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Not everyone can, nor has the inclination to barbell squat on their leg day workouts. After all, sometimes it’s easy enough to skip training legs altogether. But some enjoy discomfort during exercise – and we’re not just talking about the quad burn. Whatever your reasons for training legs, there are many ways you can achieve lower-body muscle-building without getting under the barbell.

Moonlighting firefighter and One LDN personal trainer by day, Wole Adesemoye of Precision Performance Coaching, shares his epic leg day session complete with all the compound and isolation moves necessary to blast every muscle in your lower body to complete exhaustion. Yes, including calves.

‘The workout is specifically for those who are already going to the gym and they’re not seeing progression with their training, especially lower body work,’ says Adesemoye.

The elite level coach shares his best cues and tips for each move to ensure you complete the programme with perfect execution and avoid the common pitfalls. Not for the feint hearted, this session may leave you hobbling out of the gym, you have been warned.

The Warm Up

30 seconds each exercise, 2 rounds

stretching and mobility static stretching

Knee Rolls

Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet planted on the floor. Keep your legs closed and let your knees fall to one side so you feel a stretch in your lower back. Reverse the movement over to the other side and repeat.

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Bird Dogs x hold for 5 seconds each side

Begin on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips. Keeping your torso completely still, reach the opposite hand and foot away from each other at the same time. Hold in the outstretched position for 5 seconds.

bodyweight reverse lunge

Walking Lunges

Stand tall and keep your chest up. Take a long step forward with one leg, bending your front knee until the back knee touches the ground. Stand up explosively, pause and repeat with the other leg, moving forward.

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Squats

Standing tall, keep your chest up and sink your hips back before bending your knees to drop your thighs until they are at least parallel to the floor. Push through your heels, back to standing.

The Workout

leg extension

Leg Extensions

12-15 reps, 3-4 sets

Set up the leg extension machine with your knees at 90-degrees and the pad on top of your shins by your ankles. Make sure you adjust the seat to suit your needs. Grip the handles at the sides of the seat. With your core engaged, extend your legs so the padded roller lifts and your legs are completely straight. Squeeze your quads and pause. Slowly bend the legs, resisting the weight as you lower it. Repeat and don’t let the plates slam between each rep.

Adesemoye recommends: ‘Go very light on your first set. We start with an isolation move for better muscle stability by activating the stabilising muscles prior to any compound exercises. It’s also less taxing on the body.’

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Leg Press

12-15 reps, 3-5 sets

You can complete the exercise on the seated leg press or 45-degree leg press. Begin with your feet planted in the middle of the foot pad, about shoulder-width apart with your back flat against the seat. Control the weight and bend the knees so the plate moves towards you – don’t let your lower back lose contact with the seat. Push the plate away from you, ready to repeat.

Adesemoye recommends: ‘When it comes to the foot position, wherever you put your legs will determine the area of the body you’re going to hit. You want them about shoulder- width apart, toes out a little bit. You want to be in a position where you can get to a decent range of movement. Each person’s range of movement is going to differ based on flexibility and hip mobility. Put your feet not too high up, around mid-section. Focus on really activating the glutes, don’t lock your knees.’

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Landmine Hack Squat / Hack Squat Machine

8-12 reps, 3-4 sets

If you have availability in your gym, use a hack squat machine. If not, you can complete the landmine squat. To do so, lift the loaded end of your bar on to your shoulder, then turn around, ‘resting’ your back against the weight plate while holding the bar securely on your shoulder. Step your feet forward until your body is at an angle almost symmetrical to the barbell behind you. Bend your knees and push your hips back, dropping into a deep squat. Press your back into the plate as you stand back up explosively. Pause and repeat. Switch shoulders each set.

Adesemoye recommends: ‘Imagine you’re pushing your bum towards your heels as you come down in that concentric range of movement. Think ‘how low can I really get’ with it and the positioning of your feet. The set up of an exercise is one of the most important [things] because that’s gonna make the difference on how the exercise is performed and what area you’re hitting. Get your feet in a position where you can actually open your feet at about one o’clock and then push those knees out over your second and third toe. Again, the range of movement will differ for each person.’

hamstring curls

Seated or Laying Hamstring Curl

12-15 reps, 3-4 sets

Begin with the correct setting on the hamstring curl machine, with your legs straight and back against the seat. Make sure the top pad is set firmly against the top of your thighs so they are held in place and the bottom roller pad is under your calves. Curl your legs underneath you and squeeze your hamstrings, hold for a beat and slowly release the rep under control. Don’t let the plates slam between each rep.

hip thrusters

Barbell Hip Thrust

12-15, 3-4 sets

Begin sat on the floor with the bench behind your back and the barbell set up in front of your feet. Roll the barbell on top of your hips, bend your knees so your feet are planted on the floor and make sure the edge of the bench is across your shoulder blades. Push through your heels so that your hips are extended with a right angle at the knees. Your heels should be under your knees, chin tucked and rib cage pinned. Reverse the movement so your hips sink to the floor and keep the torso locked to avoid any movement in your back.

Adesemoye recommends: ‘Think about tucking your chin, rather than throwing your head back each and every rep. When you come into that concentric phase of the thrust, you want to make sure you’re looking ahead of you, rather than looking up, a lot of people make that mistake.’

lateral step up

Lateral Step-ups

12 each side, 3-4 sets

Begin standing side on to a bench, with dumbbells in each hand. Step the leg up on to the bench and push through the foot so that you are standing on it. Slowly reverse the movement resisting the weight so that your foot meets the floor again, ready to repeat.

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Romanian Deadlift

8-12 reps slow tempo, 3-4 sets

Standing tall with your feet underneath your hips, hold your weight (dumbbells or a barbell) in front of your thighs. Send your hips behind your heels with a flat back as if you’re ‘shutting a car door’ with your backside. Keep the knees directly above your heels and shins vertical to the floor. As you lower the weight, keep your shoulder blades drawn towards each other and head in line. Feel a stretch in your hamstrings. When the weight is below your knees, send your hips forward to return to the starting position.

Adesemoye recommends: ‘You want to make sure that your feet are not too wide apart. There’s a difference between hamstring focus and glute focus. [For glutes] imagine someone’s pulling your glutes back. As you go back, you want to try and do a slight bend in the knee and then squeeze. If you’re doing hamstring focus, you want a soft knee, not locking your knees fully.’

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Single Leg Curl

12-15 each side, 3-4 sets

Begin with the correct setting on the hamstring curl machine, with one leg on top of the roller pad. Curl your leg underneath you and squeeze the hamstring of your working leg. Hold for a beat and slowly release the rep under control. Don’t let the plates slam between each rep and swap sides when you’ve finished the reps.

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Standing or Seated Calf Raises

15-20 reps, 3-4 sets

Stand with the balls of your feet on a small block or bumper plate with dumbbells in each hand or a barbell. Let the heels drop down and then push through the balls of your feet into a high position. Repeat.

Adesemoye recommends: ‘Slow down the eccentric. Slow down [and] engage your core, engage your glutes, get lower for a better range of movement.’

After the workout, complete a cool down walk for 10 minutes.

Headshot of Kate Neudecker

Kate is a fitness writer for Men’s Health UK where she contributes regular workouts, training tips and nutrition guides. She has a post graduate diploma in Sports Performance Nutrition and before joining Men’s Health she was a nutritionist, fitness writer and personal trainer with over 5k hours coaching on the gym floor. Kate has a keen interest in volunteering for animal shelters and when she isn’t lifting weights in her garden, she can be found walking her rescue dog.

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