For some people, leg day is a glorious hour of lower-body bashing. For others, the mere mention of the words can be so stressful they break out in a cold sweat. I'm usually camped with the pro-leg-day folks. I mean, who doesn't love a grueling leg session?

I'm busy and travel a lot, so I don't always have time for those extreme leg sessions I love so much. I've been missing them recently, so I wanted to come up with a workout that would push my legs to their absolute limits. The idea for one crept up on me like that tingling sensation from a good pre-workout: "Cardio Quads!"

Don't worry leg-day fanatics—this is definitely a workout that your quads will never forget. However, the sheer volume and fast pace of this workout will push your cardiovascular system as hard as it does your legs. This workout contains only two exercises and takes less than an hour, but I promise you it's one of the most brutal workouts you'll ever do.

The Prescription

Before you do this workout, make sure you've eaten; you're going to need the fuel. Of course, also make sure you give yourself an hour or so to digest before you start, or else you could be in danger of that meal revisiting you!

This entire 40-minute session consists of two exercises: barbell squats and leg presses. The idea is to perform each exercise in sets of 10 for a full 20 minutes. When you finish each set of 10, switch off with your training partner—or just take a quick break—to give yourself a short but necessary breather.

Obviously, you will need to use a lighter load here than your usual squatting weight. I use about 50 percent of my max. The point is to get through as many sets as you can in the 20-minute time frame, so choose the weight wisely. Use your brain, not your ego.

All in all, you're looking at about 40-50 sets in about 40 minutes. If that's not cardio, I don't know what is!

In order to get the most out of this workout, however, it's important that you really limit the amount of rest you get. That's why it's helpful to do this workout with a partner. You rest only when your partner is working. Once he or she is done, get back under the weight and start pumping out reps.

If you want to make this workout even more difficult, you can increase the weight, the time, or the number of reps per set. For example, this workout could be (more) murderous at 15 reps instead of 10, or for 30 minutes instead of 20. If you're new to high-volume, high-intensity weight training, however, I suggest you start with just 10 minutes of each exercise, and move up from there.

Cardio Quads: Squat

Before you start lifting, do a little bit of a warm-up. Spend 5-10 minutes doing some dynamic movements so your muscles and joints are prepared for the beating they're about to take!

Once you've completed your warm-up, call dibs on the squat rack in the gym, because you're going to be there for a while! Load the plates and move the bar to the right height before you start your training timer. Don't waste any time making adjustments once the workout starts.

In the video, I placed small plates beneath my heels. I personally struggle to keep my heels on the ground when I squat to depth, so adding these plates helps me squat to greater depth and achieve a greater range of motion. My partner, on the other hand, doesn't need them.

If you need to use plates, place them so they're easily reachable when you have weight on your back, and make sure they're not in your partner's way.

Set your timer so it counts down from 20 minutes, take a deep breath, and get started. As you fatigue, your form may get a little ugly. Don't sacrifice your safety just for the sake of the weight. Aim to complete 20-25 solid sets!

Cardio Quads: Leg Press

Feeling a little fried? After 20 minutes of squats, I wouldn't expect anything less. You can't stop now, though! You still have to make it through 20 minutes of leg press.

The only rest you should have between exercises is the time it takes you to get a sip of water, walk over to the leg-press machine, and set it up. Your quads and lungs might be on fire, but that doesn't mean you get to take a 20-minute break.

Just like you did for the squats, set a manageable weight for each person to do their sets of 10 reps. Don't make it so light that those 10 reps aren't challenging, but don't throw on so many plates you start to struggle after just a couple reps.

Because the leg-press sets will go a little faster than your squats, you and your partner should be able to complete 25-30 sets each.

Cardio Quads Workout
Note: Minimal rest between sets.
Barbell Squat
As many sets of 10 reps as possible in 20 min.
1 set, 10 reps
+ 2 more exercises


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Cardio Quads: The Aftermath

Once you're done with this 40-minute leg demolition, go eat! Because you've been working so hard and with so much intensity, all the cells in your body need nourishment.

Make sure you give your body carbs and protein after a workout like this. The carbohydrates will help refill low glycogen levels, and the protein will help your muscles repair from the damage you've just inflicted on them.

If you complete this workout, let me know how you did in the comments section below! I want to hear if you puked, rallied, or somehow got through it unscathed. (If you did, by the way, then I simply challenge you to work harder!)

About the Author

Contributing Writer

Jamie Alderton’s authors consist of accredited coaches, doctors, dietitians and athletes across the world.

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