Men's fitness magazines tend to focus on workouts that develop the upper body muscles -- especially the arms, chest, and shoulders. In contrast, women’s fitness magazines tend to focus on workouts for the abs, glutes, and legs. And it's safe to assume that rather than large, muscular legs, most women want athletic legs. They wants legs such as those possessed by champion figure skaters, tennis players, and dancers. The good news is that it’s possible to develop athletic legs without spending the countless hours our favorite athletes put in on the ice, tennis court, or in the dance studio.
To get on the fast track to shapely, powerful legs, you have to know what works and what doesn’t. What doesn’t work, or at least what doesn’t work well, is endless hours of aerobics.
In one study on obese women, one group of subjects performed aerobic training for three months, a total of 45 hours of exercise, with no calorie restriction. These subjects only lost an average of 2.9 pounds (1.3 kilos), so not much of a return on your investment. Further, traditional cardio training (such as steady state training performed on treadmills and elliptical cycles) do little to develop muscle -- and the fact is, underneath every shapely women's curve is a muscle! Also, if fat loss is a concern, the good news is that the more muscle you have, the more your body will burn calories at rest. The bad news is that aerobic training can compromise muscle mass, and if you lose muscle without adjusting your caloric intake, you may gain fat.
One of the issues with many leg workouts designed for women is there is an overemphasis on the quads, little work for the hamstrings, and no work for the calves. For complete development, you need to have a more balanced approach to your training. It’s also important to determine which lower body muscles are lagging, and prioritize those areas in your training. For example, if your calves are relatively small, you could start your workouts with calves so that you can put more energy into these exercises. Again, the goal is to achieve balanced leg development, not to see how many plates you can slap on a leg press.
Although there are generally-accepted guidelines for prescribing reps and sets in a workout to achieve a specific goal, there are differences between the sexes that should be taken into account when designing workouts. Because women have less testosterone, they are generally not able to recruit as many fast-twitch muscle fibers as men (and as such are considered less neurologically efficient). This difference creates a relatively lower level of muscle tension, enabling most women to perform more work at relatively higher intensities levels than men. The ability to train at higher relative intensities than men has been demonstrated by the training methods of the Chinese women weightlifters, athletes who have dominated that sport for over three decades. From a practical perspective, this means that it's better to let the repetitions determine the weights you use, rather than relying on percentage-based formulas.
With that background, here are two challenging leg workouts, each that build on the other, that will help any woman develop shapely legs of their favorite athlete.
Workout 1, 3x Week for 3 Weeks
A1. Heels-Elevated Back Squat, 3 x 8-10, 4010, rest 10 seconds
A2. Dumbbell Lunge, 3 x 8-10 reps per leg, 20X0, rest 10 seconds
A3. Romanian Deadlift, 3 x 8-10, 3010, rest 180 seconds
B1. Lying Leg Curl, Feet Inward, 3 x 6-8, 4010, rest 30 seconds
B2. Back Extension, 3 x 12-15, 2010, rest 60 seconds
C1. Lying Leg Curl, Feet Outward, 3 x 6-8, 4010, rest 30 seconds
C2. Standing Calf Raise, 3 x 12-15, 2111, rest 60 seconds
Workout 2, 3x Week for 2 weeks (alternating between Day 1 and Day 2)
A. Front Squat, 4 x 3-5, 40X1, rest 180 seconds
B1. Dumbbell Step-up, 3 x 6-8, 20X0, rest 30 seconds
B2. Lying Leg Curl, Feet Outward, 3 x 4-6, 4010, rest 180 seconds
C1. Reverse Hyper, 3 x 8-10, 20X1, rest 30 seconds
C2. Seated Calf Raise, 3 x 20-25, 2111, rest 60 seconds
A. Hex Bar Deadlifts, 4 x 4-6, 4020, rest 180 seconds
B1. Dumbbell Split Squat, 4 x 6-8, 30X0, rest 30 seconds
B2. Seated Leg Curl, Feet Neutral, 4 x 4-6, rest 60 seconds
C1. Single-Leg, Romanian Deadlift, 3 x 4-6, rest 30 seconds
C2. Standing Calf Raise, Feet Neutral, 2111, 3 x 10-12, rest 60 seconds
Woman athletes develop their strong, shapely muscles from years of hard practice in their chosen sport. Take the express route to achieve the athletic legs you want by hitting the gym and practicing sound, balanced workouts.