Leg day. It's not everyone’s favourite day on the workout calendar. It makes sense: you'll be hard pressed to find people who really relish the idea of walking like Bambi for at least 24 hours post-workout-- and if you're training your legs properly, you will.
The problem is that many people don't train their legs properly. From undertraining, to overtraining to not training them at all, our legs can get a raw deal.
Well, no more! Today we're going to get your gams set for optimal training. Read on to uncover the most common leg training errors, and learn how to fix them.
1) You Overtrain.
You don't need to be annihilating your legs every single workout, but this often happens. By virtue of walking, standing and just generally living, you are already using your legs a lot. Add an aggressive training schedule to the mix, and your legs don't have proper time to rebuild and recover. And they need to rebuild and recover. This is how your muscles get stronger and leaner.
How often should you train?
When it comes to resistance training or plyometrics, aim to work your legs 2-3 times a week. Add in bodyweight exercises, yoga or cardio the rest of the time to keep your training varied in terms of weight, scope of movement and intensity.
2) You Undertrain.
You've doubtlessly seen one of these guys: they work hard to get a solid pump on their upper bodies, and then completely neglect their legs. The result? They look like an orange on two toothpicks. It's not attractive, and it's not good from a biomechanical stance. Each part of your body is connected to another, and when you train one and neglect another, you create potentially dangerous muscle imbalances.
Train your legs at least twice a week with resistance. Not only will picking up a kettlebell or dumbbells sculpt leaner, more powerful stems, but it will also give you the functional strength you need to lift and carry things in real life.
3) You Don't Train Unilaterally.
We've already mentioned how important it is to strive for balance in training, and this extends to training each side of your body. To achieve true balance between your left and right side, you will have to train each side separately. Enter, unilateral training.
We all have a dominant side, and this side is almost always stronger than the other. Unilateral training involves training each side on it's own, so you can gradually correct imbalances and create a more harmonious body.
For example, instead of a squat, do a Bulgarian split squat. This is where you place one of your feet behind you, perched on an elevated surface like a low stool or riser. Then, with your weight on your supporting leg, you perform the squat. Most people notice this exercise is easier on one side than the other.
No double standards!
Don't use two different weights for the two different sides. Cater to your weaker side, and use the lighter weight for both sides, gradually increasing it until it catches up with your stronger one.
4) You Forget This Group.
Calves can get lonely. These powerful muscle groups are often worked by virtue of working other groups in exercises like jump squats, skipping or running, but they also need some one-on-one attention. Weak calf muscles can lead to injury, specifically the Achilles tendon, the foot and your knee. Translation: a calf injury can literally cripple you.
That's the bad news. The good news is strengthening your calves is easy. The best exercise is the simple calf raise.
How to complete a calf raise:
- Stand on the balls of your feet on a step or riser with your heels hanging over the edge. Hold onto a chair or wall for balance if need be, but ultimately, you want to be able to control this movement by using your own stabilizing muscles.
- Lower your heels down until they are below the top of the step, going as far as you can comfortably, while maintaining control.
- Next, push up through the balls of your feet until you are standing on tiptoe. Repeat the movement.
Begin doing this exercise with your own body weight, and then as you grow more comfortable and confident, add in some extra resistance. To start, aim for 20-30 reps.
5) You Don’t Stretch.
You should be stretching every single day — even if only for 5 minutes. Stretching will improve joint mobility, muscle performance and ligament pliability and strength. As a result, you decrease your likelihood of injury, all while creating a body that can work harder and more efficiently to get you those good gains you’re after.
6) You Train the Same Way.
Plyometrics are great for your legs, and so is classic weight training. So is swimming and so is cycling, running and yoga. But if you’re only doing one of these types of exercises, you’re going to see limited results from your training.
The best results happen when you constantly change-up your workout. This will keep your muscles growing, since your body will constantly be forced to adapt to different movements. Plateaus are what happens when your body gets bored, and when you start a plateau, you stop getting results.
Keep your leg workouts varied, and you’ll keep sculpting your stems.
7) You Use the Same Tools.
Just like doing the same exercises will limit your results, so will using the same equipment. When you use kettlebells, for instance, you can do different movements in different ways than those you’d be able to do with a dumbbell.
Add some resistance bands to the mix, and you can strengthen your leg ligaments and tendons in ways that would never have been possible with just bodyweight or a barbell. The more tools you have in your arsenal, the more lean and mean your legs will be.
And consider this article one of your most useful tools, since you’re now armed with the knowledge you need to take on leg day like a the warrior you are.