Working out your legs is so important, for so many reasons. Leg day at the gym is often a killer and leaves even the strongest amongst us groaning as we walk up the stairs, or even just sit on the loo the next day! Although the muscle tone in your legs is less noticeable than say, those in your arms or stomach, you have to work on the muscles below the belt which are some of the beefiest muscles in the whole body. Lower workouts help contribute to fat loss, and provide you with strong hamstrings, calves, quads and those all important glutes.
By training your lower half regularly you will:-
- Have better all round athletic performance – a well developed lower body will make you faster and stronger.
- Reduce your risk of injury – because knee stability is built when you perform exercises that require movement in the knee and so you’re more agile and able to avoid injury.
- Burn more calories – because bigger muscle workouts equal bigger calorie burn.
- Have better balance – because your legs have a lot to do with balance and certain leg exercises build that stability.
- Have better ability to run – because your hip flexors and muscles will be more developed, along with your glutes, thighs and calves, all which are prone to injury during running.
- Increase your metabolism – because the more muscle mass you build and most importantly maintain, the faster your metabolism is. As your legs hold the biggest muscles in your body, it makes sense that building that muscle up will have a big impact on metabolism.
- Decrease back pain – this happens because leg work stretches hamstrings and hip flexors which commonly become tight in certain jobs, often causing back pain
- Be more flexible – as mobile joints equal more powerful movements and bigger ranges of motion.
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It really isn’t hard to see why working your legs out is so important, so now you know, let’s move on to the best exercises to help you stretch, tone, flex and build those legs up!
Obviously, king of the leg killers, squats were going to be top of the list. Squats are the most challenging leg exercise there is, particularly when the correct weight load is involved. To work all of your lower leg muscles, you will need to squat both high and low bar. If you are bodybuilding, the high bar squat with the bar on the traps works all leg muscles together. If you are powerlifting, low squats are useful, where the bar rests on the back deltoids working the glutes out more. Both squats are very different but it is important in both to keep a neutral spine, engaged hip flexors and engaged calf muscles. Just be sure to use only one type of squat per workout because of the different muscle groups used.
Quads can be difficult to build and some people find it hard to gain definition in this area. The front squat is really good for this problem and all you need to do is move the bar from the back of the body to the front. A word of caution though, you should already have excellent upper back core strength to do this to stop your spine from curving, so don’t attempt if you don’t yet have that strength or you could be at risk of injury.
Olympic lifts are thought to be much more powerful in their effects on your body compared to squats but they take a lot of dedication to get right. When performing an olympic lift you need to focus, do it before other exercises to guarantee maximum strength and ensure ankles, knees, hips and ankles are engaged in full.
Deadlifts are complete workout exercises, but specifically work the hamstrings and glutes really well. Strength is built really well with deadlifts and the engagement with the larger muscles triggers high calorie burn as well.
Stepping forward or backwards is fine with a dumbbell lunge, and barbells or dumbbells can be used. Generally, a moderate load is best for this exercise as the lunges are best done when the legs are already worked out. Keeping good form is so important with lunges to ensure knee fatigue and injury doesn’t occur.
Leg presses are really important as they target weak muscle areas. They cannot substitute more intense leg exercises, but instead, compliment them and ensure all areas are targeted.
If you’re wanting to use a gym machine to workout your legs instead of weight lifting, which will also provide cardio benefits, there are a few great options to consider including the elliptical machine which is great for glutes, and the exercise bike which is well concentrated leg based cardio.
It is also important to remember to stretch your legs before and after a workout, and more intensely on rest days. Elongating and stretching the muscles will only serve to strengthen them more, and help them recover and stay elastic for more intense workouts. Five Parks Yoga is a great free video resource for deep leg stretches.
So what are you waiting for? Get those legs working for better speed, strength and form.