Leg day in the gym has become so famous it’s basically a meme.
“Leg day, dude!” … “Don’t skip leg day!” … “I’m dead after leg day!”
And so on and so on.
If you’re new to working out and the gym, though, you might be wondering:
What is leg day? And why do people talk about “skipping leg day”?
Leg day is (usually) one day per week, depending on what workout program you do, where you primarily exercise your legs. On leg day, you’ll typically do a few leg exercises like:
It’s pretty common for most programs to have leg day sometime in the middle of the week. Wednesday is a really popular day to train legs, for example. If you train 3 times per week, that gives you lots of rest between Monday and Friday’s upper body sessions.
But some programs hit your whole body every workout (called full body training) or hit legs multiple times per week. It all depends.
Leg day explained (and what exercises to do on leg day)
To understand leg day you have to understand the art and science of constructing a workout program.
One of the key, fundamental pieces of science to understand when it comes to strength training is this:
Without the help of drugs and steroids, our muscles recover, repair themselves, and ultimately grow from a strength workout for about 36-48 hours after training.
That means that, yes, resting after a workout is actually super important.
That’s when all the gains happen!
So most good workout programs that were constructed with any thought will very rarely have you hitting the same muscle groups on consecutive days. Even hitting the same muscle group every other day would be pushing it.
After all, if your muscles are still recovering, lifting again will only:
- Hinder your recovery
- Make you hit the gym at less than 100% strength
From there, you need to know that most (not all) workout programs split workouts into upper body days and lower body days.
That can take a lot of different forms, like PPL (push, pull, legs), PHUL (power hypertrophy upper lower), or just basic splits like arms, chest and shoulders, legs, etc.
Can you train all of your muscle groups at once? Absolutely! A lot of people swear by it for building better stamina and work capacity.
But MOST workout programs will have a separate day for legs so you can hit them with 100% intensity.
(Leg workouts are very draining.)
Leg day also gives your arms, chest, shoulders, and back a bit of a rest from being hit directly.
What exercises are good for leg day?
It’s really hard to beat the barbell back squat when it comes to a leg workout for mass.
But typically (again, depending on the program you do), you’ll hit your legs on leg day with a few big compound movements like:
- And deadlifts
Followed by some isolation work on the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. That might look like:
- Leg extensions
- Leg press machine
- Leg curl machine
- Calf raises
But that’s only scratching the surface.
The workout programs I’ve used (here’s my favorite for packing on lots of muscle fast) tend to favor single leg movements like:
- Bulgarian split squats
- Reverse lunges
- Pistol squats
- And more
Why does everyone want to skip leg day?
Because it’s effing hard!
Think about it…
Your legs are one of the most powerful parts of your body. Your quads, hamstrings, and glutes are big muscles that can move serious weight.
So working your legs to exhaustion can be BRUTAL and very tiring.
Working with very heavy loads is also draining and difficult on your nervous system.
So people skip leg day because it’s really, really hard if you’re doing it right.
(I almost never get winded doing things like bench press, overhead press, or bicep curls. But pushing leg workouts close to failure makes me feel like I’m about keel over and die.)
On top of that, legs are a less glamorous muscle group than the chest, shoulders, and arms.
So you can kind of get away with occasionally half-assing your leg workouts.
Until shorts season rolls around, anyway…
And the last reason that people love skipping leg day?
It makes you sore as hell for a few days after!
Why does leg day make you so sore?
Being sore after leg day is a rite of passage in the gym.
Everyone deals with it at some point!
But why do leg workouts make you so sore the next day?
Luckily I have a whole article on this topic: Why you’re sore after leg day and what to do about it.
But here’s the short answer:
Your legs have big muscles that need lots of resources and rest to recover:
A smaller muscle group, like your biceps, can recover quickly because it doesn’t take as many resources or as much time to repair the damage done in the gym.
Your quads, on the other hand, are one of the biggest muscles in your body! They need plenty of time, rest, calories, protein, hydration, and more to help you get back on your feet (sometimes literally).
That’s why it’s very common to barely be able to walk from soreness after leg day.
Your legs can lift heavy weights
Chances are that your strongest lifts are all leg or lower body movements.
It’s common for people to be able to squat about twice what they bench, for example, and to deadlift even more than that.
Those are heavy, heavy loads that are really taxing on your muscles and nervous system.
It takes time to recover after doing that kind of work.
You use your legs for a lot of stuff!
I’m convinced that leg soreness is just a little more noticable than soreness in other parts of your body because your legs are so critical to your daily life.
You don’t often have to retract your arms and chest into a deep bench press position on a daily basis, for example.
(Next time after bench day, try it and I bet you’ll feel a bit tender.)
But your legs?
You squat, bend over, bend down, walk, run, and jog almost every single day.
When your legs are hurting, you can bet you’ll feel it.
For some good tips on how to prevent and deal with leg day soreness, check out the article I linked above! It’s got all my best advice.
Is it OK to skip leg day, though?
I wouldn’t make a habit out of it.
Even if you’re OK with not having huge, muscular legs, there are a few reasons leg workouts are really important.
According to MensHealth, strength training in your legs can:
- Build muscle (duh)
- Develop functional strength (think, picking things up)
- Prevent injury (builds strength around joints and tendons)
- Develop explosiveness and athleticism
Better to learn to deal with the pain and the misery than to miss out on all of the benefits of leg day.
Look. Leg day just sucks.
It’s hard, it’s exhausting, and it makes you sore.
But it’s also super important for packing on muscle, developing overall and core strength, and getting a well-developed physique.
So now you know the legend of leg day, why people hate it, why people skip leg day, and most importantly, why you shouldn’t.
If you’re looking for a lifting program that will help you develop athletic, well-proportioned legs without squatting until you’re blue in the face, check out one of my favorite lean bulking programs for men.
Hope this helped, folks!
(You can also check out my complete guide to more gym terminology.)