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Just like ice cream, your leg workout should have a different flavor each time you train. Some days you hit it hard and heavy and go deep into the pain cave, and others you want to turn ’em till you burn ’em with some high-volume programming. These two leg complexes are perfect for the latter scenario, giving you that high-volume blaze using only your bodyweight or lightly loaded exercises arranged in circuit format. Best of all, all you need to do them is a set of dumbbells and a box or a bench.
But even though you’re not edging toward your one-rep max here, you’re still building muscle and training your central nervous system: Research published in the Journal of Applied Physiology showed that lifting a lighter weight to failure or near failure produced gains in size and strength similar to those produced by lifting a heavy weight to failure. High-volume, high-rep work also improves power and endurance with the addition of a speed or explosive component, and it can make you feel as if you’ve just squatted super heavy without ever putting a bar on your back.
These two complexes hit your entire lower body, but each has a more targeted focus — either glutes or quads. Choose a challenging weight that allows you to complete the minimum number of reps while maintaining good form, and perform the moves back-to-back in a circuit with no rest in between. Repeat the complex one to five times, depending on your ability and endurance, and rest two to five minutes between rounds to recover.
Use one of these complexes as a finisher after a heavy lower-body sesh, or use it on a total-body workout day. One thing to note, however: Don’t use both leg complexes in the same workout. Because of their high volume, one program is plenty!
The Glute-Focused Complex
|Single-Legged Dumbbell Hip Thrust||1-5||10-12 (each side)|
|Angled Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squat||1-5||10-12 (each side)|
|Bodyweight Leaning Scissor Jump||1-5||8-12 (each side)|
|Bodyweight Deadlift Jump||1-5||8-12|
The Quad-Focused Complex
|Dumbbell Step-Up||1-5||8-10 (each side)|
|Dumbbell Front Squat||1-5||16-20|
|Bodyweight Zombie Squat Hold||1-5||20-30 seconds|
|Bodyweight Squat Jump||1-5||8-10|
Leg complexes are incredibly efficient, and you’ll be in and out of the gym in the time it takes some people to do their warm-up.
Single-Legged Dumbbell Hip Thrust
Position your upper back and shoulders against a flat bench and sit on the floor with your feet flat, knees bent. Hold a dumbbell on your right hip with your right hand and extend your left arm out to the side along the bench. Lift your hips and your left foot off the floor, knee bent, and hold it here throughout the move. Using your right leg, press your hips toward the sky until they’re level with your knees and shoulders. Make sure your right heel stays on the floor and your spine is aligned. Pause briefly and then lower to the start. Do all reps on one side before switching.
Tip: Squeeze your glutes to keep your hips square and control your speed. Make sure your head is aligned with your spine throughout.
Angled Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squat
Hold a dumbbell in your right hand and stand with your back to a flat bench. Extend your right leg behind you, placing its laces down on top of the bench. Keeping your weight in your front foot, bend both knees and lower down toward the floor. As you descend, hinge your torso forward to about a 45-degree angle over your forward knee, back straight and head neutral. Drive through your heel and bring your torso erect to rise back to the start. Do all reps on one side before switching.
Tip: Brace your core as you angle your torso forward to protect your back and prevent you from collapsing into your hip joint.
Bodyweight Leaning Scissor Jump
Assume a long split stance with your rear heel off the ground and most of your weight in your front leg. Angle your torso forward by hinging at the hips, back straight and head neutral, and reach your fingertips toward the floor on either side of your forward leg. Extend both legs explosively and jump as high as possible, scissoring your legs in the air and landing with the opposite leg forward. Continue, alternating legs.
Tip: Because of your angled position, you might not get as high as you usually can with this kind of an exercise, so don’t sweat it if you’re not your usual springy self.
Bodyweight Deadlift Jump
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, legs angled out slightly. Keep your abs tight and your back straight as you push your hips back, then bend your knees to reach your fingertips for the floor between your feet. Explode upward, extending your knees and hips simultaneously to get as high off the ground as you can. Land lightly and absorb the impact by lowering right into the next repetition.
Tip: Keep your abs tight to prevent your back from rounding, and ensure you land with your feet in the same position they started in with each rep to protect your knees and hips.
Stand facing a flat bench with a dumbbell in each hand, arms at your sides. Place one foot in the center of the bench and extend your leg to stand on top. Touch down lightly on top of the bench with your other foot, then reverse these steps to return to the floor. Continue, alternating sides.
Tip: Don’t push off from the floor with your trail leg, which creates momentum. Instead, drive exclusively through the foot on the bench to power the rep.
Dumbbell Front Squat
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, legs angled out slightly, and hold a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder level. Rest one head of each dumbbell lightly on your shoulders and lift your elbows in front of you just enough so that the dumbbells are parallel to the floor. Keep your chest lifted as you drop your hips down and bend your knees, squatting as low as you can without tipping forward. Drive through your heels and extend your legs and hips to stand back up.
Tip: If you feel off-balance or your heels rise as you squat, you’re leaning too far forward. Lift your chest and drive up with your elbows as you descend your elbows to reposition your bodyweight.
Bodyweight Zombie Squat Hold
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your legs angled out slightly. Extend your arms in front of you at shoulder height, parallel with the floor, then kick your hips back and bend your knees to squat down until your thighs are roughly parallel with the floor. Hold and breathe.
Tip: Keep your arms parallel to the floor at all times. If they begin to point downward, lift your chest or rise a little higher out of your squat until they return to parallel.
Bodyweight Squat Jump
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, legs angled slightly outward, and interlace your fingers lightly behind your head without pulling on your neck. Keep your chest lifted as you kick your hips back and bend your knees until your thighs are parallel or just below to the floor. Quickly extend your hips and knees and explode upward as high as you can. Land lightly and go right into the next rep.
Tip: If you have poor shoulder/upper-back mobility, putting your hands behind your head might make you lean forward. If so, perform this move with your hands on your hips until your flexibility improves.