Travel Workouts

Best Machine Only Leg Workout For All

Sometimes you don’t have the luxury of free weights to do a leg workout, other times you just don’t feel like it. If that’s you right now – then this is our guide to the best machine only leg workout.

Machine Leg Workout Plan

When you start off hitting the gym you inevitably find yourself using pin selector machines, as it’s a safe way to kick off. As time ticks by, you probably see them as something for mums. (Moms for our US audience) Well, when you travel as much as we do, you find yourself in hotel gyms with no squat rack, or local community fitness centres with a lot of Cybex. So we put our heads together and tested out a few great machine only leg workouts, so we are never left disappointed again. 

This leg machine workout plan is what we agreed on was the best pump with no barbells. Enjoy.

PS: If you’re already bored and want to use free weights – then try the hardest leg workout ever.

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Author // David
Author // David

Bothering dumbbells since 2003. I visit a lot of hotels with terrible gyms, so you don't have to. @masononsocial

To the point

machine only leg workout plan

Are leg machines less effective than free weights? In scientific studies it appears there is no statistically significant difference. Now, that doesn’t mean there aren’t comparisons, such as Squat vs leg press, where Squats may do marginally more for you, but overall, it appears that a machine only leg workout can fill the gap just fine. Here’s the quote below:

“No differences were detected in the direct comparison of strength, jump performance and muscle hypertrophy.”


So I’ve given you the science behind leg machine workouts, now for us – what gives us the right to make a workout recommendation? 

Beyond our own personal experience, all of us here are PT trained and qualified in fitness related disciplines. I’ve been lifting weights for 20 years, always been clean – always been tempted. I’ve been trained to Reps 3 YMCA Fit standard and hold a separate SAQ (Speed, Agility and Quickness) certification.  

We don’t recommend anything we don’t do ourselves. For proof of exactly that, check out this guide on building leg mass, with before and after pics.

In this workout we are going to “try” to observe bodybuilding legend Mike Mentzer’s 1 working set model. Now, you might think “1 set?” but what it really boils down to, is doing two, slow rep and progressively heavier sets of 12 at each station, before identifying your working set weight.

At this point, you need to know the following:

  • When you can’t complete a full range of motion rep – keep doing partial reps
  • When you can’t do a partial rep – pause for 10 seconds, then try again.
  • If that still doesn’t work, then drop the weight by 30 (ish) % – now carry on.
  • Repeat this until there is no more weight left to drop and fail again on.

Only when you’ve followed those steps above, have you truly failed, and this is why ‘1 working set’ is not the real story. It’s essentially lots of sets bundled up together.

Take a minute between each of your initial warm-up sets and try not to waste too much time when you lower the resistance on the leg machines.

Time For The Leg Machine Workout

leg machine workout plan

This machine only leg workout should be able to hold up for most gyms, and if you find you’re a little limited with some leg machines, you can always modify how you use others. I’ll touch on that as we come to them.

If you want to learn more about the gym equipment we will be talking about, check out our guide to the best leg machines to use such as the best pendulum squats, best leg press machines and more. It dives into what we like and why we like. If you ever wanted to kit out a home gym (or commercial), that will be a good resource we hope. 

Muscles Worked

  • Quads 
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Calves
  • Erector Spinae – Lower Back

The Moves…

Aim to work through each of these resistance machines, with one minute rest between the sets.

In the first two sets of each station, go slower up and down than you normally would. This means pick lighter weights and gradually find your ideal 12 rep range 3rd set weight.

(P) means primary muscle

    • Rope Pull Through: 12 – 12 – Fail | Erector Spinae – Glutes (P) – Hip Flexors – Hamstrings.

      This station is all about warming up that area around your posterior core and helping pre-exhaust your glutes, so leg presses can rely more on your quads.

    • Leg Press: 3 Sets > 12 – 12 – Fail inc dropping weight to complete fail | Quads (P) – Glutes – Hamstrings.

      Leg press is the beta-male version of a squat 😉 – Okay, that’s not true and we would probably get quad stomped on by Jay Cutler if he heard us say that. In tests, squats have tended to elicit more muscular stimulation than leg presses, which is great for releasing natural testosterone and growth hormone, but the reality for 99% of us, is the difference is negligible. Go do some leg presses to failure and tell me you haven’t had a leg sesh.

    • Leg Extension: 3 Sets >  12 – 12 – Fail (as above method) | Quads (P).

      No machine only leg workout plan is complete without this teardrop maker.

    • Leg Curls: 3 Sets >  12 – 12 – Fail | Hamstrings (P).

      Don’t neglect your posterior chain training. Strong hamstrings help you avoid future walking and gait issues, also, no one wants saggy backs of the legs.

    • Glute Cable Kickbacks: 3 Sets >  12 – 12 – Fail | Glutes (P) – Hamstrings.
      You tend not to find a kickback machine or glute press in hotel style fitness centres, so we recommended a modification that you probably can do anywhere.

      Stick a handle on a cable column, face the weight stack and slide your foot into the handle like it’s a horse stirrup. Then, kick your foot back. Feel that tension in your glutes? That’s the name of the game with this exercise.

    • Calf Raise: 3 Sets > 15 – 15 – Fail | Calves (P). Calves need a higher rep range, hence the 15s. Whether you choose a calf raise machine, or modify a leg press to let you work your calves, either is fine.

You’re done. If you’ve followed this 1 working set system correctly, you should feel nicely pumped and feeling a bit more positive now about leg machine workouts.

Time Needed For This Workout?

You will get through this workout in approximately 55-65 minutes. 

Suggested Machine Only Leg Workout Playlist

  • You can check out our Barbell’s Abroad Playlist on Spotify – but we personally love something a little more potent for leg sessions. Try this Viking workout mix below. Game changer.

Outro // Strapping Up

That’s a wrap, our machine only leg workout. Done correctly, done to failure, you shouldn’t have any more left in the tank. Which should make you realise that a workout like this, really can form a solid part of a training split. Whether it’s a 5 day PPL or a Bro Split you’re on, machines can offer a nice way to easily adjust the weight down avoiding that period of recovery which ruins a drop set.

Grab a copy of this workout by clicking the red button up the top and saving to your phone.

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