Last time, we covered how to increase your upper body strength, so today let's look at the lower body, and in partucular, the legs. Leg strength is as important as upper body strength. And for bodybuilders, serious leg gains can improve your physique, balance, health and over body strength.
To build leg strength, you have to perform more heavyweight exercises for the lower region. These exercises will sculpt, tone, strengthen, tighten muscles, burn fat in the legs and improve physical/ sports performance.
The Leg Muscles
The muscles stimulated by leg training activities include:
The Gluteal Muscles
The gluteal muscles are a group of three individual muscles; gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus are located in the buttocks. They aid extension, external &internal rotation and abduction of the hip joint. Training your glutes will increase muscle mass, burn calories, improve sports performance and posture.
The quadriceps are located in front of the thigh. They are a group of four muscles viz vastus intermedius, vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, and rectus femoris. These muscles are involved in functional mobility, hip movements and they holding the kneecap. Lg training exercises that target the quads will sculpt, tone, shape and increase leg size and strength.
The hamstrings are a group of 4 large muscles found at the back of the thigh, each hamstring crosses the hip and knee and contract whenever you perform movements involving the hip and the knee. Training these muscles enhances mobility, stabilizes the tip and adds weight to the lower body.
The calf consists of three muscle groups found in the back of the leg just below the knee, ie, gastrocnemius, soleus, plantaris. These muscles pull the heels up to allow forward movement, since the leg serves as a foundation for all workout activities, training the calves will enhance physical and sports performance, improve balance and physique, add weight to the lower body. It will also strengthen muscles that burn calories and give no room for fat.
Increasing Leg Strength
To effectively increase the strength of your legs, performing exercises that work multiple muscles at a time will prove more effective than isolation exercises and will also help you achieve quick results. While there are many exercises for working the lower region, strategic resistance training performed with weights has many times been proved to be the best exercises for leg strength.
The squat is a compound exercise which targets the glutes, hip, quads, hamstrings and also strengthens the core muscles. It is a very functional fitness and strength training exercise that helps improve general body balance and coordination. It tones the buttocks and thigh and adds muscle mass to the lower region.
The squat is even more effective when performed with weights. Apart from the basic squat, we also have the front squat which improves the quadriceps and glutes. The front squat is performed holding a weight in front of you instead of behind as with the regular squat. Squats can be performed using a barbell, dumbbells, in a smith machine.
HOW TO PERFORM REGULAR WEIGHTED SQUATS
- Using a barbell, place the bar on your back and wrap your hands around it
- With the bar on your back, keep your back straight, shoulders rolled back, engage your core muscles, place your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, keep your toes pointing forward. Bend your knees and lower yourself into a squat
- Make sure to keep knees behind toes, butt inches above the floor and your straight back
- Push yourself back up at the same speed with which you went into the squat
- Use an appropriate weight to avoid straining the knee.
Repeat in 3 sets of 12 reps. Take 20 secs to rest in between sets.
- With your elbows high, hold a barbell. Keep your fingertips tight around the bar and your palms facing forward
- Hold the barbell close to the base of your neck and prepare to go into a squat. Feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, back straight
- Push your hips behind, keep your elbow straight as you flex your knees and go into a squat
- Squat until your butt is inches above the floor then return to the standing position
Perform at least three sets of 8 reps. Take 20 secs to rest in between sets.
This workout is targeted at the hamstrings, glutes, quads, lower back, adductors, and calves. Deadlifts improve posture, upper body strength, and grip. It can be performed with a barbell or dumbbells.
- Hold a barbell or a dumbbell with your palms facing down
- Stand, keep your torso straight, and your legs shoulder-width apart. Let your knees bend slightly
- Maintain a stationary position with your knees as you lower the barbell or dumbbell over the top of your feet by bending at your waist while keeping your back straight
- Move forward as though you want to pick something from the floor until you feel your hamstring stretch. Make sure you inhale as you perform this movement
- Begin to raise your torso straight by extending your hips until you are back at step 2. Make sure you exhale as you complete this movement.
Repeat the process in 3 sets of 15 reps. Take 60 secs rests in between sets.
the lateral lunges work the muscles in the calves, glutes, hamstrings and the inner thighs. They can be performed with or without weights.
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and dumbbells at your side
- Inhale, step one leg out and shift your weight unto that leg. Keep the dumbbells at your side
- With your back upright, push your hip backward into a squat
- Make sure your knee stays behind your toes, squat until your butt is parallel to the floor
- Exhale and push yourself up to the starting position
- Complete reps on one leg then change to the other to complete a set.
Perform at least three sets of 8 reps on each leg.
this workout targets the quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings. It is performed with the leg press machine.
- Sit comfortably in the leg press machine and place your feet on the footplate, shoulder width apart
- With your chest up and lower back pressing into the padded seat, bend your knees to form a 90 degrees angle. Knees should not be too high or too low but in alignment with your feet
- Breathe in, tighten your core muscles and push the footplate away with your heels and forefoot
- Keep your spine straight, head and back flat as you perform the movement. You can grab the handles by the side by support
- When you get to the top of the action in step 3, make sure your knees are not locked out. Flex your knees slowly and return the footplate to the starting position.
Perform three sets of 10 leg presses for optimal results.
The walking lunge is another variation of lunges, and it targets the quads, hamstrings, and glutes. This workout places more emphasis on the front leg. They help strengthen the whole leg.
- Stand, hold a dumbbell in each hand and step one foot forward
- Bend your knee forward as though you want to kneel with one leg, lowering into a lunge. Push yourself to stand position and lunge forward with the other leg
- Make sure your knee does not go past your toes as you perform this movement
Keep alternating your legs and repeat in 6 reps on each leg
This workout targets the quadriceps and glutes. It improves balance.
- With a dumbbell in each hand, stand facing a box, bench or step
- Keep feet shoulder width apart, place one foot on top of the bench
- Press your foot into the bench and push your body forward until your leg is straight on the bench
- Leave the other foot flying in the air and lower yourself slowly to the floor. This is the completion of 1 rep
Repeat the movement and alternate your legs as you perform six reps on each leg.
LEG PUSH OFFS
This exercise targets the glutes and upper hamstrings.
- Lie faceup with one heel propped on a bench
- Lift your other leg and make sure the foot is pointing towards the ceiling
- Straighten the leg propped on the box, as you push your free leg towards the ceiling and thrust your hip forward. This is one rep
Perform three sets of 15 reps on each leg.
This exercise targets the glutes and backside. They are performed with a barbell and workout bench.
- Using a low bench, adjust the bench pads so that they are below your shoulders and place the barbell across your upper thigh
- With feet under your knees and neck straight, engage your gluteal muscles and thrust your hips upward until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Make sure you keep your glutes engaged as you perform this movement
Gently return to the starting position and repeat in 4 sets of 6 reps each.