You don’t have much time for the workout, so you cut the leg training. Why not? It is more important to have those biceps bulging out of a short-sleeved shirt because that is what people see most. Well, “chicken legs” is the gym-term for those with a trained upper body and neglected legs. It is as if they don’t have a full-length mirror. So, unless you plan to never take off your jeans, be sure to include leg workouts in your program.

By: Joe Palumbo, IFBB

Not training your legs is one of the most detrimental fitness mistakes a person can make. Beside the unappealing look, not training the legs leaves you prone to injuries due to weakness and the imbalances of your body structure.

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The massive gluteal muscles of the buttocks are the largest combined muscle group in the body. They help maintain posture standing up, and stabilize the hips for walking and running. The longest muscle in the body is in the thigh, known as the Sartorius muscle. The Sartorius muscle and the four bundles of muscles on each side of it are called the quadriceps. They are responsible for moving the legs and helping maintain balance.

Exercising the thigh muscles induces endocrine changes, that point to anabolic effects on muscle and bone. The legs have massive amounts of muscle tissue.  When exercised, they release anabolic hormones (testosterone and growth hormones) more effectively than smaller muscle groups. Therefore, training your legs benefits the entire body. You can kick-start your metabolism and burn more calories by incorporating regular leg routines.

The legs are called upon to perform the greatest physical tasks.  This is true whether we refer to speed, endurance, stamina or strength. Whatever the physical task, it is the power of the legs that count, even though the arms may seem to be doing the work. It is not necessarily the size of the biceps that will help you when needed, but more likely, the strength in your legs!  In police academy textbooks, the “sweep the legs” maneuver is suggested when taking down a subject for control.  In other words, you can take the power and control away from a subject by getting him off his legs.

Training the legs requires a complete development of all the leg muscles. Practice a number of movements designed to bring out the combined strength and muscularity of the entire legs. Start with the top of the leg and work down. It is essential for the beginner to become familiar with the movements and proper form before moving on to heavy weights. Form is more important than weight.  Start out slow with lighter weights and higher reps. Familiarize yourself with the correct movement, position, and balance.

Your leg day workout should include:

squats (the king of leg development)

hack squats (for shaping the inner and outer thigh)

leg extensions (for density and fullness to the front of the thigh)

leg curls (to beef up the thigh biceps)

calf raises

Begin with two-three sets per exercise and eight-ten reps per set. At the advanced level, do three-four sets with six-ten reps. The advanced level is for power and increased leg size. For the advance level, you want to push your muscles almost to failure.   Then, rest just long enough to enable you to repeat while increasing resistance. When training with this kind of “pushing to the limits,” for assistance and safety, you should always have a qualified spotter.

Being a compound exercise, the leg press is more effective than isolation exercises (leg extensions or leg curls). It is, in turn, less effective than the squat, which also works the muscles of the lower back.  But, due to the safety concerns and because some may have prior physical injuries (I’ve had knee surgery), the leg press is often used as the primary lower body exercise instead of the squat. By simply placing your legs high on the plate, you can affect most of the same muscles as squats.

When training the legs for a lean muscular look, you want to keep the weights light with higher reps (12-15 per set), and take a short rest in between. Leg training can also be performed as circuit training.   This type of workout could provide your body with an aerobic workout, enhancing speed, stamina, endurance, and flexibility. Keep in mind, you can add or replace an exercise with single leg squats, single leg press, lunges, or even Plyometrics—known to increase speed and strength.

There are important differences in training for power and size. The weights are heavier and the sets and reps are lower. Most important, the rest between sets is higher, giving your muscles enough time to recover to lift heavy again. To facilitate muscular growth, you want to push your muscles almost to failure. This creates the need for repair of the damaged muscle tissues, hence larger muscles. You want them to work hard and then let them rest and grow.

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