leg workouts

12 Methods to Make Your Leg Workouts Harder

Everyone wants a strong and ripped body, but no one wants to train their legs.
While Monday is the international day for training the chest, Friday is known as “Skip leg day”.Your legs have some of the biggest muscles on your body, and if you train your body, then you should also train your legs.

It may not be as easy as going to the gym to train your legs, and just going with the flow. If you know how to make your leg workout hard, you will make gains. In this article, you’ll learn how to make your leg workout harder, and take your leg development to the next level.

Method 1: Go Heavier

The purpose of going heavier is not to make your buddies drool over your “alpha-like” strength. While that may be nice, once you’re out of that gym, you’re not going to impress anyone with average legs. Poor form and heavy weights are not going to do any good for you or your legs.

Next time you’re lifting, go as heavy as your form will allow you. Challenge yourself and leave your comfort zone. Lift more than you did before. Aim to add 5 to 10% to your big lifts, like squats and leg press, every week or so.

Method 2: Pre Exhaust

Pre exhausting your legs is a great way to ensure that your quads are failing before, or at the same time as, your glutes and hamstrings. The point of this method is to make sure your big muscles fail before any assistance muscles do. The result, if done correctly, is the quads growing at a more rapid pace.

Try performing 8 to 12 reps of the leg extensions before squats. As with any exercise though, you will need to warm up. So if you’re performing the pre exhaust method, it should look like this:

Warm up:

3 sets of leg extensions (8-12), 3 sets of squats (6-12)

Working sets:

4th set: Leg extensions 8 to 12 reps followed by squats  (8-10 reps)

Ideally you should only have one working set, if the intensity is high enough. But if you aren’t satisfied, you can perform one to two more. This all depends on your training level and experience.

Your rest between sets should be around 90 seconds, but your rest between leg extensions and squats shouldn’t be more than 10 seconds. Otherwise, you defeat the purpose of this method.

Method 3: Partials

Partials are performed through a specific range of motion, done in a repetition. It can be anywhere from the top of any exercise to the bottom. If you want to pack on more strength, increase your squats and make your workout harder, partials are going to be a great asset for you.

Try this with squats:

Squat into the bottom position, and come back up but not all the way. Stop right before you straighten your legs and repeat until you hit your desired reps. This will keep the tension on your quads throughout your entire set.

You can also place partials at the end of your regular set. So after your full range of motion repetitions, you can perform a couple partials to get more of the set.

leg workouts

Squat into the bottom position, and come back up but not all the way. Stop right before you straighten your legs and repeat until you hit your desired reps.


Method 4: Control the Descent

Squats can be an amazing exercise for overall strength and muscle development, but if done incorrectly, it can be one of your worst enemies. One of the worst ways to perform squats is by losing control of the lift.

It’s important to remain tight throughout the entire squat, from the top to the bottom. This can’t be done if it’s performed too quickly.

Try this:

Confidently approach the barbell, tighten yourself before lifting the bar. By now you should already know you’re going to descend so do it in control. There is no rush to hit the bottom without control.

Method 5: Giant Sets

Giant sets are when 3 or more exercises are performed with no rest between sets. They can be useful for getting through plateaus or just shocking your muscles into growth, but it is also taxing.

Try this for a great giant set:

  • Squats
  • Leg extensions
  • Hamstring curls

These 3 exercises are done back to back, without any rest, 10 repetitions each. If you’re advanced enough, you can add in one more exercise and cycle through without any rest, while dropping in weight for each giant set. Climbing the stairs or using the toilet might be tough after this.

leg workouts before and after

Climbing the stairs or using the toilet might be tough after giant sets for legs.

Method 6: Post Exhaust

A simple technique to keep the intensity high is by exhausting your muscles with an isolation exercise after a compound exercise. So if you’re performing squats, you’ll do leg extensions right after them.

Some prefer this to pre exhaust, as it allows you to perform your best for your compound exercise. It all comes down to mixing it up, and trying new things.

Try this:

  • Perform your working set for squats
  • Immediately jump to leg extensions for further exhaustion.

Anything that is as intense as this will tax your central nervous system and body as a whole, so use it, but don’t abuse it.

Method 7: Decrease Rest Time

Shorter rest periods between exercises increases the overall intensity of the workout. When you increase the overall intensity, you also have to decrease the duration or you’ll easily over do it.

It’s easy to sit around and wait for yourself to recover from an exercise, but by reducing the time, you’ll easily burn more calories and increase the difficulty of the workout.

If you usually rest for 90 seconds between exercises, decrease it to 60 or less. You don’t have to stick to one rest period for your entire workout. Give yourself 60 seconds for compound exercises like squats, and 30 for isolation like leg extensions.

leg workouts tom platz

Give yourself 60 seconds for compound exercises like squats, and 30 for isolation like leg extensions.

Method 8: Single Leg Training

I know what you’re thinking, “We have two legs though?”. Single leg exercises engage more smaller muscles than bilateral training. It brings out weaknesses that can’t be fixed through bilateral training. It works the smaller muscles like quadratus lumborum, gluteus medius, abductors. And it also Improves stability, reduces injury risk, and reduces spinal compression.

We’re so used to doing bilateral training that we tend to have weaknesses and imbalances that can be fixed through single leg training, and it’s much harder than it looks.

Approach single leg training like it’s your first time lifting. Start with a very light weight and work your way up.

Try plugging this exercise into your leg workout:

Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat (Bulgarian split squat):

  1. Step in front of a bench with your back towards it.
  2. Place your foot behind you on the bench.
  3. Squat down as far down as your knee will allow you.

If you have trouble with balance, try holding on to something stable, like a chair. Try to stay upright during the set.

Method 9: Failures

Traditionally, failure is what determines the heart or the fire of a lifter. Basically though, failure is when muscles can’t produce enough force to move any given weight. It can be taxing, and can easily be abused. It shouldn’t be done for every set, but if it’s used correctly, it can be one of the greatest moments of your workout.

Try this:

Before you try anything like this, make sure to thoroughly warm up before you perform any exercise.

After your warm up sets, and you feel ready, take a weight you normally do for 10 repetitions.  Add about 5 to 10 more pounds. Perform your set, and aim for 10. You should fail around the 9th repetition. If you didn’t, then the weight wasn’t challenging enough.

Remember, failure is when you can’t move the weight any further, or you get stuck in a repetition.

leg workouts squat fail

Remember, failure is when you can’t move the weight any further, or you get stuck in a repetition.

Method 10: Mix It Up

Your body adapts. It’s a sophisticated machine that we have yet to learn everything about. It knows you’re going to smash it through your workout, but that doesn’t mean you still can’t have workouts that are fresh.  Change the order of exercises, reps, sets, methods used, anything. You don’t need to rewrite your entire routine every single day but you do need to challenge yourself constantly.

Try this:

Instead of performing squats in the beginning of your workout, try it closer to the end. This way, your body will be thoroughly worked and warmed up before performing the hardest exercise of all.

Something as small as changing where you perform one exercise in your usual routine can have a big impact on your results.

Method 11: Static Contraction (Isotension)

Static contractions are when you hold the most weight that you can handle for 15 to 30 seconds, without locking out. The advantage of this is that you can hold more weight than you can lift. We’re strongest in this phase and it should be taken advantage of. You should experience failure when you’re attempting your maximum weight for the short duration.

Try this:

After you perform your regular full range of motion set, hold the weight in the contracted position of the exercise for as long as you can (aim for 10 to 30 seconds). You should struggle for the last few seconds, but you’ll be surprised at how much energy you have for this method, especially after performing a regular set.

Method 12: Squat

With literally dozens of squat variations out there, there is absolutely no reason or point in sticking to one variation for the rest of your life. Squatting differently is a surefire way to bump up the difficulty of your workout while keeping things fresh.

There are at least 40 squat variations, and that is enough to keep you busy for quite a long time. That being said,  the most common one is back squats. We’ll cover enough to keep you out of your regular routine.

Overhead squats:

Muscular control, increase mobility, greater balance and better hip mobility, what more could you ask for? Overhead squats require some shoulder mobility, but a wider grip usually helps with this. You may not be able to overhead squat as much as you back squat, but that’s not the purpose of this. Try using this exercise with an empty barbell to practice the movement.

Front squats:

With a greater emphasis on the core and quads, front squats are a great leg exercise that is greatly underestimated among back squatters. Most lifters will find front squats to be much more difficult, and are unable to front squat as much as they would with back squats. That is because this exercise forces you to stay in an upright position. Back squats allow for more muscles to be used, like the back, glutes, and hamstrings. Try using this exercise instead of the back squats and your knees and back will thank you for it.

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All in all:

If you’re approaching every routine without changing variables, like training intensity, sets, reps, etc, you’ll be more likely to hit a plateau and slow your progress down.

These 12 methods will surely make your leg workout much harder. If you haven’t tried any of these yet, you should approach with caution as it is easy to overtrain if you overuse and abuse them. Listen to your body, and take advantage of your recovery by eating and resting.

About the Author

NaderQudimatNader Qudimat (Terminader) runs his own fitness blog, where he shows how skinny guys can turn into confident, muscle building machines. Nader, once weighed 100 pounds, is passionate about helping transform the average into the extraordinary. Sign up for his exclusive emails and free reports.


Works Cited

“Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism.” The Effects of Pre-exhaustion, Exercise Order, and Rest Intervals Full-body Resistance Training Intervention -. Web. 17 Feb. 2015. <http://www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/full/10.1139/apnm-2014-0162#.VMeg94dYDqQ>.
Massey, C. Dwayne, John Vincent, Mark Maneval, Melissa Moore, and J.t. Johnson. “An Analysis of Full Range of Motion vs. Partial Range of Motion Training in the Development of Strength in Untrained Men.” The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 18.3 (2004): 518. Print.
Davies, Roger J., “The Effects of a Four Week Single-leg Balance Training Program on Balance Error Scoring System Scores of the Trained and Untrained Leg” (2009). All Graduate Theses and Dissertations. Paper 468.