February 5, 2017
Training

BEST LEGS WORKOUTS: HOW TO BUILD BIG AND STRONG LEGS

If you want to have a powerful “alpha” physique, you need to build a solid base and foundation. This means that you can never skip leg day and that you must place a huge emphasis on developing tree trunk legs.

 

RULES TO THE BEST LEG TRAINING WORKOUTS

1.Heavy Lifts on Compound Exercises

The 1st rule is that you have to put a lot of overload on your leg muscles because they will only hypertrophy and respond to an increase in overload. This means that you need to perform the major leg exercises like the SQUAT (3-10 rep range), and also stiff legged deadlifts and leg presses in the 6-8-repetition range.

DON’T BE AFRAID TO SQUAT HEAVY! SKIP THE MACHINES!

2.The Best Leg Exercises

It is a good idea to be training your leg muscles with a variety of proven muscle building exercises. The compound exercises like the squat and deadlift should be the big staples in your regimen, and then you can also add in other high intensity quadricep and hamstring exercises.

The best leg exercises will consist of an array of different exercises such as the dumbbell lunge, dumbbell Step up, dumbbell Bulgarian split squat, dumbbell deadlift on a deficit, calf raise, weighted dumbbell squat jumps, sumo squats, barbell lunges, machine leg curls and leg extensions… Reminder: focus 80% of your effort on heavy compound lifts.

3.Progressive Overload

One of the best strategies for maximizing your lean muscle building capability is the concept of progressive overload with your leg workouts. This means that you will accurately track your workouts from week to week and write down your weight and repetitions. This lays the foundation to progressive overload and will assure that you are getting bigger and stronger legs. Aim to make a little progress every workout, it will add up over time.

4.Changing it Up

Just like when you workout your biceps, chest or shoulders – your leg muscles may respond best to a new kind of overload that is placed on it. Your body is really stubborn and will find any reason not to build itself to be bigger and stronger.

The best thing that you can do to make sure your body never completely adjusts to the workouts you are placing on it is to change it up sometimes.

This means that you are not only changing the exercises – but also your weight, repetition ranges and rest time between sets. This doesn’t mean that you should change your routine every week. What it means is that after a few months of solid training if you notice progress slowing then maybe it’s time to try something new.

The overall strategy ultimately remains simple: lift heavy, hit the gym with intensity, aim to best your previous workouts in some way.

Top 10 Best Leg Exercises

 

1. Barbell Squat

squat formIt’s not the reigning “king of exercises” for nothing. No single exercise is arguably as effective, not only for the intended lower-body target muscles but for all the muscles from your shoulders, chest and back down to your core, all of which fire to maintain your posture and balance as you rep.

Main Areas Targeted: Quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, calves, core

Strengths: The quadriceps and hamstrings are the major muscle groups that affect knee stability and motion. Quads come into play during the straightening of the knees, while hamstrings are directly related to the bending of the knees and the pushing action against the ground, such as in a short sprint. At the end of the day, squats are beneficial in developing muscular growth, strength and power, all while strengthening stabilizers and the core.

How-To: Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and hold a bar across your upper back. Your knees should be slightly bent and your toes turned out slightly. Keeping your head in a neutral position, abs tight and torso upright, bend at the knees and hips to slowly lower your body as if you were going to sit in a chair. Go as deep as you can handle, ideally to a point where your thighs come parallel to the floor or below while maintaining your natural lower-back arch, then forcefully drive through your heels and extend your hips and knees to return to a standing position.

2. Front Squat

 

Main Areas Targeted: Emphasis on quads, plus glutes, hamstrings, calves and core

Strengths: Both the barbell front and back squats are great exercises for increasing leg, back and core strength and for positively affecting anabolic metabolism. As for which is better, it depends on your posture, technique, previous injuries and personal preference. For example, if you lack proper shoulder external-rotation capability, then back squats might not be your best option. Due to your poor shoulder and thoracic spine mobility, you may have issues getting the bar racked and properly positioned across your back. In that case, front squats would quite possibly be a much better choice.

How-To: Set the pegs in a power rack just at or below mid-chest, and place the safety bars at a level between your hips and knees. Step up to the bar, crossing your arms to build a shelf to cradle it at your front delts and upper chest. Keep your chest up, lower back and abs tight, and eyes forward as you step back into a shoulder-width stance. Bend your knees and hips as if sitting in a chair until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor, then reverse direction by driving through your heels and pressing your hips forward to return to standing.

 

3. Romanian Deadlift

 

 

The quadriceps muscle is a powerful, four-headed beast of a muscle group, and unless you develop hamstrings with enough strength of equal measure to balance out the quads, your knees will be forever prone to injury. Enter the Romanian deadlift, or RDL for short. This movement works the hamstrings from the hips, a necessary addition to a hams routine that might otherwise be dominated by variations of the leg curl (seated, lying and standing) that all work the muscle from the knee joint.

Main Areas Targeted: Hamstrings

Strengths: You may notice a pattern here — well, you should, at least — but like the other exercises on this list, the key to results with the Romanian deadlift is pinpoint form. Keep your back flat, core tight and the bar sliding along the front of your legs on the way up and down and you’ll build thick, impressive, protruding hamstrings.

How-To: Stand upright holding a barbell in front of your upper thighs with an overhand grip. Place your feet shoulder-width apart and slightly bend your knees. With your chest up, arms straight and core tight to maintain the natural arch in your low back, lean forward from your hips, pushing them rearward until your torso is roughly parallel to the floor or until you feel a good stretch in your hamstrings. At the bottom, keep your back flat and head neutral. The bar should be very close to or in contact with your legs throughout. Flex your hamstrings and glutes to reverse the motion, bringing the bar back to the start position. The movement should come from the hips extending — pushing your hips forward — not from extending the lower back.

 

4. Hack Squat

 

 

Within the confines of the machine, you’ll find a bit more safety than you would with the free-weight squat, which becomes more crucial as you tire during a workout. That means hacks are a great mid-workout option, serving as a bridge between squatting and other moves such as the leg press and lunge.

Main Areas Targeted: Quads and glutes primarily, hamstrings secondarily

Strengths: This exercise is done in a weight-bearing functional position just like a standing squat. The hack squat machine also allows you to go a little heavier without sacrificing too much form as you would performing bar squats since your back is supported, which decreases the chance of injury. That’s important when the goal is to increase mass and strength.

How-To: Step inside a hack squat machine, placing your shoulders and back against the pads. Set your feet at mid-platform just inside shoulder width, keeping your feet flat throughout the exercise. With your chest up and core tight, unhook the safeties and slowly lower yourself, stopping when your thighs are just past parallel to the platform. From here, powerfully press upward to the start position, keeping your knees bent slightly at the top to protect them from hyperextension. The weight should be felt in your heels, not your toes.

 

5. Bulgarian Split Squat

 

 

Over-elevating the back leg — putting it on a flat bench or even higher — reduces the stability of the front leg, this limiting your strength potential and putting you at risk for injury while also unnecessarily stressing the spine.

Main Areas Targeted: Quadriceps, glutes

Strengths:  This move focuses on each leg individually, so you can pay full attention to each without a stronger leg compensating for a weaker one. In other words, any weaknesses in your strength or thigh development have nowhere to hide.

How-To: Holding a dumbbell in each hand, step forward with one foot and rest your rear foot on an elevated platform or bench, top of the foot facing down. Bend your front knee to lower yourself, making sure that knee doesn’t track out ahead of your toes. (If it does, take a longer step out from the platform.) When your knee joint forms at least a 90-degree angle, reverse the motion, driving through the heel of your forward foot to return to standing. Do not forcefully lock out the knee.

 

6. Walking Lunge

 

 

You can do stationary lunges in any direction — front, side, backward or any point in between — and have a damn fine exercise on your hands. But walking lunges ultimately made our list because a) they’re slightly more functional since you continually move forward instead of standing still and b) they provide an excellent finisher to any leg workout.

Main Areas Targeted: Quads, hams, glutes

Strengths: The walking lunge is a dynamic movement, requiring coordination and muscle recruitment to perform correctly. This exercise is predominantly a unilateral activity no matter which way it’s performed, with emphasis on the front rather than the back leg. You’ll get a good amount of co-contractions from above and below the knee joint, from the hip and core to the ankle and foot.

How-To: Holding dumbbells in each hand, step forward with one foot. Bend both knees to lower your torso toward the floor, making sure your front knee doesn’t pass your toes at the bottommost position. Stop just short of your rear knee touching the floor, then drive through the heel of your front foot while bringing your rear leg forward until you return to a standing position. Then step with the opposite leg into a lunge, repeating the pattern. Continue alternating down the floor. Most important, do not let the front knee turn in or out excessively.

 

7. Glute-Ham Raise

 

If you can get your hands on one, do so because the glute-ham raise on this apparatus is one of the very best strength- and muscle-building exercises you can do for your lower body.

Main Areas Targeted: Glutes, hamstrings

Strengths:  With the specially designed Westside bench you’ll get support in all the right places, but don’t let a lack of equipment dissuade you. You can alternatively do glute-ham raises with a partner holding your legs (kneel on the floor and keep your hands out in front to catch yourself as you lower your torso to the floor) or kneel on a lat-pulldown station seat so your heels are under the knee pads, placing a barbell or a sturdy stick on the floor that you grasp for balance (lower yourself via the power of your hams and glutes, then reverse).

How-To: Get into position on the bench, securing your ankles between the rollers, your knees on the pads and your feet on the platform. Start with your torso and thighs aligned and perpendicular to the floor. Cross your hands over your chest. Slowly extend your knees by lowering your torso as far toward parallel to the floor as you can go. Flex your hams to bring your body back to vertical. Note that when performing reps correctly, the calf/ankle area will alternate between touching the bottom and the top roller.

 

8. Pistol Squat

 

 

Admittedly, you’ll probably feel like an idiot when learning this move. You’ll fall on your can in the bottom position and likely lose your balance repeatedly. You won’t even be able to get all the way down into a full squat at first. I can only urge you, however, to not give up: Those who master this exercise have a tremendous weapon in their leg-training arsenal, and it doesn’t require a lick of equipment.

Main Areas Targeted: Quads, hamstrings, glutes

Strengths: Sure, this is more about dynamic performance than pure muscle building, but no matter. The more functional you are, the better you’ll be at mastering any exercise or physical activity. You may find that your quads burn deep for days after you first try the pistol squat, which is a sure sign that you’ve been shortchanging your range of motion on traditional leg exercises for years.

How-To: Begin in a standing position. Extend one leg straight out in front of you, balancing on your other foot. From here, squat all the way down by lowering your hips and glutes straight toward the floor, bending your knee until your working thigh is below parallel. At the bottom, your nonworking leg and arms will be out in front of you for balance with your planted foot flat on the floor. Drive through that heel to return to a standing position, making sure to never let that heel come up as you rep.

 

9. Step-Up

 

 

Being a unilateral exercise, it also means a stronger leg can’t compensate for a weaker one, with each leg taking its turn absorbing the full brunt of the motion.

Main Areas Targeted: Quadriceps, glutes

Strengths: The step-up comes in all sorts of variations and can be adjusted to challenge beginners and advanced athletes alike. To provide the resistance, you can hold a barbell, dumbbells or kettlebells (either at your sides or racked at shoulder level), wear a weight vest or just go with your own bodyweight. Step up onto a platform ranging from a height halfway up your shin to where your thigh is parallel to the floor in the start position. Not only does this develop power through the glutes, hips and thighs, but it also helps you practice balance and jumping force, which is helpful if you’re in a sport that requires vertical hops.

How-To Hold a dumbbell in each hand in front of a knee- to hip-high step, bench or platform. Starting with your feet in a shoulder-width stance, step forward with one leg onto the platform and drive through that thigh to propel your body upward. Bring your trailing leg up and stand atop the platform, then step back with either leg to return to the floor. You can either repeat with the same leading leg for all reps and then switch or alternate your lead leg from step to step.

 

10. Leg Press

 

 

That it’s one of the most abused exercises in the gym — probably because you can feel like a big shot and handle much more weight than you can on a squat — but used carefully, the leg press can be very beneficial. And just as important, it helps provide variety in what might otherwise be a very squat-centric leg program.

Main Areas Targeted: Quadriceps (emphasized with feet lower on platform and closer together), glutes and hamstrings (emphasized with feet higher and wider on platform)

Strengths: The leg press is a closed-kinetic-chain exercise, which simply means your feet are planted rather than free. A closed chain provides for a stronger base of power without as much shearing force on the knee joint as can occur in an open-chain exercise like the knee extension.

How-To: Sit squarely in the leg press machine and place your feet shoulder-width apart on the sled. Keeping your chest up and lower back pressed into the pad, carefully unlatch the sled from the safeties. Bend your knees to lower the platform, stopping before your glutes lift off the pad. From there, powerfully extend your knees to press the weight up (but don’t lock them out at the top).

 

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