How to Build Up to 3 Leg Days a Week

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Squats are a good exercise option for leg day.
Operations Specialist 2nd Class John Fay lifts weights during a squat competition held in the hangar bay aboard the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74). (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Katarzyna Kobiljak/U.S. Navy photo)

If you are an avid exerciser, you know there are a wide variety of ways to add leg days to your week. "Don't Skip Leg Day" is an important rule if you are preparing for the military.

Sure, you must prepare for fitness tests that include upper-body calisthenics and cardio, but skipping leg day can cause weakness that can lead to injuries during basic training and advanced special ops selections. The Army now sees a need for soldiers to lift weights with the legs and have required it with the relatively new Army Combat Fitness Test.

Most often, leg day training is placed into split routines that allow a few days between lifting leg days. If you think about it, when you are training for some form of military service (especially infantry or special ops), you are basically doing leg days every day. Now the legs days will be a mix of running, rucking, high-repetition calisthenics (lunges) and basic lifting (squats, deadlifts), and perhaps swimming with fins.

I was recently talking to former students who were attending Navy SEAL, Army Ranger, Army Special Forces and Marine infantry training. Each one of them said that they are constantly doing something with their legs and back, including load-bearing rucks, fireman carries, log PT, running hills and sand, and swimming in the ocean with scuba fins.

Building up to the Spec Ops Leg Day is a good goal for any candidate. They all were glad to specifically have trained multiple leg days per week.

Here are three workouts that you can fit into your week that will break the monotony of just doing the same leg day on every one of your leg days.

Monday

Start the week off right with a good warmup run and some light leg calisthenics like lunges and squats. Then get in the weight room and do squats and deadlifts. You can use light weight, medium weight or heavy weight for your lifts, depending on your abilities.

To top off the leg day, depending on the branch of service, get in a challenging run, ruck and/or swim with fins. Make it a combination of two of the three. This can be goal pace running sets for timed run pace, running hills or soft sand, or rucking. When you are comfortable with rucking, you can make it harder by adding in hills, stairs, the stair stepper machine or soft sand.

Give yourself a few days before working the legs again so directly. However, Tuesday and Wednesday can be an upper-body day and a non-impact cardio day in the middle of the week for recovery, just in case the legs are still feeling it from Monday.

You can still run and swim and do other non-impact cardio activities on the days in between but keep it short and fast and make it more of a heart and lung workout than a leg workout. Until you get used to doing these types of leg days, it may take a month or so for you to progress to the point where your recovery is 100% after 2-3 days.

Thursday

This workout can be a mix of calisthenics, sandbags, weight vests, and kettlebell or dumbbell workouts than one with heavy barbells or machines. Mix in drills like farmer walks or even runs, fireman carries, weighted squats, Romanian deadlifts and weighted lunges carrying sandbags.

For this workout, give yourself an active rest of running between sets with a decent distance of 400-800 meters. Then mix in another run, ruck or swim with fins combo to top off your leg day.

Friday can be another upper-body day, with the only leg activity being light running, biking or swimming focused more on cardio than taxing the legs again.

Saturday

By the end of the week, even with an easy Mobility Day on Wednesday, you may not feel 100%. That is OK. Depending on how you are feeling, you have an option for this day: cardio mixed with leg calisthenics or pure leg lift day with cooldown cardio.

Going for a run or ruck for an hour and doing squats and lunges every 10 minutes for 10-20 repetitions each is a great example of run and leg PT. Your standard leg day in the gym can vary from focusing on light weight and technique or medium to heavy with moderate to low repetitions, respectively, depending on your goals.

Sunday is a rest day or makeup day, depending on your schedule success during the week.

As you can see, your lower-body development is important for your preparedness in any military training. Obviously, the upper-body days need to be there, but given the challenges ahead and the chances for lower extremity injuries, your leg durability will be tied to your strength and ability to handle the impact forces of running and rucking.

A final piece of advice is to build up to three times a week over time. If you have not been doing leg days, as with any progression, start off with one day a week, followed by two days a week, and then advance to three days a week over the course of 2-3 months.

-- Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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