How long of a break should I take before working the same muscle group?

One thing I would like to add is there is much more consideration in overtraining your central nervous system than a particular muscular group. Think of two athletes, 1) gymnasts, 2) elite powerlifters

Gymnasts essentially work their back and shoulders almost every day with the movements that they do and it is not coincidence that their back and shoulders are pheneomenal. A elite level powerlifter will do basic movements like squats, bench press, cleans, presses and so forth up to 4 to 5 times per week.

Many times people will get caught up in how many times to train a muscular group when the reality the amount of times you train a muscle group is less important that the overall stress put on the central nervous system.

If your body cannot recover because it is put under too much stress then exercise will not do its job. However if you have great recovery abilities because you eat well, supplement your diet, get plenty of rest and are under less stress then you will be able to train harder, more often and body parts more often resulting in more muscle gained.

Traditional bodybuilding programs will train a muscle ever 4-7 days because of the amount of the individual workouts and the time that is dedicated to specific muscle groups, but most workouts that are most effective for strength and muscle are ones that involve the most joints and muscles per movement and workout.

The key to your workouts is the ability to put intensity on your muscular system and then your central nervous systems ability to recover.

“As with most debates within the strength and conditioning industry, there’s no right answer to the question of whether full body workouts or body part split workouts are ‘better’,” says says Mike Krajewski, PT, CSCS, owner of MK Fitness in Nashville, TN. And if anyone tries to tell you different, ignore ’em.

“There’s no one way to do this,” agrees Shawn Arent, Ph.D., C.S.C.S.*D, a Medical and Science Advisory Board member for Blueprint for Athletes and the director of Rutgers University’s Institute For Food, Nutrition, and Health Center for Health & Human Performance. “There are a lot of right ways, but also wrong ways,” he adds. You need to organize your training sessions so you’re getting adequate rest and not overtraining certain energy systems.

What’s more, there are pros and cons for both full body and split styles of training. As with most other training practices, the right one for you entirely depends on your goals. Here’s what you need to know.

Full Body Benefits

The guy it benefits: Total-body routines benefit guys who are just targeting strength and aren’t really preoccupied with mass, as well as those who are really trying to shred body fat. When you’re engaged in a total-body strength and conditioning routine that’s either focused on lifting heavy or quick, interval-like metabolic moves, you get a better bang for your buck.

More efficient use of time
“Getting to the gym more than 3x/week is not always in everyone’s schedule,” Krajewski says. Full-body routines can help cut down some of the hours you spend in the gym per week without skipping a major muscle group. “Workouts that incorporate lower and upper body parts all mashed into one kick ass workout can allow you to get the anabolic response from your muscles that you need, while saving you from spending hours in the weight room,” he adds.

Greater hormonal response
Full-body movements work far more muscle fibers, which release greater amounts of testosterone, growth hormone, and IGF-1 hormones, which lead to more muscle and less fat. So arguably, total-body workouts can create a better hormonal response.

Better for weight loss/fat loss
“Intense full-body workouts that have you wobbly legged and gasping for air are known to leave your muscles beat up,” Krajewski says. Circuit training, metabolic intervals, and compound lifts engage more muscle groups, skyrocket your heart rate, and burn more calories. “Hitting your full body all the time from a conditioning aspect is great; it’s the model CrossFit follows,” Arent notes.

Body Part Split Benefits

The guy it benefits: Specific upper and lower body splits are excellent for guys looking to bulk muscle mass in certain areas of their body, gain a PR in a major lift, or sustain a training program for the long haul. These are generally less exhausting and are ideal for major bulk-ups.

More focused strength gains
“Body part-specific training sessions (ie. chest day, back day, leg day, etc.), while less time efficient, can definitely dial in the specificity of the goals of your training program,” Krajewski says. “If your goal is to deadlift 450lbs or bench 300lbs, you have to train accordingly,” he adds. “If you weigh 165lbs and have a current bench PR of 225lbs I can guarantee you that full body workouts 3x/week won’t get you there.” Getting in your major lifts and accessory work catered to that muscle group will. Just be careful you don’t over-emphasize one muscle group over the others; that’s when muscle imbalances and weaknesses can occur.

Better for building mass
“If you’re looking to build mass, I really see little benefit to constantly doing full-body workouts,” Arent says. “Not to say it couldn’t work, but in terms of the volume you can accomplish and the ability to focus on certain muscle groups, I tend to prefer upper-lower body part splits.” The upside is these focused workouts let you rotate your heavy versus light days more consistently; you don’t want every day to be heavy and/or hard. That’s important for progression and it’s part of the periodization model.

Less fatigue
“When programmed properly, the split workout routine results in considerably less overall fatigue since the focus is only on one or two body parts—max,” Krajewski says. Full-body routines torch more calories and tire your body out faster, which can compromise your strength-specific training focus. “This isn’t implying that after an intense leg day your stems won’t be rendered useless for the remainder of the day,” he explains. But you’re at a lower risk for overtraining and overloading your whole body because your legs have time to recover.

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Should I Do Full-Body Workouts or Split Routines?

If you’ve spent any amount of time on social media, you’ve no doubt come across someone complaining or bragging about “leg day.” Split routine workouts (where you separate the targeted muscle groups each day) are popular with a lot of fitness fans. Should you join their ranks and focus on split routines? Or should you do full-body workouts, in which each workout targets all muscles?

It depends.

The Benefits of Full-Body Workouts

Full-body workouts build a balanced body, since each muscle group is being exercised in the routine. And if you do full-body workouts the recommended 3 to 4 times each week, you’re giving each muscle in your body great stimulation.

Missed a workout? It’s not as detrimental to your fitness goals when full-body workouts are your routine. That’s because by the next workout, all your muscle groups will be getting the exercise they need to continue strengthening and growing. In a split-routine, when you miss a day (leg day, for example), you end up waiting a week to work out that muscle group again.

Full-body workouts also tend to burn more calories as you expend more energy per workout.

The Drawbacks of Full-Body Workouts

So what are the drawbacks of full-body workouts? If you’re trying to focus on a certain muscle group, it will be harder to give it the stimulation it needs when you’re doing full-body workouts.

You can also become fatigued from full-body workouts, as they are long and tiring. You’re also in danger of overtraining if you hit each muscle group too hard. This becomes especially true the more advanced you get.

If you have a hard time switching gears, full-body workouts can be mentally hard for you, since you’ll be moving from exercise to exercise throughout the routine.

The Benefits of Split-Routine Workouts

What about split-routine workouts? If you’re trying to shape your body, split-routine workouts give you more control over each body part. Want more defined calves? Work harder on leg day.

Split-routine workouts also give you a less-intense workout. This means you experience less general fatigue and you can lift greater loads for each muscle group.

Split-routine workouts also take less time. You can still give your muscle groups an intense workout, but you won’t be spending as long doing it as you would in a full-body workout. If you only have 30-minute increments for working out, split-routine workouts may be the right answer for you.

And looking forward to a different body part to work out each day can give you the variety you need to keep your interest piqued.

The Drawbacks of Split-Routine Workouts

However, in split-routine workouts, you’ll burn fewer calories since you won’t be moving from exercise to exercise. And because we all tend to enjoy one workout over another, you’re in danger of giving too much attention to the body parts that are more fun for you to work out, leading to muscle and strength imbalance.

Plus, skipping a workout means you have to wait a long time before the skipped body part can be exercised again.

Which Should You Choose?

So which workout routine is right for you? In truth, a combination of both is best for most people so you can pick up the benefits of both types of workouts.

Full-body routines are typically excellent for beginners, those who love cardio and don’t want to spend as much time strength training, and those who can only squeeze in 1 to 2 workouts a week.

Split-routines are typically best for bodybuilders and fitness models and advanced lifters.

But combining the two into a routine you will enjoy (and actually look forward to doing!) is the best solution for most people. Varying your routine will keep you interested and prevent you from hitting plateaus.

At True Body Fitness, we help our female clients lose weight, improve movement, and become stronger through workout routines that incorporate variety. If you’re ready for a stronger, healthier body, give us a call at 714-665-8548, or contact us online.

Can You Do a Full-Body Workout Three Times a Week?

Get the Basics…

  • The theory behind the full-body workout is to make better use of that time by exercising all of your muscle groups in a single session.
  • A full-body workout puts tremendous strain on the muscles because the focus is on short bursts of very intense exercise.
  • The theory behind the full-body workout is to make better use of that time by exercising all of your muscle groups in a single session.

The full-body workout is becoming more and more popular among bodybuilders. The question is: can you do a full-body workout three times a week?

The short answer to the question is a simple “yes.”

However, nothing is as simple as it sounds.

Whether or not you should do a full-body workout 3 times a week depends on your overall health, your training goals, and your tendency to also do cardio workouts.

All these things must be considered to determine if you can, or even should, do a full-body workout 3 times a week. To manage your workouts better, sign up for a PRO account today!

Table of Contents

What’s the Point of the Full-Body Workout?

Regardless of whether or not you do a full-body workout three times a week, the point of this type of workout is to maximize the amount of time you have to devote to exercise and bodybuilding.

With the traditional method of weight training, you must invest an awful lot of time over months and months to achieve the best results. The theory behind the full-body workout is to make better use of that time by exercising all of your muscle groups in a single session.

Engaging in a full-body workout doesn’t mean you’ll be extending a one-hour session into two or three hours.

Rather, your one-hour time will remain the same while you do more intense and focused exercises at fewer reps.

The key to a successful full-body workout is to use combination exercises whose movements engage all of the body parts. These types of combination exercises get all of your muscles pumping which results in a better overall workout.

Can I Do a Full-Body Workout Three Times a Week and Still Be Safe?

The safety issues involved in a full-body workout are the one area where the experts disagree. This type of workout is difficult to do three times a week or more, especially for those new to weight training or not in shape.

A full-body workout puts tremendous strain on the muscles because the focus is on short bursts of very intense exercise. It also puts a fair amount of stress on ligaments and tendons as well. While doing a full-body workout 3 times a week certainly is possible, many experts recommend you exercise caution in doing so.

Some believe that a better approach is to do the full-body workout only twice a week while engaging in less strenuous workouts the alternating three days. This provides more than adequate exercise and still allows two days of rest.

While there is no scientific evidence to prove this is a better method, proponents argue that this type of workout program greatly reduces the risk of injury and stagnation.

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Can I Combine a Full-Body Workout With a Cardio Workout?

You can combine both cardio and full-body workouts, and in fact, it’s even recommended. But resist the temptation to engage in a full-body workout three times a week along with intense cardio training 5 days a week. Doing so results in overtraining, which impairs the body’s ability to rebuild muscle during rest periods. At the very least, athletes who overtrain will reach a point of stagnation; at worst they may even digress.

What many athletes fail to realize is that rest is just as important to bodybuilding and weight loss as exercise, supplements, and nutrition are. As you work your muscles and cardiovascular system, you “damage” the body’s tissues to a certain extent. Your body needs sufficient rest time to rebuild those damaged tissues and make you stronger.

Without sufficient rest, your body will reach a point where it can no longer effectively rebuild tissue. Knowing this, it would seem that the best combination of cardio and full-body workouts tends to lean toward the 2/3 approach — two days of full-body workout and three days of cardio.

The jury is still out on the long-term effectiveness and safety of a full-body workout three or more times a week. As always, use common sense and consult your doctor and personal trainer before beginning this type of exercise. And even with their blessing, if a full-body workout doesn’t produce results for you, don’t be afraid to abandon it in favor something else.

Ultimately, you must find a workout program that you enjoy and that helps you reach your goals. Our PRO Plan can do just that! With workout logs, workout builders, and workout templates, exercisers are able to manage their workouts on the go so that they can achieve optimal levels of fitness. Sign up for a PRO account today!

The “One Lift a Day” Program

The Anti-Fitness Magazine Workout

When I was a teenager, I turned from comic books to “men’s magazines.” Not just the notable one with Hugh Hefner at the helm either; I also began to thumb through fitness magazines. At the time, there was Strength and Health, the old (and always bizarre) Ironman and an assortment of pure bodybuilding rags.

In the last decade or so, a whole new fitness genre has appeared, as well as men’s magazines with “attitude,” which usually means one paragraph of writing for every three near nude women holding a chainsaw. Call them “Strength Lite,” if you will.

I admit these magazines are the best airline flight reading I’ve ever found. Turn one page and you have thirty bulleted items detailing everything from quick fixes for spills to how to care for a pet. But what caught my eye recently was a very interesting article about casual wear for men…written by women. It wasn’t the suggestions that stopped me, it was something else:

  • Shirt: $245
  • Pants: ”Flat front and sexy,” $210
  • Belt: $105
  • Socks: $29
  • Shoes: $285

This is casual wear? I buy my socks in bags that have six pair, my suits cost as much as this guy’s shirt and I’m not sure I’ve ever bought a belt…don’t they come with pants?

After flipping a few more pages, I found the “Training Program of the Month.” Forget squats, rows and presses. This article is all about Reverse Grip Rubber Ball Axe Twists combined with Hungarian Cross Leaps. I have no idea what these exercises are in the real world, but the guy modeling them seemed to be getting a workout.

I don’t think I’ll ever make a living selling exercise programs. Why? Because the single finest training system I’ve ever used continues to be the only training program I can recommend. The problem? Well, the problem with this training program is: it’s really hard. No, really.

It’s really hard, but really simple. Still, a fitness magazine would never run it because the average reader would never even try it. Will you? We’re about to find out.

One Workout, One Lift

I call it the “One Lift a Day” program. Its roots are in the dim past of Olympic lifting, but it cuts past all the BS of modern training. It’s so simple that it can easily be overlooked. It cuts gym time, but increases recovery time. It also may cause you to miss work.

First, let’s discuss why anyone who tries this is going to hate it. I’d bring this up later, but there are some subtle and not so subtle issues regarding the One Lift a Day program. The biggest issue for most people trying this for the first time is hard to fathom: you don’t get to spend a lot of time in the gym…because you can’t spend a lot of time in the gym.

The other issue is closely related: since you’re only doing one exercise, you can’t slip away from squats to the leg extension machine to convince yourself that you’re working your legs. If you’re only doing squats, you do squats. If you’re only doing chins, you’re going to chin for 45 minutes!

Doing “just chin-ups” might have sounded like a grand idea in the car on the way to the gym, but I guarantee that you’ll be looking around after about five sets for the “relief” that changing exercises brings to the body and the mind. On the One Lift a Day program, you just aren’t going to get that relief.

The biggest problem is that there are no excuses. If you choose to do squats, it’s a squat day. There’s no place to hide in this program. You can’t convince yourself that you had a good day because you did 41 different lifts or a lot of volume or you did a lot of abs after blowing off the stuff you hate.

It’s as simple as this: you pick one lift each day and do it for the entire workout. The first advantage, obviously, is the simplicity: you don’t have to bring in a computerized printout of all the exercises, seat positions, alignments, tempos and order of lifts. You do one lift for an entire workout. It sounds easy, doesn’t it? Yeah, it can be deceptive that way.

Reps and Sets

Before considering exercise choices, let’s look at approaches to reps and sets. One thing that may help when attempting the One Lift a Day program is to look at the training week a little more “globally” than most trainers view a typical month or week. One idea is to cut volume by half each successive week simply by changing reps and sets:

Week One: 7 sets of 5

This is a tough workout for any lift, but when doing “big” lifts like squats, benches, deadlifts, presses, snatches or cleans, it can become very exhausting. Through a little trial and error, I discovered that a simple “wave” with the weight selection made for a better result:

  • Set 1: 225 for five
  • Set 2: 245 for five
  • Set 3: 265 for five
  • Set 4: 275 for five (getting tired, tough lift, might not be able to get another set)
  • Set 5: 235 for five (nice refreshing drop in intensity)
  • Set 6: 255 for five (nice, challenging set…but not hellish)
  • Set 7: Either 275 or 285, depending on spotters and energy

Another idea which works well for bench presses (if you have great spotters) and squats (even better spotters) is to use max weights. Lower the bar on your own, but have your spotters help you through the lifting to insure a smooth rep. After finishing the five reps, rack the bar and perform eight to ten quick jumps for height (if squatting) or eight to ten explosive push-ups (if benching).

This is the workout that’s caused more days lost from work or school than any workout I’ve ever recommended. Seven sets of five max squats followed by jumps seems to burn every fiber of the legs. My athletes, in some cases, literally can’t get out of bed the next day.

I know of only two athletes who’ve ever done the “seven sets of five” with jumps and made it to work or school the next day. But, as I tell them, “One day you’ll thank me. Today is not that day.”

Week Two: 6 sets of 3

At 18 reps, this week is basically 50% of the volume of Week One (35 reps versus 18). Repeat the exact same weekly format of week one, but try to go a little heavier. After the volume of Week One, Week Two seems rather easy… on paper.

Week Three: 5-3-2

This may be my favorite sets and reps selection. Basically, we’re considering the double as a max. I learned, like many coaches, that all athletes lie about max singles, but seldom do we find “fuzzy logic” with doubles. One thing you can generally count on is that whatever someone can do for a double, they can usually do for a single.

Trust me, athletes and coaches lie all the time about maxes. Go to any college football locker room in America and ask for numbers. Recently a college football player claimed a 540 clean as a max. The American record in the clean and jerk is 517.

Week Four: Off!

On paper, the first three weeks look so easy. When you look at this week, many people scoff at the idea. “A week off! I scoff at thee!” Try the One Lift a Day idea, then get back to me. If the week off sounds wrong, I’m willing to bet you didn’t push the big exercises!

Exercise Selection

Exercise selection should match your goals. It should also match your life. If you like to hit the bars or go dancing on the weekends, slide those squats away from Thursday or Friday. You literally won’t be able to move from one leg to the other. Come to think of it, that’s how I dance anyway.

For a powerlifter or someone who uses a “power bodybuilding” approach, this One Lift a Day program would be perfect. Consider a weekly approach like this:

  • Monday: Bench Press or Incline Bench Press
  • Tuesday: Row or Row Variation
  • Wednesday: Squat
  • Thursday: Off
  • Friday: Military Press
  • Saturday: Curl, Deadlift, Whatever

I can hear some of you already: “What about abs? What about serratus?” Trust me, a forty-five minute workout of Military Presses will work the abdominal muscles as well as any machine advertised on late night television.

A Few Things to Think About

The One Lift a Day Program is really hard. Certainly, it’s the most productive program most people have ever tried, but it’s simply too hard. It isn’t fun, except for your buddies who laugh at you as you try to walk after the squats. You probably won’t even complete the whole month. (Is that a double dog dare? Yeah, I think it is.)

Interested in trying it? Think about a few things:

  1. Big weights, short workouts. It’s hard to go heavy for a long workout. If you don’t believe me, enter a strongman contest or a Highland games.
  2. If the whole idea sounds crazy, just try an occasional “One Lift Only” day. It certainly breaks the mold of what most trainers do and is actually fun.
  3. One Lift a Day might open up a new training paradigm for many lifters: core exercises are core and assistance exercise assist! In the past decade, many trainers have forgotten this basic truth.
  4. The worst thing that can happen from squatting once a week is that your thighs might outgrow that $210 pair of pants that are “flat front and sexy.”

You’ve been warned.

The 1 Lift a Day Program – Staying strong with just one exercise per workout

Lately I’ve run into a problem that, judging from the number of emails I get about it, a lot of riders run into this time of year. While we know that we need to work out, right now the trails are calling and all we want to do is ride our bikes. The time and energy to devote to a full blown strength training program just isn’t there, which means that we need something to help us maintain our strength and fitness while allowing us to get out on the trail every chance we get.

You have to focus on the exercises that will, rep for rep, will deliver the most results.

The solution to this common problem is the 1 Lift a Day Program. I first read about the 1 Lift a Day Program from Dan John, who is one of the brighter minds in the strength coaching profession. Dan is one of the best at “de-mystifying” the science behind getting stronger and creating simple workouts that leave you wondering why you never thought of that before.

With his 1 Lift a Day concept he boils down training to its most basic element – doing only 1 exercise when you train.

While Dan likes to apply this approach for strength building purposes, I really like to use it as an “in-season” workout. I do this by limiting the workouts to 15 minutes or less and, like Dan also suggests, I don’t go anywhere near failure. This approach accomplished two things…

First, it saves a lot of time. Since you are only working out for 15 minutes (or less) it is much easier to fit the workouts into your schedule. Worst case scenario is that you get up 15 minutes earlier or stay up 15 minutes later – either way, if you can’t find 15 minutes to devote to your overall strength and wellbeing, I don’t know what to say.

Second, since you can only do one exercise at each workout you have to choose very wisely. You don’t get to add in exercises just because you liked them or saw them on the internet the day before – you have to focus on the exercises that will, rep for rep, will deliver the most results.

Here are the guidelines I use for this version of the 1 Lift a Day Program…

– Pick out an upper body, lower body and explosive exercise. Here are some of my favorites:

Upper Body: Chin Up/ Pull Up/ Single Arm Floor Press/ Single Arm Shoulder Press/ Handstand Push Ups/ KB Clean & Press

Lower Body: Pistol Squat/ KB Front Squat/ Deadlift/ Single Leg Deadlift/

Explosive: KB Swing (any variation)/ KB Snatch/ Single Arm Push Press/ Close Grip Snatch/ DB Snatch

– Do 24 total reps for the Upper Body and Lower Body exercises. This can be accomplished through any set and rep scheme you like and I suggest varying them up each week. For example, I might do 8X3, 4X6, 6X4 and then 3X8 over the course of 4 weeks.

– Do 50-75 total swings or 15-20 total reps of any other explosive lift. Do no more than 10 swings in any set or 5 reps of another explosive lift. Even these suggestions are rough guidelines as you want to focus on your speed and execution. It is very easy turn “explosive” lifts into “going through the motions” lifts and you want to avoid this pitfall.

– Use a weight that you could easily get 2-3 more reps than your target number. Feel free to adjust up or down as needed throughout the workout to accomplish this intended intensity range. Your goal is to literally walk away feeling a bit better or more energized than when you started.

– Rotate through the 3 exercises you have chosen each time you train. Try to get at least 3 workouts in each week, although 2 is better than nothing. After doing each exercise 4-6 times change the exercises you have chosen or move to a more involved program if you have the time.

– Limit yourself to 15 minutes. Even with all of these guidelines it can be easy to let time slip away from you so set an alarm for 15 minutes and when it goes off you are done with your workout. If you get down early then fine, just try to avoid going much longer as that starts to defeat the purpose of this approach to the program.

Now that you have the guidelines I’ll show you a sample workout:

Upper Body Exercise: Single Arm Clean & Press

Lower Body Exercise: KB Front Squat

Explosive Exercise: Single Arm Kettlebell Snatch

Week 1: Sets X Reps

Monday – Upper Body Exercise: Single Arm Clean & Press 3 X 8

Wednesday – Lower Body Exercise: KB Front Squat 3 X 8

Friday – Explosive Exercise: Single Arm Kettlebell Snatch 5 X 5

Week 2:

Monday – Single Arm Clean & Press 4 X 6

Wednesday – KB Front Squat 4 X 6

Friday – Single Arm Kettlebell Snatch 6 X 3

Week 3:

Monday – Single Arm Clean & Press 6 X 4

Wednesday – KB Front Squat 6 X 4

Friday – Single Arm Kettlebell Snatch 3 X 7

Week 4:

Monday – Single Arm Clean & Press 8 X 3

Wednesday – KB Front Squat 8 X 3

Friday – Single Arm Kettlebell Snatch 6 X 4

After completing Week 4 I would either switch the exercises around and start over at Week 1 or I’d move to something like the Ultimate MTB Workout Program ( or MTB DB Combos Program ( Remember that this minimalist approach to training will help you maintain your strength levels but it won’t do much to improve them – you still need to devote some focused times and energy at some point if you hope to significantly improve your strength and conditioning.

Some of you may also notice that there isn’t much for cardio in this workout and that is by design. If you are crunched for time because of all the riding you are doing then your riding is your cardio. Your focus has to be on the other stuff you need, like strength and power.

You may also notice that there isn’t a “warm up” either. You can either do a quick 5 minute mobility drill or, better yet, devote some time each day to mobility work and you won’t need to do a warm up. Since the intensity level of the workout if pretty low, if you have good basic mobility and do some mobility work on a regular basis you can jump right into the workout, otherwise do a little warm up before your workouts.

Next time you find yourself really short on time and don’t think you can get a workout in use this version of the 1 Lift a Day Program. It will help you stay strong and maintain your movement efficiency, combating the weakening effects and postural changes that come with spending hours in on the bike. This means that you won’t have to spend as much time in the off season getting back to where you were in the first place, meaning that you can start actually improving for next season sooner.

-James Wilson-

Here’s the thing about leg workouts: When you’re moving, the majority of the time, it’s going to incorporate your legs. Maybe even every day! And how you train depends entirely on your goals, your current fitness level, your ability to recover between workouts, and how long you can realistically spend in the gym each day and week, says Kristy Zurmuhlen, C.S.C.S., a trainer at Soho Strength Lab in New York City.

That said, whether your goal is long, lean legs or super-muscular ones, you’re going to want to be lifting weights. Running alone won’t necessarily do the trick. That’s because “traditional cardio is training -fiber types and energy systems,” says Zurmuhlen. “It gives you a good base level of conditioning that will help support recovery and general fitness.” But to gain strength and muscle, “you need to focus on the main mechanism of muscle hypertrophy, which is the mechanical tension and stress we create from lifting weights.”

Related: The 3 Moves You Should Be Doing Before Every Strength Workout To Build More Muscle

Zurmuhlen typically trains her own clients by targeting legs—meaning primary movers like the glutes, hamstrings, and quads—two to three times per week, either as part of a full-body workout, or part of a four-day upper and lower body split, where they focus on the lower body two times a week and the upper body two times a week. “I like to leave two days between leg workouts to ensure that my clients are recovering properly and not overtraining,” she adds.

When it comes to the lower body, movement patterns are either hip-dominant or quad-dominant, Zurmuhlen explains, and they’ll each affect your body in different ways. “If the exercise is a hip-dominant movement pattern, like deadlift variations, it will require a greater contribution from the posterior chain, lighting up the hamstrings and glutes,” she says. “Quad-dominant movement patterns like squat variation will require more work from the quads than the glutes and hamstrings.” It’s important to make sure you’re doing both types of movements for a well-balanced lower-body workout.

Related: ‘I Completely Transformed My Body Without Losing A Single Pound—Here’s How’

“A typical lower body-focused training day for me will include a squat or deadlift variation followed by single-leg work and accessory core work,” says Zurmuhlen. Squats and deadlift variations—big, compound movements—maximize mechanical tension across multiple muscle groups, which is key for getting stronger and building lean muscle. Accessory work targets weakness and imbalances that could inhibit larger movements.

Check out these 20 leg moves you can do literally anywhere:

Here’s how Zurmuhlen would break down two leg workouts for the week:


1A Compound hip-dominant movement: deadliftvariation (conventional, sumo, or trap-bar deadlifts)
1B Mobility or posture correctives (like thoracic spine mobilization)

2A Quad-dominant accessory exercise (goblet squat, kettlebell squat variations, plate-loaded front squat)
2B Unilateral hip-dominant accessory exercise (single-leg supine glute bridges, single-leg off-bench hip thrusts, single-leg deadlifts)

3A Loaded carry variation
3B Anti-extension core exercise (reverse crunches, roll-outs, plank variations)


1A Compound quad-dominant movement: squat variation (barbell squats, front squats, goblet squats)
1B Mobility work or posture correctives (like dead bugs)

2A Hip-dominant accessory exercise (hip thrusts, Romanian deadlift variations, kettlebell deadlift variations, leg curls on gliders)
2B Unilateral quad-dominant accessory exercise (step-ups, lunge variations, split squats, Bulgarian split squats)

3A Loaded carry variation
3B Anti-rotation core exercise (Pallof Press variations, cable chops/lifts—you can use a resistance band if you don’t have access to cables)

Related: These Are The 4 Best Leg Exercises For People Who Want To See Serious Results

Zurmuhlen also swears by these three leg exercises in particular:

Jennifer Peña/Jen Ator

Dumbbell Deadlift

“Dumbbell deadlift variations are great for posterior-chain accessory work, and for learning how to hinge properly before moving onto traditional deadlifting with the barbell or trap bar.”

How to: Hold a dumbbell in each hand at arm’s length in front of hips. With knees slightly bent, hinge at hips to lower weight to the floor. Keeping back straight, squeeze glutes to thrust hips forward and return to start.

(For dozens of fat-blasting routines you can do at home, check out Salty Cat Workouts—the all-new site that features the world’s best video workouts for free!)

Jenn Pena/ Alyssa Zolna

Goblet Squat

“These are great for learning how to squat with good core activation and posture, and they can be very challenging if you load them up and work at different tempos,” says Zurmuhlen.

How to: Stand with feet hip-width apart and hold a dumbbell vertically in front of chest, elbows pointing toward the floor. Push hips back and bend knees to lower into a squat, elbows brushing the insides of knees. Push back to start. That’s one rep.

Emily Tiberio

Split Squats

“These are are a great bridge exercise before introducing true single-leg work. They can also be very challenging if you add weights.”

How to: Stand with legs staggered, left foot about two feet in front of right. Bend knees to lower body until left thigh is parallel and shin is perpendicular to the floor. Straighten legs to return to start.

Ashley Mateo Ashley Mateo is a writer, editor, and UESCA-certified running coach who has contributed to Runner’s World, Bicycling, Women’s Health, Health, Shape, Self, and more.

15 Laws Of Leg Training

If you were driving from San Diego to San Francisco, following a direct route straight up would get you there fastest, Southern California traffic notwithstanding. Sure, you could take alternate routes, checking out the gambling halls in Vegas, taking in the vistas of the Sierra Nevada mountain range and Yosemite, panning for gold in the foothills east of Sacramento, or even taking the meandering but scenic coastal route, but none of those routes are as direct, and they would add days to your travel.

Similarly, bodybuilders looking to add mass want a plan that leads to the fastest gains possible without extended delays. They don’t do just any workout; they follow ones that intuitively make the most sense for building size. They don’t avoid exercises that are hard; they select the best ones that can pack on mass. And they don’t pick just any weight; they choose their load based on what optimally builds size.

Like the traveler, if you want to gain muscle, it makes sense to choose the most direct route possible when you’re looking to gain muscle. There are certainly other less-direct paths you can take, but why be content with suboptimal results that require even more time to achieve?

Of course, getting there as fast as possible means giving nothing short of a hundred percent. You can follow the world’s greatest workout program loaded with the best mass-building exercises, but if you approach it with half-assed effort, you’ll get only half-assed results.

What are the key tips, techniques, exercises, and insiders’ advice when it comes to leg training? We sought the expertise of Australian pro bodybuilder Calum von Moger, 24, winner of the 2014 Mr. Universe and Team Cellucor athlete.

Here are the most critical tips you should heed on leg day. Check out the list below carefully, and incorporate the advice into your routine.

1. Attack Legs As A Weak Point

“I’m a firm believer that squats are ultimately the best exercise for making gains, as they’re a multijoint movement that utilizes all the musculature in the legs as well as the glutes,” says Calum.

Many recreational lifters suffer from CLS—Chicken Leg Syndrome—due in no small part to years of prioritizing chest and arms over their thighs. You can’t change what’s already done but, going forward, prioritizing legs is key.

If you’re afflicted with CLS, Calum recommends two important ways to help bring them up: “If legs are a weak point, I’d suggest training them twice a week, and making squats a priority in your workout,” he says.

2. Start With Squats. Period.

Building on the last tip, you simply have to squat. You may think that any leg exercise will build your thighs if you work hard enough, but that’s not the case.

As with any muscle group, choosing the most challenging movement and doing it first in your workout when your energy levels are high will pay the greatest dividends.

“I’m a firm believer that squats are ultimately the best exercise for making gains, as they’re a multijoint movement that utilizes all the musculature in the legs as well as the glutes,” says Calum. “I’ve always done them at the start of my workout, and I believe that’s the only way you can put in 100-percent effort.”

Squat variations—low-bar squats and front squats, in particular—are good alternatives that use slightly different muscle recruitment patterns and can be substituted on occasion for better overall strength and size development.

3. Go Deep

Besides never being seen in shorts, chicken-legged bodybuilders try to hide their lower-body weakness by loading up the squat bar—only to descend just a few inches. This attempt to hide their CLS fools no one, and the shortened range of motion also shortchanges their muscle gains.

“Full range of movement is best because it hits the whole muscle,” says Calum. “If you’re doing half reps, you’re not working the muscle completely. That being said, an effective way to completely exhaust the muscle is by doing partial reps after you complete all your full-range reps at the end of the set.”

Going deeper engages the glutes and hams to a greater degree than when you do shallow squats, whether you’re actually doing squats, leg presses, hack squats, or other multijoint deep knee-bend movements. If you’ve got good flexibility, go to a point to where your hips are lower than your knee joint.

4. Change Up Your Foot Position

You can use any number of foot positions and widths with leg exercises like squats, leg presses, and hack squats, but for the most power, opt for a stance in which your feet are about shoulder-width apart and your toes are angled slightly outward. As your quest for size progresses, you’ll want to add variety to your foot position.

“I’ll frequently change leg position so that I can target every angle of my legs,” says Calum. “I’ll do narrow-stance squats to hit the outer sweep of the quads, followed by a wider stance to target the adductors (inner thighs). I apply the same principle to leg presses and leg extensions.”

A word of caution: Don’t angle your toes inward or excessively outward on closed-chain movements (where your feet are pressed flat against the ground or a machine), to ensure you don’t cause damage to your knees.

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5. Use High And Low Foot Placements

Many leg machines—including leg presses, hack squats, and horizontal leg sleds—have platforms that allow you to use any number of foot positions. It turns out that where you place your feet—high or low—makes a difference in terms of muscle recruitment.

Essentially, lower foot placements target the quads to a greater degree, while higher foot placements target the glutes and hamstrings more effectively. That doesn’t mean you can isolate these muscles, but if you want to increase the muscular tension on a particular area, foot placement is one way to do so.

6. Implement The Most Underrated Exercise

Everyone knows squats are king, but what exercise is the most undervalued when it comes to leg day? According to Calum, it’s weighted split squats. “This exercise is a killer for developing the teardrops in your quads, yet not many people do them,” he says.

To do a split squat with dumbbells, start with one leg forward and the other back. Simply bend your knees and descend, then come back up again. Make sure your back knee doesn’t touch the floor and, for joint health, make sure the knee of your forward leg doesn’t extend past a vertical plane that comes directly up from your toes.

7. Focus On Your Quads

Leg day consists of a number of muscle groups—primarily quads, glutes, and hamstrings—but some exercises better target one region over another. Calum’s picks for movements that do a better job on the quads include leg extensions, squats, single-leg presses, hack squats, sissy squats, and front squats.

He’s also a big fan of using pre-exhaust with a single-joint exercise to start his leg workout, doing three working sets of leg extensions before he adds multijoint exercises.

8. Boost Your Training Intensity

The benefits of a good leg workout can be amplified when you add any number of intensity-boosting techniques to extend a given set and make your training harder. Besides pre-exhaust, in which you precede your heavy multijoint exercises with an isolation movement, Calum also favors these three intensity-boosting techniques:

  • Dropsets, in which you quickly reduce the weight by about 25 percent once you reach muscle failure, and continue on with your set. Calum prefers to do these after his working sets.
  • Partial reps, in which you do as many full-range reps as you can, then do a few more partials, either above or below your sticking point.
  • Reduced rest time to increase training intensity.

9. Split Your Leg Workout

Leg day consists of exercises for several muscle groups, as discussed above, and many of the exercises are among the most demanding movements you’ll do in any given week. Sometimes that makes training hamstrings an afterthought. Rather than trying to muster the energy to push through ham-specific movements, many bodybuilders simply opt to train their hammies on another day, often separated by at least 48 hours from their main quad session.

“I like to separate hamstrings from quads so that I can give each muscle group 100 percent,” says Calum. “Train quads first one day, and follow up with maybe one exercise of hammies at the end; 2-3 days later, train hamstrings first and finish with calves.”

10. Let Your Rep Range Drift Northward

Just about every exercise science text you’ll read recommends choosing a weight you can do for just 8-12 reps for muscle growth (hypertrophy). But when it comes to leg day, Calum says that going with slightly higher reps works best: “I find respond best to higher reps because it takes a while for the blood to get pumped down there and fill up the muscle,” he says.

Rather than reducing your working weight, strive to do more reps—up to 15—on your heaviest sets. This is an especially useful technique to try if your leg workout has gone stale and you’re not seeing results.

11. Avoid Locking Out

When you’re huffing and puffing toward the end of a fairly brutal set of squats or leg presses, it’s tempting to momentarily take a break and lock out your knees. When you lock out a joint, some of the stress shifts from the working muscles to the joint, which puts ligaments and tendons under considerable strain. It also reduces the tension on the target muscle (translation: less growth stimulus), providing momentary relief from the pent-up fatigue while allowing for a short “break” during the set.

For joint safety, it’s never a good idea to lock out a joint, especially when you’re training with heavy weights. Take each rep through a full range of motion for maximal benefit, but stop just short of lockout.

12. Stop Going By The Rules

When you reach a training plateau, it can feel like nothing will help you over the hump. That’s exactly when you need to start thinking outside the box. For Calum, that’s when he starts breaking all the training rules he normally applies, following a principle called muscle confusion.

“I don’t follow rules, I break them—that’s my secret,” he says. “Legs can be very stubborn; they expect you to follow the rules. So I like to surprise them by doing extra sets, reps, and different exercises than what I might have done the prior week. So long as you’re struggling to walk properly afterward, you know you’ve done enough.”

13. Hit Your Hammies From The Hip Joint

If your hamstring workout includes exercises like lying leg curls, standing leg curls, and seated leg curls, you’re still only halfway home. All those exercises initiate movement from the knee joint. However, the hamstrings attach at both the knees and hips. You can focus on the upper ham region by including movements in which action takes place at the hips. The best way to do so is by including Romanian deadlifts (RDLs) in your hamstring routine.

Not to be confused with the stiff-legged deadlift, which is more of a lower-back exercise, the RDL effectively targets the glute/ham tie-in. While it takes some time to master this particular movement—push your butt back, make sure to keep your back flat throughout, keep your knees bent, and don’t try to lower the weight all the way to the floor—it’s a great way to complement leg curls for more complete hamstring development.

14. Include Two Types Of Calve Movements

Calves are usually done last on leg day, and most lifters throw on an exercise or two before calling it a day. But it would be a mistake to assume that all calf exercises are alike. While most calf movements are done with straight (but not locked-out) legs, bent-knee calf exercises are different in one important way: the soleus takes on the brunt of the workload.

This is because the gastrocnemius (one of two major lower-leg muscles) attaches above the knee joint, making it unable to contract very strongly when the knee is bent. With straight-legged movements, both muscles are called into play. Hence, doing a straight-legged calf exercise (such as standing or donkey calf raises), in addition to seated calf raises (done last), most effectively targets these lower-leg muscles.

15. Tune Your Mind In First

How do you mentally prepare for a killer leg workout like the kind Calum does to build his thighs? Try taking Calum’s approach. “I normally start preparing the day before by eating up, so I’m full of carbs,” he says. “Then I go over the workout in my head while driving to the gym, take my scoops of C4 pre-workout, and listen to the latest podcast of Hidden Forest.”

Everyone has his or her personal preferences for getting amped for a good workout, but don’t expect to just show up and enjoy an incredible workout. Prep your mind so that it’s ready to take your muscles through a hardcore training session.

Are you sick and tired of looking in the mirror and seeing scrawny, chicken legs every time you don a pair of shorts?

Are you one of those guys who only wear sweatpants to the gym, especially on leg day?!

If you’ve noticed that the bottom half doesn’t necessarily match the top half of your body in terms of muscular development, chances are you’re not the only one either. Yes, those are twigs you see as your legs and you’ve neglected them for far too long. It’s time to grab the bull by the horns, and get serious about training them! That way you’ll never have to answer the question of do you even lift…?

Leg Day Excuses Abound!

We’ve seen it, heard it (and most likely said it) all…

  • “Squats just make me big and bulky…”

  • “Running and jogging are my leg workouts…”

  • “Squats are bad for my knees…”

There’s a famous saying that says that an excuse is a lullaby to soothe a guilty conscience. Enough with the excuses already! It’s time to conquer your fears, excuses, and phobias that are holding you back from some true gains.

Leg training isn’t fancy, frilly or sexy. It’s hard, and by that, I mean leg training is exhausting, gruelling, and sometimes nausea-inducing. However, the positive effects your body will experience from leg training – especially twice per week – will pay back ten-fold.

Why Train Legs… Let Alone Twice A Week?

There’s a TON of reasons why you should be training legs with hardcore mentality:

  • Gains, Gains, Gains! Legs account for over half of the body’s musculature. Hardcore and heavy leg training elicits a tremendous anabolic response by the body and can even increase testosterone production. This will lead to muscle growth increases not only in your legs but all over your body!

  • Improved Athleticism: Every strong structure in the world, whether it be an athlete, bodybuilder or skyscraper starts from the ground and goes up. If you want to run faster and jump higher, then you MUST prioritize leg training! The quads, glutes, and hamstrings are your power base and are the prime-movers of all sports. Look around, and you won’t find too many successful athletes that choose to skip leg day. Plus, at one point or another in an athlete’s career, an injury sidelines them and it becomes counterproductive to hit the two upper body days in a row. Workaround this issue by swapping in an extra leg day and build up that base.

  • Injury Recovery: Over the years of working out, injuries, strains, and muscle pulls are bound to happen. Frequently these occur in the top half of the body from lots of heavy pressing movements (and not enough pulling and leg movements)! When the top half is broken, work the bottom half. Just because you’ve torn a pec or rotator cuff from excessive pressing doesn’t give you an excuse to slouch on your workouts. There is an entire lower half of the body that is perfectly healthy and will stand to gain from the extra attention it will receive.

  • Weight Loss: Want to kick-start your metabolic furnace and set your fat burning engine into overdrive? Start hitting legs twice per week! Building on the first bullet point, lower body compound exercises are some of the most metabolically demanding and calorically “expensive” for your body to perform. Deadlifts, lunges, squats, Bulgarian split squats, and box jump crank up your metabolism and keep it running in the red (e.g. incinerating more calories and fat) in the hours following your workout.

  • Last, but not least… Aesthetics: Yes, it may seem superficial and shallow, but one of the reasons most guys first start working out is to get in shape and look better. Aesthetics is all about proportion – legs provide the very foundation for that aesthetically pleasing physique. Prioritize your leg training and the attention you receive from potential suitors will be vastly improved!

Training Splits

Hopefully, you’re convinced by now to put a little more dedication and time and into your leg training. But there’s one question left to answer…

How do I train them twice per week?!

Fortunately, there’s more than one way to skin this cat that enables you to hit your legs two times in the span of a week and not be in dire need of a wheelchair.

  • Heavy/Light Workout Days: If you want to start training legs with increased frequency, you’ve got to be smart about workout programming. No lifter can go heavy all the time. For the first leg day of the week, go HEAVY with the weights (3-5 reps per set) to build your strength. Then, on the second day, go a little lighter on the weights (8-12 reps per set) to focus on hypertrophy of those quads, glutes, and hammies.

  • Weights/Plyometrics: Whether you’re an athlete or not, you want your muscles to not only be capable of moving heavy weights and looking good, but you also want them to be functional. This is especially important if you are an athlete or weekend warrior! To accel on the field, you want to develop not only your strength, but also your speed, power, and agility. Do this by focusing the first leg workout of the week on resistance exercises (i.e. squats, lunges, split squats) and then the second workout on plyometric exercises that will improve sports performance (box jumps, depth jumps, agility/reaction drills). Combining these two training modalities ensure the gains made in the weight room translate to success on the field!

  • Quadricep/Hamstring Focus: A final way to obliterate those lower body muscles is to split your workout into the front half and back half. The first workout of the week will use exercises that emphasize the quads (muscles on the front of the legs), while the second workout of the week hits the back half of the leg (i.e. the hamstrings, glutes, and calves). This allows you to really keen in on those lagging muscles on your lower half and get after them instead of trying to hit everything in only one workout.

Time To Get Serious!

All guys want bulging biceps, round shoulders, and a chiselled chest, but eventually, you HAVE to work your legs! Guys dread LEG DAY for a reason.

It’s hard, gruelling, and more often than not the most beatdown you’ll feel after any workout. But stay the course and your rewards will be amazing! No longer will people ask, did you skip leg day?!

Instead, they’ll take one look and think you’re the second coming of QUADZILLA!

It is important to allow a muscle group 48 hours to recover after targeted weight lifting

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