A lot of trainers LOVE to write complicated workouts. And while these programs CAN work, they’re often beyond the reach of lifters who train in home or garage gyms or simply do not have access to state-of-the-art resistance machines.
The good news is that you don’t need to train in a million-dollar facility to build impressive levels of strength and muscle mass.
In fact, all you really need is a barbell, a squat rack, and plenty of weight plates.
You see, your muscles cannot really differentiate between doing barbell squats with a heavy barbell or leg presses on a $50,000 leg press machine. They just know tension and work.
Providing you train hard enough, your muscles will grow and adapt regardless of how you overload them. After all, old-school bodybuilders built incredible physiques with very basic equipment in what were often basically underground basements.
So, for this workout, we’re taking a page from the golden era of bodybuilding and giving you a barbell-only leg workout to try. Don’t let its simplicity fool you; this is still a brutal workout guaranteed to build lower body strength and muscle size.
- Barbell-Only Leg Workout – Overview
- Exercise Instructions
- Wrapping Up
Barbell-Only Leg Workout – Overview
This workout is designed to build your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves with nothing but a barbell and a squat rack.
Do this workout once or twice a week as part of a body part split routine. If you do it twice, make sure you train your legs on non-consecutive days, e.g., Monday and Thursday, to allow time for rest and recovery.
Of course, before you hit the weights, you must spend a few minutes warming up and preparing your body for what you’re about to do. This will help make your workout more productive and could lower your risk of injury, too.
So, start with a few minutes of easy cardio followed by some dynamic mobility and flexibility exercises for the muscles you’re about to train. Finally, do a couple of light sets of the first exercise of the workout to ensure you’re 100% ready to go.
All warmed up? Then let’s do it!
The Best Barbell-Only Leg Workout
|1||Bottoms-up front squat||5||6-8||2 minutes|
|2||1 ½ Romanian deadlift||4||6-8||2 minutes|
|3||Barbell walking lunges||3||10-12 per leg||90 seconds|
|4||Barbell hack squat||3||10-12||90 seconds|
|5||Barbell hip thrust||3||12-15||60 seconds|
|6||Barbell standing calf raise||3||20-30 yards||60 seconds|
|7||Barbell seated calf raise||3||12-15||60 seconds|
There are two ways to do any exercise: the right way and the wrong way.
The right way is easy on your joints, puts loads of tension on the target muscle, and produces the best results.
The wrong way is usually less effective and more likely to cause injury. So, make sure you do each exercise in this workout the right way by following these instructions:
1. Bottoms-up front squat
While the barbell back squat is often called the king of exercises, the front squat is arguably the better muscle builder. The range of motion is usually bigger, and the upright torso position makes it more quads-centric. On the downside, some lifters do find front squats more awkward.
This bottoms-up variation provides a brief pause between reps, making it somewhat more manageable.
How to do it:
- Set the safety bars on your squat or power rack to around hip height. You’ll need to experiment to find the perfect position. Rest your barbell on the safety bars.
- Stand behind the barbell. Squat down, so the bar is across the front of your shoulders. Hold it with a shoulder-width grip. Position your feet, so they’re about hip-width apart, toes pointing forward.
- Brace your abs. Make sure your lower back is slightly arched and not rounded.
- Drive your feet into the floor and stand up explosively.
- Descend under control and lower the barbell back to the safety pins.
- Allow the weight to settle for 1-2 seconds, reset your core, and repeat.
2. 1 ½ Romanian deadlift
Romanian deadlifts are among the best glute, hamstring, and lower back exercises. But, as good as they are, they’ll soon start to lose their potency if you do them too often. Performing them with the 1 ½-rep method increases time under tension. This will provide the variety you need to make sure they’re always challenging and productive.
How to do it:
- Hold your barbell with a shoulder-width overhand grip. Use lifting straps if necessary. Stand with your feet roughly shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent.
- Hinging from the hips and without rounding your lower back, lean forward and lower the barbell to around knee height.
- Drive your hips forward and stand back up.
- Next, hinge forward again, but this time lower the bar down to mid-shin height. Take care not to round your lower back.
- Stand back up to complete your rep.
- That’s one – keep going!
3. Barbell walking lunges
A lot of bodybuilders are very quick to dismiss lunges and label them as ineffectual. But what they don’t know is that lunges are actually a great quads, glutes, and hamstring builder, and they were one of Ronnie Coleman’s favorite leg exercises.
Big King Ron would do laps of the gym parking lot with as much as 225lbs on his back, and his legs were massive! So, be like Ronnie Coleman and respect walking lunges.
How to do it:
- Rack and hold your barbell across your upper back. Make sure it’s on your traps and NOT your neck. Brace your abs, stand with your feet together, and look straight ahead.
- Take a large step forward, bend your legs, and lower your rear knee to an inch above the floor.
- Step forward with your rear leg and into another rep.
- Continue alternating legs until you have covered the prescribed distance.
- No space for walking lunges? Do regular alternating barbell lunges instead.
4. Barbell hack squat
Before the hack squat machine became popular, this is how people did hack squats. This exercise is named after Estonian weightlifter and wrestler George Hackenschmidt, who was famed for his huge thighs and immense strength (1).
Traditionally, barbell hack squats are done with elevated heels, which increases quad activation. However, some exercisers may find this puts too much stress on the knees. If you DO lift your heels, start with a small block to see how your knees feel, not just during the exercise but afterward, too.
How to do it:
- Place your barbell on the floor. Depending on the diameter of the plates being used, you may need to place the bar on blocks to be able to reach it.
- With your back to the weight, stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and the bar touching your calves.
- Squat down and grab the bar with your hands facing backward. Use lifting straps if necessary.
- Straighten your arms, make sure your back is slightly arched, pull your shoulders down and back, and brace your abs.
- Drive your feet into the floor and stand up, pulling the bar up the back of your legs as you ascend.
- Bend your legs and lower the weight back to the floor. Reset your core and grip and repeat.
5. Barbell hip thrust
Barbell hip thrusts are a very lower-back-friendly way to train your glutes and hamstrings. While you can do this exercise with just your body weight for resistance, it’s much more effective if you rest and hold a barbell across your hips. Go heavy with this exercise – the glutes and hamstrings are pretty powerful and usually respond well to plenty of weight.
How to do it:
- Sit on the floor with your upper back resting against the side of a stable exercise bench. Roll your barbell up your legs, so it’s over your hips. Bend your legs and plant your feet firmly on the floor. Hold the bar steady.
- Drive your feet into the floor and lift your hips up until your knees, hips, and shoulders form a straight line.
- Lower your butt back down to the floor and repeat.
6. Barbell standing calf raise
You don’t need a calf raise machine to train your lower legs. In fact, you only need a barbell. This is another exercise that you should be able to do with heavy weights. The calves are very strong muscles, and the range of motion is also quite small. So, as the memes say, go heavy, or go home!
How to do it:
- Rest and hold your barbell across your upper back. Make sure it’s not on your neck but is on your traps, instead.
- Stand with your feet about hip-width apart, core braced, and legs straight.
- Press your toes into the floor and rise up onto your tiptoes.
- Lower your heels back to the floor and repeat.
- You can make this exercise a little more challenging and effective by placing the balls of your feet on a raised surface, e.g., a couple of bumper plates. However, this will make it a little harder to maintain your balance.
7. Barbell seated calf raise
Seated calf raises target your soleus, which is the lowermost calf muscle. While the soleus is involved in standing calf raises, it’s more active when your knees are bent. This exercise is a freeweight alternative to machine seated calf raises.
How to do it:
- Sit on a chair or flat bench. Rest and hold your barbell across your lower thighs. Place the balls of your feet on the edge of a raised platform, e.g., some bumper plates.
- Plantar flex your ankles and rise up onto your tiptoes.
- Lower your heels down toward the floor and repeat.
- Use a squat bar pad or wrap your barbell in a towel or gym mat to make this exercise more comfortable.
More Leg Workouts:
- The Best 30-Minute Leg Workout for Massive Quads, Hamstrings, and Calves
- Ronnie Coleman’s Leg Workout For Building Monster Wheels
- The Old School 20-Rep Squat Routine for Size and Strength
- 12 Benefits of Deadlifts Everyone Should Know About
- Stop Making These 5 Dangerous Deadlift Mistakes
- Chris Bumstead Shares His Leg Workout
- How To Build Big, Functional Quads Without Knee Pain
While there is nothing wrong with training with machines, there may be times when you don’t have access to the equipment you want to use.
For example, maybe you train in a garage gym, your gym’s machines are broken or being serviced, or you are just feeling nostalgic for some old-school-style bodybuilding training.
Whatever the reasons, be assured that a barbell and squat rack are all you really need to build muscular, strong legs. Heck, add a bench, and you can train your entire body with this minimalist setup.
So, don’t worry if you don’t have access to state-of-the-art machines – you don’t need them. Just grab a barbell, and train hard and heavy. Your muscles won’t know the difference!
1 – Encyclopedia Britannica: George Hackenschmidt https://www.britannica.com/biography/George-Hackenschmidt
I’m trying a new old school leg routine it’s legs and shoulders or chest whatever I m in the mood for.. light weight but twenty reps three sets for twenty minutes to therty minutes.then eat and rest ..do this for four to five hours every hour fist weeky legs are still pumped and be going at it in two days ..eny thoughts on this .
Try it for a couple of months and see how your body responds. If it works for you then keep at it. But, if you’re not happy with your progress, then try something else. Good luck!