By Dean Elliot, Personal Trainer, Fitness First DIFC
Like most people starting out at the gym, I never knew the importance of training my legs. Growing up playing football regularly, I always used this sport as an excuse not to train legs. I felt running whilst at football training twice a week was more than sufficient.
It was only when I sustained a serious injury to my left ankle whilst playing that I finally had to shift my focus to my lower body and rebuild the ligaments in my ankle, which ultimately led to my journey of leg growth and strengthening.
Here are my five top reasons why you should never skip leg day again:
- Release of growth hormones: When you train legs you increase the release of growth hormones and testosterone. These are natural muscle building hormones which play a huge part in recruiting more muscle. These hormones don’t just stay in your legs, they will help gain muscle in your whole body.
2. Bigger upper body: Training your legs with a high intensity load will work your whole body. For example:
- Your abs will work hard at stabilising the weight during squats; and
- Your arms squeeze the bar hard during heavy squats and deadlifts
3. Symmetry: Training your legs will improve your overall physique and give a more even proportion to your body. No one wants to be the big guy with the little legs! Body symmetry will also help improve your balance. This will ensure you are more in control of your body as a whole and can therefore perform at every gym session to your highest standard.
4. More strength: Stronger legs will increase your strength on upper body lifts thus helping upper body development. Squats and dead lifts strengthen your lower back. These muscles help stabilise your body during the over head press. By engaging your core during these exercises you will maximise the effectiveness of your whole workout. Make every gym session count.
5. Mental strength: Make leg training something you enjoy. A lot of people shy away from training their legs because it is physically demanding and can leave you feeling broken. This is something we have to embrace and accept, gradually your body will adapt to the stress it brings and with time, your heaviest set will be your easiest set.
My Top 3 Leg Exercises: The sets and reps of these exercises can vary depending on your training goals – whether it is strength, growth or endurance.
- Take a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip of the bar. Your feet should match this distance apart.
- Ensure your core is engaged.
- Drop hips down below 90 degrees for full glute activation.
- Exhale up through extension of lift.
- Straight legs shoulder-width apart.
- Lunge forward keeping your heel flat on the floor on the front leg and raised on the rear.
- Push back from the lunge position to your starting point powerfully.
- Long strides are more beneficial for maximum glute and hamstring activation.
- A shorter stride will activate your quadriceps more.
- Assume a shoulder-width foot stance with a neutral spine and overhand grip on the bar. Ensure arms are straight when holding the bar.
- As you extend from the hips, ensure you avoid rounding the back and keep a natural arch in your lower back. This will avoid injury.
- At the top of the lift hold for one second before bringing the bar back to the start in a controlled manner.