Leg day. Whether you hate it, fear it, or love it, chances are it's for the same reasons: Leg training is exhausting, nauseating, and routinely tests your threshold for both strength and pain. It tested me so much so, that in my early days of training, I felt like certain parts of my leg workout inevitably got the short end of the stick.
For example, one day I would perform a brutal calf workout and kill my quads doing extensions and squats, and by the time I got around to hamstrings, my body had reached an overall point of exhaustion that severely hindered the amount of reps and weight I could use. Yes, the hamstrings were still worked during the squats, but they weren't getting nearly the same overall stimulation as my quads.
Sure enough, after my first couple of years of training, I noticed that my quads were developing more quickly than my hamstrings, since they were always getting the attention first. As this imbalance began to show up in my physique, I knew I needed to make a change. There simply had to be a better way to train legs!
A Sustainable Leg Program
I decided I would start alternating the focus of my leg day. One week, I would train quads followed by hamstrings, then calves; the next week, it would be hamstrings followed by quads, then calves. I stuck with this for a while, and it definitely helped even out the imbalance between my hamstrings and quads, but I noticed that my overall leg development was slowing. I still needed something more.
I decided to focus on bringing my hamstrings and calves up, which I tried to accomplish by splitting my leg training into two separate training days.
On the first leg day, I trained quads and calves, and on the second leg day, hamstrings and calves. This, I thought, would finally allow me to hammer my quads and hamstrings. Furthermore, it would allow me to train my calves twice every week.
This new split worked great, and I experienced excellent progress at first, but I quickly ran into another problem. Performing heavy squats or leg presses on quad day, and heavy stiff-legged deadlifts on hamstring day, week-in and week-out, began to take its toll. My muscles felt like they were recovering just fine, meaning the post-workout soreness was gone within a reasonable amount of time, but I began to feel much more tired and "blah" outside of the gym, and my joints and lower back started to feel achy.
After some research, I arrived at the conclusion that I was overly shocking my central nervous system (CNS), joints, and connective tissue by repeatedly performing hard and strenuous leg workouts every 2-3 days. The cumulative effect of heavy squats and stiff-legged deadlifts at near maximal effort began to produce counter-productive consequences.
Your CNS is responsible for firing nerve impulses into your skeletal muscle tissue, causing muscles to contract. The big "aha" moment for me was that my CNS needed recovery time, just like my individual body parts. Call it acute overtraining or whatever you want; my training program simply didn't leave room to overcome the immense stress I was placing on my body.
Armed with this knowledge, I set out to design a leg training cycle that would allow for maximum stimulation and growth, but still keep my CNS and body feeling fresh and recovered.
Think Outside the Week
The challenge was to find a way to do the hard-and-heavy lifting I love and know is effective, while spacing it out sufficiently to optimize recovery. From experience, I knew that I liked to devote equal energy to my quads and hamstrings, but also wanted to continue working my calves on both days. There simply didn't seem to be enough room in a week for all I needed to get done.
Then I saw the answer. I needed to stop thinking purely in terms of a one-week schedule. I needed to give myself more time!
Hunter Labrada Squatting Over 600 Pounds!
I first identified which exercises were most strenuous on the quads and hamstrings: back squats and stiff-legged deadlifts. From there, I designed heavy leg workouts around those lifts. After designing these heavier workouts, I created complementary workouts that focused more on isolation exercises, allowing for lighter weights and higher reps. This program gave my CNS, connective tissue, and joints the chance to recover, while still providing enough stimulation to promote muscle growth.
Then I spread the four sessions across two weeks, not just one. Here's how the resulting cycle looks in action:
Two Weeks And Beyond
The first thing you'll notice about this leg program is that it's only two weeks long, in contrast to many 8-12 week workout programs you see. The reason for this is that most, if not all, leg programs have separate loading, peak, and deloading phases.
While these phases are great for programs focusing on strength development, I feel there is a lot of unproductive time built into them from a bodybuilding perspective. During the loading and deloading phases of conventional programs, workouts are performed at intensity levels that are nowhere near full capacity. That's because they aim to condition your body for heavier weights. Then, after your heavy phase, you need even more transition time as you move back to the normal workouts.
My two-week leg cycle is not designed primarily for strength development, although you will get stronger. It's designed to emphasize muscle mass development in the shortest amount of time possible. It's a compressed training cycle that will optimize intensity and recovery, week-in and week-out, so you can make consistent gains.
While you no longer subject yourself to a brutal once-per-week marathon leg day, you still get all of the benefits of that type of split. If you line up these four workouts alongside two normal leg days, you'll see that you actually do much more work using this split.
Using this exact protocol, I have gained another 3 inches on my legs in a relatively short time period, stretching the tape measure to more than 29 inches cold!
Recovery Still Matters
Just because my program allows for more time to recover doesn't mean you can ignore the other important elements in workout recovery. This is still hard work, and as such, it still demands a balanced whole-food diet and comprehensive recovery supplementation—particularly in the form of a post-workout shake that includes whey protein isolate and fast-acting carbohydrates.
I also include BCAAs and glutamine as part of my daily supplement protocol. These crucial amino acids complement my diet and help promote maximum recovery. For even more specifics, check out what performance nutrition looks like for me in my previous article.
It's also paramount that you keep your legs active and that you proactively help them recover. Anything that can increase blood flow, such as stretching, rolling out with a foam roller, massage, and light cardio like riding a stationary bike can help with recovery. Remember, fresh blood flow helps remove waste products built up during exercise. If my legs get sore, I'll additionally reduce the inflammation by using ice baths or cold compresses for 15 minutes once or twice per day.
Try incorporating my two-day leg split into your current program, and I'm sure you'll not only notice tremendous progress in your lower-body development, but chances are you'll also enjoy better training sessions for other body parts, too. Your body will be fresh and more recovered from not having to endure the weekly leg apocalypse.
Let me know how my leg program works out for you or any questions you have. I'd love to hear from you!
- Name: Hunter Labrada
- Age: 21
- Height: 5'9"
- Weight: 235 lbs
- Education: Texas A&M University
- Sponsor: Labrada Nutrition Athlete
- Location: College Station, TX