Written By Lewis Robinson / Reviewed By Ray Spotts
If you travel in weightlifting circles or read any health and fitness magazines, you know that “never skip leg day” is such a cliché that it’s become a punchline. This is unfortunate because it reinforces some misconceptions that average people have about strength training.
A person who is just trying to develop muscle, tone up, or increase their overall strength might think that lower body exercises are only necessary or helpful for people who want chiseled calves or huge thighs. If these aren’t their goal, they may dismiss leg exercises. In truth, lower body exercises are essential to full body strength, weight loss, and power.
Let’s look at how some of the most popular leg exercises make a major impact on a person’s overall health and fitness.
Let’s start with perhaps the most misunderstood lower body exercise, the squat. To an untrained observer, the squat may seem like one of a series of glute activation exercises designed for firming up the rear-end. It certainly is that (after all, who doesn’t want a tighter, higher butt?), but it is much more, too.
The squat is one of the most powerful strength training exercises, period. The reason is that it works an incredibly large muscle group that spans most of the body. Think about it: your claves, hamstrings, thighs, glutes, abs, and back muscles all must expand and contract when squatting. It increases flexibility as well as power. Don’t mistake the squat for a simple tush-toner.
Lunges are another powerful “leg” exercise that work many of the same muscles as squats, with some added isolations that allow for different benefits. For people with lower back pain or problems, they serve as a good alternative to squats, but don’t mistake them for a mere substitute or variation.
Lunges are also great for balance and symmetry, supporting your core and lower body alike. Lunges are a key component to body weight exercises like yoga and Pilates, where they are often combined with twists to strengthen the upper body. When performed holding weights, they are a great strength builder as well!
When you think of “leg day” there’s a good chance that the leg press is the first exercise that comes to mind. The leg press is a powerful training machine that can be loaded up with weights. You lie on your back and brace yourself by holding onto handles.
The leg press is a very powerful exercise, capable of really strengthening all your leg muscles. It does have two disadvantages when compared to other lower and full body exercises, however. First, because you brace your upper body, you isolate and only work your legs. Second, because of your positioning, it can strain your lower back.
Many trainers and bodybuilders consider the deadlift to be the ultimate full body exercise. It is similar in some ways to the squat, but it differs in that it is based around a “hinge” movement in the waist and hips. Deadlifts are performed by starting in a squat position with a weighted barbell in front of you. The goal is to carefully grab the barbell and lift it to waist height as you stand out of your squatted position as you “shoot” your hips forward.
Form is essential to good (and safe) deadlifting, so it’s best to start on a very low weight. The deadlift and other hinge modifications like the trap bar or kettlebells work a huge group of muscles. When done properly, your entire lower body, core, shoulders, and biceps are all engaged.
It may seem a little low-impact, but never discount the benefits of walking at a brisk pace! Humans are designed to walk and keep your heart in the 105-110 beats per minute zone while walking both burns calories and strengthens your legs. For many, the cardio benefits are comparable to more intense cardio workouts, and walking allows more mindfulness and deep breathing.
As you can see, there are many options to work your legs, based on your body type, specific goals, and level of fitness. You can decide whichever works best for you, just understand that training your lower body will have massive benefits for you all around!
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Lewis Robinson is a freelance writer and expert in health and fitness. When he isn’t writing he can usually be found reading a good book or hitting the gym.
Founder Ray Spotts has a passion for all things natural and has made a life study of nature as it relates to health and well-being. Ray became a forerunner bringing products to market that are extraordinarily effective and free from potentially harmful chemicals and additives. For this reason Ray formed Trusted Health Products, a company you can trust for clean, effective, and healthy products. Ray is an organic gardener, likes fishing, hiking, and teaching and mentoring people to start new businesses. You can get his book for free, “How To Succeed In Business Based On God’s Word,” at www.rayspotts.com.