Is leg day starting to feel more like Groundhog Day? It’s easy to fall into a rut and do the same workout week after week, but the problem is that your body adapts quickly to a repeated stimulus. Eventually, you’ll find yourself atop the dreaded plateau, or worse — get sidelined with an injury because of overtraining.
Using periodization helps you formulate a well-rounded, progressive plan, allowing you to reach your goals within a certain time frame while also allowing for adequate rest and recovery. There are different ways to approach periodization, but in a recent study published by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, women who used undulating periodization — a model that changes the training variables within a relatively short time frame — saw a greater increase in lower-body strength than women who used other methods of periodization.
This 12-week lean-and-mean plan starts with a month of stabilization, ramps things up with a strength phase, then launches into four weeks of undulated lower-body training designed to get you the best legs of your life. Each phase uses familiar lifts and exercises that are specifically arranged to keep your muscles stimulated. At the end of the three months, you can cycle through the program again. Just be sure to increase your weight or make the movements more challenging. If you want hot legs, you’ve gotta keep the workouts spicy.
STABILITY PHASE: Weeks 1-4
This phase is the foundation of your training, working to correct muscle imbalances and prepare the joints and connective tissues for more rigorous work. You’ll keep the resistance light and the reps high, but don’t let the lack of heavy weights fool you — these moves will challenge your balance and fire up your quads, hamstrings, glutes and core, and each exercise quickly becomes a barnburner as you progress through the sets.
- For each move, do three sets of 18 reps using light weight.
- Allow 90 seconds of rest between sets for adequate recovery.
- For the step-ups and touchdowns, use a platform that is 12 inches or higher for best results.
- Pistol Squat
- Stability-Ball Hamstring Curl
- Stationary Lunge
- Single-Legged Glute Bridge
- BOSU Ball Squat
- Single-Legged Deadlift
- Bulgarian Split Squat
- Lateral Step-Up
- Single-Legged Touchdown
- Banded Lateral Walk
- BOSU Ball Lunge
Stability-Ball Hamstring Curl
Lie faceup with your arms at your sides and your calves and heels on top of a stability ball, legs straight. Lift your hips off the floor to align with your heels and shoulders, brace your core and squeeze your glutes. Keeping your hips lifted, bend your knees and roll the ball toward your glutes until the soles of your feet are on top of the ball and your knees are at 90 degrees. Roll the ball back to the start position slowly, then go into the next rep without returning to the floor.
Make it harder: Float one leg above the ball while curling with the other.
Position a plyo box or bench directly behind you and stand with your feet hip-width apart. Lift one foot off the floor and extend your leg in front of you, then kick your hips back and bend your standing knee slowly, maintaining control of the movement until your glutes lightly touch the bench. Keep your chest up and, without using momentum, stand back up. Continue, alternating sides, for reps.
Make it harder: Use a shorter bench or a small stack of bumper plates and work your way closer to the floor.
STRENGTH PHASE: Weeks 5-8
In this phase, you’ll continue to work on stabilization while adding resistance to build strength. Your moves are paired together into supersets — two moves done back-to-back with no rest in between — systematically engaging opposing muscle groups and allowing you to crank through high volume with minimal rest. Because the intensity is high and you’re working with a weight that brings you close to failure, you’re only doing four moves (two supersets) per workout.
- For each move, do three sets of 12 reps using a moderate to heavy weight. The last couple of reps of each set should be challenging but not impossible.
- Do your moves back-to-back with no rest in between.
- Rest one minute or less between supersets.
- Sumo Goblet Squat – superset with – Barbell Good Morning
- Weighted Wall Sit
- (1 rep; hold 60 seconds) – superset with – Reverse Lunge^
- Dumbbell Squat* – superset with – Weighted Walking Lunge*
- Bulgarian Split Squat# – superset with – Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
- Barbell Pause Squat+ – superset with – Lateral Dumbbell Lunge*
- Dumbbell Step-Up# – superset with – Barbell Glute Bridge
*Hold the dumbbells at shoulder height.
#Hold the dumbbells at your sides.
+Hold at the bottom for two counts.
^Hold a plate, dumbbell or medicine ball at chest height.
Weighted Wall Sit
Hold a weight (dumbbell, medicine ball or plate) at your chest with both arms, and stand with your feet about hip-width apart and your back flat against a wall. Step your feet out in front of you, then sink down along the wall until your legs make a 90-degree angle. Hold here, breathing deeply, for one minute.
Make it harder: Extend one leg in front of you; do 30 seconds each side.
Barbell Pause Squat
Hold a barbell across your traps and upper back with your hands outside your shoulders, elbows down, core braced. Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart, legs angled outward, chest lifted. Kick your hips back and bend your knees to squat down, going as low as you can while keeping good form. At the bottom, pause for a slow count of two. Then drive through your heels and quickly extend your legs and hips to return to standing.
Make it harder: Add a half-squat to increase your time under tension: Pause two seconds at the bottom, then rise up about halfway and pause again. Lower to the bottom and pause, then drive all the way to the top.
UNDULATING PHASE: Weeks 9-12
Here’s the money round: In this phase, the movements are designed to build strength, stimulate hypertrophy (the increase in muscle size) and develop power — the ability to deliver the greatest amount of force in the shortest amount of time. The overall result is lean, defined legs that literally kick ass.
Each week, you’ll have one strength day, one hypertrophy day and one power day:
- Superset your two moves together using a weight at about 75 percent of your one-rep max.
- Do three supersets of eight reps per move.
- Rest a minute or less between supersets.
- Do four sets of 12 reps per move. You can either superset the moves or perform them as straight sets.
- Use a moderate-weight medicine ball for your wall ball, but use bodyweight for the other three plyometric moves.
- Do your moves as quickly as you can with good form to develop fast, explosive power.
- Rest a minute or less between sets.
- Superset your two moves together using a weight that is about 85 to 95 percent of your 1RM.
- Do five supersets of three reps per move.
- Rest up to three minutes between sets.
Face a wall about an arm’s length away and hold a nonreactive medicine ball at chest height with both hands, elbows stacked under your wrists. Stand with your feet about hip-width apart, legs angled outward slightly, then kick your hips back to lower into a full squat — going ass-to-grass, if possible. Explosively drive up, pushing through your heels, and as you come to standing, use your momentum to extend your arms and toss the ball up and against the wall about 10 feet above the ground. Catch the ball and bend your arms to absorb the impact and lower right into the next rep.
Make it harder: Aim for the 12-foot mark, or use a heavier ball.
- Barbell Deadlift – superset with – Barbell Front Squat
- Wall Ball
- Switch Lunge
- Squat Jump
- Long Jump
Friday: Max Strength
- Barbell Deadlift – superset with – Barbell Front Squat
- Barbell Front Squat
Hold a barbell across your upper chest and front delts in a front-rack position with your arms underneath, supporting the bar with your elbows lifted and your hands crossed over top to hold it steady. Step your feet a little wider than hip-width apart, legs angled outward slightly, and keep your elbows lifted as you kick your hips back and bend your knees to squat down. Engage your core and lift your chest to prevent the bar from pulling you forward as you descend to knee level or just below. Drive through your heels to return to standing, keeping your elbows lifted.
Make it harder: On hypertrophy days, focus on tempo: Take a full two seconds to descend and a full two seconds to stand. On max strength days, go heavy: Don’t be afraid to fail on a lift; simply let the bar roll off your shoulders and drop in front of you if you hit a sticking point.
Assume a wide, staggered stance — one foot forward, one foot back — and bend both knees into a deep lunge, keeping your front knee over your ankle and descending until your back knee hovers above the floor. Explode upward and switch legs midair so you land with your back foot forward and your forward foot back. Land softly and repeat right away.
Make it harder: Pick up the pace. Set a timer and see if you can shave a couple of seconds off each set.