Alright, so it’s leg day. You know you don’t want to be that guy at the gym whose triceps dwarf his calves, but may80be you’re getting bored of your existing leg routine or are just looking for ways to keep things fresh. Today’s article will cover some important things to know when it comes to working your legs as well as provide you with some new ideas to shock your muscles. Did you also know that working your legs, specifically squats, releases testosterone throughout your body? So that means, even if you can’t stand leg day, that working these large muscles will help your body to produce greater gains in every area. Remember this next time you feel like skipping legs to work on beach muscles. The following is a compendium of leg exercises and principles that can help propel you the next level of building muscle in your legs.
The Almighty Squat
Enough can’t be said about the importance of the squat to your overall fitness. The opportunity to work 80% of your body’s muscles simply cannot, intelligently, be ignored if your goal is overall fitness, strength and muscular development. I push the squat a lot in these articles, but for good reason. Always warm up your squat by starting with no weight. I often use a post for added balance and sink down into the squat, moving around in the low position to really loosen up those muscles and get comfortable in that seated position.
Pairing a plyometric move with your weighted leg exercise is my favorite way of adding a dynamic, athletic element to your lower body workout. This keeps functional strength in mind as you work your muscles with weights for size and development. There’s no point to being big and strong and having no athleticism so pairing a body weight movement with a weighted resistance move is a good approach. Below you’ll find some of the best muscle building leg workouts for size, strength and athleticism.
Back Squat & Box Jump
If you’re going to pair these up, I suggest going with a low repetition, high weight combination on the weighted squat. I suggest sets of 6-8 on the back squat followed by 10 reps on the box jump. Always remember on your squats: feet just outside shoulder width apart, drive your knees outward as you sink, keep your head up and a straight back. Achieving optimal form on your squat is something that takes a great deal of practice and may feel uncomfortable at first, but as you continue to add weight to this movement, it will be ever more important that your form is flawless. Spend time warming up this exercise and sitting down into your squat and swaying side to side to loosen up your muscles and get extremely comfortable in this position.
Calf Raise & Jump Rope
Whether you are using a machine, a trap bar or dumbbells to perform calf raises, pairing this move with 100 loops of jump rope can add speed and agility to this muscle group. Remember when performing weighted calf raises to keep your spine straight and your core engaged, keeping a slight bend in your knees. When you finish a set of 10-12 with heavy weight, transition immediately to 100 repetitions of jump rope.
Weighted Lunge & Mountain Climbers
Pairing the weighted dumbbell lunge with mountain climbers is certainly a challenging combo but I assure you, this will pay off in results. Remember to focus on keeping your spine upright during your lunges and transition your weight between legs slow enough that you’re not swaying or losing balance. The mountain-climber portion of this combo is where you will focus on a speed movement. Get yourself into a pushup position and you want to jump one leg at a time up to where it is positioned underneath your lower chest, as you bounce that leg out from under you, pull the other up to replace it. Try to remember to keep your back extra straight here as curving your spine will reduce the effectiveness of this move.
Trap Bar Squat
If you’ve seen the square framed trap bars around the gym, you might have worked with these. By using this bar for squats, you activate your biceps and shoulders in the process of holding the weight at your side, increasing the already 80% of your muscles worked by a traditional back squat. Your grip should go out to your sides and you’ll want to use less weight than with your regular squat.
Does Running Build Leg Muscle?
If you are wondering whether running will add muscle to your legs in the way that squatting will, the answer is no. If you enjoy running as a cardio activity, then continue to include it in your routine. However, I would recommend separating running days from leg workout days. In terms of using running to build overall fitness and muscular development, I would remind you to look at sprinters vs. distance runners. Sprinters are historically very developed muscularly as a result of their training which activates more of a power response than distance running which engages the cardiovascular system. With that in mind, interval training on non-leg days might be for you.
Interval training engages both the sprint and cardio vascular responses in your body’s energy systems. There are a number of methods like Swedish relays performed on a track but I like to make this nice and simple. If you want to train using intervals, the simple way to do this is to mix up your run with a mix of sprinting, walking, 50% speed and 75% speed. Sprint until you can’t, then walk, then mix up 75% and sprint, 50% for a longer distance, any combination of these where you charge hard and then rest in a lighter speed will activate your sprinting muscles as well as train your cardiovascular system. For more interval workouts you can download them here.
Don’t like leg day? Skip it
Don’t get too excited, this doesn’t mean you get out of working your legs, but if you’re one of those people that just can’t stand dedicating a whole day to you legs, then don’t. Instead, work legs into your other days. Because of the fact that they carry your body weight throughout the day, your leg muscles are incredibly resilient and can be worked multiple times throughout the week while still leaving enough time for proper rest and refueling. This means that you can add squats to several other workouts throughout your week The same is true for your calves and for plyometric moves.
A lot of people complain about leg day or avoid it. Don’t be one of those people. Keep your lower body workouts interesting by combining dynamic exercises, mixing in legs on other gym days, and keeping them guessing. As always, drink plenty of water and stretch thoroughly. Your legs are capable of storing a great deal of lactic acid for the sheer size of these muscles, so treat them right, keep it interesting and consider trying intervals on off days.