Lower Body Workout Routine

Ladies, need some help training those legs? Here's a good place to start!
By John Paul Catanzaro

Beginner Leg Routine

Those just starting to weight train are considered beginners. Initially, lower loads (intensity) with higher repetitions (volume) can be used on a frequent basis. Here's an excellent leg workout for a beginner (i.e. less than a year of training experience.)  It should be performed three times a week (e.g. Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday) for a month.

A) Back Squat (heels elevated)
B) Dumbbell Deadlift
C) Supine Hip Extension
D) Seated Calf Raise

Don't forget to warm-up first (visit www.StrengthWarmUp.com for some tips.) Do 2 sets of 15-20 reps for each exercise.  Maintain a moderate tempo throughout with a pause at the top and bottom of all movements.  Keep the rest interval as low as possible between sets, and most important, have fun!

Intermediate Leg Progression

With a good year of training under your belt, you should use higher loads with less repetitions and train the legs only twice a week (they'll need greater recovery due to the intensity increase.) Below is a 4-month progression for intermediates.

Routine #1

A) Side Step-Ups
B) Split Squat with Front Foot Raised
C) Wide-Stance Db Deadlift (1 db)
D) Supine Two-Legged Bridge on Swiss Ball
E) Seated Calf Raise 

  •  2-3 sets
  •  12-15 reps
  •  moderate tempo
  •  60 sec. rest interval

Routine #2

A) Db Deadlift (2 db's)
B) Seated Good Morning
C) Reverse Hypers
D) Standing Calf Raise

  •  3-4 sets
  •  10-12 reps
  •  slow tempo
  •  90 sec. rest interval

Routine #3

A) Forward Step-Ups
B) Split Squat
C1) Hack Squat
C2) Supine Bridge + Leg Curl
D1) Seated Calf Raise
D2) Dorsiflexion on Leg Curl Machine

  •  2-3 sets
  •  12-15 reps
  •  moderate tempo
  •  60 sec. rest interval

Routine #4

A) Back Squat
B) Romanian Deadlift
C) Reverse Hypers with Db Between Feet
D) Standing 1-Leg Calf Raise

  •  3-4 sets
  •  10-12 reps
  •  slow tempo
  •  90 sec. rest interval

What? No leg extension or leg press? That's right, but there are plenty of squats and deadlifts for you to enjoy! Also, notice how the parameters change every routine. Research indicates that greater progress is made when volume and intensity are manipulated in an undulating fashion (i.e. alternating or wave-like manner) rather than the typical linear approach. This time perform each workout only twice a week for a month (e.g. every Monday and Thursday, or Tuesday and Friday).

Incidentally, all the routines listed above require no machines whatsoever. All you need is a simple barbell set, some dumbbells, a good (anti-burst) Swiss ball, and a mat. That's it - you can do everything in the comfort of your own home even all the calf raise variations. Although meant for intermediates, you should receive some very advanced results from this progression. Good luck!


Back Squat - place a barbell across your shoulders behind your neck. Grip the bar as close to your shoulders as you can and push your elbows forward - this will help elevate your chest and maintain proper posture throughout the exercise. Initiate by bending the knees (not the hips) and try to keep your trunk as vertical as possible; in other words, minimize leaning forward. Squat down as far as you can comfortably without rounding your back. The goal over time is to touch your hamstrings to your calves in the bottom position - this is what we call a full squat. Some of you may be able to do this already; others will require more flexibility to achieve this position, but don't despair. It will come! Don't be afraid to go all the way down - research indicates that full squats are safe for both the back and the knees. Note: to elevate the heels, use either a wedge (rocker) board, 2 plates, or a 2x4 piece of wood.

Hack Squat - hold the bar at arm's length behind your legs with your heels elevated. Now, keep your shoulder blades squeezed together (retracted) throughout the movement and squat again by bending the knees. Remember to stay as vertical as possible and not to let your back round.

Split Squat - start in a lunge position. Keep your hips square with your chest held high and move the front knee as far forward as possible. Allow the heel of the back foot to raise but keep the front foot flat on the ground or elevated onto a step. Lean back as you move forward - you should feel a great stretch in the opposite hip.

Dumbbell Deadlift - stand with your feet shoulder-width apart holding 2 dumbbells by your sides. Squat down keeping your arms straight (elbows locked), shoulder blades squeezed and chest always held high. Don't look down - it will cause you to round your back. Fix your stare directly ahead of you.

Wide-Stance Dumbbell Deadlift - as the name implies, use a wide stance (beyond shoulder-width) with the feet rotated out no more than 45 degrees. This time you'll hold on to only 1 dumbbell between your legs as you squat up and down. You'll feel your inner thighs and butt on this one!

Romanian Deadlift - stand with your feet shoulder-width apart holding 2 dumbbells (or a low-pulley attachment as depicted below) right in front of your thighs. Initiate the movement by jackknifing at the hips - keep shooting the butt backward while keeping a tight arch in your lower back. The second your back starts to round, come back up. Most people reach about mid-shin on this one. If you're doing it right, you should feel a serious stretch on your hamstrings (the back of your thighs.)

Side Step-Ups - place your right foot on a small step with the left directly beside it on the floor. To raise your body, extend the right knee until it is just shy of locking out. Keep your right leg straight with the toes pointed up or dorsiflexed (this will prevent pushing off so that your right leg does all the work!) Again, look straight ahead with your chest high and hold on to two dumbbells when it becomes easy. Make sure to keep your hips level throughout the movement.

Forward Step-Ups - this is just an extension of the side step-up allowing greater range. Place your right foot forward onto a step. Everything else is basically the same as the side step. This time, however, try to increase the step height first as you get stronger (to make it more challenging), then you can hold on to two dumbbells if you wish. How high do you go? As high as your balance will allow. If your front knee starts wobbling like crazy and you can't control the movement, it's obviously too high!

Supine Hip Extension - this exercise is performed on something called a Swiss ball which is basically a large, resilient beach ball that has become the craze in many gyms today. This ball was originally used as a therapeutic tool in rehabilitation circles but has recently spilled over into the fitness industry. For safety reasons, I recommend that you purchase an anti-burst ball (i.e. the Sissel ABS ball is an excellent choice) - the size of the ball will depend on your height. To perform this exercise, start by sitting on the ball. Very carefully, walk forward until your head and upper back (between the shoulder blades) is resting on the ball. Position your feet about shoulder-width apart and rotate them out slightly. Lower your hips down without touching your butt to the ground. Your shins should remain perpendicular to the ground throughout; thus, your knees should not move forward or back. Only the hips will raise up and down (although, the ball may roll back and forth slightly during the exercise.) Now, from the bottom position, raise your hips up as high as possible and squeeze your butt. Pause at the top and then repeat for 15-20 repetitions. To make this exercise more difficult, you can secure a weight plate on your lap to provide greater resistance and/or hold the top contraction for anywhere from 1-5 seconds. Keep in mind that you can't necessarily spot-reduce, but the supine hip extension should help to firm those glutes!

Supine Two-Legged Bridge - this is another Swiss ball exercise that works the posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes and lower back.) Laying on your back with your arms stretched out to the side, place your heels on the ball. Now, raise your hips up as high as possible while maintaining balance - stability is the key! The closer together your feet are and/or the closer your arms are to your sides (even to the point of crossing them on your chest), the more difficult the exercise becomes since your base of support is reduced.

Supine Two-Legged Bridge + Leg Curl - once you've reached the top position of the bridge with your hips, flex the knees and roll the ball towards your butt. Extend the legs and lower the hips to return to the start position.

Reverse Hypers - lay with your tummy on a Swiss ball and your hands positioned firmly about shoulder-width apart on the ground. Now, simply raise your legs up by extending at the hips (keep those legs straight though!) Ah, not so simple, is it? Your upper body will work overtime to stabilize you and you will definitely feel that posterior chain - from your head all the way to your toes!

Seated Calf Raise - sit on a chair or bench grasping two dumbbells over your knees. Raise your heels up (i.e. pivot off the balls of your feet.) Don't let your heels just drop down afterwards - always control the movement. To increase the range of motion, place a step under your forefoot - this will give you a better stretch in the bottom position.

Standing Calf Raise - stand with a bar across your shoulders behind your neck. Raise the heels up, pause, and then control back down. Keep your legs straight. Balance becomes an issue as you'll quickly find out. Keep the movement slow and controlled. Once you master this version, you may wish to try it on a step or 2x4 piece of wood !just make sure there's no expensive furniture around!

One-Leg Calf Raise - go to your stairs for this one. Position only the forefoot on a step with the opposite hand holding on to the railing. Again, raise your heel up while keeping the leg straight (the other leg should be bent and out of the way.) You can hold a dumbbell on the same side as the working leg as you get stronger. Remember to repeat the process for the same number of repetitions on the opposite leg. A good rule of thumb is to always start with your weak side first.

Models: Angela Carasi, Trionne Moore, Vivian Law
Locations, Body Essence Studio, Totum Health Science
Photography: John Paul Catanzaro, John Clark

About The Author

John Paul Catanzaro is a CSEP Certified Exercise Physiologist with a Specialized Honours Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology and Health Science. He owns and operates a private facility in Richmond Hill, Ontario providing training and nutritional consulting services. John Paul has authored two books, The Elite Trainer (2011) and Mass Explosion (2013), and has released two DVDs, Stretching for Strengthening (2003) and Warm-Up to Strength Training (2005), which have sold copies worldwide, been featured in several magazines, and have been endorsed by many leading experts. In 2013, John Paul released two new webinars, Strength Training Parameters and Program Design and Body Composition Strategies, providing the latest cutting-edge information to fitness professionals. For additional information, visit his website at www.CatanzaroGroup.com or call 905-780-9908.

[This article originally appeared in BodybuildingForYou.com and can be accessed online at this link.]