Leg Day Workout for Lower Body Gains
“Never skip leg day!”
It’s a refrain shouted by coaches and trainers the world over. Unfortunately, it’s also necessary. Many lifters, especially newer ones, are captivated by the upper body. Everyone wants to have that rippling six-pack, a well-defined chest, or biceps that bulge out of their sleeves. Getting well-defined quads or big calves just isn’t as glamorous.
But if you are interested in maximal fat loss, functional mobility, and reducing injuries, you need to care about more than just a big chest and arms. The muscles in your legs – particularly your gluteal muscles and hamstrings – play a role in almost every common movement, from sitting to running to lifting. If you’re looking to drop fat, leg lifts are a must, since leg muscles are bigger and require more work to exercise. That means you’ll use more energy – in the form of calories – than you would on curls or pushdowns.
Now that you know why working your legs is so important, let’s take a look at the four major muscle groups that make up your legs:
These are the biggest of your leg muscles, located on the upper front of your leg (thigh). Your quadriceps is actually a group of four muscles – hence the prefix “quad.” This muscle group is important for things like walking, running, and kicking.
Squats – squatting is a compound exercise that works almost every part of your lower body, but especially your quads. Start light until you are comfortable with the movement. Try to get someone to watch your form when you start out, as squatting is a very technical exercise that can lead to injury if done improperly.
Leg Extensions – unlike the squat, leg extensions are an isolation exercise that targets only the quadriceps. They are great for giving your quads a bit of extra work, but be careful and use light weight on your leg extensions if you have knee issues.
Leg Press – this movement is similar to a squat, but doesn’t require as much compound motion. You will still get a solid burn in your quads, calves, and glutes, with less stress on your back.
On the opposite side of your leg from your quadriceps is your hamstrings. Your hamstrings are closely involved with both knee flexion and hip mobility. In the classic “touch your toes” motion, your hamstrings are the primary muscle being stretched.
Glute ham raise – this compound motion is excellent for building strength on the back side of your body. It concentrates on glutes and hamstrings, but will also hit your calves and lower back muscles.
Romanian Deadlift – this exercise is performed like a typical deadlift, except you keep your legs straighter and rely on your hips and back to move the bar. Start with about 50%-75% of your typical deadlift weight until you get comfortable with your form.
The calves may seem small and unimportant, but they are critical for anyone who wants to maximize their jumping and running abilities. Your calves also play an important role in the motion of your ankles.
Calf raises – some gyms have specific machines to exercise your calves, but you can also do this move on any surface higher than the floor. Balance on the edge of your toes and use your calves to bring your heels up and down.
Toe press – in a normal leg press machine, lower the weight and use the upper edge of your foot to push the footplate as far forward as your toes will push it.
Gluteal muscles are often associated with females pursuing an ideal figure, but the muscles on your rear end are for much more than aesthetics. If you work a sedentary desk job like most people, glute exercises can help you maintain proper posture and avoid lower back pain.
Glute bridges (or hip thrusts) – laying flat on your back with your knees bent and feet close to you, push your hips upwards while squeezing the glutes. Start with bodyweight, then add weight with a barbell or medicine ball.
Kickbacks – from a kneeling push-up position, lift your leg up until your hamstring is parallel with your back, maintaining a right angle between your calves and hamstrings.
You don’t need to hit every single leg muscle every time you do leg day. It’s best to incorporate a rotation of compound exercises like squats and deadlifts that hit multiple parts of the legs and keep the muscles guessing. With some consistency and the proper diet, you can get solid, powerful legs that form the foundation of a strong body.