Most Effective Workouts for the Legs

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Many people in the gym overlook the legs, and that’s a shame, because your legs are your locomotor unit and your foundation and you can’t build a strong body without laying the groundwork.

The qudraceps, hamstrings and calves are the three sections of your legs that require equal attention and lots of work to get strength and size gains.

The core of all leg exercises is the SQUAT, which may be up for debate now (i’ll explain later). Because you are moving your body, as well as the weight through space, when doing squats, you will activate over 200 individual muscles with every rep.

Squats blast your glutes, upper hamstrings and quads like no other exercise, not the leg extension or the leg press. Keep in mind that to get the most out of every rep and set, the exercises must be performed in proper form and posture.

When done correctly, you will use your hip extensors to get moving off the bottom of the stroke and then the quads will kick in at the top or lock-out portion of the exercise. Keep your shoulder blades collapsed together and your chest out and use your butt to hunt for something to sit on as you descend, stop when your thighs are at or just past parallel and then push through your heels and butt to drive yourself back up. You can vary your foot position to accent adductors or abductors.

Now that I’ve spent all that hot air telling you how to do squats, I’m going to recommend that you don’t do them, here’s why. Turns out the limiting factor on squats is your low back and in that bilateral squat position it’s not as stable as it could be, and therefore, you are more prone to injury there.

Your lumbar spine and S1 vertebrae are locked together and more stable in a one foot forward stance and therefore you can drive more work to your legs that way. So my recommendation is to sack squats in favor of split squats. This is like doing a lunge, but, you don’t come out of the lunge position until you are done with your reps and then you switch legs and do the other side.

This is also the reason it’s more functional, we are designed to walk, and that stance imitates a step. You can do this with barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, resistance bands, sand bags and TRX suspension straps. I explain more about lunges in a little while. I will post a video on split squats in the near future.

At the start of every workout, it is suggested you do stretches, however you can take this step a bit further and stretch in between sets for more benefits.

Since we’re talking about squats, you must include the HACK SQUAT (using the machine) in your routine to bombard not just your quads but your abductors & adductors. The hack squat can be used to target your adductors and abductors. To accent the exercises on your gluts and quads, you will want to change the placement of your feet on the platform. A wide stance will emphasize your adductors, narrow will get a little more abductors. Feet forward will get more glutes and feet under you or back further will emphasize quads (careful not to hurt your knees on these).

Another quality leg exercise is the STRAIGHT-LEGGED DEADLIFT. This exercise assaults your upper hamstrings and glutes, and forces you to keep your lower back flexible and strong, too. Once again, collapse your shoulder blades together and stick your chest out.

You want to start with a comfortable, but challenging weight, and perform these by using a mixed grip on the barbell (one hand palm up and the other palm down), then lower the weight while keeping your legs and back straight.

Your knees should be slightly bent. Make sure that your buttocks are pushed outward with your shins as close to the bar as possible. To feel fatigue in your upper hamstrings and glutes, you’ll have to perform either a good number of reps.

Another great exercise is the LUNGE. Your hip extensors, upper hamstrings and glutes, will be worked on by doing lunges with the proper form and posture. When lunges are done with improper posture and bad form the load is thrown onto your knee extensors, your quads.

If you feel the work in your quads mostly, while doing lunges or deep squats, you need to get some proper coaching to fix your posture and form, or your knees may not last your lifespan. It’s very effective when you lunge with a barbell, as it requires you to utilize your balance and stabilizers as you do each rep. You can do lunges with dumbbells, too, but you can’t use as much weight.

Three other great tools to do lunges with are: 1) Resistance bands, you can use the bands for either resistance or assistance. In my humble opinion, these are the ultimate tools for doing lunges, hell, you can use a barbell and use the band at the same time. 2) TRX suspension straps. You can use the bands with this also. 3) Sandbags, due to the shape and ever shifting nature, these require different gripping and/or carrying strategies and more core stabilization. Yes, you can use bands at the same time.

The calves must also be paid attention to, especially since these muscles will be responsible for balancing the legs and increasing your vertical leaping ability.

After looking at so many different calves’ exercises, DONKEY PRESS is perhaps the most aggressive in building strength and size.

Form is critical when performing the Donkey Press, because you need to push all the way up on your toes (plantar flex) – hold it – and then make sure that you really extend your feet at the bottom of each rep (dorsi flex) to ensure a proper stretch of the muscle fibers… this is great, because you don’t need to stretch between sets or afterwards, because you’re getting a great stretch during the exercise.

It’s important to note that you can injure yourself quite badly when doing any of these leg exercises. So proper form and being honest with yourself regarding how much weight you can successfully lift.

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