It may seem like common sense to some, but just as many don’t realize the value of a balanced leg workout.
In fact, it is one of the most efficient types of training to do for one key reason – it hits the largest muscles in the body. And that means that good leg workouts lead to better metabolism and a lot more fat burning.
Of course, it is easy enough to say “do a balanced leg workout,” but that doesn’t really explain just what you need to target with each day’s work. Bodybuilding experts agree that “a solid leg routine needs to be centered around multi-joint moves such as lunges, squats or step-ups. These exercises not only hit the quads and hamstrings but also the glutes” (Muscle and Fitness, 2014). And already mentioned, when training this way, and activating glutes, you get optimal calorie burning and that amped up metabolism.
Angles and Outcomes
Like all other areas of the body, the legs and lower body muscle groups also need to be trained in a way that achieves “muscle fiber recruitment.” That means you need to work the muscles at different angles. This is not complex with a good leg workout, though, because you simply adjust the stance and the position of the weight or load. A prime example of this would be to do variations of squats (back, front, and single leg movements).
Why is this important? The leg muscles are often very sinewy and composed of several muscle strands. The hamstrings, as a simple example, include not one but three different muscles. The glutes, or buttock area, has muscles running in from every conceivable direction as well. And these things mean you have to consider all of the angles and tweak each movement to trigger muscle activation and muscle fiber recruitment.
If you are going to get the most out of your leg workout, it has to be done with more than just the legs engaged. Full-blown core engagement is often a way to ensure that you have the super sturdy core that is so essential to getting the most out of the leg work.
So, how do you work all of the muscle groups, and at various angles while also accomplishing the other goals itemized above? You use the following workout (which is a two-day program) and upgrade your already strong legs to their best levels ever.
Bulgarian Split Squat with a Dumbbell Overhead – Choose a dumbbell for your level of fitness, and grasp it in one hand. Take the Bulgarian Split Squat stance by putting the top or toes of the foot on the same side as the weight on a bench behind you. Bend the knee and press the weight over your head with the arm aligned with the shoulder. With your arm overhead, bend the front knee and lower the hips toward the floor. When your front quad muscle is parallel, lift it back up. Don’t forget to stand tall throughout. Switch sides and do four sets of eight on each side.
Kettlebell Swing/Flip and Squat – Stand with feet shoulder width apart and hold the kettlebell (by the handle) with both hands. Allow arms to hang straight to the floor. Bend the knees and dip while lowering the weight between the legs. Keep arms extended, but quickly swing up the kettlebell while extending knees and lifting arms. When the weight reaches shoulder level, bend the elbows and knees to lower yourself beneath the weight. At the same time allow the momentum to flip the weight over as you release the handle, and catch the bell in your hands. Use momentum to keep moving down into a squat as the weight settles into your hands. Stand up and press the weight over your head, and drop down into the original starting position.
Single Leg Extension with Angle Crunch – This requires a leg extension machine adjusted to allow the roller to rest across the ankles. Do a single leg extension with one leg while twisting torso in same direction. Reverse and repeat – extending other leg and doing a crunch with the pectoral over the extended knee.
On day two you continue with the fully active movements and you will still target a large range of muscle groups.
Lying Leg Curl and Extension – Use a leg curl machine if available. If not, use an angled bench and lie face down. Put the backs of the ankles against the pad (legs will be extended) and keep the knees off the edge of the bench. Bend the knees by contracting the hamstrings and pulling the heels towards the glute muscles. When you are at the top of the movement, gently contract lower back muscles by lifting torso slightly, return to the pad and lower the body back into the starting position.
Smith Machines – If you have access to a Smith Machine, you will want to use it to do front and back squats. Do this transitionally by standing in the machine with the feet shoulder width apart. With your head up and the weight resting across the deltoids, clasp the bar tightly. Drop into a squat (always keeping the chest out and the back flat), keep dropping until the quads are parallel to the floor. Rise back up and repeat, making sure to adjust the bar to do back squats too.
How many sets and reps do you do each day? Start with four to five sets and eight to twelve reps. The goal, however, is not to blast through this workout but to really give attention to your form and to feel each movement doing its work.
Muscle and Fitness. Leg Training. 2014. http://www.muscleandfitness.com/workouts/legs-exer...