Why You Need To Train Your Legs
We’ve all heard the phrase “Leg Day” - and to be honest, it goes around so much with so little consideration as to why it’s important, the phrase has become a little cliché. So, let us say it right now - If you want to build muscle, burn fat, amplify your upper body training, improve at your sport, Training Your Legs is going to become one of the most important parts of your workout starting today.
There’s no point in dancing around it - by the end of this article, you shouldn't have any more excuses for not dedicating at least one day a week to pushing your legs to their absolute limits.
WHY "LEG DAY" MATTERS
The benefits to leg training are valuable for both men and women. However, men tend to be more focused on building a large, wide chest, huge arms and a defined set of abs more than maintaining a balanced workout plan.
Some guys take it to the extreme and end up with a giant upper body and soft-looking ‘toothpick’ legs - NOT a good look, gentlemen. Other’s treat leg day the way children eat their veggies - just enough so they can say they did it.
1 | Build More Muscle
When you push your body harder than it’s used to at the gym, it will naturally increase the release of Human Growth Hormone (HGH) and Testosterone. These hormones are directly related to helping with the synthesis of muscle protein - which is how your muscles grow. The largest, most powerful muscles in your body are all below the waist.
Using these powerful muscles to the max has clear size gaining benefits - it’s been shown that Squats and Deadlifts increase the release of HGH and Testosterone more than any other exercise.
2 | Increased Overall Strength
The muscles in your body are impressively connected - and most of them are connected around your core. When you do barbell squat, you’re engaging your arms, your core, and many other stabilising and assisting muscles you’re not even aware of.
Even Isolation exercises can pull support from other muscles - but unless you’re already huge, Isolation Exercises aren’t going to get you anywhere fast. You need to be focusing on Compound Exercises.
The increased power that comes from really pushing your legs to the max, and the core strength that accompanies those “Leg Day” workouts will drastically increase your overall strength, which leads to...
3 | Improved Upper Body Training
On a direct level, your leg exercises will also engage your upper body. A great workaround if you’re taking time off from upper body workouts to recover from injury but want to prevent muscle loss.
Working your legs hard will give you more leg drive on your bench press, allowing you to lift more. Squats and Deadlifts work your legs and lower back, keeping you strong during your overhead press. Having trouble crushing out those pullups? You’re probably working with a weak core - adding powerful leg workouts to your routine will help with increasing your core strength - which is really where your power comes from.
Building strength means building size.
4 | Burn More Calories
A Calorie is a unit of energy. Since your legs and glutes are so much more powerful than any other muscles in your body, pushing them to the max will burn through far more energy than any other lifting exercise.
Combining high-intensity cardio with heavy lifting can not only make your metabolism skyrocket, but can keep it burning at an elevated level for hours afterwards.
5 | Reduce The Risk Of Injury
As we’ve said again and again, everything is connected. If you neglect your lower body, you’re working with an imbalance in strength and stability which will only increase your risk of injury. If you only workout 3 times per week, you need to make sure you’re dedicating one of those days to lower body exercises.
5 GREAT LEG EXERCISES TO ADD TO YOUR WORKOUT
Sorry, running doesn’t count. Your legs are extremely powerful and if you want to build muscle in your lower body, you need to lift heavy. Often. You see, unlike your arms or chest, your legs and core are almost constantly in use - which means they’re made up of a mix of strength and endurance muscle fibres. Running for 30 minutes just isn’t going to do much for your lower body strength and size gains.
Your anatomy is complex and so proper leg training utilises a variety exercises in order to push your primary muscles to the max, but also to hit some of your more underutilised muscles.
We’ve chosen the top 5 leg exercises that will help build strength through all the major muscle groups.
1 | High Bar Back Squat
This is probably the most effective exercise for building strength and size in your legs. This is a great exercise to hit the hamstrings and glutes.
Although opinions on bar placement may vary from one seasoned pro to another, you’ll want to start with placing the bar just over the belly of the trapezius muscle. If the motion is too difficult to start, you can use a small (3-5cm) heel lift.
- Place hands evenly on the barbell so that when you come under the bar, you are properly centred. Hands should be about a hand’s distance from your shoulders. Pull your elbows back, which will squeeze the muscles in your upper back - gripping the bar tighter and making it feel lighter. Now unrack the bar.
- Feet slightly wider than shoulder width, and toes pointed slightly outward. When you come down into the squat, your knees will follow the same direction as your toes. Hold your breath on the way down, breathing out at the top. Keep your head up, looking forward.
2 | Front Squat
A true underdog in the world of strength training. Not only does the Front Squat help you maintain healthy posture, but it also hits the quads much more effectively than the back squat - despite this, it’s still one of the most underrated squat in the world of strength training.
This squat may be preferable if you have back pain or poor ankle mobility - with the bar positioned in the front, it can be easier to lower and will put less stress on your back. It can take some time to learn, and you will need to work on your wrist mobility - but it’s a great squat to master, especially if you want to transition this to a power clean.
- Elbows up! The bar will rest essentially across your collarbone, with the front of your neck on the inside of the bar and your shoulders on the outside. By keeping your elbows up, you will push your shoulders forward into position. You’re not really “Gripping” the bar with your hands. Which means, if you have wrist mobility issues, you can simply grip the bar with just your index and middle finger if this helps you keep your elbows up around shoulder height.
- Open up your hips - Similar to the High Bar Back Squat. We won’t be using our hips as much as back squats, but it helps to keep you upright and keep your form on point.
- Push off the Heels. It’s very important to keep an upright position and to push from the heels, keeping the weight off your toes. Don’t be afraid to start with very light weights, even an empty barbell, until you feel comfortable.
3 | Bulgarian Lunge
A variation of the traditional Lunge. The Bulgarian Lunge recruits far more muscles and is a great exercises for strengthening your hamstrings and glutes.
It’s not generally recommended to use heavy weights with this exercises. Start off with dumbbells in each hand and gradually transition to a back-loaded barbell as you become stronger.
- With one foot on the ground, place the other foot on a bench behind you. Your front foot will be your working leg, the back leg will be for balance.
- Lower yourself into a deep lunge, keeping your body upright and making sure your front knee does not push forward past your toes (this can be corrected by repositioning yourself).
- Push through your heels, return back to the standing position.
4 | Glute Bridge
This is most commonly seen being done by people who want to work on their glutes for the sake of glutes, but it’s actually an awesome and highly fundamental exercises in strength training because it helps to strengthen your hip extension, which is used in many exercises like the Squat and Deadlift.
Because of this, the Glute Bridge is an extremely effective and important accessory exercises that will help you go further with your overall workouts.
- Bring you heels as close to your butt as possible, position your back flat on the ground and keep your core tight. You can also use your arms to keep your body stable.
- Pushing up from your glutes, you want to bring your hips forward until your back is flat (not arched). When you get to your top position, you want to really squeeze your glutes - this should be the only muscle you feel working.
- You can push further into hyper extension by really pushing your hips up as high as possible, but it’s not necessary to complete this exercise.
- Return to your start position.
5 | The Deadlift
Truly the king of all exercises - and it’s simple. Just lift as much as possible.
The Deadlift is the only exercise that stimulates the entire body - and anyone can do it, so long as you maintain proper form. We can’t stress this enough. After all, you’re lifting a lot of weight here.
The main failing point is that many people pull the weight from their back rather than pushing through your heels. Pushing through your heels will not only make it much easier to get the bar off the ground, but it also locates your muscles in the right position for greater energy transfer.
By keeping your hands as close to shoulder width as possible, it also shortens the distance you need to travel to fully stand up and complete the lift.
- With the bar on the ground in front of you, place your heels slightly wider than hip width. Toes pointed forward, or slightly outward.
- Grip the bar just outside the legs, palms facing in. Position your shoulder blades directly over the bar, with the bar directly above the middle of your foot.
- As you lift, keep your chest high, hips out, back erect with a slight arch. Lift the bar, rolling up your shins and keeping in line with your legs throughout the movement.
- As you start to reach mid, start to push the hips forward.
- At the top position, hold for 2 seconds and begin to lower the bar back down, pushing the hips back out while slightly bending the knees until you return the bar to the floor.
YOUR KEY TAKEAWAY
Most people have their “go-to” exercises that tend to have a direct link to their primary goals. It could be washboard abs, huge arms, a toned, round butt, firm thighs, etc… but it’s important to remember that your body is designed to work in a complete, balanced way.
Treating your lower body workouts with the same level of importance as your other muscle groups will only help you push harder and see the results you’re looking for faster.
Try out these leg exercises for a while, and then change it up after a couple months. Your body naturally adapts and gets better at completing the work, meaning your gains will slow down. You can always up the weight or change the exercises to keep your progress flowing smoothly.