Leg workout for beginners for mass

by Jason Stallworth

October 13, 2020

If you’re just getting started with weight training and bodybuilding, there’s one thing you can do that will help you accelerate gaining muscle mass.

In fact, this is going to help you build a solid foundation for years of muscle to come.

Focus more on your leg training.

Most beginners want a big chest and arms but neglect the most important muscle – their legs.

The problem with that is the majority of your muscle mass (or lack of!) will come from your lower body.

In this post, you’re going to get a complete rundown of beginner leg training and a complete leg workout routine so that you can pack on more muscle mass early-on!

Leg Exercises that Beginners Should Focus On

Before we dive into your leg workouts let’s go over the core leg exercises that beginners should focus on. These are going to be basic movements that will help you build your foundation for muscle mass.

In fact, you can continue using nothing but these exercises and still make gains by just using a variety of methods to increase your intensity. That’s something we’ll get to later.

For now, just focus on mastering these five leg exercises (I’ll show you how to do each one next):

  1. Squats
  2. Leg Press
  3. Stiff-leg Deadlifts
  4. Leg Extensions
  5. Leg Curls

In addition to the exercises, there are some bodybuilding concepts I want you to become familiar with. These will be the things you want to focus on during your leg workouts to build mass.

  • Building muscles is not about moving weight from point A to B. Rather, you have to force your muscles to do the work; don’t just go through the motions.
  • Don’t use momentum to perform the exercise; focus on your muscles you’re working.
  • Focus more on the eccentric part of the rep (the negative part), especially on isolation exercises like leg extensions and leg curls
  • Be sure to read my post about developing a mind-muscle connection after reading this post.

Now, let’s dig a little deeper into each of these leg exercises. You’ll learn the proper way to perform each exercise as well as some tips to make these exercises for effective for building mass.

Squats

Squats are crowned the king of not just leg exercises but all muscle-building exercises.

Doing squats will be the foundation of your mass gains for legs. So it’s important to learn how to do them correctly so that you can get the most out of them.

Squats - parallel perfect squat

Tips for Squats:

  • Point your toes slightly outward
  • Have a shoulder-width, or just slightly wider than shoulder-width stance (but not too wide!)
  • Take a big belly-breath of air and hold that air for the entire rep, then release once you’re back tot he starting point and take another big-belly breath
  • In a controlled manner, squat down to at least parallel
  • Have someone watch you when you squat so that you can make sure you’re going low enough
  • As you’re squatting upwards, push your legs outward so that your knees do not have a tendency to go inward
  • Press with your feet, focusing more on your heels; do not press with the balls of your feet
  • Keep a slight arch in your lower back as you’re squatting

I do recommend wearing a weightlifting belt when doing squats. You can see which belt personally use on my gym gear page.

Leg Press

Leg press is another basic leg exercise and a great mass-builder.

Naturally, you will be able to leg press more than you squat. Be careful to not leg your ego get in the way and make sure you’re performing the exercises correctly, forcing your muscles to do the work and not just going through the motions.

Legs - Leg press moderate weight

Tips for Leg Press:

  • DO NOT be one of those people who load up the leg press machine, trying to look cool, and only go down 2 inches!
  • Keep a similar foot position as you do with squats, about shoulder-width apart
  • Put more emphasis on pressing with your heels so that you don’t press with the balls of your feet
  • Use a controlled motion to lower the weight
  • Don’t lock out your knees at the top (this will take pressure off of your muscles and apply pressure to your joints, which is something you do not want)

Also, be sure to read this post as it will help you: 5 Leg Pres Mistakes and How to Fix Them

Stiff-leg Deadlifts

Hamstrings are often forgotten, especially when you’re just starting out lifting weights.

One of the best exercises to build your hamstrings is stiff-leg deadlifts.

When done right, you can really target those muscles and that’s going to give your legs a more mass and symmetry.

Stiff Leg Deadlifts back and hamstrings workout

Tips for Stiff-leg Deadlifts:

  • Start by grabbing the bar and standing straight
  • You can have a slight bend in your knees as you perform the exercise, but don’t bend them too much
  • Keep the bar close to your body as you bend forward
  • Bend down at least to your chins (it may take time to getting used to this exercise and going lower)
  • As you pull the bar back up to standing position, force your hamstrings to pull the weight

Leg Extensions

Leg extensions are an isolation exercise that really targets your quads. When done right, you can build some big quads.

The key to this exercise is how you perform each rep, which we’re going to get to below.

leg extensions

Tips for Leg Extensions:

  • Make sure you’re seated firmly in position
  • Don’t attempt to go too heavy on this exercise
  • Instead, focus more on forcing your quads to work harder (this will help you build more muscle in your legs and help keep pressure off of your knees)
  • Don’t let our legs just fall back into the starting position; control the weight on the eccentric part of the rep

Leg Curls

Leg curls are an isolation exercise that targets your hamstrings directly.

There are various types of leg curl machines you can use such as seated leg curls, standing leg curls, and lying legs curls as see in the image.

But the concepts of the movement are the same for all of these versions of leg curls. It’s all about making your hamstrings do the work.

Legs - Lying leg curls

Tips for Leg Curls:

  • Make sure that you set the leg pad in a comfortable position above under your calves (or calf, if you’re doing single-leg curls)
  • Use a controlled motion throughout each rep; don’t use momentum or jerk the weight
  • When you’re doing leg curls, think of your hamstrings as the biceps of your legs; this will help you use your hamstrings more during the movement

Should You Train Calves as a Beginner?

You should absolutely train calves directly. In fact, I encourage you to train your calves 2-3 times a week.

Like leg curls, there are similar variations for calve exercises.

  • Standing calve raises
  • Seated calve raises (plate-loaded and machine)
  • Donkey calve raises

I have a ‘secret growth’ method you can use for calves. You’ll see that in your workouts below.

Beginner’s Leg Workout Routine

squat rack with belt

You’ve got the exercises down and now it’s time to put everything into a workout routine that you can follow.

You’re going to train your legs twice a week. There are two reasons for this:

  1. Your legs are your largest muscle and need more attention to build mass.
  2. This will help you gain more muscle mass sooner for reason mentioned above.

You’ll want to make sure there are at least two days between leg workouts. There are two training splits below to use as examples.

In addition, here are a few notes to review about your leg routine:

  • For the most part, you’ll be doing higher reps as legs tend to respond best to high rep ranges.
  • You’ll squat heavier (8 reps) for your first workout but then you will go a little lighter and do more reps (12) for your second leg workout.
  • Give yourself about a minute and a half rest between sets of squats. For the rest of your exercises, rest about 45 seconds to one minute between sets.
  • You’ll start both leg workouts by warming up with leg extensions; go light on these just to get the blood flowing. You could also opt to walk on the treadmill or ride the recumbent bike for 10-15 minutes as a warm-up.

Here’s an example of how you can make this training split work for training legs twice a week:

5-Day Split

  • Monday: Leg Workout 1
  • Tuesday: Chest and Biceps
  • Wednesday: Back
  • Thursday: Leg Workout 2
  • Friday: Shoulders and Triceps
  • Saturday: rest
  • Sunday: rest

4-Day Split

  • Monday: Leg Workout 1
  • Tuesday: Chest, Delts, Triceps
  • Wednesday: rest
  • Thursday: Leg Workout 2
  • Friday: Back, Rear Delts, Biceps
  • Saturday: rest
  • Sunday: rest

These training splits are just examples. You can arrange your training days to fit your own schedule.

Leg Workout 1

ExerciseSets x Reps
Leg Extensions (warm-up)3 x 12
Squats3 x 8
Leg Press3 x 12
Leg Curls3 x 12
Calve Raises3 x 15

Leg Workout 2

ExerciseSets x Reps
Leg Extensions (warm-up)3 x 12
Squats3 x 12
Stiff-leg Deadlifts3 x 12
Leg Extensions (single-leg)3 x 12
Calve Raises75s (see below)

For this calve workout, you’ll be do one huge set of 75 reps using the rest-pause method. Here’s how it works:

  • Choose a weight that you can do for about 20 reps
  • Do as many as you can do
  • Rest for 10-15 seconds
  • Perform another set using the same weight
  • Repeat until you do a total of 75 reps

It sounds brutal, and it is. But it will force your calves to grow!

**I recommend that you follow this for beginner leg workout routine for at least eight weeks.

Focus More on Leg Training

The best thing you can do as a beginner is what most beginners neglect. Focus more on your leg workouts.

This is going to help you build more overall muscle mass. It will also give you a more symmetrical physique later as you become more advanced in bodybuilding.

Next, be sure to read my complete guide on bodybuilding for beginners.

And when you’re ready for the next level, be sure to check out my elite programs.

Train with Passion,

Jason

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