A real no-no for me when it comes to weight-training and conditioning work are those people who don’t pay their legs enough attention. Some people go to the gym four or five times a week but the amount of training they do for their legs is virtually non-existent. They either 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 people I’m talking about – arms like Popeye, legs like Olive.
It just makes no sense. Strong legs are the foundation of all that we do. If your legs are not strong, then it stands to reason, the rest of your body will not be able to work so hard. By building your leg muscles, you will be able to lift more, train for longer and you will have a balance to your body which will help reduce injuries in the long term.
Many people training with heavy weights complain that they have weak knees or are prone to back injuries – well, by building the muscles around those common weaker spots – knees, hips and back – you will be able to support your body better, making you an all round healthier, fitter and stronger person.
Aerobic activity such as running and cycling are important for overall fitness and keeping you in great shape, but to grow your muscles and promote more muscle fibres, you do need to dedicate some of your training sessions to leg strength.
Five great reasons to train your legs:
Overall strength and balance.
Building your 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 t
his 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.
Training your legs is tough and repetitive. It is one of the reasons people shy clear of leg weights. It is also less rewarding; who admires a sinewy hamstring when there is a bulging bicep on display? So why bother putting the effort in? Well, doing squats and deadlifts will build your mental endurance and toughness like no other exercise. If you can work hard all the way through a leg session, you will be mentally tougher for it.
Build legs for a bigger upper body.
It is true. Moves such as squats and deadlifts create a whole body work out. Your arms squeeze the bar, abdominals work to stabilise your body and your chest muscles come into play. Your lower back is working hard, as are your shoulders.
A large body of evidence suggest that working on your legs will increase the release of testosterone more than exercises for other parts of the body. 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? Here are three common leg exercises that can easily be incorporated into your routine. We have suggested some reps, but this is a rough guide and you should get advice from the Kelsey Kerridge fitness staff based in either the free weights gym or Outlooks on the routine that suits you.
The ‘go-to’ exercise for legs. Squat through 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 knees are bent to at least 90 degrees. Hold for a second before pushing back up to standing. Keep your back straight and your core engaged at all times. Repeat the movement three x 12 times.
Holding a set of dumbbells, one either side of your body, and keeping your upper body straight, 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. Do at least three x 20 reps.
This exercise really targets the hamstrings. Position the bar in front of you, as close to the body as possible. Your arms should be relaxed and hanging straight in front. Now 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. Lower the weight almost to the floor before repeating the lift. Do three x 10 reps.