of the best exercises you can do for your glutes.

It can be performed without weight:

Or with weight:

9. Standing Calf Raise

This simple exercise is a tried-and-true calf builder.

10. Seated Calf Raise

This is a worthwhile variant of the calf raise.

I like that it doesn’t place any stress on the lower back as you get into heavier loads.

11. Calf Raise on the Leg Press

This is another good calf raise variant that I like to include in my leg routines.


Remember–Progression is the Key to Muscle Growth

That’s it for the best leg exercises.

The key, however, isn’t just doing the exercises–it’s progressing on them. That is, increasing the amount of weight you can move over time.

If you don’t get stronger, you won’t get bigger. 

But if you do work on building your strength on these exercises, and you eat enough food to grow, your legs will respond.

The Ultimate Leg Workout

leg bulking exercises

A good leg workout trains both the quadriceps and hamstrings and focus on heavy, compound movements. It can also include glute- and calf-specific training if necessary.

Just like any other muscle group, the legs can benefit from higher rep work, but you have to emphasize the heavy weightlifting if you want them to continue to grow over time.

You can learn more about programming workouts in my books  Bigger Leaner Stronger and Thinner Leaner Stronger, but I want to give you a simple leg workout that you can do for the next 8 weeks to see how my advice works for you.

What I want you to do over the next 8 weeks is perform the following leg workout once every 5 – 7 days:

Barbell Back Squat

Warm up and 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps (men) or 8 to 10 reps (women)

Front Squat

3 sets of 4 to 6/8 to 10 reps

Bulgarian Split Squat

3 sets of 4 to 6/8 to 10 reps


Hip Thrust

3 sets of 8 to 10 reps


Standing Calf Raise

3 sets of 8 to 10 reps

That’s it–just 9 heavy sets for the hamstrings and quads plus optional glute and calf training.

  • Rest 3 minutes in between each set.

This will give your muscles enough time to fully recoup their strength so you can give maximum effort each round.

  • Once you hit the top of your rep range for one set, you move up in weight.

For instance, if you get 6 reps on your first set of squats, you add 5 pounds to each side of the bar for your next set and work with that weight until you can (eventually) squat it for 6 reps, and so forth.

I guarantee that if you do this workout and eat right for the next 8 weeks, you’ll be very happy with how your lower body responds.

What About Supplements?

best supplements for building muscle

I saved this for last because, quite frankly, it’s far less important than proper diet and training.

You see, supplements don’t build great physiques–dedication to proper training and nutrition does.

Unfortunately, the workout supplement industry is plagued by pseudoscience, ridiculous hype, misleading advertising and endorsements, products full of junk ingredients, underdosing key ingredients, and many other shenanigans.

Most supplement companies produce cheap, junk products and try to dazzle you with ridiculous marketing claims, high-profile (and very expensive) endorsements, pseudo-scientific babble, fancy-sounding proprietary blends, and flashy packaging.

So, while workout supplements don’t play a vital role in building muscle and losing fat, and many are a complete waste of money…the right ones can help.

The truth of the matter is there are safe, natural substances that have been scientifically proven to deliver benefits such as increased strength, muscle endurance and growth, fat loss, and more.

As a part of my work, it’s been my job to know what these substances are, and find products with them that I can use myself and recommend to others.

Finding high-quality, effective, and fairly priced products has always been a struggle, though.

That’s why I took matters into my own hands and decided to create my own supplements. And not just another line of “me too” supplements–the exact formulations I myself have always wanted and wished others would create.

I won’t go into a whole spiel here though. If you want to learn more about my supplement line, check this out.

For the purpose of this article, let’s just quickly review the supplements that are going to help you get the most out of your leg (and other) workouts.


Creatine is a substance found naturally in the body and in foods like red meat. It’s perhaps the most researched molecule in the world of sport supplements–the subject of hundreds of studies–and the consensus is very clear:

Supplementation with creatine helps…

You may have heard that creatine is bad for your kidneys, but these claims have been categorically and repeatedly disproven. In healthy subjects, creatine has been shown to have no harmful side effects, in both short- or long-term usage. People with kidney disease are not advised to supplement with creatine, however.

If you have healthy kidneys, I highly recommend that you supplement with creatine. It’s safe, cheap, and effective.

In terms of specific products, I use my own, of course, which is called RECHARGE.

creatine supplement

RECHARGE is 100% naturally sweetened and flavored and each serving contains:

  • 5 grams of creatine monohydrate
  • 2100 milligrams of L-carnitine L-tartrate
  • 10.8 milligrams of corosolic acid

This gives you the proven strength, size, and recovery benefits of creatine monohydrate plus the muscle repair and insulin sensitivity benefits of L-carnitine L-tartrate and corosolic acid.

Protein Powder

You don’t need protein supplements to gain muscle, but, considering how much protein you need to eat every day to maximize muscle growth, getting all your protein from whole food can be impractical.

That’s the main reason I created (and use) a whey protein supplement. (There’s also evidence that whey protein is particularly good for your post-workout nutrition.)

whey protein supplement

WHEY+ is 100% naturally sweetened and flavored whey isolate that is made from milk sourced from small dairy farms in Ireland, which are known for their exceptionally high-quality dairy.

I can confidently say that this is the creamiest, tastiest, healthiest all-natural whey protein powder you can find.

Pre-Workout Drink

There’s no question that a pre-workout supplement can get you fired up to get to work in the gym. There are downsides and potential risks, however.

Many pre-workout drinks are stuffed full of ineffective ingredients and/or minuscule dosages of otherwise good ingredients, making them little more than a few cheap stimulants with some “pixie dust” sprinkled in to make for a pretty label and convincing ad copy.

Many others don’t even have stimulants going for them and are just complete duds.

Others still are downright dangerous, like USPLabs’ popular pre-workout “Jack3d,”which contained a powerful (and now banned) stimulant known as DMAA.

Even worse was the popular pre-workout supplement “Craze,” which contained a chemical similar to methamphetamine.

The reality is it’s very hard to find a pre-workout supplement that’s light on stimulants but heavy on natural, safe, performance-enhancing ingredients like beta-alanine, betaine, and citrulline.

And that’s why I made my own pre-workout supplement. It’s called PULSE and it contains 6 of the most effective performance-enhancing ingredients available:

And what you won’t find in PULSE is equally special:

  • No artificial sweeteners or flavors..
  • No artificial food dyes.
  • No unnecessary fillers, carbohydrate powders, or junk ingredients.

The bottom line is if you want to know what a pre-workout is supposed to feel like…if you want to experience the type of energy rush and performance boost that only clinically effective dosages of scientifically validated ingredients can deliver…then you want to try PULSE.


Want More Workouts?

The Ultimate Chest Workout

best chest workout

The Ultimate Arms Workout


The Ultimate Back Workout


The Ultimate Shoulder Workout


The Ultimate Abs Workout


The Ultimate Legs Workout

Arnold Schwarzenegger squatting deep.

The Ultimate Calves Workout


The Ultimate Butt Workout


The Ultimate Forearm Workout


The Ultimate Bodyweight Workout

Man doing push-ups on kettlebells.


What do you think of these leg exercises? Have anything else you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments below!

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I'm Mike and I'm the creator of Muscle for Life and Legion Athletics, and I believe that EVERYONE can achieve the body of their dreams.

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Here's a little sneak peek of what you'll learn inside...

  • The 7 biggest muscle building myths & mistakes that keep guys small, weak, and frustrated. (These BS lies are pushed by all the big magazines and even by many trainers.)
  • How to build meal plans that allow you to build muscle, lose fat, and get healthy with ease…eating foods you love (yes, including those deemed “unclean” by certain “gurus”)…and never feeling starved, deprived, or like you’re “on a diet.”
  • The 5 biggest fat loss myths & mistakes that keep women overweight, disappointed, and confused. (These BS lies are pushed by all the big magazines and even by many trainers.)
  • An all-in-one training system that delivers MAXIMUM results for your efforts…spending no more than 3 to 6 hours in the gym every week…doing workouts that energize you, not wipe you out.
  • A no-BS guide to supplements that will save you hundreds if not THOUSANDS of dollars each year that you would’ve wasted on products that are nothing more than bunk science and marketing hype.
  • And a whole lot more!

The bottom line is you CAN achieve that “Hollywood body" without having your life revolve around it. No long hours in the gym, no starving yourself, and no grueling cardio that turns your stomach.

My book will show you how. Get it today and let’s build a body you can be proud of.

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Bigger Leaner Stronger

Thinner Leaner Stronger

Thinner Leaner Stronger

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Leave a Comment!
  • Lukas

    Great article Mike, what about Hack Squats without a machine (ie like a deadlift but the bar is from behind)? As I don’t have access to machines? Thanks

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! I’m not a fan of the barbell hacks. They always feel awkward for me.

  • Ry

    Can I just do squat, leg press and hack?

    • Michael Matthews

      Yup, it’s a solid routine.

  • Joe

    When I do Deadlifts on back day (which are going great BTW), I feel I am getting quite a workout on my hamstrings as well as my back. At the end of “Back Day”, I feel great!
    However, when I get to Squats and RDL on Leg Day, a lot of times I feel I haven’t fully recovered and am putting additional strain on my lower back and hamstrings, and that I can “tweak” one of them.
    I studied Ripptoe on the exercises and I don’t think there is a form issue here, it feels like a fatigue issue.
    Is there a way that makes sense to incorporate Deadlifts on Legs Day? I suspect you haven’t had this issue and you are going to say that Deadlifts and Squats on the same day is a lot…
    I was thinking Deadlifts, RDL, Squats, Hack Squats…

    • Adam Clancey

      Just my two cents…are you new to lifting? I find with the 3×6 sets I don’t get nearly as much DOMS and two days rest is fine between deadlifts and squats. But if you’re not new to lifting (you definitely get more DOMS in the first few weeks) then maybe swap your legs day with your arms/abs?

      • Joe

        I am not new to lifting.

        It is not DOMS. It is not a soreness. It is more like a fatigue.

        On weeks where I don’t do
        Deadlifts, Squats go great (and vice-versa).

        Is there a way that makes sense
        to incorporate Deadlifts on Legs Day?

        • Adam Clancey

          See what Mike says but if you deadlift on the same day as squatting then one of them will definitely suffer. There’s no way in hell I could squat after I’ve deadlifted. Both of those really take it out of you and if you’re lifting heavy enough they’ll leave you in no shape to carry out another huge compound lift in the same workout.

          Of course, this is just my opinion, I’m no expert and you might find you have more energy right after squatting than two days later.

          • Lindsay Rice

            You do deadlifts on back day and then RDLs on leg day? They feel so similar to me (both work back & hamstrings), I can’t typically do them both in the same week. I can do both RDLs & Squats on leg day, but squats have to go first or it’s just not happening, since RDLs destroy me more than anything else (in a good way). But I don’t deadlift on back day, my main lifts are rows, pullups, & pulldowns. Maybe adjust things to add an extra day between Back & Legs?

          • Adam Clancey

            Do you avoid deadlifts completely or do them on another day?

          • Lindsay Rice

            No way, they are my favorite. I do them on leg day, after squats.

          • Adam Clancey

            So you do squats, rdl’s and straight deadlifts? That’s a killer workout!

          • Lindsay Rice

            No, I only do RDLs on leg day. No other dead lifts because they feel the same to me. I have studied all technique videos and just can’t figure out the difference to make it focus on back & not hams. I’d ask a trainer at my gym, but they’ve got people doing 8lb curls standing on a bosu, so you can imagine how helpful they are 🙂

          • Michael Matthews

            Hmm RDLs should feel quite different than regular deads. Is your form identical to the video in this article?

          • Lindsay Rice

            Yeah I always focus on keeping form, I’ve memorized this one too: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QR6HDEmBQNo

            I feel a difference in my back, but my hams still always get the majority of it. Might just be my legs are stronger but less flexible & back is weaker. Couple weeks ago I starting really hammering my back, I want to be able to do bodyweight pull-ups for reps. I can do chin-ups & dips & BB rows all day but still struggling w/ pull-ups. I’ll try the rotating in the regular deadlift this week on back day, keep RDLs on leg day & see how it goes.

            I started working in front squats this month & love them, they hit the top/front quads like nothing else. Also box jumps in cardio/plyo sessions seem to be helping with all leg exercises.

          • Michael Matthews

            Oh okay well so long as your form is right you’ll be fine–just keep working on it.

            When people’s backs are weak or underpowered, they often complain about not even really feeling their back workouts. But as they make progress, the finally one day feel it, haha.

            Nice on the fronts. Yes they are awesome. Box jumps are tough!

          • Adam Clancey

            I can definitely feel rdl’s in my hamstrings. You don’t bend your legs as much with rdl’s so you recruit the hamstrings more. Rdl’s take some of the stress off your back too. It’s somewhere between standard deadlifts and straight leg deadlifts.

          • Joe

            I’m with you in that it feels more natural to do Deadlifts on Leg Day (with Squats and RDL), and modify the Back workout similar to what you indicated above.. I am wondering if it makes sense adjust the volume on Leg Day to (2) heavy sets of each…..

          • Michael Matthews

            Agreed. Some people try this in whole-body routines but it’s KILLER.

      • Michael Matthews

        I used to have this issue but my body finally got used to it.

    • OisinM

      I completely agree with you on this Joe, I find that when I go up in weight on my deadlift, my lower back feels quite tight going into leg day. That being said I think it could be a problem with either my DL form or my squat form, they’re both hard lifts to master and having them two days apart can be very tough. I’m interested to see if Mike thinks it’s a form issue or if some people just have lower back issues more than others?

      • Joe

        Yeah, its not like the day between back and legs is a “rest” day – it is still heavy lifting. And I love Deadlifts and Squats. You have me reconsidering whether form might be playing a role in this. Does anyone have an estimate as to what the back angle is at in the picture above when the “spine is in the neutral position”? Perhaps may angle is more closed than I think, putting additional strain on my lower back?

        • Michael Matthews

          Your form is likely fine. Heavy deads rocks the lower back.

      • Michael Matthews

        Yeah it can happen. Not due to form. Switching arms and legs days is an easy fix.

        • OisinM

          I’ll definitely give that a try next week, thanks for the advice man you rock!

    • Michael Matthews

      Yeah I used to have this issue. If you train back on Tues, train arms on Thurs and legs on Fri. That should work…

      I wouldn’t do deads of legs day. Heavy deads and squats on the same day is brutal.

      • Francois

        hey guys! nice debate over here! Well, I personnally do Squat and Deadlifts on the same day for “a legs and lower back workout “(coupled with lunges and good morning) and I have seen great Gainzzzzzzzz ;). My trick is to reduce slightly the volume and to stick to 1-2 MAX sets (in the 4-7rep range) for both exercices. Never do the deadlift before the squat or you risk injury given that your lower back would be weak at this point. So my advice for those who can’t deadlift twice in the week – avoid it on your back day and just do an upper back workout where you would include a pullover exercice for example instead of the deadlift!..That’s just my opinion…

        By the way, I love the deadlift- feels like I am in intimacy with my girlfriend 😉

        Mike? I feel that my legs are at good size (even a bit too big considering my size- so I am thinking of stopping working out them for a while) but I would like to isolate the glutes only. Would Hip thrust activate my thighs as well or just the glutes? oh and I agree with you,, I have tested once the Hip thrust and I felt like a douche in the middle of the gym. 😉 thanks!

        • Michael Matthews

          Good advice!

          I wouldn’t recommend dropping legs, but just reduce the volume and/or intensity so as to maintain strength and size…

          Lol hip thrusts are goofy looking but they build the butt!

  • Harry

    I know you believe that the best rep range for building muscle is between the 4-7 range, which after adopting your principal I fully agree with; the results speak for themselves! However when it comes to leg training couldn’t incorporating high rep training along with the low reps be very valuable for building mass? For example many people swear that the 20 rep squat programme (squatting 20 reps with a weight you can only do 10 reps by breathing with the bar on your back between reps until you can do another) can build pounds of muscle mass. Just wanted to know your opinion on this.

    • Michael Matthews

      Yes, periodization has its place in training but only for advanced lifters. The key is that you get strong enough to move heavy weights for 8-10+ reps.

      I’ve done those types of high-rep squatting programs and they weren’t nearly as effective as focusing on heavy lifting.

      If you’d like to work in some higher rep work, I recommend you do 6-9 heavy 4-6 rep sets followed by 3 8-10 rep sets.

      I will be talking about periodization more in my next book, which is really for advanced lifters.

      • Harry

        So what weights would you class as heavy enough to become an advanced lifter and use higher reps and other techniques? On all the major movements such as squat, bench, military press and deadlifts?

        • Michael Matthews

          I have some benchmarks I will be going over in my next book but they are around here if I remember correctly (don’t have the manuscript on this computer):

          Bench: 1.5 x BW for 1
          Squat: 1.75 x BW for 1
          Deadlift: 2 x BW for 1
          Military: 1.1 x BW for 1

  • Gabe

    Great article Mike though I personally feel that the hack squat machine is contraindicated for a lot of folks due to the substantial sheer force put on the knees. I think barbell step-ups might be a good alternative.

    Also, still trying to comprehend the horror that is those opening photos of leg-day skippers.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Gabe! It depends where you put your feet on the hack. I like to put mine at the top of the base, which allows me to keep my knees behind my toes.

      Lol yeah, those are just a couple of many out there…

      • Gabe

        Thanks, Mike. Good point, didn’t consider that about foot placement. I guess the same would apply to the leg press sled as well if knees are an issue.
        Not entirely related but I’ve also had to ditch back squats, at least temporarily because I dislocated my shoulder and can’t comfortably hold the bar. Zercher squats have been an immensely helpful alternative.

        • Michael Matthews

          Exactly. Ah shit I hope your shoulder heals up. Yes Zerchers are a good alternative in that case.

  • Adam Clancey

    Another good article. I always laugh at how many people in the gym clearly skip leg day. Personally it’s my favourite day. I’m a long way from the level I want to be but I always regard legs as top priority. I don’t think anything beats the feeling of hitting a new squat PB. Before I changed to the BLS workouts I was doing stongslifts 5×5 so squatting 3 times a week (which didn’t leave enough recovery time IMO) so maybe that has built my love of squatting..?

    When I was read the article title I wanted to ask a question straight away but you’ve sort of answered it. My question is this: Is there much difference between the two types of leg press? Judging from this article there’s not much difference, but I usually use the machine with the peg rather than the plates one (the plates one is busier), but I guess once I max out on that I’ll have to move over…

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Adam! Yeah, I really enjoy legs day as well. It’s fun to move around some really heavy weight.

      Hah yup anyone that has done 5×5 is forced to love squats.

      Not much of a difference but I prefer the 45-degree.

  • MsJadensDad .

    No calf exercises? I knew it was impossible to get those things to grow!

    • Michael Matthews

      Lol doh! Adding!

  • Tina

    Hey Mike, full squat = wider hips or does that = broscience? Thanks

    • Michael Matthews


  • Quan Tung Duong

    Hi Mike, I just started phase 3 of the 1 year challenge this week and I find the front squat difficult to perform. I can only go half as heavy as with the back squat and it kind of bruised my shoulders too. Is this normal or it’s something wrong with my form ?

    • Michael Matthews

      Yeah the Front is a bitch at first. If it remains too uncomfortable, you can pick up a Manta Ray or swap the exercise.

  • Sam L

    Thanks for another great article Mike. As I have only a squat rack at home I do barbell squat, barbell lunge & RDLs. I really don’t like the front squat (feels scary like a false grip bench press!). Any other leg exercises u recommend I can do at home with free weights to mix it up now & then? Could I do 6 sets (instead of 3) heavy barbell squats or too much? As always thank you for the helpful advice and good luck with MFL/Legion.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Sam! That’s a solid routine. You can’t go wrong there.

      A good way to mix it up is this:

      Back Squat: 3 sets 3-6
      Back Squat with pause at bottom (full 2-second pause then up): about 80% of your 4-6 weight
      Barbell Lunges: 3 sets 4-6

      Rough n tough and the squat pauses will help strengthen your flexors.

  • Jonas

    My leg workout looks as the following:
    1.Back Squats
    2.Zercher Squats
    3.Romanian Deadlifts

    Thats in the style of what you recommended in your book: Back Squats for sure, then any other lower body pushing movement for quads mainly and then something for your glutes and hams..

    Now i see that you listed Hip Thrusts here, and i would like to grow some bigger, and really strong glutes which is also important for me in terms of athletic performance. Is it advisable to add this one, the hip thrust, to my program as my 4th leg exercise?

    You recommended those grip trainers for the barbells that you can squeeze while lifting… how often per week do you use(d) them ? Because Jason Feruggia is pointing out here (http://jasonferruggia.com/how-using-straps-can-improve-your-back-and-save-your-elbows/) that too much grip work (more than once a week) can lead to elbow problems.

    I HAVE elbow problems and thats why i originally wanted to implement those Fat Gripz to CURE my elbow pain but now im hearing this.. He further points out you should you straps..?

    • Michael Matthews

      This is a solid routine. Can’t go wrong there.

      Yes, add the thrusts as #4 and hit them in the 6-8 range.

      I actually don’t do grip training anymore because I don’t need to, but when I was, I was simply using the gripmaster every day for a total of maybe 20 min throughout the day, and was using the Iron Bull grips on my push workouts and straps on my pull.

      • Jonas

        cool on the thrusts, seems legit! 😉

        what about that grip training: does it tend to help with elbow pain or aggrevate it? ferrugia says sth like that grip workout (that involves crushing sth) takes the CNS long to recover and hence shouldnt be done more than once a weak whatever or it could cause elbow problems… is this true? :/

        • Michael Matthews

          Yeah they look ridiculous but are tough!

          I used to do actual forearm training and never liked it. The grip training I talk about above didn’t cause any issues though.

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  • 8119tm

    Hi Mike
    Loving this site having a bit of an issue with my calf left is well defined measureing 16.5in and the right agane well defined but only 15in can do single calf raises with same amount of weight and reps so feal both are equal any idea on how to even them out

    • Michael Matthews


      Wow that’s interesting. I would say you just have to target the lagging one with one-legged raises. Whatever you do for your bigger, do 50% more for your smaller.

  • Caleb Hamman

    Hey Mike. Can you clarify your method for calves? I’ve been using BLS (it’s great!), and there you suggest 6 sets of 10-12 reps, which is slightly different from what you suggest above. Also, if you do calves on back day, do you warm-up the calves following the BLS warm-up formula? (I am thinking this might be useful, but that’s a hell of a lot of sets on the calf machine, and my gym only has one machine!) Finally, if you use the method given above (3 sets 4-6, 3 sets 8-10), how would you suggest increasing the weight weekly?

    • Michael Matthews

      I’ve been playing around with calf routines and like a combination of 4-6 and 8-10 rep training. I’m currently doing 18 sets per week, spit up into 6 sets per session. Session 1 is 4-6 rep, session 2 8-10, 3 4-6.

  • Dan

    Hey Mike I was wondering about the Zercher Squat.
    It’s not listed above, but it seems like a good exercise that could be done after heavy back squats. However, I’m mainly doing them this week because my gym is closed and my home equipment doesn’t include a squat rack.

    When I had to do home workouts in the past I’d power clean into a front squat, but I’d be about 40-50 lbs below my back squat weight.
    This week I’ll be doing Zercher squats, front squats, dumbbell lunges, and ending with the RDL.
    What’s your opinion on the Zercher squat, low equipment leg workouts, and this home routine? Any input is appreciated.

    • Michael Matthews

      I’m not a fan of Zerchers unless the person has low-back problems. Or if you don’t have a squat rack. Pistol squats work as well and goblets are okay but you quickly out-lift your dumbbells.

  • Donald Booth

    Hey Mike, last week for legs I did the three sets of back squats, front squats and romanian deadlifts. Is that a good plan for the upper legs? My quads, hams and glutes felt like I had a great pump.

    • Michael Matthews

      Nice! Yeah that’s really solid.

  • AustinDayacap

    I’m wondering if you can do Barbell Back Squat AND Full Squat at the same day? Or is that too much already, considering I’m following the One-Year Challenge. I want to add either 3 sets of Barbell Lunge or Full Squat or Leg Press.

    • Michael Matthews

      Yeah you can. I’ve done it before. 3 sets of each, finish with 3 sets of LP or Hack Squat.

      • AustinDayacap

        Today was my leg day and I came across a problem during my squat and RDL. I used 45 lbs (total plates) on my barbell back squat but when I do, I feel my palm facing the ceiling and stresses my wrists but the thing is, it’s only on my left hand and I’m a left-handed guy. My right wrist seems to be handling it well. And then when I did my RDL (which is after the squat), my right hand feel so tired and I can’t get a good grip on the barbell but my left hand grip is okay, so I had to stop after 3-4 reps. I did 70lbs for the RDL, btw. Should I work on my forearm/wrist/grip or lessen the weightload? My form’s okay except for my wrists, really. So my leg day was a bummer. Only got to do Leg Press with satisfaction.

        • Michael Matthews

          It sounds like the bar isn’t quite in the right position. Your back or traps should be supporting it, depending on position–not your wrists.

          Gotta get your grip stronger. 🙂

          • AustinDayacap

            Thanks! I’ll work on those, definitely.

          • Michael Matthews


  • Ryan

    Hey man I got a question for ya..when you look at total reps I agree with your rep range for smaller muscle groups like shoulders and arms..but for bigger muscle groups like quads,chest,back most sources recommend 60-120 reps per week..but your recommendations for large muscle groups are still the same as smaller muscle groups..are you sure you are suggesting enough volume with 40-60?

  • AustinDayacap

    Do you take into account the weight of the barbell for lifting?

    • Michael Matthews


  • Renier

    What do you think about Lying Hamstrings Curl?

    • Michael Matthews

      Not the best but worth including/doing now and then.

  • Renier Pérez

    Good morning Michael Matthews, first of all, I hope you and your family are having a good time, the best wishes for you, I was thinking to do Barbell Front Squat instead of hack squat, what do you think about it?(I do know how to do the Front squat with perfect form)

    I do this on my leg day:
    1- high bar squat 4-6 reps(3 sets)

    2- leg press 4-6 reps(3 sets)

    3- hack squat 4-6 reps (3 sets)

    4- Romanian deadlift from deficit 4-6 (3 sets)( this is the reason why I feel that my squat have been improving so much along with heavy lifting)

    I would like to do this:

    1- high bar squat 4-6 reps(3 sets)

    2- leg press 4-6 reps(3 sets)

    3- Barbell front squat 4-6 reps (3 sets)

    4- Romanian deadlift from deficit 4-6 (3 sets)

    your thoughts? Have a nice day !

    • Michael Matthews

      All is good over here!

      Totally fine. That’s a good workout. Nice and balanced in terms of quads and hams.

  • Dale Eastham

    I agree with Mike on heavy lifting for big legs, lightweight is more like a body pump class to me. Leaves me breathless and full of lactic acid. My calves are stubborn, did standing for years, all different variations and they didn’t respond until I did seated and worked the soleus as my gastrocs are high making my ankles look skinny. Another thing I found kicked them into growth was donkey raises, I used my wife on my back! Also Max contraction method from Mike Mentzer’s book where you contract as hard as you can with a weight you can only manage for 45 seconds. I managed to put 2 inches on my calves using these methods after years of nothing

    • Michael Matthews

      Nice on the calves! Gonna do an article on this soon.

  • Marco

    Hi Mike,

    about nine months ago, I had been doing back squats, deadlifts, leg raises and bench pressing, and that combination hurt my lower back. So I substituted squats with the leg press, deadlifts with hyperextensions and leg raises with the Cybex abs machine. And I took care not to over-arch my spine when bench pressing.

    About six months ago, when my back had been fine again for some time, I reintroduced deadlifts, slowly building up effort and wheight. As opposed to the troublesome ca. 90 lbs nine months ago, I could recently deadlift 181 lbs without problems. Unfortunately, at 192 lbs, I hurt my back again. (I guess my effort was too high and my technique suffered.) So, I think I will not be able to reintroduce back squats any time soon, as I do not want to have two exercises that heavily stress my lower back – otherwise, in case of problems I would not be able to tell which one is the cause.

    The leg press (the first one you pictured) works fine for me. It feels fine, I do not get injuries from it, and my strength continually increases. Sitting calf raises are also fine. Interestingly, although I have been doing only one set once a week, this is one of the exercises with my greatest strength gains. Sitting leg curls are also fine. I have access to a leg extension machine as well, but not to a hack squat sled. As I have to do abs training after legs, I must compress the leg training a little.

    My current legs+abs workout (once per week, 60-65 minutes):

    -Leg press (4 warm-up sets, then 4 x 5-7)
    -Sitting leg curls (1 x 5-7)
    -Sitting calf raises (1 x 10-12)
    -Shin work (1 x 10-12)
    -Cybex ab machine (3 x 10-12)
    -Cybex obliques machine (1 x 10-12)
    -Crunches (2 x max reps)
    -Side bridge (1 x max reps)

    I am still progressing on this plan, but I would like to introduce at least one other leg exercise that incorporates a larger percentage of all muscles, in order to promote more whole-body growth.

    Which exercise(s) would you recommend that is next-best to back squats and does not heavily stress my back?

    What do you think of:

    -‘Leg/Full-body exercise TBA’ (4 warm-up sets, then 3 x 5-7)
    -Leg press (2 x 5-7)
    -Sitting leg curls (1 x 5-7)
    -Sitting calf raises (1 x 10-12)

    • Michael Matthews

      Hmm front squats are actually a great alternative that are very easy on the lower back. Have you tried them?

      • Marco

        No, never. OK, I will try them. Thanks!

        • Lindsay Rice

          You will feel it in your upper/middle back though for a little bit when you first start doing them. Feels good though, just focus on staying upright, no rounding/hunching/leaning/falling forward 🙂

          • Michael Matthews

            This ^ 🙂

  • Ruud

    Hi Mike!

    I really enjoy your site with all the articles and workout schemes! I even bought your book, so it will arrive in a couple of days. I train at home with a barbell and a set of dumbbels, so i’m not using any machines. What is a good substitute for the Hack Squat / Leg press?

    Currently i’m doing squats and lunges, so there is an empty space that just need to be filled in. Thanks in advance!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks so much! Front squats are a great alternative.

  • kim

    hi michael,
    just got your book “bigger..” and i’m almost done reading it. my question though, is if i were to start the program at 75-85% of my 1RM would that not make me stall early in the program. instead of being able to complete the sets i will then end up with failures most likely before the third week … something like a 3×1 instead of a 3x(4-6).

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks for reading my book and writing! I really appreciate it.

      I believe I’ve replied to this elsewhere?

  • Ivo Naves

    Mike, what’s up with that V-Squat? It looks almost like the Hack Squat, but is it worthy? Also, would it be very bad to change the lower tradicional Squat for the V-Squat? And what about front squats? I’ve heard those are more quad dominant than the Tradicional. Arigato!

    • Michael Matthews

      V-Squat? I’m not familiar with this!

  • stdez

    Mike my gym doesn`t have a hack squat they have a V squat, it looks a little more upright, have you ever seen one? Is there a big difference?

    • Michael Matthews

      Yeah that machine always feels weird to me but some people like it…

  • AJ21

    Hi Mike
    Great info on this website! Very helpful!

    In terms of sets and reps is this similar for both cutting and bulking or more preferential to one or the other?


    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! The same actually. You want to train heavy in both cases.

  • Renier

    mike can you upload a video of you doing the front squat?(just if you can) I would like to see you performing that exercise 🙂

    • Michael Matthews

      I haven’t been doing them recently but I WILL be doing a full set of instructional vids.

  • ninomadre

    Hey Mike !

    Personally my fav legs exercise is the Zercher squat. Zercher’s are very safe and they have the best carryover to everyday life activities in my opinion you should give it a try

    • Michael Matthews

      Zerchers are cool but IMO are better suited to those that can’t Back Squat.

  • Franky Leon

    I to show of agaisnt my stronger pupils and ladies in High School freshman year… I did a 5-rep 400lbs on the leg press (the one having me sit almost straight). Sure no one else dared to do the same but a guy told me not to as he said it will give me back pain (he was right) now i have a slip disc and my hamstrings are stiff. Wished I should’ve listen to him. Moral of the story is know your limit. Right now Im training since I got a job as a biker in a delivery service that uses peddler bikes in NYC.

    • Michael Matthews

      Doh I’m sorry to hear that. I hope you get better soon.

  • Leo Quattro

    If you train at home, on a good home gym with squat rack but not leg-press or squat-hack machine, how would you change the leg routine so there are no machines involved? Thanks!

    • Michael Matthews

      Hmm back and front squat and barbell lunge would be my staples.

  • Jonas Huovila

    Freaking 5 exercises which targets front thigh muscle and 1 exercise which semi targets back thigh muscle……also no exercises for inner our outer thigh…..

    • Michael Matthews

      You think back squats target the quads? You’re doing them wrong.

      • Jonas Huovila

        I don’t think that, i KNOW that. Back Squats are for Quads and Gluteus Maximus.

        • Michael Matthews

          You’re doing them wrong then my friend. Once your legs get past the 45 degree mark (give or take), your hams, hips, and glutes take over.

          • Jonas Huovila

            You really should study, the Quads are active trough the whole range of movement. When you stand up your body from head to toes is at 180 degrees. When you start to lower yourself from that position Quads, Glutes lower your body in the speed you tell your body. Here the muscles gets longer in a controlled fashion.

            Then when at bottom ATG, your Quads and Glutes raises you up from the bottom to top. Here the muscles pull together.

            But i forgive you my son. <3

  • Renier

    good morning Mike, My progress so fat have been really good, my current lifts are:
    flat bench press: 210 x 5
    low bar squat Squat: 265 x 5
    conventional Dead: 310 x 5
    Seated military press: 155 x 5

    Now I feel that I’m lacking a bit in terms of auxiliary exercises for my hamstring and thats why the deadlift have been really hard for me, I would like to change my leg routine to this:
    Barbell high bar squat or ATG: warm up and 4-6 reps
    Romanian deadlift from a deficit: 4-6 reps
    Barbell front squat : 4-6 reps
    and the calf training listed on this article, what do you think brother? Thank you very much for all you help!!

    • Michael Matthews

      Nice man! Those are solid lifts.

      Yeah that would work. You could also add some hammy curls in there if you think it’s needed.

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  • Jenn

    Hi! I’m trying to build a better me and finding your site very helpful, but what I’m trying to understand is the 40-60 reps every 5-7 days. So do I complete the 40-60 reps in one day then wait 5-7 days to repeat? I’m having issues visualizing this. Thank you for your help.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Jenn!

      Yeah exactly. Or you can split those reps into two workouts per week if you’d like.

      For example, you could do 60 reps for legs, wait 5-7 days, do again, or do 30ish reps, wait 2 days, 30 more reps, wait a few days, repeat.

      Hope this helps! Talk soon!

      • Jennifer

        Okay I think I got it. 40-60 would be the amount of reps per the whole workout (incline barbell reps+incline dumbbell reps+bench press reps=40-60 reps). I was thinking 40-60 reps per type of workout. That makes it much more achievable, lol!

        • Michael Matthews

          Yeah exactly. 🙂 Given the amount of weight you’re lifting in your workouts, you want to limit your training to about 60 reps per major muscle group per 5-7 days.

  • jeg

    I train at home. I don’t have access to a squat rack yet (prayerfully Santa will bring one). I do have 90lb powerblocks, barbells + 350lbs of olympic plates, and a bench that has leg ext/leg curls. What kind of program could I set up to train my legs?

    • Michael Matthews

      Great. You could start with stuff like goblet squats, pistol squats, and lunges, but we gotta get you a rack! 🙂

  • phoenix

    Leg day is my favorite day, there is just something satisfying about leg pressing and squatting.

    Right now my regular workout for legs is

    Leg Press 500lbs-550lbs
    Squats 100-150lbs ( I really need to work on the squats more lol )
    Hamstring Curl 100-150lbs
    Hamstring Negatives 3 sets of 5 reps (as slow going down as possible)
    While I can not do this exercises all the time due to the fact that it requires a partner or a very sturdy piece of equipment, it is very effective for the hamstrings they absolutely kill em. It can also damage the knees though if they are not padded you basically get down on your knees and put your calves under a piece of equipment or have a partner hold them down. Then you fight gravity while going down to the ground as slowly as possible using the strength in your hamstrings they are really hard but boy do you feel it.

    • Michael Matthews

      I love legs day too.

      I would squat first. Always. And I used to do negatives but haven’t in years and don’t miss it.

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  • David Cairns

    Hi Mike, loving the leg workouts in your bls book. Love the fact I’m near crippled for a couple of days and walk around like I’ve soiled myself, but seriously, I have one problem and that’s getting my hands into the position illustrated for front squat. Tried some shoulder mobility work and using lacrosse type balls on my forearms but still prefer crossing arms and supporting the bar on upper chest . Will this affect the efficiency of the front squat. Thanks.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! Haha it will get better in time.

      Are you trying a clean grip or crossover?

      • David Cairns

        I was doing crossovers because I couldn’t get my elbows to point forward and the bar sat on palms and not the fingers but tried it again today except I stuck my pinkie over the bar and managed to rest the bar on tips of fingers and upper chest. I dropped weight to make sure form was okay and my forearms burned like hell but I did now I can progress using clean grip with confidence.

        • Michael Matthews

          Yup that’s what I do. Pinky off the bar. Bar on top of my shoulders/upper chest, right up against my throat.

  • LifeForMuscle

    nice article mike. it might seem weird but i love training my leg :D…

    but in the ultimate calves workout article you mentioned that you do 3 sets and each set should be 12-15 reps , 3 workouts a week. in this article you said that 6 sets . (i dont know how many workouts a week). which one should i follow? this one or the ultimate calves workout?

    thanks mike!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks. Me too. 🙂

  • Nick Armijo

    What about abs how often should I work them out and what exercises should I do?

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  • Nick Armijo

    you have any suggestions on a clean bulking diet?

  • Pat

    Hey Mike,
    I’ve been attempting to follow your squat directions from your book for two months now, and I just had the chance to have my form recorded. Turns out in order to get to parallel or below at the bottom, I have been leaning forward too far. When I tried to correct this, it seems impossible for me, unless my heels lift off the ground. Any idea what would be the cause of that and best way to work on fixing it? Thanks!

    • Michael Matthews
      • Pat

        Thanks Mike! It seems like I have serious hip and ankle flexibility issues. Until I get those resolved and can do squats correctly, I’m thinking of replacing them with barbell lunges. (my normal core leg workouts are squats, leg press and RDLs) Does that make sense?

        • Michael Matthews

          You could do that or you could place plates under your heels. Should help.

  • Charlotte

    hi Mike,

    Hi I am a 122lb 5’4” female about 20% body fat. I want to become more muscular and tone everywhere, but I really want to gain a lot of muscle in my butt and legs and also get myabs to show more.

    Right now I am doing this workout:
    4 sets 6-8 reps
    Mon. Lower
    Tues. Upper & abs
    Wed. Lower
    Thurs. Upper & abs
    Fri. Lower
    Sat. Upper & abs

    After reading tons of your articles do you think I would get
    more gains if I did:

    3 sets 6-8 reps
    Mon. chest & abs
    Tues. legs & calves
    Wed. Back & abs
    Thurs. off
    Fri. legs & calves
    Sat. Arms & abs

    Thank you!

    • Michael Matthews

      Great on your stats and yes, I like your new plan better. I would modify slightly though:

      1: Chest
      2: Back & legs, starting with 3 sets of heavy deads, followed by 3 sets of squats, followed by 6 more sets for back
      3: Shoulders
      4: Arms
      5: Legs, 9-12 sets with 3 sets of hip thrusts

      You can work calves and abs in as desired.


      • Charlotte

        That sounds good thank you for your help. Once I’ve been doing 6-8 reps for awhile should I ever switch to 4-6? Also after doing this for months while eating right do you think my abs and muscleswill show and I’ll lose that little bit of fat or will I need to do a calorie deficit sometime?

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  • Michael Matthews

    Thanks for stopping by and checking out my article! I hope you enjoyed it.

    Feel free to comment below if you have any questions. I do my best to check and reply to every comment left on my blog, so don’t be shy!

    Oh and if you like what I have to say, you should sign up for my free weekly newsletter! You’ll get awesome, science-based health and fitness tips, delicious “guilt-free” recipes, articles to keep you motivated, and much more!

    You can sign up here:


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  • Herb

    Mike, I wanted change my routine and do more leg work and found your website. I decided to follow the Ultimate workouts and so far have done 1st day leg, 2nd chest, 3rd back. Following the way they are listed would mean shoulders 4th and arms 5th. Is that the proper order ?
    I’m feeling like maybe I should do arms then shoulders due to the soreness after the back day. What order do you recommend?
    I purchased your book but won’t receive it for a few days.
    I like the workouts as I’m not nearly as worn out at the end as I’m now lifting 45 minutes with more intensity vs 75 and definitely have good soreness the next day but still have more energy. Btw, I am 52 and I think the 1 body part 1 day a week will work better for me then the push/pull/leg 3 day routine twice a week I’ve been doing for quite some time.

    • Michael Matthews

      Yeah you can do it that way. Personally I like chest, back, arms, shoulders, legs, but some people like it different.

      Glad to hear you’re doing well! Yes PPL 2 x per week is tough, even for us youngins. 😉

  • Herb

    Mike, I received your book a couple days ago and have nearly finished reading it.
    I have a question about cardio before lifting. I have been jumping rope, 6 sets of 150 skips as a warm up. Is this too much? Should I cut back the jump rope sets to 3 or should I just go straight to the lifting warmup and put the jump rope into my cardio routine?
    My cardio has been a lot of interval fast hard lap swimming, some bicycling and interval treadmill running but do to planter facitis I’ve backed off the running.

  • Heisenberg

    Where’s the Pistol Squat?

    • It’s decent for bodyweight training but isn’t great for building size and strength.

    • It’s decent for bodyweight training but isn’t great for building size and strength.

  • Mark

    Hello there Mr. Matthews, love your site!

    Figured it’s easier to ask this here than an email, but currently my workout setup is that I lift at home with just powerblocks elite (go up to 130 lbs, not that I can do that lol).

    It makes legs a bit tricky, but I still think quote doable to be honest. What are your thoughts on a routine of Bulgarian split squats (I swear to god this is the hardest leg exercise btw), lunges and RDL?

    • Thanks!

      Bulgs, lunges, and RDLs are good. You can also do pistol and goblet squats…

  • Bob

    Hey Mike, nice article. I normally don’t comment on random articles I find on the internet, but you seem to be active with this so I thought I would. Just curious, why did you omit deadlifts and stiff legged deadlifts?

    • Thanks Bob!

      I prefer deadlifting on my back/pull day and stiff-legged deads are a great legs exercise that I recommend in my books. Just didn’t put in this workout. 🙂

  • Nikhil

    Hi mike – love the blog!
    I sadly only have two sessions of gym time possible each week, and currently focus on deadlift, front squat, military press and bench press in each one. Would i make faster gains by doing certain exercises on certain days, eg chest and legs, then deadlift and shoulders, and if so could you recommend some exercises for them (bearing in mind I don’t have much time) – I know it’s an ask so don’t feel any pressing need to reply 🙂

  • Alan

    IMO It does not look like you have been training legs properly for 2 years. I barely done a squat in the 8 years I’d been working on my upper body and to be truthful my legs resembled chop sticks on a steak. As a naturally skinny tall guy, I finally seen sense and began to do something about it. I have been squatting 3 times a week (on occasions x 4) adding up to 5kg every time I squat. I’ll do a minimum 50 squats. Sometimes I’ll do 15/15/10/10 or 10/10/10/10/10, I also add leg press – similar rep set and system. (I do not dead lift but will be adding sumo deadlift to my workout from tomorrow) Anyway I have been working legs seriously now for about 9 months and my legs have gone from chop sticks to 25inches on the thickest part of my thigh. My hamstrings are huge. I just find it hard to believe you have been working your legs seriously as if you had been your calves and around the knee area would look a lot thicker. Eat bigger, drink plenty of milk, squat more and I am pretty confident you will put more mass on your legs in the next 6 months than you have in the last 2 years.
    You can always do more an always be better!

  • Chris Cusimano

    Hey Mike, yesterday I performed Legs on Phase 3 of the One Year Challenge (can’t walk today…thanks lol). My gym, YMCA, doesn’t have equipment for the hack squat and the front squat nearly ripped my hands off even after practicing many times and after watching many instructional videos. I just don’t have the wrist flexibility or strength for this yet. Anywho, what would do you recommend as a adequate replacement workout for this?

    • Haha nice. Did you try a crossover grip on the front squat? I prefer the clean grip but it does require a bit of wrist flexibility.

      • Chris Cusimano

        Thanks Mike, I’m on it! Oh, and still sore hahah

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  • Andrew

    This is awesome! Thanks for the help!

  • Anthony

    Hey Mike,
    I’m following the BBLS periodization plan as outlined, except for legs–can’t crush my legs because it would interfere with track practice haha. Therefore my leg day includes warm up, 3 heavy sets of squats and 1-2 “cooldown” sets of higher reps, and the same scheme for squat press (I’ve always used squat press instead of leg press because I thought the latter is less effective because the weight just slides up and down). Seeing good progress but I feel like I’m underworking my hamstrings in relation to quads because squats work both muscles but squat press focuses on quads. Also, my quads are also much more sore the day after than my hamstrings, don’t know if this is just the way the muscles are or if I’m actually undertraining hamstrings.

    Any ideas on how to balance the work? I’ve avoided RDL because it would likely interfere with back day, but I’m open to doing some hamstring machine work. Thanks.

    • Hey man!

      I like the general idea but yes I would probably warm up on squats, 3 sets heavy, 2 sets 8-10 or 10-12 rep RDLs. And I would probably do that 2-3 times per week if you can…

      • Anthony

        Thanks for the reply!
        Why would you recommend doing it 2 or 3 times a week, and would you just do those 2 and exclude squat press? Just doing it 1 time a week leaves me sore for a few days and almost interferes with deadlifts on back day. And just 1 time a week makes me sore for track for at least a few days which probably decreases my performance a bit. Do you think the increased leg strength is worth the muscular and nervous system fatigue?

        • Just so you can keep your workouts lower in volume and avoid soreness that will mess with your athletic performance.

  • Gabe

    Hey Mike, like the site and I’m halfway through your book. So after seeing your Ulitmate workouts what is the order that you recommend I start on? Thanks.

    • Thanks! If you’re reading BLS just start on the program as laid out in the book and bonus report.

  • Jdib

    Coming up to phase 2 on your program and loving it (switched from old edition to new)!

    When you say 4-6 reps of lunges – does that mean just 2 to 3 for each leg or do you want 4-6 lunges on each leg?

    Since I’m coming off of phase 1 – what would be a good starting weight for these lunges – same as I’m doing for squats or heavier?

    • Awesome! Good question. 4-6 reps for each leg.

      Lighter than squats for sure. Try starting with about 50% of squat weight.

  • Ashley

    So I’ve been doing RDLs for a while now and have my form down. I still feel tightness in my lower back though, even when I’m only using 60% of my 1RM. For reference, I’m 5′ and weight 110lbs. Do you think I might be pushing my hips too far back? I’m just trying to think of why I would be feeling this if I keep my back neutral?

  • Jon

    Hey I’ve been working out awhile and i have one of those lean high metabolism builds but anyways i was just wondering if a 39in chest, 13in arms, 14in calfs, and 20 in quads are a good proportion. I used to suffer having skinny legs but I’ve been working them and i think now they might be fine now?

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  • Marco

    Stuart McRobert highly praises the trap bar deadlift as an alternative to the squat. What do you think of that exercise?

    • I prefer the front squat over trad dead for pure leg training. Trap dead is a good alternative to traditional dead if you can’t do the latter.

  • Jeff Blakey

    Mike, would a couple of sets of squats at 70% of the day’s working weight be a decent replacement for the leg press/hack squat ? If not, what would you recommend ?

  • Nick Armijo

    Almost done doing these ultimate workouts seems to be working especially my strength my squat strength is slowly progressing but that’s just because I’m trying to perfect my form. I wanted to know if you have a list of workouts for the cutting phase?

    • Awesome! You can continue doing these workouts while cutting.

      • Nick Armijo

        Should I still do heavy weight low reps and can I incorporate cable workouts?

  • Negan Ohayon

    so let me get this perfectly you have 3 quads exercises and just one hamstrings exercise which is rdl and it is just optional ?

    • I wouldn’t say that squats are just a quads exercise but I have updated this slightly since originally writing it. See above.

      • Negan Ohayon

        i meant for isolation and please tell me that you didn’t just add the hamstring curl exercise after what i said cause then it shows that you don’t really know what you are doing and that you are taking tips from others than the other way around

        • No what I meant was this workout was originally taken from BLS 1.0 but in 2.0 I added a hamstring exercise to it and reviewed others for “balance,” I guess you could say.

          • Negan Ohayon

            alright then and i think that taking out the RDL was a good call even as a powerlifter i personally think that it’s better to stick with the hamstring curl for hamstring isolation it works realy good and its much safer

          • RDL is a funny exercise. I really like it but some people find it too rough on the lower back.

  • Nick Armijo

    Do I have to go ass to grass on my squat workout

  • Nick Armijo

    I’ve been taking creatine pills while bulking I’m about to cycle off of it. Should I be concerned about losing strength should I consider taking arginine or a test booster?

  • Imran Faruk

    Hey Mike,

    So the deal is that I go to Planet Fitness which is a very affordable gym for me as a college student. However, the downside is there are no free barbells or bench press — only smith machines. Instead of Barbell Bench Press, I am forced to use dumbbells and the same goes with Overhead Press. Considering my lack of equipment at this gym, I will not be able to squat or deadlift. The only option to perform these exercises would been on a Smith Machine which I obviously would not like to do.

    My question is: Is there an exercise besides any type of squat that I can perform to really hit my legs? I will eventually change gyms once I can afford it; however, I want to be able to start training now.

    I was thinking something like this:
    -Leg Press = 3 sets of 4-6 reps
    -Dumbbell Lunge = 3 sets of 4-6 reps
    -Leg Curl = 3 sets of 4-6 reps
    -Calf Workout

    • Ah yeah PF kinda sucks. Doh.

      You can squat on the SM but not deadlift. I would do front squats on SM as well as BB lunges but otherwise would do the LP and hammy curl.

  • Carlos

    Hello Mike,

    I have been following your BLS program (currently on week 28) I have been getting amazing gains, but I had a slight setback. Unfortunately I managed to pull a hammy playing softball (got to the game late, and didn’t quite warm up). Now I’m a bit weary about doing squats, dead lifts and lunges since I do not want aggravate the injury. I can walk without pain, I only feel the injury when I attempt to run or walk at a really fast pace.

    Any advise on leg workouts that I can try until I can go back to the regular program? Or should I just take time off from doing legs all together?


    • Great on the gains you’ve been making on BLS. Sorry to hear about the hamstring. :/

      Regarding what leg workouts you should do in the meantime depends, what leg exercises can you do that don’t bother your hamstring at all? If there aren’t any, you may just need to rest the.

  • Wilbur

    Hey Mike,

    I’m actually genetically blessed with leg growth as oppose to upper body growth. My legs have grown to a crazy rate being a former rugby player. Do you have any ideas on how I can trim it down instead? Its growing a bodybuilder like proportions and I would rather build some of that mucles in my torso. Looking forward to hearing from you. Cheers

    • Yessir we have to limit your lower body training. I wouldn’t do NOTHING but heavy squats are not going to be your friend.

      What are you currently doing? And what is your body fat %?


      • Wilbur

        Hey Mike thanks for replying. Sitting around 15% at the current moment. So I know I got to go down to atleast 10-12% for the bulk. Should I do lower weight and higher reps?

        P.S: I want to commend your 3×6 rep ranges. I am definitely notcing some gains and serious strength during my cut

        • Yeah you can do that or heavy weight but fewer sets. 3 heavy sets per week would be enough to maintain…

  • Chinita

    Hello Mike,

    This is my dilemma, I don’t have time to go to the gym, so I
    need to do my workout at home. I need some advice as what exercises I can do to get bigger thighs. I am overall a skinny person but I really need to start my
    workout to achieve my goal. Thank you for the great article!

  • Derrek

    I was told that I can’t do any leg exercises. I impinged my hip and did something to my TFL muscle. It is super sore. Will I lose a lot of strength in my legs if I can’t do any leg exercises for a couple of weeks?

    • Sorry to hear that. 🙁

      You shouldn’t lose too much strength. I’m not sure if you’re cutting or bulking, but I recommend you go to maintenance cals while recovering. It’ll help prevent muscle loss and it’ll improve recovery time.

  • Kam Barnes

    Hey Mike,

    I’ve been doing the BLS yr 1 routine for around 11 months now and have been trying to do the routine exactly as it’s laid out but one thing I’m about to run into trouble with this upcoming phase is the leg press. The leg press I started with was different than the one I have available as I had to leave that gym and now the leg press I have is a very old leg press with a Max capacity of about 500 lbs worth of plates so going heavy there isn’t really a possibility & I don’t have access to a hack squat machine so I was wanting to know what would be a good substitute for leg press. I wasn’t sure if the 1 legged variation would be a good lift or if there are others more practical for overall leg development. I already do front squats 6 months of the yr and don’t necessarily feel like doing them yr round. I always start with 3 sets of squats and finish up with 3x of RDL’s or leg curls followed by 1-2x of pause squats so I was wondering what the best exercises to implement into my routine in place of leg press would be?

    Also, On another note I was curious when bulking as to how I should balance my macros during my off/deload week? Any advice is very much appreciated!!

    • Cool you’ve been rolling on the program!

      Sorry to hear about the leg press not being workable for you.

      Unfortunately, if you’re not leg pressing I really do recommend front squats. It’s the best replacement exercise…

      As to the cals when taking a deload week on a bulk, I’d go to maintenance cals or TDEE. You can find that here:


  • Anthony Hughson

    I do my lifting at my house and I have everything except machines to use, I can do barbell squats, and Romanian deadlift as said in your book, but not leg press for leg day, what other exercise do you recommend using in place of leg press for leg day?

  • Anthony Hughson

    And do you prefer high or low bar squatting?

  • Susan M

    Hi Mike!
    I enjoyed the article, I’ve read almost all of the articles on your site now! I’ve finished week two of the one year workouts for women( read the book twice). My question is I’ve dropped my lift weight by 10-15 pounds on the squat and dead lift since doing your routine, is this normal? Because I’m keeping my intensity high throughout the workout. Also, I would love to incorporate front squats in the week. Should I add them to the back day or the legs/butt day, do I replace the back squat and do front squats? It’s hard to do squats twice a week, I’m kinda chicken about it, but I’m trusting in the routine, and following it without making changes. I already feel like superwoman compared to winging it before doing high sets and working out twice a week. It’s crazy I how much better I feel than my first year of lifting doing my own thing based on all the bro science out there. It’s all I can talk about to my friends, I’m inspiring them to get a hold of your books! Thanks again for all you’ve done:) I’m at 20% BF. Starting to see ab muscles , so I’ve cut calories 20%, I can tell my body is starting to respond, so as soon as I see the muscle definition I want, I may start the bulking or maintenance?


    • Thanks Susan! That’s great you’re rolling!

      What do you mean you’re keeping intensity high throughout the workout?

      I would add the front squats to legs day. I do them every week on my legs day.

      That’s awesome you’re doing well. Exciting.

      Regarding your calories, you’re eating 80% of TDEE right? Not 80% of the cutting calories calculated per the book’s formula?

      You want to reverse diet once you reach your bf % goal:


      • Susan M

        I will have to watch the front squat video again. It’s really award to get my wrists to bend back. I’ll keep working on them. In my third week and have increased bar weight! So I must be in my sweet spot for calories. Calories: yes for now I’m eating 80% of TDEE about 6 days/week, day 7 I eat my TDEE. Thank you so much for letting me know to reverse diet when I reach BF I want!! I’ve already noticed changes in my body, I’m so excited! Thanks beyond words to you sir.

  • Zach

    Hi Mike,
    I’ve just started lifting seriously using your training ideas and regimen. I used to be “skinny fat” during college and for a few years after until about a year and a half ago when I started doing HIIT bodyweight exercise (i.e. squats, lunges, pushups, dips, situps, planks, etc) which got me down to 14-15% body fat and to the point where I fill out a shirt very nicely (also lost 2″ on my waist). I’m all-in on weights now, but I have one problem. A month ago or so I hurt my knee and the orthopedist thinks it might be a torn meniscus. Long story short, I can’t do squats or deadlifts (or any variation thereof) both to avoid further injury and because with too much pressure it causes pain in the knee. I can still do hamstring curls and calf raises just fine, but I’m worried that my quads will end up undertrained. I know doing HIIT cardio (I do it on bike 2-3 times/week) will help, but are there any quad exercises you know of that don’t put a lot of pressure on the knees? Thanks.

    • Doh! I’m sorry to hear that.

      Hmm I assume leg extensions won’t work either, right?

      • Zach

        Leg extensions are my current go-to, as I can do 4-6 reps on them without causing pain if I’m careful about form. I was hoping you might have another suggestion, but I guess I can just do a lot of leg extensions. I also just ordered your book.

        • That’s good. I would probably increase that rep range to 6 to 8 or even 8 to 10 to minimize stress on the knee joint though.

          Check out the recommended exercises in the book and let me know what you can and can’t do.

          For instance, leg press is great.

    • Jon

      I tore my miniscus 2x. It takes a while to get over the discomfort and following rehab I have found heavy squats and deadlifts really help prevent further injury. The key is the foam roller as scar tissue will build up and like I said it’s not comfortable. Nothing stabilized a bad knee like strong quads and hams

  • Nara

    What do you think about this take on the ATTG squat study at Contreras’ site:


    • I agree with his conclusion:

      I don’t think we can conclude anything this study because of (a) the strange results that appear to disagree with the results of many other studies, and (b) the fact that they used the same weight at each depth, making comparisons between depths difficult.

  • Dan

    Michael – I don’t have access to a gym with a barbell right now, basically I have only dumbells (up to 50lbs each), a simple bench, and a handful of machines. I realize I should join a gym and will but can’t currently do so.

    I can currently squat and deadlift the max weight with the dumbells (100lb) well above the 6 rep threshold – anything you can suggest in the interim for legs and back?

    • Understood.

      For the legs, have you tried goblet squats and/or pistol squats?

      For the back, can you do weighted hyperextentions and pull-ups? Dumbbell rows are good too.


  • Jon

    Do you think it would be too much to do an upper/lower 4 day split w this routine? I have been lifting regularly for the last 5 years, have some leg strength but often overlooked legs when first starting so the development is not where I’d like it to be.

    • Meaning you’d do these leg workout once or twice a week?

      You can see the 4-day split I recommend here:


      LMK what you think.

      • Jon

        Yes twice a week. I do like your 4 day split giving your shoulders their own day bc I agree they tend to be overlooked and should be beneficial as a stabilizer for heavy upper body lifts like rows and bench press

  • Raudi

    I believe, since this is an article about legs and the best exercises to target the leg muscles, the Romanian deadlift is more beneficial to targeting the hamstrings and glutes and puts less stress on the erector spinae. Whereas the stiff-legged deadlift minimizes the involvement of the glutes and hams and emphazises the erector spinae more.

    Just my two cents on why perhaps stiff-legged deadlift is not included here.

  • I prefer Romanian deadlifts. They’re very similar though.

  • Basically Bass

    Ever done the linear hack squat sled? It’s not a full recline sled, instead you sit upright. Is this totally rubbish? …also the guy in the back squat video has some interesting advice on reps! Lol

  • Any suggestions for someone who lifts at home only? I have a barbell, bench, and Dumbbells up to 50lbs, but no machines. I’m a female, although obviously that doesn’t mean I don’t need to lift heavy 🙂 just wondering what you would recommend 🙂

  • Josie

    Hi Mike, I’m currently in rehab for a hip labral tear, and although I’m doing well, my physio wants me to lay off quad involved workouts, as my quads are super dominant compared to my glutes and hamstrings, which isn’t great for balancing strength around my hip and its high flexibility. I’m on the 3-day split of TLS (and training in uni + national level American Football), so if I was to do 4 of the leg exercises above on leg & butt day, would the combination of: barbell squat, hip thrust, leg press, and romanian deadlift be the best? Or are there other good exercises that target glutes and hamstrings instead of quads? Thanks, Josie.

    • Hey Josie,

      No worries.

      Hmm the BB squat and leg press do involve quite a bit of quad. Has your physio okayed you to do these?

      • Josie

        Hi Mike,
        Yes, I’ve been cleared at half weight for all leg workouts for the last 6 mo, just starting to work my way back up in weight. My physio wants me to build more strength in my glutes and hamstrings, as my quads are overdeveloped in comparison, which doesn’t bode well for supporting my hip joint mobility, as the muscles are unbalanced when pushing/pulling on it. J

        • Oh okay, understood. Well wide-stanced squats are great for hammies and glutes as well as hip thrusts and either SLDLs or RDLs. I’d probably leave out the leg press.

  • richard

    hi mike,
    sorry for my long questions
    i have been following the program for a while now but i reached the maximum weights available in the gym “outside the fancy non sense machines :d without completing my 5-8 weeks first workout plan:

    in the gym where i go:

    1- they don’t have a rack for squat, so i use the normal barbel and lift it from the ground to behind me to exercise. I reached the maximum i can do this way which is 90 without injury.
    Is it possible to switch to the smith machine as it will be more practical to increase weights? any special considerations for that?

    2- the maximum barbel weight they have is 110 which i am currently lifting doing 3 x 9 set/rep for my dead lifts. since dead lift is basic in all your back workouts so what do you suggest i can do or an alternative? is it better to stick to it and do more reps/sets? or change to something else?

    3- the maximum available dumble size is 50. i am currently lifting it at least 8 times for my military press and dumble one arm row for back exercise. do you recommend i increase the number of rep? or use the smith machine again for my military press and an alternative for the dumble one arm row?

    thank you

    • No worries.

      1. Ah that’s no good. Do front squats on the Smith. Bulgarian Split Squats can work well as well.

      2 & 3. Hm it’s time for a new gym…possible?

      • richard

        Tx mate for the tips

        Unfortunately This is the gym in my building i need just to take the lift to access it 😀
        Will see if we can add more convinient cheaper equipments than the fancy expensive none sense ones

        • YW.

          Oh okay. Well you could work up to 12 reps on the DB exercises and then change things up?

  • Can I skip the calf raise as Iam doing calves workout every two training days (abs in the otherday)?

    • Yeah sure. I’m not a fan of leg extensions. They’re tough on your knees.

  • Kevin Morriss


    I’m about 2 months into your one year challenge. In the passed few years, I’ve slipped a disc in my lower back a handful of times (last time was about 9 months ago (knock on wood)). I’m feeling good about my squat and deadlift form but I am terrified of the leg press machines. My gym has both types, and using either, with not much weight, I can feel too much strain on the lower back. A couple of times, I’ve experienced mild but sharp pains during the push, which resulted in an immediate stop of the exercise. I feel that I’m playing Russian roulette.

    What are the best alternatives to the leg press machine? Don’t know if it matters, but I’m 6’5″ with very long legs.

    • Cool you’re rolling on the 1YC.

      Sorry to hear about the slipped disc. :/

      What leg exercises are you able to do comfortably and with no pain or discomfort?

      • Kevin Morriss

        I just looked at the schedule for back for next week and it looks like I’m done with leg presses for Phase 2, so the issue is a bit irrelevant. Last week’s leg press definitely tweaked my back a touch, so I’m not going to touch the leg press for a good long while.

        But to answer your question, I’m ok with barbell squats, RDLs and lunges. I’ll see how the front squat works out in the next few weeks.

        I’ve learned that I just have to take leg exercises slower that the other groups. It’s annoying but not nearly as annoying as being laid out for weeks.

        • Well that’s good! Let’s stay away from the leg press for now.

          Cool on all the other exercises you can do. With those alone, you have all the exercises you need to make a good program.

          Yep, take it slow and listen to your body.

          Keep up the good work and keep me posted!

  • Bill Maslen

    Sensible words on legs, Mike. I gave my son the same advice a few years ago and since then, he’s always focused on legs before any other body part. Since starting to train in a “serious” gym in September last year, he’s developed 30″ thighs. And that’s without drugs (he is, however, a classic mesomorph-endomorph, so gains muscle very easily). What’s more impressive, however, is the fact that despite his leg focus, he’s not sacrificed his upper body: he weighs in at 110 kg (over 240 lbs) and deadlifts 240 kg (well over 500 lbs), and he’s still only 19 years old. He recently started training with a bunch of strongmen in the gym and keeps up with them quite handily despite the fact he’s drug-free. His workouts are based mainly but not exclusively on the three power lifts (squats, deadlifts, benchpress), but legs always take precedence over everything else; he trains legs almost every workout (he’s an “instinctual” trainer by preference, so doesn’t follow a fixed routine). Kind of reinforces your point, really.

    Please note that he’s not currently ripped, however; it’ll be interesting to see how these measurements/feats change once he starts to lean down!

    I just wish I could achieve the same results myself (sob!). Although shlepping 110 kg around isn’t my idea of fun…

  • Wow, simply wow!

    You are right, when i first started out, i neglected legs just like everyone else.

    Legs are the best muscle group to work as it stimulates a whole load of hormones to be released to promote muscle growth across your WHOLE body.

    I have dedicated a whole day for my legs and i highly reccommend everyone do that as well.

    Thanks again for sharing, very thorough


    • That’s right! Glad you decided to dedicate a day to legs.

      Definitely keep me posted on your progress and write anytime if you have any questions or run into any difficulties. I’m always happy to help.

  • halevi

    Hi Mike. I followed the Rippetoe method for a while and tore my hip labrum (both sides). The orthopedist says a I have impingement (bone growth) and the tears are from deep squats and deadlifts. Do you have any info on recovering from this injury without surgery? Thanks.

    • Lindsay Rice

      @@halevi:disqus I often see Mike say he isn’t extremely well versed in injuries/rehab (although I’d follow any advice he does offer). Lookup Dr. Quinn Henoch/Darkside Strength. I recently aggravated a disc and came across his advice which I think has been helping a lot although the healing is slower than I’d like (as always). He talks a lot about rehab.

      • halevi


      • Thanks for the comment Lindsay. Glad to hear the disc issue is getting better. What happened?

    • Wow I’m sorry to hear that. Rehab really isn’t my specialty unfortunately. Personally I would find a good PT that works with athletes and get a program laid out…

  • Bill

    Ok time to replace Romanian Deadlifts with dumbell lunges and after my next deload I will replace leg presses with front squats.

    • I’d probably alternate starting weeks with back and then front and do lunges last.

      Yeah count the bar.

  • Bilal

    Hello mike

    Just started my phase 3 on BLS. Question: I noticed on legs day (5 day split) there are only two exercises for the legs (excluding calfs)! Is that correct?

    I feel it’s a bit short and might need an extra leg workout added to the mix (all previous phases had more leg exercises on schedule). Maybe an extra exercise to target the hamstrings? Your thoughts?

    • In some cases yeah, additional sets though. 9 to 12 heavy sets is where you want to be…

  • dkLtd

    I can’t believe that I read all your article and then, I here about supplements. Unless you want to go to contests, I don’t think you need any of them. Just eat healthy. Favor foods that have protein a little more than the average Joe and you can have the body you want. Even your particular body can be achieved without a single gram of supplement…

  • Guest

    Hi Mike. My gym has a Smith machine but no squat rack. Being the only gym in a 30km radius, i have no choice but to go there. Can I still replace normal BB squats with Smith machine squats until I start college (about 10 months)?

    • Hmm. Does the gym have a leg press and hack squat?

      Those would be better options until you start college.

      • Guest

        Nope. Just leg curl,extension machines and the smith machine (including dumbbells up to 88 lbs each and barbells with their plates).

  • Eric Hardman

    Hello, i am really liking all of your articles, i feel like iv been reading for days. I’m going to start working out tomorrow. My goal is to get abs. But id like to gain strength as well, I’m OK with going 1 one first then going the other if need be, bulking then cutting. I’m 30 years old 5″9 about 165lbs. Id like to get a complete breakdown if you would, i feel like iv read so much iv confused myself . Cardio, how much do i need a day? A week? Same with training. Im not in horrid shape but im 30 and im wanting my 21 yr old body back. The desk job has got to me. Nutrition wise, id love help in that area, if that means eating the same foods, im ok with thay as a start. Should i use creatin? Pre work out? Vitamins? Id like to be a fitnedd model.
    Anything helps
    [email protected]

  • David

    Hi Mike,

    I am 15 years old and I am a sprinter. I have chicken legs still and I am trying to build more leg muscle to get the explosiveness out of my starts. I have done a workout for a few months and my legs are still skinny but they are becoming more toned.

    My workout includes: Back Squats, Front Squats, Barbell Lunges, Stiff Leg Deadlift, Bulgarian Split Squat, Leg Extension, Leg Curls, Barbell Standing Calf Raise, Singled legged calf raise and Seated calf raise with a barbell. I do around 15 reps, 5 sets of each exercise and I am squatting around 50kg. I do this workout at home 3 times a week. I also do not have access to the leg press or hack squat machine.

    Just wondering if there is anyway to improve my workout.


    • Hey David!

      Great on what you’re doing. Give the workout in this article a go. I think you’ll do much better with it…

  • Nathan Hanak

    Hey Mike, a general problem I’m having with all of the big 4 compounds is they’re either stagnating or decreasing over time, and I don’t think it’s a diet issues, as my accessory lifts have been slowly but steadily increasing. I want to say all of them are form issues – one of particular concern for me is my squat, I switched to ATG squats about 2 months ago and have been essentially stuck at 185. My first two reps always feel good and proper, but after that my back starts to lose it’s rigidity and I’m worried I’m rounding it and putting it in danger, you can see I start to “good morning” it by the end of this set. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PfYb4LAg8N0

    I’m not sure where my form is failing though, I tried lowering the weight to 175 last week and it was the same thing: after 2 reps the form went out the window. Any ideas?

    • Form looks quite good actually.

      Check this out:


      LMK if anything catches your eye…

      • Nathan Hanak

        That’s a great article. I definitely have issues with sleep – it’s an anxiety thing, but didn’t think it was putting a big dent in my lifts because my cut went well and the accessories do go up. I’ll try the suggestions you mention at the bottom about going for a little heavier even if for 1 or 2 reps or doing extra reps. Thanks for taking the time to review and glad to hear my form is on par!

        • Sounds good. LMK how it goes!


          • Nathan Hanak

            So I figured out my issues – and they weren’t necessarily obvious in the video. Was doing two things incorrectly: 1. I was not using any kind of breathing or air to support my core by any means, so that’s where I was losing a lot of the form, especially when I hit the bottom. And 2. I was “dive bombing” my squat (you can see this a little in the video, hitting the ground pretty fast). Basically I was just letting the weight fall freely on the eccentric portion rather than doing it in a controlled motion. So that, combining with #1, would ruin me when I was trying to get out of the hole.

          • Glad you found them! True, you are moving down pretty fast on the squat.

            LMK how it goes/feels after correcting those points!

  • Steve Goguen

    Can the Smith machine be used as a hack squat effectively and safely? Feet forward, back straight?

    • Eh. I’m not a fan of the Smith machine. I prefer the hack squat or leg press.

  • William Lim Jr

    Hi Mike!

    I’m doing Phase 3 of BLS 2.0, where you programmed 6 working sets of Barbell Back Squat. I just wanted to ask how to go about progressing through it.

    Do I simply just lift the same weight through all 6 sets, until I get all sets to 6 reps then move up the weight? For instance, I’m on my third week now and I’m doing 190 x 5,5,4,4,4,4. Do I keep on going until I do 190 x 6,6,6,6,6,6 before moving up to 200?

    The other scenario I imagine is a bit more complicated – moving up the weight as soon as the first 3 sets reach 6 reps. So when I reach 190 x 6,6,6,5,5,5, the following week I’d go 200 x 4,4,4, then 190 x 6,5,5.



    • Yep, you just put the weight that you can do for 4-6 reps. If in the later sets you end up getting less than 4 reps. Drop the weight as necessary to stay in the 4-6 rep range.

      You can go up in weight the following week if you’re able to get 6 reps in the first 1 or 2 sets.

      Hope this helps! Talk soon!

  • Tyler Riles

    Hey mike
    Should I do RDL’s on leg day and deadlifts on back day or would that overtrain my hamstrings?

    • Yep, they’re both great exercises. Just make sure you put a couple days between leg day and back day.

  • Ivo Naves

    Wow there’s an army of Johnny Candito doing deep squats here. hah

  • Oonagh Smyth

    Hi Mike I’ve just bought your book Thinner Leaner Stronger. I have a gym in my apartment block which I use. While it has a squat machine and various Dumbbells I have brought my own barbell as there wasn’t one. So the weight range is limited and there is no squat rack or any sort of barbell rack for chest presses etc.

    Will this dramatically alter my results as I can’t really clean the weight I need to squat and have no spotter!

  • Oonagh Smyth

    Hi Mike I’ve just bought your book Thinner Leaner Stronger. I have a gym in my apartment block which I use. While it has a squat machine and various Dumbbells I have brought my own barbell as there wasn’t one. So the weight range is limited and there is no squat rack or any sort of barbell rack for chest presses etc.

    There is also no Smith machine

    Will this dramatically alter my results as I can’t really clean the weight I need to squat and have no spotter!

    I have a feeling you’re going to suggest a new gym…. 🙂

    • Thanks for picking up my book!

      My best recommendation would be to sign up at a gym that has the proper equipment and weights haha. 🙂 You can still get results in the apartment gym, but you’ll get much better results with the right set up

  • Jay

    Since I discovered TLS I have made so much progress and I am so happy, so thank you for that! Every once in a while I find myself coming back to the website to make sure I’m still on the right track, etc…
    Question, when doing lunges, is there any significant difference between doing one leg at a time or alternating legs? Also step ups. You don’t mention step ups in this article, what’s your take on those? Thanks!

    • That’s awesome Jay. 🙂

      Regarding the lunges, it’s just personal preference.

      Step-ups are okay but I like split squats better.

  • Kal-El

    Mike, what about the adductors? Is it necessary to work them seperately?

    • Not unless you’re having specific issues that need addressing.

  • sarah

    Hi mike, I’m currently doing the one year challenge and loving it.
    While i was reading one of your articles you directed me to an article someone wrote ( think it was legion athletics) about how best to train legs for women. I think it was doing 5 reps and being 1-2 reps from failure. I’ve been following that but wanted to re read the article because i can’t remember why i was doing it!
    I don’t want to build up my legs because I’m short and stocky, and I workout from home without a squat rack so there is a limit to what i can get over my head without knocking myself out! as a result I’m doing more reps(8-10) but worried I’m going against the whole principle of progressive overload as I’m at the limit now for weight. (i might have to get a trainer for legs in future)
    Id like lean toned legs but not bulky as they tend to get.
    Thanks so much for the advice, I’m in the best shape for years.

    • Thanks Sarah!

      I actually recommend women start with the 8 to 10 rep range to get comfortable with all the major movements and then, after 6 to 8 months, start incorporating heavier 4 to 6 rep work in their training.

      That’s how my TLS program is laid out.

      LMK what you think!

      • sarah

        thanks for the reply mike,
        whoops i started in the 4-6 rep range as I’m not new to lifting.
        Ive got to say i love the smaller reps/heavier and seems to be working for me.
        so shall i do 8-10 on legs only as i don’t want to work them too much?
        thanks again for the advice.

  • Ethan


    In a recent podcast you mentioned that you suffered a mild back injury while performing deadlifts because you were inadvertently making the mistake of exhaling at the top of the deadlift instead of holding your breath until the weight was safely back on the floor. You argued that exhaling at the top of the deadlift released all the abdominal pressure, and thus your spine was no longer properly supported, which led to your issue.

    While I would agree with this reasoning, I wonder how is this different from the way we must perform squats, where we are forced to exhale at the top of the exercise, while holding our breath -and keeping the abdominal pressure- during the rest of the move. Why exhaling at the top of the deadlift endangers the stability of the spine/back but not at the top of the squat?


    • It actually turned out to be my SI joint got locked up but yeah.

      It’s not nearly as much of an issue when you’re standing upright. The problem occurred when I started descending with the weight, not when I was standing tall.

  • Ivo Naves

    Mike, what about the Barbell Hack Squat for building them quads?

    • Ehh. I’m not a fan of it. I much prefer the hack squat sled.

      • Ivo Naves

        Why? I tried them today and thought they maybe led to knee problems.

        If I want to have legs like Steve Reeves, long muscles, no carrot shaped, nice separation and VMO, more quads and little butt/hams, then I should focus on F-Squats, Hack Squats and Leg Presses… do you have another tip?

        Also, for developing his wide, strong back with large lats but without much trap development, what do you recommend? thanks

        • They’re really awkward IMO. There are just better options.

          Yeah he had a great physique. Some of it is genetics and some is just putting in the work.

          I’ve worked with thousands of people and from what I’ve seen, it takes at least a few years to get those big, separated legs. Kinda like building a big chest. It just takes time.

          No shrugs of course and otherwise you should be fine. Deadlifting is the best back builder and will be enough to build your traps without blowing them up.

  • Dillon Gragnano

    My gym only has a smith machine, seated leg press and a traditional plate loaded leg press. Would it be beneficial to do a front squat with the smith machine or just forego it completely and do leg presses and weighted lunges? I follow the BLS program as well

    • Nah that’s fine. You can use the plate loaded leg press and the Smith machine for front squats.

      LMK what you think!

      Glad you’re rolling on the BLS program. I look forward to seeing your results!

  • dave

    Have you found glute ham raises to having much carry over to squats and deadlifts?

    • Yeah I have. It has helped me get out of the hole better in my squats and has helped in locking out on the deads.

  • David

    Right now I’m doing squats without squat pad, both front and backsquat. Sometimes it hurts and is uncomfortable. Are there any drawbacks with squatting with pad? Do you have any other experience in squatting with pad?

    • If needed, it’s totally fine for you to use the pad. You will get used to it if you continue squatting without it though.

  • Elijah Laughinghaus

    My knees have issues to true point I can’t even ride a bike over 20 minutes on a flat plane anymore, and I used to ride hundreds of mountain miles a week. It’s taken years to lose all the muscle mass in my legs but they are finally getting pretty scrawny. Any tips for low impact alternatives to bulk back up?

    • Hmm I assume something like the lying leg curl is okay? The problem is training the quads?

      • Elijah Laughinghaus

        Hmm I not sure if my gum has that machine I’ll check but yeah it probably would be ok. Well just all the exercises you recommend for legs are painful for me. Anything where I’m holding weight and need to bend my knees unfortunately

        • Okay well lying curls should be okay (or seated curls if your gym doesn’t have lying) and what about lighter leg extensions? It’s not a great exercise for heavy weights but it may be okay if the weight is light enough…

  • Bill

    Why add Split-squats and leg presses… 9 sets of Squats (6 Back, 3 Front) and call it a leg day?

    • They’re a good squat variation to learn. Especially good for the butt.

  • Ivan

    Hey mike, I already did this program for 8 weeks (great results thank you). The thing is i’m starting this new routine I saw on youtube and it includes stiff leg deadlifts on leg day but NO deadilfts on back day. I’m wondering is this is okay or should back workouts always include deadlifts? What do you think?

    • Nice!

      I definitely recommend keeping the traditional deadlift in your back day. It’s one of the most important lifts.

  • Nathan Hanak

    There are so many great exercises in this one. My body seems to respond best to 5 week intervals – as in, 5 weeks of lifting, one “rest” week, and then begin again. So I like to do 4-5 different lifts per workout, but it’ll be the same 4-5 lifts for each 5 week cycle for that body part. Then the next cycle I’ll switch them around, IE swap out weighted lunges for front squats, etc.

    But for what you lay out here, besides always having the back squat, how do you pick and choose which ones to include? Do you pick what’s best for each muscle group?

    • Thanks Nathan! That’s great on what you’re doing. I like it.

      I generally alternate between starting with a back or front squat, and then one other exercise that’s more quad dominant like a leg press, hack squat, or lunge, and then one that’s ham dominant like lying leg curl or bulg split squat.

      • Nathan Hanak

        Great, sounds similar to what I’m doing. I wonder who I got it from….

        You mention alternating between front and back squat, how often do you alternate? Do you really not do the back squat with every leg day?

        • Haha. 🙂

          These days I’m dong ONLY front squats because I’m trying to get to 315 on it, but otherwise I would do 4 weeks of back, 4 weeks of front, deload, repeat.

          • Nathan Hanak

            315? Jeez! I’m hoping I get to 150 by the end of summer. But then again, have only treated fronts as an accessory and never as the first heavy lift. I might try switching it around then.

            Good luck and thanks for the advice!

          • Keep training and dieting properly, and you’ll get there too. 🙂

            Try it out! LMK how it goes.

            Thanks and my pleasure brother.

  • Olvin

    hi mike recently i was doing squats and it was time for my heavy sets 325 pounds 3 sets and 2 to 3 rep and in my 2 set i heard a crack on my back and then a pain i could verarly make it all the way up with the weight .i was doing a great progress in my leggs cause were really thin and now they were really getting bigger and stronger am scare of doing squat !again should i sustituide it and do more machines or more reps in the squat? what do you sugest .? its been a week now and my back pain is gone what should i do?

  • Ian

    Should I add dumb bells in hand to progress the Bulgarian splits?

  • Gustavo Garza

    Dear Mike , i did buy your book Bigger Leaner Stronger and i love it! i have a question i see that you workout 2 times incline chest in two days , could i do the same with legs? or should i stay with only 1 day leg workout? i want build bigger legs, thanks Mike!!!

    • Awesome! Glad you enjoyed it. 🙂

      Let’s stick with the standard routine for now. There’s already a good amount of leg volume with leg day and deadlifting on back day. If after 6 months you find your legs are still behind or you’re still not happy with them, you can add 3 sets of higher rep squats to another day in you’re routine.


      My pleasure!

  • Jason Ross

    When i do squats it knocks me out for a couple of days. I did a session on Sunday and today i could probably, maybe, go for a HIIT run. IS there anything i can do to decrease recovery time? my legs are like concrete for 48hrs after at least

    • I hear you, Jason! Squats are rough. Check this out:


      LMK what you think.

      • Jason Ross

        I’m running scared Mike 🙂
        I’ll do legs tomorrow then use the roller then go for a walk and let you know if it improves things. I probably am quite susceptible to DOMS as despite training 3-4 times a week and running 3 times a week for about a year (had a break when I got a rotator cuff tear) I still get stiffness

        • Haha. Sounds good!

          It’s possible. Let’s see how you do with those changes.

          • Jason Ross


            Thanks for the tips Mike. I did exactly the same routine as the one i was moaning about above, squats, front squats, romanian deads but i kept doing stretches throughout and after the weights i spent 5 mins on the foam roller and kept moving and stretching my legs and today.. i can feel it but i could definitely run.

            Amazing. On with the cut 😉

          • Great! YW. 🙂

            Definitely keep me posted on your progress and write anytime if you have any questions or run into any difficulties. I’m always happy to help.

  • Ed

    Hey Mike – with regards to lifting heavy I have had knee surgery for the second time, ACL reconstruction revised. I feel like I am on the mend and I am moving in the right direction. Are any of these a big no no for my situation? I am currently at 85kg 5 reps of 3 sets for squat and looking to progress to heavier once I get to 6 etc… As part of my physio was to do a lot of static stuff to get my strength back and have only just been allowed to start running in a straight line…

    I have put on some serious weight on since being in recovery, I am now about 104kg in weight (I know fat…) and only 5ft 11in. Let me know your thoughts

    • Hey Ed! Understood on the ACL surgery. Glad recovery is going well.

      Honestly, that’s something you should check with the doc on. I don’t recommend any exercises that haven’t been approved by him/her first.

      I hear you on the weight gain. That tends to happen to people due to the decrease in activity level from injury while maintaining the same intake… Let’s start with getting you on a proper cutting meal plan. You can set it up here:



      • Ed

        That’s great Mike, exactly what I need to watch my calorie intake, interesting about the TDEE and things that you mentioned in the book, it all makes so much sense, although I am usually a big eater so to change that now all of a sudden is a matter of retraining my mind set now too.

        I think I suffered from a bit of atrophy in my right leg, but am in the process of recovering my muscle, as I was in a knee brace for a while, which was very frustrating.

        With regards to the knee they have said all is well at the moment and I can continue, they haven’t said too much else with regards to recovery as they are basing stuff on the standard time frames of recovery, 9-12 months to get back to football (Soccer for you chaps).

        I was operated on last August and was slowly going stir crazy with the light weights, and boring exercises of just getting motion etc. Then found your book on kindle, and since then have progressed quite well doing the heavier stuff and all appears to be moving in the right direction. I feel good and they have given me their blessing… Just not to overdo it yet until they say I can start pushing myself, which in itself is annoying.

        Obviously I want to continue going well and want to keep momentum but when is a good point to go hard? They aren’t power lifters so I feel it’s hard to ask them the right questions? Surely if everything is going well and not pain apart from the muscle soreness it’s all ok? And could I gain muscle? At this point in my recovery they want me to gain control and strength…

        Any pointers would be great for this type of training?

        • NP! Just make sure you include the foods you love in the meal plan, and it shouldn’t be a problem. 🙂

          Sorry to hear about the knee. Glad you’re getting back to your usual activities and awesome to hear on the progress you’ve made since picking up my book!

          I know it’s annoying but better to be safe and have a full recovery than to risk messing things up…

          As to when to go hard on the program and what training you should be doing, you’ll have to check with the doc on that. I don’t recommend doing anything that you haven’t gotten approval from the doc on.

          Sorry I couldn’t be of more help! LMK how it goes.

  • Nathan Plante

    Hi Mike!

    I have your book and in your leg day you say to do 3 sets of squat, 3 sets of Romanian deadlift and 3 sets of leg press. I workout at home and although I have quite a lot of equipment, I don’t have leg press machine. Which exercice would you recommend do to replace leg press in your routine that I could do at home?


    • Hey Nathan! No worries! You can replace the leg press with front squats.

      Welcome! LMK how it goes.

  • dave

    You say that high rep training will stunt muscle growth, can you show me a study on this?

  • Olvin

    hi mike i wanted to ask you im our gym we leg press 45 anlgle machine hack squat , lying leg curl,seated leg curl , legg extension, squat cages but we dont have a calf machines and standing leg curl and a vetical leg press do you think are these 3 machines neccesarry ?and whats your opinion in each. if they get it are the 3 good tools to engrease diferents angles and trainings ?

    • Hey hey! Don’t worry. With the equipment you have, you can put together a great leg routine, and the machines you don’t have aren’t really important.

      Do you have any calf raise machine of any kind? If not, I recommend standing barbell calf raise and/or single leg dumbbell calf raise.

      For the calf raise, I recommend different feet angles to target different parts of the calves. For the rest, I recommend just sticking to proper form and focusing on the 4-6 rep range.

      Hope this helps! LMK what you think.

  • Olvin

    hi mike i wanted to ask you im our gym we leg press 45 anlgle machine hack squat , lying leg curl,seated leg curl , legg extension, squat cages but we dont have a calf machines and standing leg curl and a vetical leg press do you think are these 3 machines neccesarry ?and whats your opinion in each. if they get it are the 3 good tools to engrease diferents angles and trainings ?

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  • Scott

    Hi Mike
    Quick questions, when you’re lunging and you say 3 heavy sets do you mean 3 heavy sets for each leg or do you alternate in one set. So say you were doing forward lunges , would you:
    1) do one set on your left leg, rest a minute, a set on your right leg, repeat until each leg had done 3 sets each leg (so total 6 sets)
    2) do one set where you do 4-6 reps on each leg alternating (so between 8 and 12 total reps in the set)
    3) do a set of only 4-6 reps total (so you may end up doing 2 reps on one leg and 3 on the other and have to start on the leg which did two reps in the next set).

    For Bulgarian split squats I presume you would do number one of those as it would be pretty inconvenient switching legs each time?

    Keep up the awesome work, love it!

    • Hi Scott, great question. The sum of the lunges should be 3 sets of 4-6 reps for each leg. Alternate for lunges (8-12 total combined left/right leg reps).
      You’re right about the Bulgarian split squats. #1.


  • Sam

    Hi Mike.

    I have a hard time training my legs due to a bad accident to right knee cap and surrounding area. Squats are out the question and anything that puts too much pressure through knee. I can just about manage leg press but can’t go heavy. I can do hamstring pull backs on the machine but cant do quad extensions on the machine. Would going on the exercise bike at high resistance help build my legs muscles? Is there any exercises you would recommend? I know that my legs will most likely always be disproportionate to my upper body now but it would be good to gain some muscle. Thanks.Sam.

    • Hey Sam,

      Sorry to hear about the accident. Your best bet is to use lighter weights as you have been, and use resistance on the bike. Are you doing any PT work right now?

      • Sam

        Thanks. No I haven’t done any PT work. Could give it ago though.

        • No problem. PT work is out of my scope of practice, but wouldn’t hurt to have a consultation to see if he/she can improve the situation–especially since you haven’t had treatment following a major injury.

  • Tora

    hey mike I remember reading an article of yours some time ago in which you said it was fine to do legs twice a week separating hamstrings and quads- dominant exercises, I wanted to read it again to check my schedule but I couldn’t find it anywhere.
    would you still suggest it? if so where can I find it? thanks

  • Cole Lomas

    If I have a pair of adidas powerlifts 2’s for squatting, what would be your recommendations for subsequently performing other leg movements after? Should I swap my shoe out to then do leg press/lunges etc or can I stay in this shoe?

  • Dan

    Going to be changing my leg workout to this next week, the article is much appreciated. I was wondering though, is their enough hamstring work compared to quads in this workout? it seems fairly centred on the quads.
    Also, would it be alright to replace the front squats with leg presses? or are front squats significantly better?

    • Hey Dan,

      Yeah your hams get worked a lot on this workout. You can add RDLs if you’d like.

      The leg press can be substituted for front squats, if you’d like.

  • Gustavo Garza

    hello Mike! i just read Bigger Leanner Stronger and it was brilliant =) =) makes me so happy , i will start tomorrow ,,, i only have one question.
    in the 5 day program you workout twice a week CHEST monday and thrusday (upper body) i love that, but what about legs only working out once per week? what if i have a much less development in my lowerbody, can i workout leg twice per week?

    sorry for my english i tried my best.
    grettings from Mexico Mike =)
    Gustavo Villarreal

    • Hey Gustavo, that’s great to hear! You can do an extra 3 sets of squats every week in the 8-10 rep range. Hope that helps!

  • Juan Gonzalo Buitrago

    Hey Mike! I’ve followed your program for up to 7 months now and gained over 30 pounds (Thanks!) and have a question
    The thing is my legs have grown too big to the point all my pants look like women’s laggins (literally). I lift up to 100kg on squats (3*8), should I stop adding weight? whats a good reference to what I should lift, or how much do you lift?
    Thanks in advance, regards!

    • That’s awesome, Juan! Glad to see you’re making such great gains. To stop your legs from growing more, definitely stop adding weight. You can also decrease leg training volume to just 3 sets of squats, if stopping weight progression is not helping enough.

    • Miz Eloise

      ahhh give me a bit of muscle that will solve your problem hehe. i got some filling out to do

  • Christina Pontifis

    Hi mike! I’ve been progressing wonderfully with my deadlifts. I tried to go for my max and actually did three reps. 225lbs. It doesn’t make sense because I’m not progressing with my squats at all. Some days I can squat 135, but for the most part anything past that I fail. I feel like I have trouble with my hips/ankles being tight. I stick to the lower rep range. Any advice?
    Thank you!

  • Christina Pontifis

    Hi Michael! My hamstrings are unproportinal to my quads…they are pretty weak. I normally stick to stiff legged deadlifts with a barbell, and lying down hamstring curls (these hurt my knees). I keep the the rep range low. (8-10) What do you suggest?
    Thank you!

  • Miz Eloise

    hello skinny fat here. ive lost 13 percent bodyfat following your 5 day routine. question is how do i develop my outer thigh muscle? i look so frail from the front but when im on my side view (profile) there is a bit muscle definition on the legs especially the front. there is a bit of bulge. i want my sides to not be too far behind. sorry im not too sciency in my terms and muscle names.


    • Great job on the fat you’ve lost! That’s impressive.

      To focus on the thighs, I’d focus more on the quad dominate exercises like front squats and hack squats. To help with the outer thighs in particular, try using a narrower stance with your toes pointed straight ahead.

      Hope this helps! LMK how it goes.

  • Hey Mike and everyone,

    Any awesome videos or tutorials on how to do the hack squat? I’ve been to Bodybuilding.com, checked out some how-tos, and watched some videos but I must be doing it wrong: I’m bumping my thighs, bumping my butt, I’m feeling awkward (physically, not mentally) while I do it, and I feel it too much in my lower back.

    • Nah, I don’t. I’m actually not a fan of that exercise. I much prefer the plate-loaded hack squat machine.

  • JunkMonkey

    Hey, Mike. I just started doing front squats today, and it was awkward as hell. The bar kept either rolling back into my throat or rolling forward, making me have to put it back on the rack. I tried holding the bar like in the video, but I couldn’t get my elbows up that high. Then I tried crossing my arms to hold it in place, but this just caused the bar to roll into the crooks of my arms, which aren’t strong enough to hold that much weight. It seems these are probably pretty common problems for beginners to this exercise. Do you have any suggestions for how to hold the bar so it stays in place without me getting choked? Is this just a matter of practice until it works?

    • Nice attempt! Using the crossed-arms technique, the bar should be resting more on your shoulders, not on your arms. Check your form as well. Bar path should be straight, which will prevent it from rolling around. You can reduce weight as well, to work on form. Practice does help.

      I like using a barbell pad for this exercise. (cylindrical ones) Hope that helps!

      • JunkMonkey

        Thanks, Roger. I tried resting the bar on my shoulders with arms crossed, but I can’t seem to do it without the bar resting right against my throat. I’ll have to try it with a barbell pad and see if that helps…

        • It’ll get pretty close to your throat, but the pad will make it a helluva lot more comfortable!

          • JunkMonkey

            Yep, cool. Legs are Thursday, so I’ll give it a shot!

          • Sweet. LMK how it goes.

          • JunkMonkey

            So the pad helped a ton! It’s still a hard exercise to get used to, but I did it. My shoulders are a little sore from holding the bar so differently, but it feels like I’m making progress. At least the pad keeps me from choking on the bar, which was a major issue last week.

          • Nice! Glad it helped. Definitely still not the most comfortable exercise, though. I’m totally in agreement there haha

  • Daniel Saberwal

    Hey Mike

    I’ve been following your work for quite a while now. And I have been trying to incorporate your leg day recommendations. But i was born with a physical disability in my left leg, and doing squats and deadlifts is very difficult for me and I face a lot of issues afterwards. Any recommendations? I want my leg gains!!! But my disability sometimes gets in my way. Not gonna stop, just need some advice.

    Thanks man! Love your work

    • Hey Daniel, have you tried doing hack squats in place of regular squats? What about the trap (hex) bar deadlift in place of the conventional deadlift?

      • Daniel Saberwal

        i can do hack squats but not the deadlifts. I can’t straighten my left knee.

        • Have you seen a doc about it? I recommend fixing underlying issues and improving your mobility, flexibility, and stability first.

  • Nico Butler

    Hi Mike. I’ve just started doing your BLS programme, however i don’t have a squat rack or leg press machine.My wife would murder me if i bought one as i only work out in our spare room (as much as im happy to buy one). For leg day i was going to do bulgarian split squats in place of the back squat, and dumbbell lunges in place of the leg press. Is that okay or should i up the sets or add in something else?



    • Haha no problem. You can use dumbbells, though it’s doing to be tough loading up as much weight as a barbell can. Bulgarian Split Squats are nice, and you can increase the sets if your current dumbbells are too light and buying more are not an option. The Goblet Squat is a good leg press replacement as well.

  • Phillip

    I have been following your 4-day BLS strategies and website advice for over a year now, and I feel like my leg strength and muscle increases a lot easier than my upper body (i look like i skip upper body day, not leg day). I am currently satisfied with maintaining my leg strength/muscle while adding more training to my upper body (adding an upper body day).

    Can you think of any way to incorporate minimal legs training (maintenance purposes ONLY) on another lifting day (which one?) so that I can maybe replace a leg day with arms training?

    I do not want to train 5-days a week.

    I hope this question isn’t too confusing!

    Please keep up the good work!

    • Awesome! Nice work with the program. I recommend that you stop increasing the weight on your leg exercises to stop them from growing. You can also consider reducing the volume or moving to training in sets of 8-10 reps as well.

      You can start targeting your upper body now and focus on lagging muscle groups. Here’s a good start:


      Hope that helps!

      • Phillip

        In your article called “How to Maintain Muscle and Strength with Minimal Exercise,” the only leg exercise (besides deadlift which I am performing on back day) that you recommend is 3 working sets of squat.

        If I were to incorporate that into an “upper body day” (from 5-day BLS), do you see any issues?

        My Schedule would look like this:

        Day 1- Chest
        Day 2- Back
        Day 3- Shoulders
        Day 4- Working Sets of Squat, 3 sets 8-10 reps chest exercise, Triceps, Biceps, Triceps, Biceps. (or maybe some variation of this?)

  • Wizer

    I can’t do the front squats because the bar simply crushes my throat. The gym has no machines. Is there a some form of a squat that emphasizes the quadriceps? Or if i do few high rep sets after my low rep sets would that help to build my quads more?

  • Chris Stark

    Question about reps for back squats. I’ve found it hard to know when I’ve hit the right number of reps for my set. Especially if you take 2-3 deep breaths before another rep it is possible to pump out another rep…and then another. It is super painfully and mentally will make you tough as hell but I wonder if i’m trying to do too many squats. Any advice? Should I have a minimum time between reps?

    • You mean you have trouble counting the reps? Just…count until you’ve hit 4-6. No minimum time between reps. It’s not like you’re going to spend 10 seconds catching your breath under a heavy barbell between reps. Sounds like you’re doing fine!

  • Rich Wainwright

    hi Mike, I put a similar post in after the HiiT article then thought it might be better here!!

    The quick question is, what are the best leg exercises to build muscle for big distance cyclists? All or specific ones or different ones to the above?

    I’ve 6 months to train up to be able to do 969 miles (1,559km) over 9 days – that’s averaging 108 miles (174km) per day.

    Again, many thanks in advance, cheers, Rich

  • Rich Wainwright
  • Adam

    Mike, I’m wanting to start Front Squats but I don’t have the flexibility yet (working on it!). In the meantime, since I can’t do enough weight that it’s a leg workout, would you recommend swapping in Goblet Squats, the angled Leg Press, or something else? The rest of my leg day is Front Squats, Hip Thrusts, and Glute-Ham Raises (I know it’s short, but I hate leg day and I end up skipping Bulgarian Split Squats because I hate them). Note if it matters that I’m constantly fighting against low back/sacrum pain, in case that affects your choices.

  • Erik

    Hey Mike & co!

    Low Bar Squat or High Bar Squat for the back squat?

    Greg Nuckols recommends Low Bar for Powerlifters and High Bar for Weightlifters. https://www.strongerbyscience.com/high-bar-and-low-bar-squatting-2-0/

    What do you guys think is best for someone following the BLS program? (would love to hear your reasoning as well.)

    • High bar. We’re not training for the sport of powerlifting, and the high bar will allow for greater range of motion and greater load for your spinal erectors–best bang for the buck.

  • OSheaman

    Hey guys,

    Quick question about leg day in the Year One Challenge. I’m just starting Phase 3 and I’m noticing the leg day is listed as Barbell Squat twice, followed by Dumbbell Lunges and then the usual calf work. Is this a misprint, or should I really be doing 6 sets of working weight squats on that day? It seems like a LOT of squatting.


    • It’s no misprint 🙂 Definitely a tough workout.

  • Robert

    Hi All,

    I have a question about sets vs. reps and increasing weight. For a male, I see where Mike says if you can get 6 reps on your first set you should add 5 pounds to the next set until you can do it for 6 reps and so on. I want to make sure I am understanding:

    Right now I squat 5X4 @ 175 lbs. I am getting to where I can do 6 reps at 175 on my first set. So, I should do my second set at 180 likely to 4 reps. My third set will also be at 180. Fourth set at 180. Fifth set at 180.

    What if I get to my fifth set and my legs are so spent I can only do 3 reps? Should I not jump up in weight on my second set? Is it better to minimize the amount of weight on set 1 so that I can at least get to 4 reps on set 5?

    Also, is Mike’s method of adding 5 pounds once you can do 6 reps on the before a good general rule for all lifts?

    Thanks a lot!!

    • Good question. If you can get more than 6 full reps for every set, increase the weight by 5lbs. If you can’t complete at least 4 reps at the higher weight (on any set), drop it back down and finish your sets at the previous weight.

      The 5lb increase should be fine for your compound lifts. If the increase is too much, try the rest-pause technique to break a strength plateau:


  • Dan

    Hi mike,

    I’ve had a bunch of knee surgeries making squatting and deadlifting very difficult so I tend to stay away. I used to follow both bls and bbls with some great results. I know those two big lifts make the workout but unfortunately I cannot perform them without a lot pain. How do you recommend structuring a leg routine without those two? I was thinking I may try some light Romanian deadlifts with some light quad extensions. What do ya think?


    • You can use any of the leg exercises in the book. For example, you could do Romanian Deadlifts, Lunges, Leg Press, etc. I would find the ones that don’t cause pain, and do those. I hope this helps!

  • Ethan

    Is it OK to use the Smith machine to bench and squat if that is the only available option, or should I stick to the other BLS exercises?

    • Hey Ethan, the Smith machine would be a last resort. I’d recommend any of the “approved” exercises in BLS first.

  • Charles Bjelica

    I’ll tell you for a fact that you do not need to work out on legs in order to get a bigger upper body. How do you explain people in a wheel chair? http://www.muscleroast.com/training-legs-build-upper-body-muscle/

  • Zak Smith

    Hey Mike, if you’re doing dumbell lunges, do you go for 6 total reps or 6 on each side?

  • Steven

    Hey thanks for the advice, quick question,

    When you suggest these regimes, you state exercises to do which is great. I was wondering, can you substitute these exercises in your plan for ones you mentioned in your article? E.g. for the standing calf raise..you said you like other exercises earlier too like calf raise on the leg press…can I do this one too?

    If the answer is yes this was an optional exercise anyway, but in general can I switch exercises on your regime like I have done here provided it’s on this article as great and work the same thing?

    • Yes, you can definitely make substitutions. I wouldn’t replace squats at the beginning of your workout, but you could do lunges instead of the leg press, or bulgarian split squats instead of romanian deadlifts, for example.

  • Oriol Bel Marata

    Hi Mike!
    Thank you for the article. Last year I had to stop doing squats due to a femoroacetabular impingement (hip impingement). I found my way around by doing leg presses, but they also started to hurt.
    I know if I leave squats and other movements that involve the hip out of my workouts I won’t be training in the most optimal way.

    However, what exercises would you do to train legs without involving the hip? I can do leg extensions and leg curls without a problem, and deadlifts are fine too.

    Thank you in advance

    • Deadlifts are a great choice. You can also try trap bar deadlifts for a change. Give lunges Bulgarian split squats a shot, too. I hope this helps!

      • Oriol Bel Marata

        Thank you! I will definitely try these!

  • James

    Hey Mike quick question,

    Are hack squats an acceptable exercise to replace normal Barbell squats?

    • Hey James! Hack squats are a great leg exercise, but I wouldn’t completely replace squats with them.

  • Jonathan Banks

    I know that you rae not a fan of the Smith Machine. But what do you think about the Hack Squat on the Smith Machine

    • Hey Jonathan, I think that’s fine. I’d go with the leg press first as you’ll be able to move more weight, but hack squats on the smith machine are fine, too.

  • Cameron Neil James

    Hey mike, what can replace the barbell front squat? I’ve been doing Bulgarian split squat and barbell back squat, but no matter how times I watch videos on it, I cannot get proper form on the front squat. Thanks for your help

    • Is holding the bar on your shoulders causing the issue? Using straps or a cross-grip could help until you develop the proper wrist mobility. For a substitute, you could do the leg press or hack squat.

  • Stephen Anderson

    Hi Mike
    Really enjoying these routines, especially that I can be done and dusted in under an hour. I was talking to another gym user who said he spent 3 1/2 hours on his routines and just thought I don’t have that much time!
    I find it difficult to comprehend those who say they hate leg day. It’s always been my favorite!
    Today I finally did real squats. I’d previously used the sm, and was scared to try the squat unassisted, but it went ok. Front squat not so much though, so I switched to leg press (which is my favourite anyway). I noticed next was Bulgarian Split Squats. I found these difficult to coordinate/balance and wasn’t sure how to do progressive overload. Also, my quads felt toasted after doing 298 kg lp. Would RDL be better?

    • Hey Stephen! RDLs are great too, so whichever you want to do is fine. Progressive overload with split squats works the same; once you hit the top of the rep range, move up in weight.

      Let me know how it goes!

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