Does leg day burn most calories?

Whether you’re trying to lose weight, gain muscle, or just get in better shape, understanding how many calories you burn during different exercises is key to reaching your fitness goals. Many gym-goers wonder if leg day – meaning strength training exercises focused on the lower body – truly burns the most calories per workout. Let’s take a closer look at the science behind calorie burn and the results may surprise you.

How Many Calories Does Leg Day Burn?

There’s no single number we can point to when asking how many calories leg day burns. The calories you burn will depend on multiple factors:

  • Your weight – Heavier people burn more calories for the same exercises
  • The specific exercises – Certain leg exercises like squats burn more calories than others
  • The duration of your workout
  • The amount of rest between sets
  • Your effort level – Pushing yourself harder increases calorie burn

However, we can estimate how many calories leg day burns on average by looking at the major muscle groups worked and the calorie burn potential of popular leg exercises.

Calories Burned By Muscle Groups

When it comes to legs, the major muscle groups we target are:

  • Quadriceps – Front of the thighs
  • Hamstrings – Back of the thighs
  • Glutes – The butt muscles
  • Calves – Lower legs

Studies show that training larger muscle groups burns more calories per rep. The quadriceps and glutes are two of the biggest muscle groups in the body. This is a key reason that leg day can burn lots of calories if done right.

Calorie Burn Of Common Leg Exercises

Looking at popular leg exercises, here’s an estimate of how many calories a 155lb person can burn in 30 minutes:

Exercise Calories burned in 30 minutes
Squats Up to 290 calories
Lunges Up to 260 calories
Leg press Up to 120 calories
Leg extensions Up to 90 calories
Leg curls Up to 80 calories
Calf raises Up to 130 calories

As you can see, compound exercises like squats and lunges burn significantly more calories than isolation moves like leg extensions. This highlights the importance of choosing the right exercises on leg day.

How Does Leg Day Compare to Other Workouts?

Now that we know leg day can burn quite a few calories if programmed correctly, how does it compare to upper body workouts or cardio for calorie burn?

Leg Day vs Upper Body Weights

Leg day works some of the body’s biggest muscles and burns more calories than upper body focused weight training. Here’s a quick comparison:

Leg Day Upper Body
Muscle Groups Worked Quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, calves Chest, back, shoulders, arms
Calorie Burn Potential Higher Lower

Some estimates show leg day burns up to 30% more calories than a workout focused on the upper body when the same number of sets are performed.

Leg Day vs Cardio

Cardio exercise like running, cycling, and rowing are effective for burning calories. But leg day holds its own in this regard. Here’s a brief comparison:

Leg Day Cardio
Calorie Burn High Very High
Fat Burn High High
Muscle Building High Low

While cardio typically burns more calories during the actual workout, strength training offers greater “afterburn.” Your body uses extra energy post-workout to recover and make muscle adaptations. This boosts your resting metabolism.

How to Maximize Calorie Burn on Leg Day

Now that you know the calorie torching potential of leg day, here are some tips to maximize it:

Focus on Compound Exercises

Stick to compound exercises like squats, lunges, deadlifts, and step-ups that use multiple large muscle groups. Avoid too many isolation exercises.

Use Supersets

Supersetting exercises by moving quickly between them increases calorie burn. Try supersetting squats and lunges.

Shorten Rest Periods

Keeping rest periods to 30-90 seconds will rev up your metabolism. Shooting for 30 seconds between supersets really torches calories.

Use Challenging Weights

Lifting heavy weights recruits more muscle fibers, leading to greater energy expenditure. Lift with enough weight to challenge yourself in the 8-12 rep range.

Add In Cardio

Finishing your workout with 5-10 minutes of high intensity interval training will further increase calorie burn.

Sample Leg Day Workout

Here is an example leg day workout focused on maximizing calorie burn:

Workout A

  • Barbell back squat – 4 sets x 6-8 reps
  • Superset: Dumbbell walking lunges – 4 sets x 8 reps each leg
  • Superset: Lying leg curls – 3 sets x 10-12 reps
  • Calf press – 5 sets x 15 reps
  • 5 minute high intensity interval training finisher (30 seconds sprint, 30 seconds rest)

Workout B

  • Barbell front squat – 4 sets x 6-8 reps
  • Superset: Bulgarian split squats – 4 sets x 8 reps each leg
  • Superset: Seated leg extension – 3 sets x 12 reps
  • Seated calf raise – 5 sets x 15 reps
  • 5 minute high intensity interval training finisher (30 seconds sprint, 30 seconds rest)

Nutrition For Maximal Calorie Burn

To get maximum calorie burn from leg day, nutrition counts too. Here are some pre and post-workout nutrition tips:


  • Eat 1-2 hours before training
  • Consume 20-40g of protein
  • Eat 30-60g of carbs
  • Hydrate with 16-24oz of water


  • Consume 20-40g protein within 45 minutes
  • Replenish glycogen stores with carbohydrates
  • Rehydrate with 24-32oz of water
  • Consume anti-inflammatory foods like berries

Proper pre and post-workout nutrition primes your body to burn more energy and recover optimally from your leg workout.


Leg day can burn significant calories when programmed correctly. A well-designed strength training workout targeting the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes has the potential to burn just as many calories as steady-state cardio. While cardio may burn more calories minute-per-minute, leg day confers greater metabolic benefits by building muscle, increasing your resting metabolism, and burning more fat.

To get the most out of your leg day calorie burn, focus on compound exercises like squats and lunges lifting challenging weights. Superset exercises to maximize calorie burn, and finish with short bursts of high intensity interval training. Proper pre and post-workout nutrition will help fuel your workout and speed recovery.

Incorporating frequent leg days into your training program is one of the best ways to burn calories, kickstart fat loss, and boost your metabolism. So next time leg day comes around, remember it’s one of the most productive sessions of the week for reaching your body composition goals.

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