I don’t think I need to explain why the squat is the king of leg exercises. I’ll share a couple of my favorite squat workouts.
Option #1 squat followed by single leg work:
1. Warm up, then work up to your heaviest set of 5-8 repetitions. You should be able to complete this set with good form–no need to go to failure or start compromising form.
2. After resting do a set with 90% of the weight you used in the previous set. This will be your last set on squats (see also: 5×5 workouts).
You could start with sets of 8 reps on your first week, then work up to heavier weights and lower reps over the next few weeks. This is a periodization strategy that is described in more detail in Minimalist Training.
Next you’ll go into single leg training. Do 3-4 sets with a slightly higher rep range–10-15 reps. Here are a few options or your single leg training:
*Leg press using only one leg. Some of you squat purists may bash the leg press. But I’ll remind you that I learned about this use of the leg press from legendary powerlifter Ed Coan. Remember to bend your knee until your leg is at a 90 degree angle, but don’t go any lower.
*Step up with a barbell or dumbbells. As the name implies, you step up with the added resistance of weights. The height of the step can vary, but make sure whatever you use is stable enough to support your weight.
This workout is fairly basic and could be done by new trainees.
Option #2 squat only with a high repetition component:
1. Warm up first, then work up to your heaviest set of five reps (you would be resting in between sets). You don’t want to go to failure, but work up to your heaviest set you can complete with good form.
2. You’ll do one more set of five reps after the heaviest set–this time with about 90% of the weight you used in the previous set.
3. Now it’s time to go for some higher reps. Drop down to a weight you can do for about fifteen repetitions. This will be a pretty significant reduction from your previous set (rest after this set, just as you did with the others).
4. One final higher rep set. Lower the weight again and shoot for about 20-30 reps. You’ll be doing relatively light weights.
These higher reps can be helpful for leg training because legs tend to have a wider range of muscle fiber types, some of which respond better to high rep training. But most of your work would still be in the standard rep range. I usually can’t do any more direct thigh training after this workout.
I would not recommend this second workout for beginners–it’s more of an intermediate/advanced routine.
Hope you’ll find this workout helpful.