No one likes legs day. And for good reason. Most of your muscle is located below the belt, which means to work your lower-body, you need to go hard; more weight, more effort, more pain. Not to mention the next day’s troubles with stairs. So no surprise some men skip their legs entirely, content to hammer only the areas that look good in the mirror.
That’s an error. And not just because Johnny Bravo should be no man’s style icon. Where there’s more muscle, there’s more power – ignore your legs and every other lift suffers, from shoulder press to bench.
On a more superficial level, it’s also good for your look – bigger legs make your waist seem narrower and mean you can dabble in this season’s short-shorts trend without people worrying about your health. All of which is good news.
The bad news? Your legs are big. To work them properly, you can’t just tack a few lunges onto the end of arms day. “You should train your lower body at least twice a week to really see progress,” says Luke Worthington, head trainer at luxury London gym chain Third Space. One session should focus on ‘knee-dominant exercises’; the other, ‘hip-dominant moves’.
In layman’s terms, knee-focused exercises hit the muscles on the front of your legs (i.e. your quads); hip moves the back (your glutes and hamstrings). That means squat variations day one, deadlifts for day two. But variation is the key to shorts-ready pins. “You need single-leg training to avoid imbalances,” says Worthington. By hitting each side individually, your dominant leg can’t make up for weaknesses on the other side. Which means you won’t end up with one tree trunk, and one sapling.
The Look Good In Shorts Legs Regime
Two sessions a week is all it takes to build thighs worth showcasing. Depending on your level, pick one exercise from each category, then perform in order – start with your big lift, then single leg, then your finisher.
Try to complete four sets of each exercise – 6-8 reps on the heavy exercises, then 10-12 reps for single-leg moves and finishers.
Beginner: Goblet Squat
Grab a kettlebell and hold it with both hands in front of your chest. Sink down into a squat, keeping your chest up and weight on your heels. Drive back to standing and repeat.
Intermediate: Barbell Front Squat
Stand with a barbell racked across your chest – fingers under the bar and shoulders back, so the weight is across your pecs. Push your hips back to sink into a squat, keeping your weight on your heels and abs braced. Pause, then drive back up to standing.
Expert: Barbell Back Squat
Stand with a barbell racked across your shoulders – pinch your shoulder blades back so the weight isn’t on your neck. Push your hips back and squat, keeping your weight on your heels. Pause, then drive back to standing.
Beginner: Dumbbell Split Squat
Stand holding a pair of dumbbells. Lunge forward with your right leg and sink until your left knee almost touches the floor. Drive back up, but don’t move your feet.
At the top, pause and sink back into the squat. After all your reps, switch legs.
Intermediate: Bulgarian Split Squat
Stand with your back to a bench and a barbell racked across your shoulders. Reach back with your left leg so your shoelaces are on the bench. Squat down, keeping your weight on your right heel, then drive back to standing. After all your reps, switch legs.
Expert: Walking Lunge
Stand holding a pair of dumbbells. Step forward into a lunge with your right leg, sinking until your left knee almost touches the ground. Drive up straight into another lunge, this time with your left foot forward. That’s one rep. Repeat.
Beginner: Knee Extension
Sit in the leg extension machine, shins beneath the pad. Grab the handles and tense your thighs to straighten your legs, pause, then slowly lower.
Intermediate: Leg Press
Sit in the leg press machine, feet flat on the base plate and legs bent at 90 degrees. Drive through your heels to straighten your legs, pause, then slowly lower.
Expert: Hack Squat
Stand with a barbell resting against your heels. Squat down to grab the bar, then drive up to standing through your heels – think of it as a deadlift with the bar behind your legs. Pause, then slowly lower.
Beginner: Hex Bar Deadlift
Stand inside a hex bar – that’s the barbell with a diamond at the centre and a handle at each side (if your gym doesn’t have one, try sumo deadlifts with a lower weight).
Squat down to grab the handles – keep your chest up – then drive through your heels to standing. Pause, and slowly lower.
Intermediate: Sumo Deadlift
Stand behind a barbell with your feet further than shoulder-width apart, toes point out at 45 degrees. Squat down to grab the barbell then drive up through your heels to standing. Pause, and slowly lower.
Expert: Barbell Deadlift
Stand behind a barbell, feet shoulder-width apart. Squat down to grab the bar, then drive up through your heels to standing. Pause, then slowly lower.
Beginner: Single-Leg Hip Thrust
Lie down with your shoulders on a bench, feet flat on the floor. Lift and straighten your left leg, then drive your hips up through your right heel, keeping your abs braced. Pause at the top, then slowly lower. Swap legs after all your reps.
Intermediate: Dumbbell Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift
Stand with two dumbbells on the floor in front of you. Lift your left foot slightly off the floor, then – keeping your right leg straight – pivot from your hips and bend down to grab the weight, so your left leg reaches out behind you.
Lift the weights off the floor to return to the start position, then repeat. After all your reps, swap legs.
Expert: Barbell Step-Up
Stand behind a box with a barbell racked across your shoulders. Step up with your right leg, then drive through your heel to bring your left leg to meet it. Pause, then step down, starting with your right leg. That’s one rep. After all your reps, swap legs.
Beginner: Leg Curl With Swiss Ball
Lie on your back with your heels on Swiss ball and straight line from head to toes. Drive your hips off the floor, bending your legs and rolling the ball towards you, finishing with your soles flat against it. Pause, then reverse.
Intermediate: Barbell Hip Thrust
Start with shoulders on a bench and your feet planted on the floor, to make a table position. Get a partner to rest a barbell directly over your hips (use a towel or folded mat to protect your important parts).
Slowly lower your hips down as far as you can comfortably go, then thrust back up to the starting position.
Advanced: Glute Ham Raise
Think of this as a reverse sit-up. Lie face down in the glute ham raise station, heels under the back pad, thighs against the front. Bend forward so your head almost touches the floor, then drive yourself back up to the starting position.