Stepping Up: Taking Your Leg Training To the Next Level
“It’s half of your body!” That is my token response whenever someone asks me if leg training is necessary. There is a mistaken belief out there that if someone is performing consistent aerobic activity such as cycling, running, or step aerobics, then strength training for the lower body is unwarranted. I’ve said it before and it is time to say it again: This is absolutely not true! Leg training is vitally important for a host of reasons. I will be discussing some of those reasons in this article. I will also give you some tips on how to take your leg training to a new level if you find yourself reaching a plateau. The topics covered include:
- Leg training for increasing metabolism.
- Frequency of leg training.
- The awesomeness of single leg work.
- The mistake of neglecting the calves.
- Golden exercises.
Leg training for increasing metabolism
Fat is burned in muscle; it’s that simple. Therefore, the more muscle we have, the higher our fat burning capability will be. The lower body is comprised of the largest musculature of the body. It therefore makes sense that performing strength training for the lower body will have an invaluable effect on metabolism (burning fat). I often get quizzical looks from people when I tell them that performing a million crunches will do nothing to burn abdominal fat. They are even more surprised when I tell them that performing strength training for the legs can have a massive effect on burning abdominal fat. If fat loss is a goal, then lower body strength training is an absolute must. Nothing else will have the same fat burning effect.
Frequency of leg training
I highly recommend training the legs twice a week. This is important for several reasons. The legs can handle and need a varied amount of volume/ stimulation to grow, so it is difficult to fit enough training into one session. They also recover rather quickly, so spreading the workouts out in a Tuesday/ Friday fashion will give you plenty recovery time. Between the two sessions, I recommend a variety of different exercises and modes of training including free weight exercises (squat/ deadlift), machines (leg press/ hack squat), and functional training (TRX Lunges/ Medicine Ball Lunges). Incorporating variety is vitally important to ensure continued results.
The awesomeness of single leg work
There are many benefits to performing single leg training. It is an excellent way to fix structural issues which often stem from muscular imbalance, inflexibility, and having one limb that is longer than the other. When using machines or barbells, the dominant leg can easily provide up to 70% of the overall force, leaving the less dominant leg much weaker. Single leg squats are a fantastic exercise because they stimulate new muscle growth, place massive emphasis on the quads, help to strengthen the tendons and ligaments of the joints used, as well as to further stimulate the core. Single leg step ups are another fantastic single leg exercise.
The mistake of neglecting the calves
I marvel at the amount of people who completely skip over training their calves. Calves are traditionally one of the more difficult muscle groups to increase size with. For this reason, many people do not even make an attempt to train their calves. I cannot speak out against this enough. From personal experience, the calves benefit from high rep training. Jumping rope can also have a great benefit on calf training.
The golden exercises
There are certain exercises that will always be seen as the gold standard for leg training. They include:
- Stationary Dumbbell Lunges
- Romanian Deadlift
These exercises effectively work the entire lower body as well as the core. They should always be included in a lower body training program. Once proper form is mastered, focus must then be placed on progression (gradually but consistently increasing weight) to stimulate new muscle growth. Below I have listed a few others that I really like that can really take your leg training to a new level if you are not performing them already.
Single Leg Squats
As I said, this exercise is invaluable. Care should be taken to start by just using your own body weight. Trust me, that will be more than enough in the beginning. This is an especially good exercise to target the quads. Once form and technique is mastered, weight can be added in very gradually.
Even though you cannot squat as much as you could in a traditional barbell squat, the goblet squat still provides a lot of advantages. It is easier to learn proper form with this exercise as it enhances an upright posture. The lifter holds a kettle bell with both hands up at their chest while slowly lowering into the squat. This also further actives the core as well as the arms and shoulders. There are some great demonstrations of this exercise on YouTube.
Sumo Kettle Bell Deadlifts
This exercise is performed while holding a kettle bell with both hands with the arms extended in front of the body. The wide stance of this exercise is performed with the toes pointed slightly outward. This places a greater a challenge on the adductors while also further stimulating the glutes. Trust me, you will feel this one the next day!
Leg training can be intense; there is no question about that. However, I hope I have been able to point out to you just how important it is. I also hope that I have given you some ideas on how to take your leg training to the next level by suggesting some great new exercises as well as re- enforcing the gold standards with an emphasis on progressive increase. I think it is time to start embracing leg training and all of the many benefits that it has to offer. I hope you will agree.