Building Better Legs: Leg Exercises for Strength Athletes

Build up your base with this sample plan for strength athletes from STACK expert Mitch Calvert.

If your sport requires you to have a great deal of strength, developing a strong base should be high on your priority list. Yet few athletes are able to train their legs the right way so their leg size matches their upper body. (See STACK's Guide to Lower Body Strength.) Leg exercises can be every bit as rewarding as a hard back or chest workout. For lasting results, all you have to do is change the way you approach leg training.

Most people don't neglect their leg training. They commit one day a week, like they do for other muscle groups. So why are they not seeing results? Usually, it's because they are loading up the barbell with more weight than they can handle, or doing sloppy half-reps that involve more lower back muscles than quadriceps or hamstrings—then calling it a day. (Other common Strength Myths Debunked.)

Change your methodology! TUT training, or "time under tension," should be your guide for leg exercises. To produce leg hypertrophy, each set should be no less than 60 seconds in length. Slow and controlled negatives, or three-second descents, will keep you in an ideal rep range (10 to 15) with heavy weight. Don't let momentum or your lower back take over. Feel your muscles work.

Don't be afraid to extend some sets to two minutes. Just know that the burn will be excruciating. Any variation of a leg press can work well for this; just have a partner peel off some weight along the way, and keep going until your legs can give no more.

Another obstacle facing many strength athletes is knee pain. What I've found is you can limit the pain by training the hamstrings first, followed by three or four light sets of leg extensions, before getting into Squats and heavier pressing movements.

Here is a sample leg workout to get you started the right way:

  • Seated Leg Curls: 4x10-15 (pyramiding up in weight)
  • Leg Extensions: 3x10-15 (light weight to get the blood flowing)
  • Squats: (Smith machine or barbell): 5x10-15 (pyramiding up in weight)
  • Leg Press: Drop set of 50/40/30/20 reps or 4x15-20 with heavy weight
  • Stiff Leg Deadlifts: 3-4x 12-15

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