Effective Leg Training
Too many people neglect their leg training. Not training your legs is the same as only driving your car in third gear – there is so much more performance you can get out of the machine if you use all of its capability. Learn all about effective leg training in this article.
I have heard lots of reasons for not training legs during my career as a personal trainer…
- ‘I want to focus on upper body’
- ‘I cycle so already get enough leg work’
- ‘It’s too hard’
- ‘I hate the DOMS’
- ‘My legs are big enough’
Roughly translated, these all mean “I’m too lazy to train my legs.”
Anyone serious about their health and fitness absolutely has to train their legs – they are the largest muscle group in the body, so when trained correctly stimulate the largest secretion of growth hormone into your bloodstream, helping your entire body grow.
Thats right – train your legs and you help the rest of your body grow! Many people hit early plateaus in their muscle and strength gains that could easily be overcome with effective leg training. The increased growth hormone and testosterone release, plus the improvement in neural strength pathways would assist the trainee in developing strength and size.
Furthermore, strong legs are vital to athletic development – your legs are your driving force and are required in almost all sports. Any sport that requires speed, directional change or lower body endurance advocates leg training in some form.
There are injury prevention benefits too. When the muscles surrounding a given joint are stronger they are more able to stabilise, meaning joint injury from impact or directional change is less likely. A stronger, more robust body is less likely to break down and injure than a weaker body.
Is the effective leg training message sinking in yet?
So how should you train your legs?
The musculature of the legs, glutes and core (they are all linked) is multilayered and consists of lots of different muscle fibre types, so in order to get the best results from your leg training I suggest you mix up how you train them – some days go heavy with fewer reps, other days go lighter with higher reps. The variety in stimulus will help provide an excellent base for growth and athletic conditioning.
The starting point is exercise selection – always use compound lifts such as squats, lunges, deadlifts etc. You don’t need to use the leg extension and leg curl machines if you select your compounds well and perform them correctly! Remember we want effective leg training, not extensive leg training.
Split the training into hip and knee dominant exercises. This ensures your training is balanced and effective – too many repetitive movements can create muscle and strength imbalances, leading to injury.
Take the time to learn the exercises as well. In the image below, Mike is learning the overhead squat.
Hip and knee dominant exercises play a vital role in leg training. Learn what they do, and how to add them into your training plan.
Hip dominant exercises target the posterior chain (calves, hamstrings and lower back) very effectively. My personal favourites are the Romanian Deadlift, Stiff Leg Deadlift and the Good Morning – these are great strength developers and target the posterior leg muscles more effectively than any machine could!
Knee dominant exercises focus more attention on the quads and hip flexors. These include squat patterns and lunges. Performed well, squats and lunges will add size, strength and knee protection incredibly effectively.
In addition to the right exercises, you need to ensure you are physically capable of performing the exercises with a degree of safety, so learning where to stretch and improve flexibility is vital.
Stretch the muscles of the legs and hips if you want to perform squats, deadlifts and lunges correctly. Many people squat with terrible form as a result of muscle tightness, so use a foam roller, stretch your glutes, hamstrings, calves and hip flexors. Importantly, you should use a light weight to work on technique before committing to a working weight. If you need to, hire a personal trainer to help you with this in order to get it right.
To start with, ignore your ego and focus on developing a safe and effective technique. Remember the old bodybuilding mantra ‘if it’s not working, it’s not growing’, so you have to ensure the muscles you are aiming to strengthen are the ones doing the work. Don’t cheat on your technique – ego won’t make you grow, sensible training will.
I mentioned earlier in the article about varying your rep ranges, but I want to add further advice to that – don’t mix them up in a session. Due to neural stimulation, if you are doing a high rep, lower weight day, keep to that for your entire leg session to get best returns. Stick to the one type of lifting. On power/strength days, only do power/strength work, don’t mix up high rep training in the same session unless you want to fry your central nervous system!
- Low/medium weight days are where you are lifting 30-60% of your 1RM, for multiple sets of 12+ reps.
- Hypertrophy days would be 60-80% of your 1RM for multiple sets of 8-12 reps.
- Strength/power days would be 80-100% of your 1RM for multiple sets of 1-5 reps.
Programming Leg Training Days
I prefer a whole-body rather than split routine for weight training in almost all circumstances, but if I wanted clients to work more on their legs I would programme 2 days of extra leg work, focussing on 1 day with medium weight, high reps of exercises such as front squats, lunges, stiff legged deadlifts and Kettlebell swings.
On the strength and power day, I would programme exercises such as Back Squats and Deadlifts for multiple sets.
If you are training in a split routine, my suggestion is to add an extra leg day, one medium/high rep day focussing on a mixture of front and overhead squats, lunges, good mornings and single arm kettlebell swings and the other day focussing purely on weight and power with Deadlifts, Back Squats, Sumo Deadlifts and Sumo Squats, as these exercises require technique that is easier to perform with heavier weight.
Before each session, alongside an effective warm up make sure you use a foam roller to improve tissue quality and wake up the muscles. After each session, ensure you stretch thoroughly to prevent muscle tightness.
I know legs aren’t necessarily ‘beach muscles’, but they are vitally important and if you are serious about your training, your fitness and your health, look after your legs with an effective leg training plan and they will look after you!
If you have gained anything at all from this article, please like, link to and share the article with your friends and social media contacts!