It’s a pretty common joke among people who go to the gym that you ‘mustn’t skip leg day’! Lots of people train with weights to get big muscles for show, and they do tend to concentrate on certain body parts that are more apparent when you’re stood in the club or bar for all to see. This is all well and good, but if you don’t train your legs they’re going to fall further and further behind in terms of muscle development. Eventually, you’re going to look pretty stupid with a big upper body and little chicken legs.
So why don’t people train legs as much as they should? Well, the answer is two-fold. Firstly, because the leg is such a large body part training them can really hurt and be super tough! If you do enough squats you can almost make yourself sick, and this is enough to put a lot of people off! There’s also the question of time – if you can only get to the gym to lift weights twice a week it’s likely that legs will be sacrificed to concentrate on upper body work.
So what’s the best way to train legs? Well, it needn’t be complicated or take too long. The trick to remember with leg muscles is that they are already accustomed to a lot of regular use. To shock them into growth you need to hit them fast and hard to really go beyond the amount of work they get on a regular basis anyway. Let’s look at a great leg program. Remember – intensity is absolutely key.
Exercise 1 – Squats – 4 sets of 10-15 Reps
The squat is the classic leg exercise that bodybuilders and power lifters have been doing since the very beginning. The theory is simple: Simply take a weighted barbell and hold it across your shoulders, behind your head. Stand with your legs shoulder width apart, with your hands holding the bar in position. Now, keeping your back straight, bend your knees and lower your upper body until your thighs are parallel with the ground. Now push with your legs and return to the starting position.
It’s very important to get the technique right so you don’t hurt yourself, so consult with a certified gym instructor that can teach you how to do it right. Someone who’s been trained by a company like CMS Fitness will be able to help you. Sports massage courses by cmsfitnesscourses.co.uk are also really popular, and a good massage might be exactly what you need after your first few leg training sessions!
Put enough weight on the bar so that you can only do between 10 and 15 repetitions (reps). Rest for one minute and then continue. This exercise works the glutes (bum), quads (thighs), hamstrings (back of thighs) and calves – pretty much the whole leg, but with emphasis on the quads and glutes. This means we need two more exercises to get to the harder-to-reach muscle groups.
Exercise 2 – Hamstring Curls – 2 Sets of 10-15 Reps
This exercise works solely on the hamstrings using a special machine that can be found in most gyms. Simply lay on your front on the bench with your legs out straight. Hook your legs under the padded bar and then bend your legs against the weight and try to bring your heels up to your bum – easy as that! Again, set the weight on the machine so that you can only manage between 10 and 15 reps, and do 2 sets.
Exercise 3 – Calf Raises – 2 Sets of 20-30 Reps
The calf muscle is at the back of your shin, and this last exercise will target it directly. There are many ways to do this and most gyms will have at least one machine that will help you to do this. Basically, it’s usually a case of standing on the balls of your feet and raising and lowering your bodyweight to work the calf muscle that is connected to your ankle via the Achilles tendon. Most machines will have a system whereby your bodyweight is increased for the purposes of the exercise to give your calves a more effective workout in a shorter time. Do 2 sets with a minimum of 20 reps and you’ll really feel the burn!
So there you go – a leg workout that will take less than half an hour yet has all the ingredients to build your legs to an impressive standard as long as you really push the intensity. Since it only takes 30 minutes you can probably do the leg work out on the same day as another body part without running out of time or energy in the gym. It’s common to do abs and legs on the same day actually, and if you train in the gym using a 3 day split, the other two days can be split between different upper body muscle groups.
This is a really popular 3 day split
Day 1 – Legs and Abs
Day 2 – Chest, Front and Side Delts – Triceps
Day 3 – Back, Rear Delts, Biceps, Forearms
However, if you’re trying to fit legs into a 2 day split, this is how I would do it:
Day 1 – Chest, Front and Side Delts, Triceps, Hamstrings, Calves
Day 3 – Back, Rear Delts, Biceps, Forearms, Quads
Chest and shoulders (day 1) is probably a bit harder than day 2, so it makes sense to add the squats (the toughest leg exercise) to that day. Hams and calves can be snuck in at the end of the other routine. Since the ham and calf exercises are quite targeted to areas not really covered by the squats it doesn’t matter if you do them on different days. Mind you, that’s only my theory – a lot of people will happily train muscle groups that interact (such as back and biceps) on different days, but i’ve found that for my body type, and for avoiding injury, it’s best to work overlapping muscle groups together and then give them a full week of rest before hitting them again.
Don’t skip leg day, dude!