Your legs are made up of the largest and strongest muscles in the body. Getting your legs in shape is not only essential for exercise performance, but also for preventing injuries and making daily life easier. Plus, building lean muscle on the leg helps you regulate your body weight and lose weight, if you desire.
You're likely to see some results two to four weeks after starting a leg exercise program. This includes slightly better stamina and a little muscular definition. However, depending on your starting fitness level, it usually takes three to four months to really notice and fell improvements in leg strength and stamina.
Consistency and gradual increases in your training program are the keys to getting your legs in shape. The legs consists of the major muscle groups of the glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps and calves; you must target these groups to tone, strengthen and build stamina. The most effective way to achieve these goals is progressive resistance-training plan that gradually increases in intensity over the course of three months.
During such a program, complete two leg-strengthening workouts each week. One workout should focus on the glutes and hamstrings and the second on the quadriceps and calves. Space the workouts at least three days apart in your plan, such as hamstrings and glutes on Monday and quadriceps and calves on Thursday. Perform aerobic exercise four or five days a week to achieve fat loss.
Train your glutes and hamstrings with exercises such as the straight-leg deadlift, weighted bridge, standing cable hip extension, leg curl and walking lunge. Train your quadriceps and calves with the barbell squat, leg press, bench step-up, leg extension, standing calf raise and seated calf raise.
Choose leg-centric exercises for your aerobic, or cardio, training, such as hiking, step climbing or running to hasten your results.
Month One: Conditioning
Focus on conditioning and improving muscular endurance during the first month. Do two sets of 12 to 15 repetitions of each exercise during the first two weeks of training, then increase to three sets. Limit rest periods between sets to 30 to 60 seconds. Aim to complete 30 minutes of aerobic exercise four or five days a week. Perform aerobic sessions either after your leg workouts or on the days you're not training your legs.
Month Two: Hypertrophy
Focus on increasing muscle mass in the second month by increasing the weight and decreasing the repetitions for each exercise. Select a weight at which muscle failure occurs between six and 12 repetitions. Perform three sets, resting 60 to 90 seconds between each set. Increase the weight when you're able to complete more that 12 repetitions with relative ease. Decrease the weight if you cannot complete at least six repetitions. Increase the duration of your aerobic exercise by 10 to 15 minutes so you do cardio 40 to 45 minutes five times a week.
Month Three: Strength and Power
Improve muscular power and strength during the last month of your leg training program. Increase the weight again and perform two to six repetitions of each exercise. Do three to four sets, resting two to three minutes between sets. Maintain five days per week of aerobic exercise; make two of these workouts an interval training session. Perform 20 to 30 minutes of sprint intervals in which you sprint, or increase intensity, for 30 to 60 seconds followed by a 30 to 90 second recovery interval in which you decrease intensity to catch your breath. Perform 10 to 15 intervals after a warm-up.