We all know that person in the gym who trains upper body, but refuses to train their legs. You may even be that person and this is why you’re reading this article. Look around the gym, and you’ll see plenty of people with a massive upper body and small lower body. This comes from a focus on the mirror muscles associated with chest, shoulders, arms and abs, but neglecting your lower body can have detrimental effects for your body.
Why is training legs important?
Here are some of the main reasons why you should make training legs on a regular basis a priority:
☐ Not training legs will lead to you will have an unequal proportion of strength between your upper body and lower body, which can lead to an increased risk of injury
☐ Training legs will lead to an increased release of hormones, which can lead to an increase in muscle growth
☐ You strengthen your core because most leg exercises require you to engage your core muscles
☐ You can improve your flexibility by increasing your range of motion, which can decrease your risk of injury
☐ Everyday activities can become easier, as a result of having greater lower body strength
☐ You can improve your overall strength of your upper body and lower body because training legs requires movement of the whole body
☐ If you have ever trained legs, you will know how hard it is to get out of bed the day after, or go up and down a flight of stairs. This soreness is the result of DOMS (Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness), which occurs 24-72 hours post-exercise. DOMS can result in muscle damage, which can help lead to protein synthesis and growth of the muscle.
So, what leg exercises should you include in your exercise program to increase muscle growth?
The squat is the staple of most leg days and the best leg exercise in my opinion for promoting muscle growth. Wikipedia states, “A squat is a compound, full body exercise that trains the lower extremity muscles, and is considered vital for increasing strength and size.” (1)
A compound exercise requires the use of more than one joint. Squatting has been shown to increase the release of growth hormone and testosterone, which both aid in muscle growth. Proper squat form can be difficult to learn, and it takes time to perfect the technique. Improper squat form can lead to an increased risk of injury, so it is important to learn how to do a squat correctly.
One of the biggest mistakes I see in a gym is people squatting incorrectly with a huge amount of weight. When it comes to squats, it is important to put your ego aside and worry about form before going up in weight. You should follow these steps to make sure you’re performing squats with the correct form:
1. Place your feet shoulder-width apart with your head facing forwards, keep your chest and shoulders up, your core tight and your feet flat. It’s worth investing in flat soled shoes to perform squats or do it barefoot to make sure you’re squatting on a completely flat surface.
2. Bring your hips back during the down phase, keep your back straight and stick your buttocks out. It’s important to keep your knees in line with your feet, focus on your breathing
3. During the up phase drive through your heels to lift the weight
There are many other leg exercises that you can do to increase leg strength, but the squat remains the most beneficial leg exercise. For a long time, research has shown the benefits of squatting over other exercises. Chandler, et al. (1991) states, “The squat has an advantage over leg extensions and leg curls, because it is a closed-chain exercise and is more specific to most sporting activities”. Squatting can maximize growth potential. Squatting also aids in upper-body muscle growth, and reduces lower back pain when performed correct. Squatting can increase overall athletic performance.
Take Home Message
With all the different benefits training legs provides, why would you skip leg day? Sure, leg day can lead to excessive soreness, but it is worth the pain. If you are serious about fitness and maximizing muscle growth, then you need to incorporate squatting into your exercise program. You see people in the gym doing long leg workouts, and all kinds of different variations of squats. You don’t have to do that to see an increase in muscle growth and lower body strength.
Keep it simple, incorporate the squat into your exercise program. Squatting requires the use of the full body to be done correctly. Squatting can lead to a rapid increase in strength. If you have never trained your legs before, be ready to be extremely sore in the 24-72 hours following your workout. The soreness is a good thing because over time it will lead to muscle growth. Remember the saying “no pain, no gain”, training legs backs that saying up. Next time you see a friend who doesn’t train their lower body, remember friends don’t let friends skip leg day!