Lace up your sneaks and turn up your iPod. Today, you're hitting legs with Ashley Hoffmann. Don't let her long hair and pretty face lull you into complacency: This workout is brutal. Her goal is to push it so hard that walking out of the gym will be a struggle. Think you can keep up?
If you're ready for a challenge, or if you just need to add a challenging leg workout into your usual split, then you've come to the right page. You'll hit your hamstrings, glutes, and quads with tough exercises and a lot of volume. The goal of this workout is growth, so do each set and each rep with everything you have.
Enough chitchat. Let's get to the gym and kick some ass.
Warm-Up Stair Stepper
It's really important to warm up before you start training your legs. "I like to loosen up my joints and get the blood moving through my muscles," says Ashley. "I have bad knees and bad hip flexors, so it's important for me to mobilize so I don't hurt myself."
Exercise 1 Back Squat
Warm-up sets: 3 sets of 10 reps Working sets: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
Ashley starts light because she wants her muscles to go through the proper range of motion before adding weight. "I don't increase the weight too quickly because I don't want to hurt myself. So, work up slowly until you get to about 70 percent of your max weight," she advises.
"I like doing back squats because I can focus on my hamstrings, my glutes, and my quads. I've always had trouble growing my legs, so I like to put squats in my workout to achieve more muscle."
Exercise 2 Front Squat
Warm-up set: 1 set of 10 reps Working sets: 3 sets of 12-15 reps
Front squats are great for putting more emphasis on the quadriceps. Because the weight is at the front of your body, your knees will have to come forward more so your quads take over the movement. The tough part about front squats is that the form can be a little difficult to get right.
"For front squats, use your warm-up set to make sure your form is correct," says Ashley. "Keep your chest up, your back in neutral, and your core tight." A tight core is crucial because it keeps the weight from pulling you forward.
For depth, Ashley suggests going slightly lower than parallel.
Exercise 3 Single-Leg Extension
3 sets of 15- 20 reps, last set is a dropset of double-leg extension
Now that she's completed two compound movements, Ashley likes isolation work. "I really try to focus on squeezing my quads," says Ashley. Concentrating on the squeeze at the top of the movement can increase the amount of blood that gets to your muscles, which can help stimulate growth.
"You can point your toes in and out to hit the various heads of your quadriceps," explains Ashley.
"When you hit the double-leg extensions, keep the same form you used for the single-leg extensions. Squeeze at the top of each rep. It's going to be hard, but that's the whole point. You want to fatigue the muscles. Sit back in the chair, hold on to the handles, and hold your ass down."
Exercise 4 Walking Lunge
1 set of 30 steps with weight; Rest 10 seconds 1 set of 30 steps without weight; Rest 10 seconds 1 set of 30 steps with weight; Rest 10 seconds 1 set of 30 steps without weight
If your legs aren't burning yet, you'd better believe these lunges will do the trick. "Use a weight that you're comfortable with, but one that's also difficult," says Ashley. Although you don't want to overreach with your load, you want to make sure the weight you choose is challenging. Learn how to balance safety with intensity.
The short rest periods are going to make these sets feel really difficult. Push through it.
Exercise 5 Lying Leg Curl
Warm-up sets: 2-3 sets of 10 reps Working sets: 3 sets of 12-15 reps
You've done some great hamstring work already in this session, but it's always a good idea to hit them with a bit of isolation work. Lying leg curls provide just that. "Focus on contracting your hamstrings. Squeeze near your butt and lower the weight slowly," says Ashley.
Slowing down and going through the range of motion in a controlled manner will produce better results than speed lifting. Don't worry about how much weight you're using; worry about contracting your hamstrings.
Exercise 6 Stiff-Legged Deadlift
Warm up set: 1 set of 10 reps Working sets: 3 sets of 12-15 reps
This exercise is easy to get wrong. It isn't a conventional deadlift, and you're not trying to pull as much weight as you possibly can. "It's not about the weight," says Ashley. "You want to make sure you're feeling that stretch and contraction in your hamstrings."
Make sure you're using your hamstrings and hips to control this deadlift. If you're starting to bend your legs or use momentum to move the weight, the load is too heavy. "Concentrate on your form and feel that pull," Ashley says.