How to Build Strong and muscular legs and Calves

Arnold Squatting

There are many muscle magazines out there with articles on how to build big arms, shoulders and chest. If you noticed, training articles on legs and back are there but not as much as with the showy muscle groups. Why is that? Well, because the legs and back muscle groups are very hard and tiring to train. Most people are turned off when it comes time to train these tough body parts. Those of us who have been training for a very long time know that the main staple for leg training is the squat. The squat is the one exercise responsible for building overall body power and development. The squat is so functional and productive that basically all athletes perform the squat or some variation of the squat.

In the old York Barbell magazine (Strength & Health), where most of the lifters depicted during the 1940’s and 50’s were Olympic lifters; all the athletes performed the squat. We fast forward to today, and we see all serious bodybuilders and strength athletes performing the squat. The squat is one of the main powerlifts in powerlifting because it’s the one exercise that builds power and strength all while stroking the testosterone furnace.

The next exercise, which is in my opinion, the number one exercise while squats is a very close number two, is the dead-lift. This exercise alone has also been shown to build great strength and development. When you perform the dead-lift, everything from your hair follicles to your toes are flexed. When it comes time to train on these lifts or to use these exercises to help in the development of your legs and back, many trainers do not go to town on these or even worse, avoid them all together.

Hopefully, those of you reading the intense-apex-alpha-male blog do not have the problem of being scared off from squatting or dead-lifting. In Arnold’s original encyclopedia of modern bodybuilding, in the leg training section, he goes on to say that “leg training has to be brutal to be effective and that means building up to a two or three hundred pound squat for multiple set and reps. What Arnold is saying is true, but we must develop a productive method of training to reach those poundage’s. I am going to share with you a personally proven method for building strength and muscle in the legs and calves.

I wrote a post titled “How to get Big and Strong,” which goes into the 5X5 method. For our leg training routine we will be performing the 5×5 system on squats and leg presses, and on the pumping exercises we will be doing 3×8-10.

When I started training at a commercial Gym, (Frenchies Gym in Brooklyn N.Y.), I noticed that many of the guys who worked out there followed a very basic and very productive leg training program, which by the way I still use today, and that program and it grouping of exercise looked like this:


1) I would start off with standing calf raises. I would perform about 10 sets of 20 reps

2) Seated calf raises would be the second exercise, which I would do about 10 sets of twenty reps

On standing calf exercise, I would do about 300 pounds and for the seated raises I would do 135 pounds, which amounts to three 45lbs Olympic plates on the machine.

For Legs, I would do the following:

1) Start off with barbell squats. I would do 8 to 10 sets of 10 or 8 reps and work up to 315 pounds.

2) The next exercise would be the leg press for 5 sets of 8 to 10 reps building up to 600 pounds.

3) Next, I would do the hack squat machine for 3 sets of 8 reps.

4) Next would be leg extensions for about 6 sets of 10 reps

5) Next I would turn over on the machine and do lying leg curls for about 8 sets of 10 reps.

That was the leg workouts that were done back then old school style.

If you notice, that type of leg training was heavy in volume and low on intensity and devoid of any methodical method. We just did what the other guys did and you know what? It worked, at least for a short time anyway.

Well, I have come a long way since then, although I do use that routine but not with the same rep and set schemes.

Here is what the program looks today.

1) Standing Calf raises for 5 sets of 10 reps. Next, I would use the 5×5 system with about 1,500 pounds; Yup, three quarters of a ton: Impressive right? Well, I noticed that my shoulders, which took the brunt of the weight along with my spine, felt like the tendons were being pulled off. This did not happen all at once though. It began to manifest as time went on and pain began to resonate from my neck to my shoulder joints, so I stopped using this ungodly amount of weight and I stayed at around 600 pounds. Many of you reading this are most definitely capable of doing the same, if not more, with the 5×5 system. Remember that calves are a very powerful muscle group and the range of motion needed to activate these muscles is a rather short range of motion. That is why the calf muscles can handle a lot of weight. Unfortunately, when performed on the standing calf machine, all of that weight is placed on the top of the shoulders while standing erect affecting your spine. The solution here is to use the leg press machine. On the leg press machine, you can do the toe press with almost about the same weight. Your shoulders are not affected and your spine is either resting flat on the pad like on the vertical leg press machine or against the seated pad like on the incline leg press machine.

2) The next exercise is the seated calf raise exercise, which I do 3 sets of about ten to fifteen reps on with four 45 pound plates, which comes out to 180 pounds.

This is what leg training looks like using the 5×5 system.

1) Leg extensions for 3×10 pre exhaust warm up set

2) Squats 2 sets of 10 reps with 135 and 185. I load up the bar with a poundage of about 250 and do the 5×5 system. Once that is done I take note so that next time I increase it to 260pounds. Even though, as mentioned above, 315 would be the poundage worked up to, I feel that by following the 5×5 method and taking it slow, my strength will move up much faster hopefully giving me a much higher poundage.

3) The leg press would be the next exercise following the same system of 5×5. Same concept as with the squats.

4) I finish the quadriceps work with three more sets of ten reps on leg extensions.

5) I stretch the legs and begin my hamstring work with lying leg curls using a set and rep scheme of 5×8.

6) Next, I finish off with roman dead-lifts, which is a variation of the stiff leg dead lift. Instead of keeping the legs stiff, I buckle my knees a little while performing the dead-lifts. I do about three sets of ten reps.

There you have one of the routines I use for my leg training and for training calves. The 5×5 system is used on all compound movements and for the pumping exercises the rep scheme is not as rigged; it’s a little lose.

Do not forget to stretch the leg muscles thoroughly. Read this article:

Stretching Article

For those who cannot squat, there are some nice alternatives which I will get into in a future blog post.

Give this program a try using the 5×5 system. You should experience strength and muscle gains.

Until Next Time,

God Bless and Train Hard.


3 thoughts on “How to Build Strong and muscular legs and Calves”

    1. Hey Adam, For complete leg development, leg curls and light roman deadlifts for the hamstrings will help in developing the legs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *