IFBB Legend Shawn Ray takes you through his surprisingly simple, yet exceptionally brutal Mutant-making leg training program.
Leg Training Motivation: Doing What Others Won’t
Maybe part of why I liked leg day so much is that so many others didn’t. There was something about doing what others weren’t willing to do that drove me even harder. I enjoyed showing up the ones who were “all-talk” rather than ALL-IN on the bodybuilding lifestyle.
If I’m honest with myself, in the very beginning of my journey to the big stage, it wasn’t exactly my favorite day of the week, either. But over time I came to relish walking out of the gym, legs trembling involuntarily, just wanting to make it to the car and head home to recover. Mentally, though, I was smiling. It was incredibly gratifying to know I’d left the squat rack shaking its head in disbelief, or so I liked to imagine!
Harness The Power Of Leg Training - And Keep It Simple
A well-done leg day workout is special for reasons other than instilling a sense of dread into some people. First of all, compound moves (like squats) use larger muscle groups, which helps increase testosterone naturally. Big heavy lifts make for a great calorie burning workout, too, because more muscles get involved in each rep. You’ll also need to train legs - and your core - to get stronger and bigger, because they produce the majority of the power for your heavy lifts.
If you skip leg day, then you’re also underestimating the importance of your lower half when it comes to having a pain-free life. Imbalanced conditioning, lack of mobility, weak hamstrings, weak glutes, tight hips - these often lead to weaker joints, less stability, and a greater risk for injury both inside and outside the gym.
I’m living proof you don’t need exotic training techniques to generate massive leg gains. Maybe I’m just old school, but for me nothing beats the tried-and-true leg exercises - the ones I focused on during all of my championship runs.
How Many Times A Week Should You Train Legs?
A lot of lifters want to know how many times a week to train legs. My preference is twice a week, about five days apart - this is one of the biggest differences about my Shawn Ray Training approach compared to many other bodybuilding workout programs. These big muscle groups can handle the double-duty and you’ll be shocked at how fast you start gaining weight and visible muscle definition.
Don’t forget to focus on form and mind-muscle connection. Embrace the suck, the pain and the strain. Master the basics of these functional strength training exercises and you’ll hit all the major leg muscles to provide a platform for shocking improvement, fast.
The Best Leg Day Workout Split For Gains
Though exercise splits can be modified, the below routine is the one I found to be the most effective to get bigger legs.
3 Sets, 15 - 20 Reps
Legs are the hardest body part to train - hard enough that the night before a leg workout, I’m thinking about what exercises and what weights I’m going to use. I like to warm up three sets of leg extensions before moving on to the compound movements; after those, I come back for two more heavy sets to finalize my leg workout. Make sure you keep your toes pointed straight out and use your quads, not your glutes.
5 Sets, 8 Reps
This is the king of exercises for leg development! It takes me about three sets to fully warm up, and then I’ll blast the last couple sets with more weight and controlled form. Keep your head straight, back erect, and remember to breathe. Focus on feeling this exercise in the glutes, front thighs, and even a little bit in the lower back due to stabilization. Make sure you’re using full range of motion, not partial reps!
I like to use knee wraps for squats on those last heavy sets when I have five 45lb plates on each side, just for extra stability. Squats will show you how bad you really want results! There’s a difference between wanting it and wanting it bad. Another person could have stopped on the 4th rep or 5th rep, but not me. When you put your mind to it, you can do it.
4 - 5 Sets, 10 Reps
I keep my feet pretty close together on this movement, but leg press foot placement is up to you. It’s the intensity that matters. Explode at the bottom and control the weight on the way down (the eccentric portion). I like keeping constant pressure and tension on the muscles - no pausing! The moment I hit peak contraction at the top of the leg press, I’m coming right back down to start the next rep.
Leg days will separate the men from the boys - you’ll find guys either puke, pass out, or quit. You really have to dig in deep on this day! There’s only one way to do it, and that’s to the extreme.
8 Sets, 10 - 12 Reps
Hamstrings are considerably smaller than the quads, so they need more work and more sets to keep that balance. I only use one or two exercises for hamstrings, so I’ll do more sets - three to warm up, then five rock solid ones. If I do more exercises that day, I split up the sets.
During this exercise, think of your hamstrings moving similar to how your biceps move during a bicep curl. Visualize your hamstrings curling up into a ball as you focus on bringing your ankles to your butt. Keep constant tension here - no rest or pause, just up and down.
Quick tip: Mindset is everything, along with work ethic and effort. Without consistency, you’re never going to get to where you want to be. You need to challenge your muscles all the time, and stop skipping reps. You need to feel that burn! I eat, sleep, and breathe bodybuilding. When you’re in the gym just think of the next contest - it’s coming. You have to make the most of every day. The challenge is in trying. If you fail to try, you’ll never get there
Standing Calf Raises
5 Sets, 10 - 20 Reps
Seated Calf Raises
5 Sets, 10 - 20 Reps
It doesn’t matter the order of the exercises here, just do them! When training calves, and on leg day in general, wear shoes that aren’t too thick. A basketball shoe isn’t ideal; something thin will improve the mind-muscle connection with your legs and calves.
There’s no secret bigger calves workout; you simply have to train them properly and frequently. It might be a genetic thing for some guys that really seem to struggle, but I’m doing the same exercises they are - and I never had big calves, I worked for mine. You really just have to work hard at them.
Shawn Ray’S Lethal Leg Day Training Routine
Everybody has different training methods, so it’s important to just try things. If it works for you, great! If not, move on and do something different - like this lethal leg workout! When you finish, make sure to down a protein shake or EAAs within 5-10 minutes, eat a lot of nutrient-dense food, and get a good night’s rest, because leg day is very taxing. And remember - always take satisfaction in doing what others don’t or won’t!
Author Bio: Shawn Ray
If you want to get big, then listen to bodybuilding legend Shawn Ray. This seasoned Hall of Famer stands apart from even the most recognized figures in the sport after being a Mr. Olympia Top 5 Finalist on twelve occasions, winning twice in the Arnold Classic, being a Pro Ironman Winner, and receiving countless other awards.
Since retiring, Shawn has kept driving forward with the same intensity and love for performance and established the Shawn Ray Hawaiian Classic. He’s also an author, producer, webcast host, NPC Contest Promoter, IFBB Pro League Promoter, and Master of Ceremonies at numerous events.