Bodybuilding Leg Workout for Mass (7 Exercises)

As a bodybuilder, skipping leg day is not an option. Your legs are the foundation upon which your physique rests. A good bodybuilding leg workout is the most physically and mentally draining training day of the week, but the results are well worth it.

There is no doubt about it: leg workouts are challenging and take a lot out of you. Compound exercises like the squat work your entire body, leaving you drenched in sweat, out of breath, and in pain. It’s a good kind of pain, mind you, but it still requires a certain mindset to go all-out on leg day and force your legs into hypertrophy.

Broad shoulders, flaring lats, a relatively narrow waist, and large, sweeping leg muscles complete the “X” physique many bodybuilders desire. Without legs to match your upper body, you won’t be able to present the complete package required in today’s bodybuilding.

This article outlines an excellent workout for building massive quads and hamstrings. You can find the Bodybuilding Leg Workout in your StrengthLog app right now.

The Bodybuilding Leg Workout

You’ll do seven leg exercises for a total of 15 sets for your quadriceps muscles and 10 sets for your hamstrings. According to recent research, that number of weekly sets may optimize muscle growth.1 That means that you can incorporate this leg workout into the bodybuilding split of your choice.

>> The 10 Best Bodybuilding Splits: a Complete Guide

One session of the bodybuilding leg workout per week is enough training volume for great gains, but you could perform it twice weekly if your workout split calls for two legs days.

This is what the bodybuilding leg workout looks like:

  1. Leg Curl: 4 sets x 8 reps
  2. Squat: 5 sets x 6–12 reps
  3. Leg Press: 4 sets x 10 reps
  4. Bulgarian Split Squat: 3 sets x 10 reps
  5. Leg Extension: 3 sets x 12 reps
  6. Leg Curl: 3 sets x 8 reps
  7. Romanian Deadlift: 3 sets x 12

The bodybuilding leg workout is intended for intermediate to advanced bodybuilders who wants to add size and build muscle.

Let’s take a closer look at the exercises you’ll be doing in the bodybuilding leg workout. You can also find it in the StrengthLog app, which you can download for free using the buttons below:

Leg Curl

The first exercise of the bodybuilding leg workout is the leg curl. There are several benefits of starting with leg curls. 

You’ll pump blood into your hamstrings, making your squats feel more stable and likely more comfortable. Give it a try if you haven’t. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

If you look at the average bodybuilder, chances are they have underdeveloped hamstrings compared to quads. Many aspiring bodybuilders tack hamstring work at the end of the workout for a few half-hearted sets. Training a muscle group when you’re tired or exhausted is not the best way to stimulate muscle growth. Doing leg curls at the beginning of the training session ensures your hamstrings get the love they deserve.

Your two leg curl exercises of choice are the lying leg curl and the seated leg curl. Pick your favorite to kick off your workout. You’ll get back to hamstrings once you’re done with quads, so you’ll get the chance to do both. 

A recent study found that seated leg curls lead to greater muscle growth compared to leg curls.2 However, the sartorius muscle grew better from lying leg curls. The two leg curls variants attach your hamstrings slightly differently, so it might be best to include them both for optimal hamstring development.

After a couple of warm-up sets, perform four sets of eight reps. Keep your rest periods to around two minutes, and focus on proper form going from a full stretch to a maximal contraction. 

Lying Leg Curl exercise technique

Muscles Worked in Lying Leg Curls

Muscles worked in lying leg curls

How to Do Lying Leg Curls

  • Adjust the machine so that you are correctly positioned. Your knees should be in line with the machines joint.
  • Lift the weight by bending your knees as far as possible.
  • Slowly lower the weight again.

Alternative exercise:

Seated Leg Curl

Squat

The barbell squat is not only a competitive lift in powerlifting and the most popular exercise to improve athletic performance. It’s also one of the best leg exercises for building muscle in your lower body and a staple of many bodybuilding programs.

This is bodybuilding, not powerlifting, so make sure to keep constant tension in your muscles during the entire set. Contract your muscles at the top phase instead of resting. You maintain constant muscle tension throughout, improving your “mind-muscle connection” by focusing that tension on the targeted muscles.

Use a reasonably narrow foot placement and position the bar on or just slightly below your trapezius muscle. The high bar squat puts more emphasis on your quads and allows you to work them through a greater range of motion.

Because heavy back squats are very challenging, I suggest you take a three-minute breather between each set. Longer rest periods promote more significant muscle hypertrophy, so rest up between sets to perform your best.3

You’ll be using a pyramid training approach with the squats. Starting with relatively light weights prepares your body for the heavy weights in the final working sets. It might be a good idea to perform your squats in a squat rack with safety bars set up to catch the bar if you fail a rep.

After two or three warm-up sets, perform five working sets with a rep range of 6 to 12, increasing the weight you use set by set. You can see the exact set configuration in the StrengthLog app.

Barbell Squat Exercise

Muscles Worked in the Squat

Muscles worked in barbell squats

How to Squat with Proper Form

  1. Place the bar on your upper back. Inhale and brace your core slightly, and unrack the bar.
  2. Take two steps back, and adjust your foot position.
  3. Squat as deep as possible with good technique.
  4. With control, stop and reverse the movement, extending your hips and legs again.
  5. Exhale on the way up or exchange air in the top position.
  6. Inhale and repeat for reps.

Leg Press

Up next: the leg press. The leg press works the same muscle groups as the squat, but with slightly different emphasis. Because you use a leg press machine, you don’t have to think about stability and balance. Instead, you can focus entirely on moving the weight with your quads and gluteus maximus.

Many bodybuilders combine the compound lifts squats and leg presses to punish their legs further and add muscle mass. And that’s precisely what you’re doing in the bodybuilding leg workout.

The leg press allows you to use heavy loads compared to the squat, but you’re not in the gym to move as much weight as possible. You’re there to build bigger legs. Prioritize proper form and a full range of motion. You’ll limit the amount of weight you can handle, but it’s the best way to approach the leg press for muscle building purposes. At the same time, ensure you don’t overdo the range of motion to the point where you can’t keep your back against the seat at all times. Doing so could increase the risk of injury to your lower back.

Four sets of ten reps are plenty. If your leg press machine has safety pins or you have a spotter helping you, feel free to go close to muscular failure on the last set. Training to muscle failure can improve muscle growth in experienced lifters.4

>> Training to Failure: Implications for Recovery, Strength and Muscle Gains

However, it’s a demanding training technique that increases recovery time, so you should probably use it sparingly for best results.

I suggest keeping your rest intervals between two and three minutes. At this point, your heart rate will be elevated, and your legs will be burning. But we’re not done yet.

Leg Press exercise technique

Muscles Worked in Leg Press

Muscles worked in leg press

How to Leg Press

  • Adjust the machine so that you only need to extend your legs slightly to be able to release the weights. Adjust the safety pins so that they catch the weight if you are unable to lift it.
  • Place your feet on the sled, about shoulder width apart.
  • Inhale and lower the weight towards you by bending your legs.
  • Lower the weight as deep as possible without rounding you back, and while keeping your glutes on the seat.
  • Press the weight back up again as you exhale.

Bulgarian Split Squats

Now for something different: the Bulgarian split squat! Single-leg exercises like the Bulgarian split squat are terrific for improving coordination and correcting muscle imbalances. It is also one of the best leg exercises for building your lower body muscles, especially your quads, glutes, and adductors.

Bodybuilders and lifters love and hate Bulgarian split squats. They work your quads and glutes through an extended range of motion and torches virtually all muscle fibers in your legs. That’s a recipe for muscle growth! At the same time, they take a lot out of you. Still, no one said building great legs was easy.

Perform three sets of ten reps for each leg. Because you’re practically resting one leg half the time, you can keep the rest period between your sets to 90 seconds to two minutes.

Bulgarian split squat exercise technique bodybuilding leg workout

Muscles Worked in Bulgarian Split Squats

Muscles worked in bulgarian split squats

How to Do Bulgarian Split Squats

  • Stand with your back turned against a bench, which should be at about knee-height. Stand about one long step in front of the bench.
  • Place one foot on the bench behind you.
  • Inhale, look forward, and squat down with control until right before the knee of the back leg touches the floor.
  • Reverse the movement and extend your front leg again, while exhaling.
  • Inhale at the top and repeat for reps.

Alternative exercise:

Walking lunge

Dumbbell Lunge

Leg Extension

I know your quads are probably on fire by now, but we’re in the home stretch. It’s time for the finisher, leg extensions. Leg extensions are second to none when it comes to creating a massive pump in your leg musculature. In addition, they complement squats perfectly. Here’s why:

Your quadriceps consists of four different muscles:

  • Vastus lateralis
  • Vastus medialis
  • Rectus femoris
  • Vastus intermedius

The squat (and other squat variations) is an effective exercise for the first three of those muscles. However, according to recent research, the squat doesn’t seem to do much for your rectus femoris.5

rectus femoris leg workout
The rectus femoris muscle extends your leg at the knee.

Leg extensions, on the other hand, activate the rectus femoris to a higher degree and force it to grow.

Quadriceps growth from squats vs leg extensions

Squat-type exercises are the mass- and strength builders of your leg training, and by adding leg extensions, you lay the foundation for optimal quad development.

You’ll be doing three sets of 12 reps of leg extensions. Rest up to two minutes between sets. Keep the muscle tension throughout the entire movement by lowering the weight under control and contracting your quads at the top.

Leg Extension exercise technique bodybuilding leg workout

Muscles Worked in Leg Extensions

Muscles worked in leg extensions

How to Do Leg Extensions

  • Adjust the machine so that you are correctly positioned. Your knees should be in line with the machines joint.
  • Extend your knees with control, until they are completely straight.
  • Slowly lower the weight again.

Once you’re done, pat yourself on the back, because you finished the quadriceps part of the workout in style. However, just because you’ve completed the quad work doesn’t mean the workout is over. We have more hamstring work to do!

Legs Curls

Yes, it’s back to the leg curl! Your hamstrings should feel semi-rested by now, not having to do much during your quad workout. Let’s hammer out a few more sets to wake them up again. 

If you went with lying leg curls at the beginning of the workout, switch to seated leg curls now. Or vice versa if you opted for seated legs curls before. If you only have access to either one, that’s fine. It’s more of a good thing.

Three sets of 8 reps are the sweet spot here. Keep your rest periods around two minutes, and keep your focus on good form and a full range of motion. Hang in there; we’re almost done!

Seated Leg Curl exercise technique bodybuilding leg workout

Muscles Worked in Seated Leg Curls

Muscles worked by seated leg curl

How to Do Seated Leg Curls

  • Adjust the machine so that you are correctly positioned. Your knees should be in line with the machines joint.
  • Push the weight down by bending your knees as far as possible.
  • Slowly let the weight back again.

Alternative exercise:

Lying Leg Curl

Romanian Deadlift

Time for the last exercise of the bodybuilding leg workout: the Romanian deadlift. The Romanian deadlift is an effective exercise for strengthening your posterior chain muscles, including your hamstrings and your glutes. 

While the leg curl works your hamstrings through flexion in the knee joint, the Romanian deadlift does it through hip extension. Including both exercises in your leg day workout is an great way to ensure complete hamstring development.

Keep your knees slightly bent throughout the movement, focusing on a full range of motion and getting a good stretch at the bottom. 

You’ll be doing slightly higher reps to finish the workout off. Go for three sets of 12 reps to really fry your hamstrings. Resting two minutes between sets is sufficient.

Romanian deadlift bodybuilding leg workout

Muscles Worked in Romanian Deadlifts

Muscles worked in romanian deadlift

How to Do Romanian Deadlifts

  1. Get into the starting position by deadlifting a barbell off the floor, or by unracking it from a barbell rack.
  2. Inhale, brace your core slightly, and lean forward by hinging in your hips. Keep your knees almost completely extended.
  3. Lean forward as far as possible without rounding your back. You don’t have to touch the barbell to the floor, although it is OK if you do.
  4. Reverse the movement and return to the starting position. Exhale on the way up.
  5. Take another breath, and repeat for reps.

Note: you can stand on an elevation (for example a weight plate) if you want to extend the range of motion without hitting the floor.

Alternative exercise:

Stiff-Legged Deadlift

What About Calves?

Some people have naturally big calves without training them, while others find it extremely hard and a waste of time to train calves because they simply don’t respond. You see this phenomenon even amongst professional bodybuilders.

Feel free to train your lower legs after the bodybuilding leg workout if you still have the energy to do so. If you’re out of steam, saving your calf workout to another day might be a good idea.

Our suggested calf workout looks like this:

  1. Standing Calf Raises: 3 sets x 8 reps
  2. Seated Calf Raises: 3 sets x 15 reps
  3. Heel Raises: 2 sets x 30 reps
  4. Eccentric Heel Drop: 3 sets x 10 reps/side

You can read more about training your calves for strength and muscle growth here:

>> How to Train Your Calf Muscles: Exercises & Workout

Track the Bodybuilding Leg Workout in the StrengthLog App 

There you have it! A complete bodybuilding leg routine to help you build massive quads and hamstrings!

If you want to grow bigger and stronger, the key to fast and consistent gains in strength and muscle is to increase the weight you use in your training or to do more reps. 

It’s almost impossible to keep track of your progress without a workout log. Our app StrengthLog is 100% free to download and use as a workout tracker and general strength training app. All the basic functionality is free – forever.

You’ll also find a bunch of training programs and workouts in the app. Many are free, but our more advanced programs and workouts (such as this one) are for premium users only.

If you want to download StrengthLog for free and give the Bodybuilding Leg Workout a spin, use the buttons below.

Still on the fence about whether you should get premium or not?

Sign-up for our weekly newsletter and you get a free 30-day-trial of StrengthLog premium. After 30 days, your account will revert to a free account without you having to do anything.

Note: only applicable to new app accounts, and you must use the same email address for both the app and the newsletter. Read more about the free trial here.

Good luck with your leg training, buddy!

References

  1. J Hum Kinet. 2022 Jan; 81: 199–210. A Systematic Review of The Effects of Different Resistance Training Volumes on Muscle Hypertrophy.
  2. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: April 2021 – Volume 53 – Issue 4 – p 825-837. Greater Hamstrings Muscle Hypertrophy but Similar Damage Protection after Training at Long versus Short Muscle Lengths.
  3. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: July 2016 – Volume 30 – Issue 7 – p 1805-1812. Longer Interset Rest Periods Enhance Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy in Resistance-Trained Men.
  4. Journal of Sport and Health Science, Volume 11, Issue 2, March 2022, Pages 202-211. Effects of resistance training performed to repetition failure or non-failure on muscular strength and hypertrophy: A systematic review and meta-analysis.
  5. J Sports Sci. 2021 Oct;39(20):2298-2304. The role of exercise selection in regional Muscle Hypertrophy: A randomized controlled trial.
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Andreas Abelsson

Andreas has over 30 years of training experience and is a highly appreciated writer and educator on exercise, fitness, and nutrition. Few people stay more up to date and have a better grasp of the field of exercise science than Andreas.