The Legs 11
1.) 11 key leg exercises
2. Romanian Deadlifts
4. Leg Presses
5. Hack Squat
6. Seated Knee Flexion
7. Seated Knee Extension
8. High Resistance Cycling
9. Smith Machine Calf Raises
10. Seated Calf Raises
11. Ski Sits
2.) Perform compound exercises
For those that don’t know, compound exercises include any movement that uses more than one joint or muscle group, examples include squats which recruit your legs, glutes (backside) and abdominals to name a few, and deadlifts which target the same muscle groups as squats but with extra emphasis on your lower back. Compound exercises will work the muscle/s in their entirety, exciting a vast array of the muscle fibres both in the target muscle and also the supporting muscle groups. This has been seen to increase overall functionality of the muscle i.e. strength and power…after all, muscles work as antagonistic pairs meaning as one muscle contracts (tightens up), the other lengthens serving as anchorage. So naturally if the driving force is stronger than the anchorage, muscular imbalances and injuries occur.
3.) Perform Isolation exercises
Isolation exercises are designed to focus the load on a specific muscle group e.g. calf raises or concentration bicep curls. The benefit of these types of exercises is that the deep myofibrils (muscle fibres) are activated meaning you’re penetrating the muscle from the inside out. Look upon compound exercises as the undercoat, and see isolation exercises as the top coat with finishing touches. A sculptor would chisel the basic outline of a Greek God followed by lowering the grade of the chisel and fine tune the musculature and…fig leaf.
4.) Don’t be scared to train them more than once a week
Acknowledged, there is a fine line between training hard and training stupidly. And we all know that if you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got, so pushing the boundaries is required (see our Supercompensation article)…the key is to ensure at least 48 hours rest between a specific muscle group and ensure you recuperate properly. Try doing big compound moves one day, say a Tuesday, followed by isolation moves on a Thursday meaning you give yourself a couple of days to rest and recover ahead of any events or matches you might have over the weekend!
5.) Allow yourself more rest between sets
When training for strength and size, most people allow 30-60 seconds rest between sets which are ideal for overloading smaller muscle groups which recover more quickly. In the case of your scotch eggs / legs however, this simply isn’t enough. Allow a minimum of 60 seconds and try not to exceed 2 minutes. As a general rule of thumb, try 60 seconds for isolation exercises and allow 2 minutes for compound movements.
6.) Get the blood pumping
Before you commence any resistance work on your legs, have a 5 minute run on the treadmill. This increases your heart rate and perfusion of blood to your muscles which maximises your muscle pump from the outset.
7.) Pyramid the weight and reps
When performing your compound squats, isolation knee extensions/flexions, good mornings etc. start with the weight high for the first set i.e. a weight that allows you to perform around 6-8 reps, then reduce the weight slightly allowing you to hit a similar rep range (factoring fatigue). Continue to reduce the weight as you go further down the pyramid which will inevitably result in you completing more reps. Pyramiding allows you to maintain overall intensity enabling you to reach total muscle exhaustion every set, if you were to keep the weight heavy, inevitably you will reach a point where you can only manage 1-2 reps meaning the muscle load duration (key for muscle growth) is significantly reduced.
8.) Finish your muscles off with isolation exercises
Once you have completed a set of multi-joint compound exercises such as squats, deadlifts and lunges, finish the individual target muscles off with an isolation move like a seated knee extension or knee flexion depending on the muscle of interest for that leg session. If you are able to, it is useful to allocate 2 days to legs if you really want to see a benefit (this can be reduced to 1 leg day when maintenance is the goal), this way you can target specific muscle groups within your legs i.e. on Tuesday, finish your compound moves, then move onto isolating your quadriceps, and after the compound moves on Thursday, focus on your hamstrings.
9.) Mix it up – German Volume Training (GVT)
If after a period of time you notice that your gains plateau, shock your system into changing by introducing GVT. Research by Miranda, Fleck and Barreto et al. (2007) found that by altering your rest period and number of repetitions, you actually recruit different muscle fibres and alter the hormonal response to exercise stimulating growth. GVT is renowned for its high rep, high intensity style whereby you perform 10 sets of 10 reps on a weight that allows 10 reps with relative ease on your first set…increase the load if you find you complete the reps too easily.
10.) High Protein, High Calorie Diet
Your legs and glutes are by far the largest muscle groups in your body, meaning they demand more energy and protein than any other body part. The calories burned during training is only half the cost, you continue to burn calories even at rest for up to 48 hours after training you legs due to the significant effect it has on your metabolism. To ensure growth continues and you don’t succumb to catabolism (muscle breakdown due to a net deficit of protein/amino-acids) then ensure you consume approx 1.5-2.5g protein per kg bodyweight and 35-45kcal per kg of bodyweight depending on your training frequency and intensity (NICE, 2011).
It is no coincidence that your local personal trainer recommends leg exercises for inducing fat loss (if he/she isn’t he/she should be). As mentioned above, legs require more energy and protein to sustain their size and density meaning it is far easier to achieve a calorie deficit (negative energy balance) resulting in fat loss. However, the only way you’ll burn just fat is if your protein levels are adequate, otherwise your body will resort to using muscle protein for energy. To stop/ limit the theft of your hard earned muscle, you should consume a liquid protein source immediately after your training session such as Optimum Nutrition 100% Gold Standard Whey or XL Nutrition Xtra Whey Protein. If you struggle to meet your calorie requirements needed to sustain your muscle mass through diet alone, then a weight/mass gainer such as Reflex Nutrition Instant Mass or Optimum Health Ultimate Gainer should be consumed. Try halving the dose of most mass gainers and splitting it over the day so that you limit the calorie load in one serving, an ideal regimen is one shake mid- morning delivering on average 500-600kcal, and another serving within 30mins after your training session (if you train in the morning have the shake mid-afternoon instead). Be sure not to neglect those joints and ligaments, the weight you need to lift in order to promote muscle growth in the legs can be heavier than other body parts. Your ligaments and tendons will thank you for feeding them with an Omega oil blend consisting of the omega- 3, 6 & 9 oils which are proven to reduce inflammation and lubricate joints. I’d recommend Optimum Health’s Omega Oil Blend.
Miranda H, Fleck SJ, Simão R, Barreto AC, Dantas EH, Novaes J. (2007). Effect of two different rest period lengths on the number of repetitions performed during resistance training. J Strength Cond Res. 21(4):1032-6.