Ever wondered, “Should You Do Squats First on Leg Day?”
I guess there’s no argument about whether you should squat on leg day or not.
Okay, there may be better exercises to isolate the specific muscle groups of the legs.
However, when it comes to packing on total lower body size and strength there really is no better exercise than the squat.
So, should you be squatting first on leg day, or would you be better off saving it till later in your workout?
Let’s find out.
Should You Do Squats First on Leg Day?
Squats will usually be the most physically challenging exercise you do, which is why many people choose to do them first on leg day. However, you may find that performing an isolation exercise first can actually improve and increase your squat. This is especially true when it comes to isolating the hamstrings. You’ll find that performing a few sets of Swiss ball hamstrings curls first on leg day will provide you additional flexibility in your squats.
1. Why Most People Squat First
The main reason most people choose to squat first on leg day is because it is typically the most physically demanding exercise they will perform.
Squats are a compound exercise and work various muscle groups.
And even though they are viewed primarily as a leg exercise, you can actually build muscle throughout the body with squats.
In fact, I’ll go as far to say that if you simply concentrated on the squat, and its many variations, for all of your workouts you would still produce a pretty impressive all-round physique.
The squat will definitely have a knock-on effect on the upper body.
Okay, you may not be quite as big and strong up top as if you were also performing the bench press and pull ups.
But, you would still have a pretty decent upper body from squats alone.
That’s how great an exercise it is.
Basically, squats will also fatigue the Central Nervous System, as well as increasing your metabolic rate.
So, in effect, you can increase your production of “growth hormones”, while simultaneously improving your conditioning.
However, this doesn’t come without a potential downside.
As you can see squats are extremely taxing on the body in general.
Therefore, you may not have the energy to perform them to the best of your ability later in your workout.
And this is why so many people choose to perform squats first on leg day.
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2. Do an Isolation Leg Exercise First
Firstly, I should say that I don’t disagree with those of you who feel you should always do squats first.
Squats will usually be the most challenging exercise you’ll perform in your workout.
Plus, your energy levels are at their highest at the beginning of your workout.
So, to get the greatest benefit it makes sense to do squats first.
For some of you this is all you need to hear – case closed.
However, I’ve actually started to do squats second on my leg day workout.
And I have to admit that this is paying huge dividends.
In fact, my squats have improved no-end and I am regularly progressing in terms of weight, reps, or less rest required.
So, for me doing squats second in my workout is the way forward.
Now, I’m going to assume that you thoroughly warm-up prior to squatting.
And I don’t just mean a few half-hearted squats with an empty bar.
I’m talking about getting your heart rate up, activating your core and hip flexors, plus some mobility and flexibility work too.
However, once I’m done with my warm-up I move immediately onto Swiss ball hamstring curls.
Trust me, this is a game-changer.
Firstly, isolating the hamstrings first will offer additional stability to the knee for when you squat heavy,
Plus, this will actually improve your flexibility, which will also help with squat depth.
And the fact that it is an isolation exercise on one of the secondary muscle groups worked during squats means that it isn’t going to be taxing on your energy levels or Central Nervous System.
Now, I also know that some people prefer to perform an isolation exercise for the quads, e.g. leg extensions, prior to squatting.
This is typically done to pre-fatigue the quads, which means they will have to work that much harder when you squat.
Once again, I have no real issue with this, but this could impact on the effectiveness of your squats.
However, as I say, performing some isolation hamstring work first will do wonders for your squat.
Swiss Ball Leg Curl
3. What Other Exercises Are You Doing on Leg Day?
The other exercises that you perform on leg day could also have an impact on when you should squat.
I’m sure some of you will simply perform squats and deadlifts.
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Now this does pose a conundrum.
Deadlifts are equally (if not more) physically taxing as squats.
And they will definitely hit the Central Nervous System hard.
So, even though your entire leg day workout may only consist of two exercises, they happen to be the two most demanding exercises you can do.
For me, it’s a case of where your focus lies.
Are you specifically trying to get stronger at one lift over the other?
Would you prefer to concentrate more on the front or the back of the lower body?
Which exercise do you usually perform more often?
And which exercise do you find easier/harder of the two?
Simply answering these questions will help you to ascertain the order in which to squat and deadlift.
Additionally, your leg workout may consist of only 3 exercises, and squats happen to be the only real quad-focused exercise.
Perhaps you only have a short amount of time to workout, so you focus on squats, Romanian deadlifts, and calf raises.
For a workout like this I see no harm in performing squats last in your workout.
The other two exercises aren’t as physically demanding as squats (or conventional deadlifts for that matter).
Plus, by performing Romanian deadlifts first you also have the opportunity to focus on the hamstrings.
And as we now know, this could actually help to improve your squats.
It’s all relative.
4. Find What Works Best For YOU
I think it’s important to add that you should find what specifically works for YOU as an individual.
I know many people who complete an extremely intense leg workout, but swear by squatting last.
They find that they can really focus on the specific muscle groups of the legs and are still able to squat perfectly towards the end of their workout.
So, even though squats will be the most physically demanding exercise that most people will perform on leg day, there is no “one-size-fits-all”.
I see nothing wrong with playing around with the order of your exercises on leg day and finding what works best for you.
Plus, if you’ve been performing the same exercises in the same order for any length of time then your body has probably adapted to your workout.
So, simply changing the order of your exercises could actually stimulate new muscle and strength gains.
I’m all for you experimenting and finding what works best for you.
Leg Workout For Serious Growth
So, as you can see there are many schools of thought on whether you should squat first on leg day.
For me, squatting second after performing some Swiss ball hamstring curls has been an absolute game-changer.
I find that I have far more flexibility, which has certainly improved my squat technique.
This has led to increased squatting numbers, and of course increases in muscle and strength.
However, when you should squat also depends on the other exercises that you’re performing on leg day.
If this is a simple series of isolation exercises then squatting later in your workout won’t do you any harm.
Plus, I would say that you should play around with the order of the exercises in your workout every once in a while.
This can help you to understand what you and your body prefers, as well as stimulating new growth.
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Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.