What do you like to work on when you're at the gym? If you're like a lot of the guys I meet, I bet you concentrate on your upper body training. This isn't unusual. We all like working the ‘show-off’ muscles of the chest, arms and shoulders. But (and be honest) when was the last time you gave your legs the same attention? You may think that your legs will be hidden away under a pair of jeans and don't really matter that much in comparison to your biceps. But to neglect leg training is a serious mistake.
Firstly, having skinny legs under a muscular torso will look very odd, especially on the beach. Strong, powerful legs are also crucial to performance in many sports. The fact is that a complete physique - one that includes muscular legs - will set you apart from almost everyone else in the gym or on the beach.
There are two fundamental exercises for leg development. They seemed to be loved and loathed by gym goers in equal measure. I'm talking about the squat and the deadlift. I know some people worry about these exercises as they believe that they stress the joints and lead to injury. Personally, I love them - there are no better exercises for leg development. Not only do they require you to use most of your leg muscles, they also call upon many other muscles in your body. This makes them two of the best total-body exercises you can do. As long as you know how to squat and deadlift correctly, your risk of injury will be very low.
1 - The Squat
The squat is a great exercise for working your thigh and hip muscles. It will also strengthen your core muscles. The basic squat involves placing a barbell behind your neck. Then, squat down (as if you were going to sit down) until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Then push back up to the starting position. It sounds simple, but there are a number of things you need to consider to get the most out of this exercise.
Firstly, make sure you warm up before squatting. Ten minutes of cardio and a few practice sets with a light weight should be sufficient. Start with a light weight and position the bar on a squat rack. Your feet should be about shoulder width apart - step under the bar and position it so it rests across your upper back - not directly on your spine. Step back while keeping your core muscles rigid and your body straight. As you squat, imagine you are sitting down. Your hips should move backwards and your knees should not extend too far beyond the end of your toes. Keep looking forward and squat down until the top of your thighs are parallel with the floor. To complete the movement, straighten your legs by pushing up through your heels. Don't use such a heavy weight that you drop your head and curve your back, keep strict form and use a spotter if you're not sure if you can lift the last few reps, to avoid getting stuck and dropping the weight.
2 - The Deadlift
The deadlift works most of the muscles in your body, particularly the back, shoulders and lower body. Essentially you squat down, pick up a barbell from the floor and lift it to a standing position. Many of the techniques I covered for the squat are also valid for this exercise. Make sure you warm up properly and practice good technique with just the bar or a very light weight. Squat down and grasp the bar. In the bottom position, your hips should be higher than your knees and your shoulders should be higher than your hips. Keeping your head level and your chest up, straighten your legs while keeping the bar close to your shins. You should feel the power for the lift coming up from your heels and through your legs. Pause as your reach the top and then lower the weight using the same form to the start position.
There are many other exercises for working the legs that you can add to create a balanced routine. Standing and seated calf raises do a great job of working the calf muscles and developing the lower legs. The leg press is also a good exercise for the thighs, but treat it as a supplement to and not a replacement for the squat, unless you have a genuine back injury. For ideas and actual pictures check out our routines page.
Remember, your leg workouts are some of the most intense workouts you'll ever do - don't overdo it and cram in too many sets. Keep your workout to a maximum of 45 minutes and do no more than two leg workouts a week. To build bigger, stronger legs you'll also need to make sure you're consuming enough high-quality calories, carbs and protein. Progain is specifically designed for this purpose. Take 1/2 serving of Progain 45-60 minutes before you train, and one serving immediately afterwards. This will provide your muscles with all the nutrients they need to recover and grow.
I love training legs. The squat and deadlift are two of the reasons why. They're two of the best exercises you'll ever do for packing on size and strength. Bodybuilders and strength athletes have been using them for years to get bigger and stronger. Make them the core of your workouts and guarantee that your legs will grow. Like night follows day, it works!
Chris McCombs is a personal trainer who conducts a Costa Mesa Weight Loss program to Southern California locals. Chris is also a Newport Beach Weight Loss specialist. Chris owns Positively Fit Inc.