‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’ but how are you going to take that step with disproportionately small, neglected legs?
If there is one body part that gets neglected by gym monkeys, it is the legs. We do not need massive arms in order to swing through trees. We are designed to move on our two legs. So with this in mind, we can move on to how you can achieve powerful and aesthetically pleasing legs.
Strong legs are a necessity if you want to achieve a perfectly proportioned physique, excel in sport and perform heavy compound lifts. Here are some tips to get you started which can be adapted dependent on your personal goals.
Out & About Exercises – Exercises you can implement into your daily routine no matter where you are or how limited your free time is during the week.
Double The Step
First of all, take the stairs instead of bundling yourself into a lift. Secondly, take the stairs two at a time. If you do this, you will climb the stairs faster and you will give your legs a better workout. You burn more calories when taking two stairs at a time than if you single step your way to the top (in the same amount of time). It requires greater lower body strength and is a brilliant cardio workout.
Bound past everyone else who is running for the train/bus and they won’t even notice how strange you look ;). You will get ahead of the crowd on the commute and develop powerful legs in the process.
For more power increasing leg exercises, check out 5 Ways To Improve Your Sprinting Speed.
This exercise can be done standing up (say, when you are making your morning smoothie) and while you are sitting down (underneath your desk). Standing up is the optimal position because this will engage your core as you try to maintain balance across the range of movement. Performing individual leg calf raises will be even better, because there is more resistance to battle against in terms of weight and balance.
This is one I came up with on the long and dull commute to work. When sitting in your seat, raise your feet slightly off of the floor and hold. It will engage your quads and is great for the core as well. Alternate between holding (for at least 60s) and performing slight pulsing movements to make the most of this position. Like Insanity guru Shaun T says, the real work begins when you feel the burn.
Compound Resistance – A great way to engage your whole body and increase the strength of your legs.
There are an abundant reasons why you should squat; it increases whole body functional strength (it makes you jump higher etc), improves core balance, helps you burn more fat and get amazing glutes in the process (to name but a few). The leg press machine will not benefit you as much because your upper body is in a relaxed state, but it will still build up leg muscle if you would prefer not to use the squat rack. A lot of people struggle with squat technique, so make sure that you know how to perform the exercise properly to avoid injuries.
Deadlifts require a lot of upper body and core strength, but the exercise is also great for engaging the hamstrings which leads to impressive strength gains. Make sure that you know the appropriate technique for deadlifts before you attempt this exercise. Back injuries are very common when they are performed incorrectly.
You may already include this in your routine but rely heavily on your upper body. You will be surprised once you include leg specific exercises into your workout how much progression you will make with this lift!
There are many positions from which you can perform standing calf raises, but if you want to recruit the most muscle fibres in your calf, you should begin with your feet pointing directly forwards (no inversion etc). I would recommend starting with a significant weight (~70-80% of your max squat) and perform 3 sets of 10-15 reps. Following these sets, get rid of the weight and perform 25-30 slow, controlled calf raises through your full range of movement. The balance required for this move will engage your core also.
Bodyweight lunges are ideal for beginners and will be very effective to kick-start your strength gains. If you are interested in how bodyweight exercises can improve strength, read Build Muscle with Bodyweight Training. For the more advanced athlete, weighted lunges are a great way to engage your legs, core and arms (holding the weights). Mix up your lunge routine by alternating between forward lunges, side lunges and lunges with your rear leg on a raised platform (target glutes).
Plyometrics- The fast track to explosive and powerful legs.
This exercise is basically the reverse of a box jump. You begin by standing on a block/raised surface. You then jump from this surface onto the floor and perform a second jump vertically into the air as high as possible. Aim to spend the least time possible with your feet in contact with the floor between the two jumps.
The power jump is essentially a hardcore tuck jump. You begin this move in a demi-squat position (that is to say with your legs bent above a 90⁰ seated position), from here you jump into the air as high as possible tucking your legs into your chest. Do not bring your chest down to meet your knees, your knees must drive up towards your chest. Land back in a squatted position and begin the exercise again. No prep bounces. No breaks. Lots of muscle burn.
Standing Long Jump
This one is pretty self explanatory. You begin from a static position, you jump to cover as much horizontal distance as possible and you land. No prep bounces. No repetitive arm swings. Just one, simple jump. Mark your landings and track your distance. This will keep you motivated to continue the exercise and ensure that you put in maximum effort for each jump.
Rolling Pistol Squat
Begin seated on the floor, roll back onto your shoulders and point your feet towards the ceiling. From here, allow your body to roll back down towards the floor. As you come to the seated position, place one foot on the floor and pistol squat your way up to a standing position. Remaining on one leg, lower yourself slowly back to the seated position and begin again. Alternate legs or perform 8-10 reps on each side before switching.
You should be including cardio training in your workout regardless of your aims, but it is especially great for the legs. The bicycle, treadmill, cross-trainer and stair master are all ideal machines for engaging the muscles of the lower body. Improve your cardiovascular health, mix up your workout and get amazing results. Win, win.
Of course you will also need to perform leg-specific resistance exercises to target the individual muscle groups. Resistance bands, thigh masters, medicine balls and gym machinery can all be used to target the quads, hamstrings, calves and flutes.
If you want to be a successful athlete, power through a training plateau or attract the opposite sex (perhaps all of the above), the development of functional muscular legs is vital. Trust me ;).