One of my bugbears in the gym are the people who don’t bother training their legs or, if they do, it is a cursory few squats in between some serious heavy arm work. You know the ones – arms like Popeye, legs like Olive.
Not training your legs is one of the biggest mistakes that gym-goers make, and the excuse that you have weak knees isn’t good enough. Train the muscles to support your knees, your back and your hips and you will be an all round healthier, fitter and stronger person.
A lot of people say that they do running to train their legs but, while running is great for aerobic fitness and weight management, if you want to get stronger overall, then sessions that are dedicated to leg strength are a must.
Here are some reasons to train your legs:
More strength overall.
Stronger legs and core muscles will increase your strength in all departments. The power you can generate through your legs will help you perform to a higher level on upper body lifts. In turn this helps upper body muscle development. For example, leg power matters on a bench press. Stronger legs means more leg drive and thus you can lift heavier weights.
There’s a good reason why you don't want to spend time on your legs – it’s tough and repetitive and you are less likely to show off a great set of hamstrings than you are a bulging bicep – so why bother? Doing squats and deadliest will build your mental endurance and toughness like no other exercise. If you can work through a leg session, you will be mentally tougher for it.
Bigger upper body.
It is true. Moves such as squats and deadliest work your whole body. Your arms squeeze the bar, your abs work to stabilise you and your chest muscles come into play. Your lower back is working hard, as are your shoulders.
There is evidence that working on your legs will increase the release of testosterone more than any other exercises. This natural muscle building hormone will help you develop muscles quicker.
We have already mentioned it, but enormous upper body and matchstick legs – come on – it’s not a great look.
Three great exercises for legs
It is all very well preaching about leg strength, but what exercises should you be doing?
This is the ‘go-to’ exercise for legs. Squat with a full range of motion and use weights that are heavy enough to make the exercise tough. Use variety with a range of foot positions – narrow, wide, split – and a range of weights/repetitions. Either use a bar across the shoulders or dumbbells at shoulder height. Bend at the knees until your knee is bent to at least a 90 degree angle. Hold for a second before pushing back up to standing. Keep your back straight and your core engaged at all times.
Keep your upper body straight with your shoulders relaxed. Engage your core. Step forward with one leg, lowering your hips until the back knee almost touches the floor and the front knee is at a 90 degree angle. Hold for a second then straighten up before stepping forward with the other foot. This movement is like an over-exaggerated step. Use dumbbells to add weight.
This exercise targets the hamstrings and the position of the bar as close to the body as possible is very important for the success of the movement. Keep the bar close to your body, pinch your shoulder blades together and hold your chest up. Lean forward as far as you can, take a breath and then lift the weight until you are upright and leaning back slightly so you can feel your glutes. If you cannot feel the move in your hamstrings then you are not pushing your glutes back far enough to recruit the right hamstring muscles.