It's that day of the week again. Leg day. You go in, you do your 3-5 sets of squats, you do your 3-5 sets of leg press, you do your 3-5 sets of leg extensions and then you do your 3-5 sets of hamstring curls. You finish up, you go home. For the next week you can barely walk. Your legs are so sore that you look like you have crapped your pants every time you walk. So you just stop doing legs. It isn't worth the soreness that follows.
Unless you have aspirations of being a bodybuilder, you do not need to build up huge musculature of your legs. You do not need to do a “leg day”. You do not need to be sore for several days afterwards. You should work your legs, you should make them strong, but unless you are a bodybuilder (i.e. using bodybuilding drugs) you do not need to work your legs like a bodybuilder does.
Training like an Olympic lifter trains is a better option for a natural. Olympic lifters squat frequently for low repetitions, usually between 1-3.
So how do your train legs without becoming too sore?
Train your legs more often with lower reps.
This is a routine I grabbed from Chaos and Pain (one of the top 3 lifting blogs on the net, NSFW). I've been doing this for most of the year and it's kickass.
This is a squat based routine. You will not need to do any other leg exercise other than squats (unless you need to work your calves). You can do front squats, back squats, Olympic squats, or low-bar squats. The choice is yours.
You will squat at least 3 days per week. You can choose any 3 days and you may work your legs up to 7 days per week. I actually squat almost every time I am in the gym, up to 6 days per week. Because of my frequent, low rep routine my legs are almost never sore. It used to be that I would do a leg day once a week and then I would waddle around for several days afterward until the soreness went away.
To do this routine you will need to know your one rep squat maximum. That is, the heaviest weight you can squat once while maintaining proper form. Squatting for a single repetition is called a “single”. You will want to find your one rep max before you start this routine.
To find your one rep max you will warm up with a light weight. I warm up with the empty bar for 10 reps, then 135 lbs for 5 reps. After that you can add 30-50 lbs per set while doing only one rep. Your goal is not to tire yourself out with endless reps, but to warm up your legs and activate your strength. You will keep adding weight and adding weight until you get up to your one rep max. Once the weight starts getting heavier you can add lighter weight, instead of adding 30 lbs you can add 20 lbs or 10 lbs, until you get to your maximum weight.
- 10-15 singles at 90% of your one rep max with 60 seconds or less rest in between sets. When you are able to do 15 singles at 90% of your one rep max with less than a minute in between sets it is time to add 5 or 10 lbs to your working weight.
To find 90% of your one rep max take your cell phone calculator and multiply your one rep max weight by .90 and you have your working weight.
Before you get to the singles you will want to warm up. To warm up for this routine you can warm up the same way you would warm up to find your one rep max.
You must pay attention to the time. Bring a watch, check your phone, watch the clock on the wall but you must keep the rest time under or exactly at one minute.
This routine is not for beginners. Beginners need to do many repetitions to build the muscles of the legs and to develop the lungs. If you have been lifting for a little while, a couple years or so, this routine could be perfect for you.
Low reps can and do build muscles. Take a look at Olympic lifters for confirmation. Those guys rarely go over 3 reps and have insane musculature of their legs.
Squats are not such a taxing exercise that they cannot be performed frequently. Pat Mendes, who squats 800 lbs without a lifting belt or lifting suit, squats 7 days per week.
It should go without saying that the squats should be performed as a full, ass to grass, squat. Watch the video linked above to see how to perform a full Olympic squat under a heavy weight for a single.
You can do other exercises or work other body parts after hitting your squats. The human body can and should be worked as a whole rather than as parts (unless you are training for bodybuilding purposes).
You will likely be sore the first time or two doing this routine, but when you make it a habit you rarely get sore.
This is not a complete weight lifting routine. It is simply a leg routine to continue work and strengthen your legs. You will still need to do upper body exercises. As always, I recommend the big dog lifts: Deadlift, overhead press, bent rows, pull-ups, dips, pushups, barbell curls, close grip bench press etc..