Most of you reading this post will fall into one of three categories.
A) You’ve been active and sporty your entire life, and are eager to learn more about the best way to train your legs.
B) You were active when you were a little younger, but it’s been a while since you’ve set foot in a gym, or exercised any more intensely than a gentle walk.
C) You’ve never even thought of entering a gym, and the prospect of starting now is a daunting one!
Well the content of this blog is for you.
Yes, every single women in category A, B, or even C, needs to read and act on the following statement:
Everyone Should Train Their Legs.
Reason #1 To Train Your Legs
Improved Mobility And Strength For Life & Sports
Your legs are the base of your body.
Every time you stand up from your chair, you’re performing a squat. Every time you carry your shopping, it’s your lower body that’s bearing the load.
Yes, when it comes to performing every day activities, your legs are the unsung heroes that rarely get as much credit as they deserve.
From pushing a shopping trolley, to playing sports with your friends, training your lower limbs will have a positive impact on your performance.
Want to climb the stairs carrying a suitcase without having to stop every 3 steps because the load is too heavy?
Eager to walk or run with friends without your legs burning and giving up on you?
Training your lower body will have a positive impact on every activity that involves you being on your feet. Which, when you think about it, is an awfully large portion of your life!
Reason #2 To Train Your Legs
Decreased Risk Of Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis refers to the decrease in our bone density as we age.
It causes our bones to become more fragile, and impacts not only our strength and mobility, but also dramatically increases our chance of injury.
Luckily (as you would have probably guessed), weight bearing exercises such as squats, and other leg-based movements, can fight the deterioration of bone density.
Meaning just a little bit of time spent working your lower body now, will have a hugely positive impact on your standard of living as you get older.
Reason #3 To Train Your Legs
Decreased Chance Of Injury
Alongside aiding the fight against bone deterioration, training your lower body will also be of great benefit to the functionality of your joints, and decrease your risk of injury.
Whether to you that means you’re less likely to pull a hamstring lunging for the ball in your weekly Netball match, or that you’ll be able to tie your shoe without groaning as you bend over, the impact of actively working your legs is tremendous.
As we train and strengthen a muscle, we positively impact the structural integrity of the joint- making you far less likely to hurt yourself.
And if you do get injured in an unavoidable incident?
Being stronger and more mobile (because of training your legs) means you’ll recover faster than you would have done if you had avoided all activity pre-injury.
(And that’s without even delving into the powerful anti-arthritis effects training has on your body!)
Reason #4 To Train Your Legs
Improved Cognitive Function
A recent study brought to light the mental and cognitive benefits that spending time training your lower limbs can have .
The study has shown that leg power was one of the greatest indictors of mental decline- whereby the participants who partook in training sessions and strengthened their legs also demonstrated the greatest memory recall and cognitive function as they aged.
Whether the study simply points to the benefits of training for your mind, rather than specifically training the lower body, is up for debate. But, being as your legs have been linked with the greatest endorphin and hormonal response when trained, it would be a fair conclusion that activating those particular muscles would have the greatest impact.
Training your legs has literally been proven to keep your mind sharp (proving lifting is no longer just a ‘meathead’ activity!).
Reason #5 To Train Your Legs
You’ll Lose More Fat!
Ok finally, the reason that most will find the most motivating- yes, spending time training your lower body will have the greatest fat-loss impact when compared to training your upper body (or the ill-advised practice of performing countless crunches).
The collection of muscles that make up your lower limbs (which we’ll go into in more depth shortly), work in synergy to complete a number of basic compound movements. Together, they make up the largest amount of muscle that your body can activate at one time.
And the benefits of activating the largest amount of muscle you have available to you? More calories burnt, greater hormonal response AND and elevated metabolic rate (during and post training).
Want to get a flat tummy? Train your legs.
What Do We Mean By ‘Legs’?
Ok, so ‘legs’ is a fairly simple way to describe a wide range of muscles.
So now that you understand the benefits and reasons for why we should be training them, let’s discuss exactly what muscles we should be hitting, and how we should be hitting them.
The Main Muscle Groups Of The Lower Body
The Quadriceps are a collection of 4 muscles (we don’t need to get into the sciencey names here, there won’t be test at the end) located not the front of your leg- you might most commonly refer to them as your ‘thighs’.
Their primary function is to extend the knee (think kicking) and stabilise through the knee joint during a variety of exercises.
How To Train Them:
The quads are probably the muscle most people would think of when discussing ‘leg training’.
One of the most effective ways to stimulate them would be by a good old fashioned squat- but, to shift the emphasise towards your quadriceps more effectively, we’ll elevate your heels around an inch off the ground.
This could be performed as a bodyweight exercise, or, if you needed to make it more challenging, you could hold a dumbbell or weighted object in front of your chest (making sure to keep your shoulder blades back, and your chest high).
The Hamstrings are a group of 3 muscles located at the back of your leg (the other side to your quads).
Their primary function is to flex your knee (so think of kicking yourself in the butt), and to extend the hip (so moving from a seated to standing position).
How To Train Them:
Hamstrings are still going to activate whilst squatting (although more so without the heels elevated). Although if you wanted to focus on working them through a larger range of motion (we do), then a stiff-leg deadlift is the ideal exercise.
These are performed by hinging at the hip with a slight, consistent bent through the knee. You’d continue to hinge at the hip until you feel your hamstrings stretching, then you’d powerfully fire your hips forward, to lock them out and complete the rep.
This exercise can be completed either unweighted, or holding a dumbbell, a barbell, or any other weighted object.
The glutes are probably one muscle group I don’t need to point out, but just in case, I will- the glutes are your butt.
They’re made up of three muscles, and they assist in keeping our trunk upright, and extending and stabilising the hips in a variety of movements.
They assist to such a degree, that they’d fire in both the squats and the deadlift variant we suggested for you quads and hamstrings.
However, to further target them, I’d suggest performing a Glute Bridge- where you’ll start by lying with your back flat on the floor, and your knees bent so your feet are flat on the ground and close to your butt.
From there you will powerfully shoot your hips into the air, squeezing you butt muscles at the top of the movement, before slowly dropping them back down to the floor.
This can be performed either as a bodyweight exercise, or with a dumbbell, barbell, or any other weighted object on your hips.
The calfs are a group of two muscles, going from your heel to the back of your knee.
Their primary function is to extend the ankle- so think going onto your tippy toes.
You may find if you’re frequently wearing high heels, that your calves are tight, and possibly already look well developed.
However, should you wish to train them more, standing calf raise is a great way to target them further.
You perform this exercise by placing the balls of your feet on a raised surface, around 3-5 inches off the ground, so your heels are hanging off the edge. From there you’ll simply allow your heels to drop down, before powerful pushing down on the balls of your feet so you end up on your toes.
This can either be done bodyweight, or carrying a load.
It shouldn’t be a question of whether you should be training your legs, but rather how you’ll be training them.
They represent the most powerful fat-loss, anti-ageing and injury preventing tools you have- by intelligently stimulating them, no matter what your starting point, you’ll be greatly improving the quality of your life.
If you want to learn even more about how you can implement leg training into your routine, contact me, and together we’ll craft the perfect training programme for your specific set of circumstances. Steves C, et al. Kicking Back Cognitive Ageing: Leg Power Predicts Cognitive Ageing after Ten Years in Older Female Twins. Gerontology. 2015.