The Bikini Champion's Leg Workout

by Andrew Coates and Nathalia Melo-Wilson

5 Proven Exercises, No Fluff

For a powerful, beautiful lower body, use this leg workout from Bikini Olympia Champion, Nathalia Melo-Wilson.

A Leg Workout for a Winning Physique

Don’t let anyone fool you. A leg workout of nothing but bodyweight and booty-band exercises is a social media gimmick. And those who sell these programs often won’t admit they built their own legs from years of heavy lifting.

Luckily, Nathalia Melo-Wilson – Bikini Olympia Champion 2012 – is setting the record straight with the exercises she uses to build and maintain her physique. Here are five proven classics that work.

1. Heels-Elevated Squat

Loaded squats provide progressive overload, mechanical tension, and intensity. Why elevate the heels? To help you train through a greater range of motion if you have poor ankle mobility or tight calves, and to shift the training stimulus to the quads.

What To Do

  • Stand on a wedge or place 5-pound plates under your heels.
  • Open your feet and hips to the angle that allows your greatest hip mobility.
  • Lock your head in a neutral position with your chin down.
  • Brace your core by locking your ribs down to your pelvis.
  • Squat to the greatest depth available with a neutral spine.
  • Keep your knees from collapsing inward.
  • At lockout, lock your glutes under your ribs without exaggerating by leaning back into your lumbar spine.

Need more help? Perfect your squat technique with a detailed head-to-toe breakdown.

Sets and Reps

Do three warm-up sets of 8-12 reps with 60-90 seconds rest. Then do three working sets of 8-10 reps with 90-180 seconds rest.

2. Romanian Deadlift

Nathalia uses Romanian deadlifts as part of her glute training. Doing this deadlift variation with bent knees places the primary training stress on the glutes ahead of the hamstrings. RDLs traditionally start top-down and eccentric first, instead of from a dead stop off the floor.

What To Do

  • Start with your knees bent roughly 20 degrees. Allow for a little knee movement, but primarily focus on hinging at your hips.
  • You can choose from mixed or double-overhand grip. Lifting straps are fine if grip strength is a limiting factor (train your grip elsewhere in your program). You can also use dumbbells.
  • Start from a standing position and lower the weight in a controlled fashion.
  • Pivot your hips back and torso forward to create a stretch through your hamstrings and glutes.
  • Pivot until you reach the end range of hip motion without rounding or pivoting with your lower back.
  • Reverse direction with a powerful horizontal thrust from your hips.
  • Lock out with your hips tucked under your ribs and knees straight. Avoid excessive lumbar extension.
  • Keep your head neutral throughout.
  • Bend your knees to 20 degrees and initiate the next rep.

Sets and Reps

Do 4 sets of 8-12 reps with 60-120 seconds rest. Don’t go to failure; leave 2-3 reps in the tank.

3. Bulgarian Split Squat

Bulgarian split squats, while grueling, will place more tension on quads and glutes with less axial loading on your spine than bilateral variations.

What To Do

  • Elevate your back foot onto a bench with laces down.
  • Walk your front foot forward far enough to allow you to squat while maintaining a relatively vertical shin and firm heel contact with the ground.
  • Your knee can travel past your toes to emphasize quad tension.
  • Lock your chin down to your collarbones and lock your ribs down to your pelvis.
  • Squat to the fullest depth you can while maintaining a neutral spine.
  • Come to a soft lockout of your front knee at the top of the rep.
  • Elevate your front foot if the floor prevents you from reaching full range of motion.
  • Perform all reps on one leg, then switch to the other leg.

Sets and Reps

Do one warm-up set of 8-12 reps per leg. Do 2-3 working sets of 6-8 reps per leg, 1-2 reps shy of failure. Rest 90 to 180 seconds between sets as needed. Rest between sides if needed.

4. B-Stance Hip Thrust

Hit your glutes one side at a time. This lift overloads your working leg by adding more stability than a true, single-leg hip thrust. If you already hip thrust, this is a good variation to break up the monotony while retaining the loading pattern.

What To Do

  • Elevate the middle of your shoulder blades across a bench.
  • Roll a loaded barbell with hip padding (Buy at Amazon) onto your hips.
  • Position your working foot (the one closest to your body) so your shin is vertical. Set your support heel in line with the toes of your working foot.
  • Tuck your chin to your collarbones and look forward.
  • Lock your ribs down to your pelvis to maintain a neutral spine.
  • Hinge at your hips to lower the weight to the maximum range with a neutral spine.
  • Drive your hips toward the ceiling and lock them without extending your lower back.
  • Pause briefly at lockout, then repeat for reps.

Sets and Reps

Do a warm-up set of 12-15 per leg. Do 2-3 working sets of 8-12 per leg, approaching strict form failure. Rest 60-120 seconds between sets.

5. Step-Up

The stairclimber glute-kickback combo might be great for cardio, but it’s useless as a glute builder. Try this instead. The step-up is easy to do and only requires a step and some weight.

What To Do

  • Find a stable step, bench, or box. Start lower and increase the height as you gain skill.
  • Load up with dumbbells at your sides, a kettlebell in the goblet position, or a barbell across your back or the front-rack position.
  • Place your working foot on the box with your heel near the edge.
  • Keep the working foot in place for the full set, not allowing it to step down between reps.
  • Lean your torso forward to center your weight over your elevated foot while maintaining firm contact through your elevated heel.
  • Push almost entirely through the elevated working foot. Avoid bounding from the ground foot.
  • Come to a standing lockout of the working hip at the top of each rep.
  • Load the working leg through the negative and minimize an uncontrolled drop onto your back leg.
  • Complete all reps on one leg before switching.

Sets and Reps

Do a warm-up set of 10 reps per leg. Do 2-3 working sets of 8-10 per leg.

Rest 60-120 seconds between sets.


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How come there is always such a difference in female vs male leg days? You’ll never see a big dudes leg day look like this and you’ll never see a chicks leg day that looks like most big dudes leg days.

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I would imagine it’s because male competitors have a few significant differences to their female counterparts, both in physiology and in judging standards.

Judging Standards
A guy shows up to a BB comp with underdeveloped legs and hyooge arms, places top 10; if he shows up with hyooge legs and underdeveloped arms, doesn’t place.

A girl shows up to a BB comp with underdeveloped legs and hyooge arms, is never heard from again; if he shows up with hyooge legs and underdeveloped arms, top 5.

Women also have a higher portion of muscle in their legs than men do:
But this is lesser important than the differing standards between men and women I think.

I think that women don’t have the luxury that men do when it comes to AAS abuse, such that men can get incredible results off relatively simple (not easy, simple) leg routines when combined with grams of Test. Women would have some issues doing the same.
Additionally though, I would say that women respond to HIIT type training far better than men do. Considering that Bikini is the female equivalent to Mens Physique (men don’t really need to train legs - women don’t really need to train upper body), they aren’t exactly chasing maximum muslce mass either.

But I’m just talking out of my :peach: so :man_shrugging:


I don’t know that I saw a huge difference? She started with squats and deads. If we changed hip thrust to leg curls and step-ups to leg extensions, it would be a male bodybuilding leg day.
To @Andrewgen_Receptors’s point: her two choices where I think a typical men’s program would differ involve the glutes more, which is probably her priority.


Sorry for the extremely late response/post. I can see where you’re coming from this with. I too have seen programs or movements that look completely different, or have insane amounts of volume/reps at more lighter weights specifically for women. It’s mildly irritating how most workouts for women are broken up into “bro splits”, something akin to upper body for men.

I am indeed biased, but the legs of women crossfitters I personally like the best. They aren’t nearly as lean as bodybuilding legs, but I’d say they’re a prime example of what most women SHOULD do concerning lower body. Of course with their personal goals in mind, but the principles should be used and integrated accordingly.

I will say though, for the individuals who understand training programming more than most of…general society? I tend to see less of a discrepancy between “for men” and “for women”. One of my discord chats I put up a sample of one of my PPL routines, and I had to facepalm because one of the younger ladies went “that looks like something more for guys. I’m going for aesthetics.” :expressionless:

But I don’t blame the individuals. I think on a bigger scale it’s more of a marketing scheme.

As for Melo-Wilson’s preferred movements, I think they’re pretty good. It’s given her success in her endeavors. Her legs look great, and I’m sure she’s able to program her training to reap good lower body development. It’s not something I personally do, but then again she has a different sports specific training program she follows.

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