Wheels, pins, tree trunks. Every gym goer has a love hate relationship with their legs. For the majority of the gym going population, legs are a neglected body part. This is a huge shame, since having an impressive physique without impressive legs, that doesn’t exist. The legs are required if you want strength, fat loss, aesthetics or general athleticism. We’ll take a look at the anatomy of the legs, the general training principles, and then the best exercises to target your legs.

How The Legs Work

Quadriceps

Otherwise called, “quads”, these are the muscles that are most commonly trained by people who have the inclination to train legs. These are the muscles running from the top of your hips to your knee. The function of the quad is to as an extensor to the knee. What that means is that when they contract, the knee is straightened out. These muscles perform very important functions in many basic movements like walking, running, jumping and yes, squatting.

Hamstrings

These muscles run from the bottom of your glutes to the back of your knees. The function of the hamstrings is the opposite of the knee. When they are contracted, the knee is brought back also. Essentially, if you stand up and bring your heel so it touches your backside, that is the contraction the hamstrings perform.

Gluteus Maximus

I think you know where your ass is. The function of the glutes is to extend the hip. It also provides a lot of stability to the rest of your legs, your knees etc. They also help with “external rotation”. To describe this, stand up and have your feet shoulder width apart, then keeping your feet planted rotate your thighs outwards slightly. Have your hands on your glutes, and you should feel them contract. So the glutes have many important functions, and are an important group to think of when planning your training.

Calf Muscles

These muscles have the strict function of flexing the foot at the ankle joint and flexing the leg at the knee joint. However, they are used extensively in sprinting, and other sharp strenuous bursts of activity. So essentially, think of how all ballet dancers have great calves, it is because of the tip toeing they are required to do constantly, which demands a lot from the calves.

calf-muscle

General Training Principles

Squats and Deadlifts

You knew this was coming, so don’t try and run now. If you want big legs, you are going to be squatting and deadlifting. Now, I am assuming that you don’ t have any back problems or other medical outlier conditions, if you do, then you can still squat and deadlift, but you may need to look at your options.

Squats – These are the mother of all movements in the gym. They will get you bigger all over, stronger all over and leaner all over. You shouldn’t have to be told to do squats, you should already be doing them. In terms of a leg builder, there is no rival, however, the term squat is all encompassing of many different movements. Depending on your bar placement, your leg placement, and your body mechanics, a squat can be different things to different people. Do get a great idea about essentially the two different types of squatting that you should focus on, read this article here, it explains it beautifully. In short, squats are the main focus of any leg program.

beginner-squats

Deadlifts – These monsters are another staple for stare worthy hamstring and glute development. Often times you will see these put in on a back day. This makes sense since squatting heavy and deadlifting heavy on the same day can fry your nervous system, and you won’t be performing at your best. Separating heavy squats and heavy deadlifts by a few days may be a good idea if you are hoping to progress in both. However, the other variations of deadlifts, (e.g. Romanian and Stiff Legged Deadlifts) are appropriate for leg day. They will punish the hamstrings and glutes, giving you fully rounded leg development

Tempo And Volume

The legs are an enormous muscle group. As a result, many find it worthwhile to have more than one session per week. The muscles are capable of recovering if hit twice per week. It all depends however on your training intensity and volume.

Volume – When it comes to your legs, just like any muscle group, a variety in the reps and sets you use is a good idea for maximal growth. If you are a beginner, it is a good idea to stick with lower rep squats as you build up your strength. As you progress, there are many good higher rep squat routines that can build huge amounts of muscle. With Deadlits, since they are so taxing on the body, no one would recommend that you do sets of more than 5 reps. With other movements such as leg presses, extensions, curls, Romanian deadlifts etc these can be done in a much higher rep range. This is where volume can be increased over the week of training.

Tempo – Again, playing around with the tempo of your training is a great idea. For pure hypertrophy, the ides of Time under Tension applies here also. This means that in an exercise like a leg press, descending the weight for 3 seconds each rep can lead to huge increases in strength. Your tempos are malleable, so mix them up frequently.

Best Movements For Legs

Quads
  • High Bar Back Squats – Aim for 5-8 reps
  • Front Squats – aim for 5 reps.
  • Leg Press Variations – aiming for 12-20 reps
  • Hack Squat Machine – aiming for 15-20 reps
  • Leg Extensions – aiming for 15-20 reps and a hard squeeze at the top of the movement
Hamstrings and Glutes
  • Wide Stance Back Squats – lower reps of 3-8
  • Deadlifts – sets of no more than 5 reps
  • Stiff Legged and Romanian Deadlifts – 8-12 reps
  • Glute Ham Raise/ Reverse Hyper extension – 8-12 reps
Calves
  • Standing Calf Raises – 15- 25 reps (slow descent and squeeze at the top)
  • Seated Calf Raise – 15-25 reps (slow decent and squeeze at the top)
  • Ben Pakulski Calf training, check out the video here it’s worth it.

So now you have in your arsenal some ideas about basic leg training. Get off that bench, stop bicep flexing and Squat!