Leg Workout: The Best Workout for Strong Legs
Let’s face it, with the UK’s seriously substandard weather, there aren’t many reasons to worry about your legs being on show. However, if this summer is anything to go by, giving them a little extra attention in preparation for next year might not be such a bad idea. Start training now and next summer you can don your ‘short shorts’ with confidence.
If you remove aesthetics from the ‘reasons to train legs list’, leg training should be an important part of your training plan no matter what your goals are. Strong legs are essential for all kinds of sports because they allow you to generate more power. Even for endurance athletes, there’s a good body of research that shows strength training is important for improving movement efficiency and preventing injury.
If you hit the gym regularly, training your legs and developing their strength is important to keep your joints moving properly. As you get older, leg training becomes even more important as it prevents muscle degeneration and keeps your body functioning smoothly, which reduces the risks of slips, trips and falls – all of which can lead to fractures and serious complications in older age.
Whether you enjoy the idea of leg training or not should really come second fiddle to the benefits training your legs offer. This doesn’t mean leg training has to be the ‘blood and guts’ experience many hardcore trainers make it out to be. Leg days, believe it or not, can be enjoyable with the right approach.
TRAIN YOUR LEGS WITH POWERBUILDING
Powerbuilidng is a great way to train for a couple of main reasons. Firstly, powerbuilding offers a best of both worlds training approach, as it allows you to build strength and muscle at the same time.
Secondly, powerbuilding offers plenty of variety when it comes to exercises and intensity. This enables you to figure out how you like to train, what exercises feel best and what works best in regards to creating the changes you desire.
THE PRINCIPLES OF POWERBUILDING
Powerbuilding consists of ‘typical’ strength and power compound exercises, combined with more isolated bodybuilding exercises. This means pretty much any exercise can be included in a powerbuilding routine.
There’re many exercises thought to be better for strength and many exercises thought to be better for muscle building. However, the truth of the matter is compound exercises (multi joint movements) and isolation exercises (single joint movements) can be used for both – to a certain extent – and this is more to do with the number of reps you perform.
If you look at strength and muscle building on a continuum, with lower reps (1-5) considered as strength training and higher reps (5-20) considered as muscle building, there is still some cross over in terms of the response you will get. It’s not like performing five reps isn’t going to build any muscle or doing 10 reps isn’t going to make you stronger over time!
The important thing to remember here is if you want to keep getting stronger and building muscle then your training needs to be progressive. This means week after week you should be looking to add a little weight to the bar once you’ve hit your target rep ranges, add more reps at the same weight or add in extra sets to make sure you build more training ‘volume’ and create enough stimulus to force your muscles to keep getting stronger and bigger.
If you just want to train legs for a basic level of strength and healthy function, then progression can be much less of a focus. However, even in this situation, training should ideally still be to some extent challenging.
The go to leg exercise for strength has to be the back squat. However, if the back squat is a struggle because of injury or mechanical reasons (it is essential you get some proper guidance on exercise technique before doing any heavy compound lifting), then there are other squat variations (front squat, box squat, goblet squat) you can perform instead.
Many people think squatting is the ‘key’ to leg strength and muscle growth. The truth is unless you want to be a competitive powerlifter or strongman, you don’t have to squat to develop leg strength or muscle size. Properly performed squats are a ‘nice’ exercise to add to any programme because they hit multiple muscle groups in your legs and core and allow joints to move through a full range of motion (if performed correctly). This makes the squat a great exercise for developing not only size and strength but also improving joint mobility and stability compared to more isolated movement. But they’re not essential.
Other compound movements that typically belong in this kind of routine include the leg press, hack squats, lunges/split squats, stiff legged deadlifts and hip thrusts. If you’re unsure of how to perform these (or any exercise) then it’s essential you get proper instruction. As good as compound exercises can be for the development of strength, muscle and stability, there’s also an increased risk of injury if performed incorrectly.
When it comes to ‘isolated’ exercises seated leg extensions, hamstring curls (either seated or lying), abductor and adductor machines and calf raises are our weapons of choice.
THE STRONG LEG WORKOUT
Generally speaking (and in the example programme given here) the heavier compound work is performed at the start of the workout, while both your mind and body are fresh, as this is where the greatest chance of injury lies.
After the heavier compound work, we move up through the rep ranges and focus on increasingly more isolated movements and finish with lighter loaded exercises at higher reps that are going to make your muscles ‘burn’ and be heavily fatigued but with movements that are going to have very, very low risk of injury.
Whether this was leg training or an upper body approach to powerbuilding style training, this is the most efficient and safe approach to take.
On a final note, before we get into the nitty gritty of the programme, it’s worth pointing out that (especially for the ‘heavy stuff’) that warm ups should be performed gradually, working up to your target weight and you should only consider progressing the load on the bar if reps and sets are being completed with excellent ‘tight’ technique.
For heavier work of 5-8 reps, reps should be performed with control but as explosively as possible, especially on the lifting phase of the exercise. Lighter work at higher rep ranges should be performed with a greater focus on execution with a slower tempo to focus the load on the muscle to create maximum tension and stimulate muscle growth.
A simple two second negative (lowering part of the exercise) and 1-2 second positive (lifting part of the exercise) with a slight pause at the top and bottom of an exercise is what you should typically be aiming for with isolated movements and the higher rep range compound variations.
So, that’s the details dealt with… what does the programme look like?!
EXERCISE, REPS, SETS, REST
Back Squat: 5, 4, 180s
Leg Press: 8, 3, 120s
Walking Dumbbell Lunges: 12 (each leg), 2, 120s
Barbell Hip Thrust: 15, 2, 90s
Lying Hamstring Curl: 15, 2, 90s
Leg Extension: 20, 2, 90s