Because your legs contain some of the largest muscle groups in your body, training them can be energy-intensive and challenging. You need to stimulate the muscles to help them grow, but training them too much can be counterproductive, as that doesn't give them time to rest, repair and rebuild.
Train your legs muscles at least twice per week but no more than four times weekly on non-consecutive days. How often you do train depends on the intensity of your session and your goals.
A Quick Refresh on Leg Muscle Anatomy
Your legs consist of four basic muscle areas — the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and calves. Many exercises used to train these muscles are compound exercises such as squats, lunges and deadlifts.
So, how many exercises per muscle group is recommended? Including compound exercises in your training routine is a way to stimulate all four muscles with one exercise. However, one or two muscle groups are usually more dominant in certain exercises, such as the quadriceps during the squats, and hamstrings and glutes during the deadlift.
How Often Should You Do Leg Day?
If you want to strengthen your leg muscles but aren't sure how often to work them without overloading them, you may be wondering: How many leg day workouts a week enough? Is it one, two, three or maybe even four? Here's how often do you need to do leg workouts to see results.
Because your legs are a large muscle area, it's common to train them just twice per week, leaving 48 to 72 hours between workouts so they have time to recover for optimal muscle growth, according to ACE Fitness. This twice-per-week protocol usually applies to bodybuilders and power lifters who max out the amount of weight they use during squats; performing just six to eight reps in each of three to six sets at a workout.
However, if you're new to training or train for fitness — rather than size or power — you may train them up to four times per week on non-consecutive days. If you're sore from a previous leg workout, don't perform another leg workout even if it's on your workout plan. You'll benefit from the extra rest.
The reason why newer trainees or fitness enthusiasts can train more often has to do with the lighter weight load usually used at workouts. When you first begin a resistance workouts, you may use just your body weight or light dumbbells to progress your form and start the process of muscle development.
Fitness enthusiasts who aren't training for size usually use moderately heavy weights — around 50 to 60 percent of a one-rep maximum — for higher reps of 12 to 20 per two to three sets during training. These lighter weights aren't as taxing so your legs don't need as much of a recovery.
With all that being said, life sometimes gets in the way of a training schedule and you may be wondering, "will I lose strength if I miss one leg day?" The answer is no. According to a May 2013 analysis in Sports Medicine, it takes around three weeks for muscle strength to decrease.
Is It OK to Do Leg Workouts Every Day?
Ultimately, it's not recommended to work the same muscles every day or do the same workout every day. The reasons for this include putting yourself at a greater risk of injury, impairing muscle growth and even risking overtraining and burnout.
However, it is OK to lift weights every day, as long as you're working different muscle groups each time and giving the previously worked muscle groups a chance to recover.
You can also work different muscle groups on the same day. So, if you're wondering if it's a good idea to work you legs and back on the same day, for instance, you can, according to Anytime Fitness. Just be aware your workout might take you significantly longer if you're working two muscle groups in the same session.
ACE Fitness recommends giving your muscles 24 hours to recover between workouts if you want to build muscular endurance, 24 to 72 hours if you want to build hypertrophy and 48 to 72 hours if you want to build strength and power.
How Long Should Your Leg Day Be?
Because everyone's fitness goals and abilities are different, there's no set amount of time it'll take to get your leg day done. However, the current American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) guidelines have a set and rep recommendations depending on a few factors.
Below is a breakdown of ACSM's guidelines, thanks to Trek Education, a non-profit founded by two doctors, which helps translate scientific research to the public. Many people wonder if 12 reps is enough for legs, and in general, 8 to 12 reps of an exercise is sufficient. However, if you're training for muscle power, you'll generally want to perform fewer reps (3 to 6), and if you're training for muscle endurance you'll want to perform more reps (10 to 25).
You can incorporate leg exercises such as vertical jumps, front squats, glute bridges and lunges into the following routine. (It's worth noting running doesn't count as leg day in the gym or at home, according to the University of Washington School of Medicine. Running counts as cardio and the exercises mentioned before count as strength.)
Use the below chart as a guide, but take into account your own fitness level or directions given to you by a personal trainer or medical professional.
For Muscle Strength
For Muscle Power
For Muscle Hypertrophy
For Muscle Endurance
1 set of 8-12 reps of 8-10 exercises
1-3 sets of 8-12 reps of 8-10 exercises, rest 1-3 minutes between sets
1-3 sets of 3-6 reps of 8-10 exercises, rest 1-3 minutes between sets
1-3 sets of 8-12 reps of 8-10 exercises, rest 1-3 minutes between sets
2-4 sets of 10-25 reps of 8-10 exercises, rest 30 seconds to 1 minute between sets
Light-Heavy Training Program
Implementing a light-heavy training program helps advanced weightlifters who have experienced training plateaus, according to ExRx.net. The light-heavy program involves training legs twice a week.
Day one of your training would be your heavy day, during which you complete exercises using a heavy load for a lower repetition ranges such as 6 to 8 reps per set at 75 to 85 percent of your one-rep maximum.
Train your legs again three or four days later using the same or different exercises. However, this time, use a lighter load for more repetitions, such as 65 to 75 percent of your one-rep maximum for 8 to 12 reps per set.
This light-heavy method decreases the risk for over-training and at the same time helps you break through a plateau.
Ready to show your legs some love? This equipment-free, lower-body circuit takes only 10 minutes. Push play on the video below and get ready for a fiery leg workout!
- ExRx.net: "Variable Resistance Weight Training"
- ACE Fitness: "How to Select the Right Volume and Frequency for Your Clients"
- ACE Fitness: "5 Benefits of Compound Exercises"
- ACSM: "American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Progression models in resistance training for healthy adults"
- Trek Education: "Resistance Training"
- ACE Fitness: "How to Select the Right Rest Intervals and Post-Training Recovery for Your Clients"
- Sports Medicine: "The development, retention and decay rates of strength and power in elite rugby union, rugby league and American football: a systematic review"
- University of Washington School of Medicine: "Cardio and Strength: What’s Best for Your Health?"