Introduction

With the summer months fast approaching, a common topic of conversation within gyms up and down the country is that of the best way to achieve abdominal definition and that much coveted ‘six pack’.

Without trying to generalise and stereotype an entire sporting population, from my time spent in gyms and around other sporting establishments, it is often the upper body that receives most of the attention and dedication when it comes to devising and undertaking a regular fitness program.

Furthermore, even those that do realise the importance and potential benefits on offer from training the lower limb muscles will still only dedicate one or maybe two sessions per week compared to their three or four upper body workouts. Why is this?

Before moving on with this article, consider your previous and current training regimes; do you include lower body exercises within your weekly schedule? What is the percentage split between time spent training the upper body versus that of the lower body?

Summer holidays and six packs aside for a moment, the training your lower legs regularly and consistently should be considered just as important as the emphasis placed on your upper body workouts. So what is the reason for this commonly found imbalance amongst many sporting individuals?

Common Reasons For Avoiding Leg Workouts

From my previous experience, based upon in depth conversations with many gym-goers of all different ages and levels of experience, I believe the answer can fall into one of three general categories:

1. A Focus On ‘Beach Muscles’

Too Much Focusing on Beach Muscles Can Lead To an Imbalanced PhysiqueWhat’s better than having a six pack? Well, how about a well rounded, balanced physique?

One of the most commonly reported barriers to a leg workout, as already touched on above, is that individuals like to train the so called ‘beach muscles’ and as a result have little time for anything else.

These so called muscles include the arms, chest, back and abdominals for obvious, yet mainly vain reasons. Legs just don’t seem to make the cut on this exclusive body parts list.

2. Lacking In Knowledge

You need to get your form rightBefore you stack on the weight, do yourself a favour and get your form right.

Secondly, is that of knowledge. Many individuals know how to perform a pull up or a bicep curl but few know how to effectively perform a squat or dead lift.

Gyms can be intimidating places at times and if you’re relatively inexperienced at weightlifting it’s always easier to stick with what you know rather than stepping outside that comfort zone and seeking further education. Consequently, these key exercises simply overlooked and omitted.

Injury Potential

The potential for injury is present within any exercise you undertakeThe potential for injury is present no matter what exercise you perform.

The last reason, of which there are plenty, contemplates perceived exercise difficultly and subsequent injury potential. To some extent, this leads on from the previous reason regarding knowledge and serves to further steer individuals away from lower limb exercises.

Many view exercises such as squats and dead lifts as both too complex and too risky to perform. Yes, these exercises do offer injury potential if performed incorrectly, but so do most exercises you can perform in a gym if you don’t have the correct form.

Ultimately, you have to place an importance on performing leg exercises. If you genuinely believe they should feature in your weekly workout regime then everything else will fall into place and you will commit to doing them in the long term.

Potential Benefits Of Leg Workouts

So what are the potential benefits achieved from performing leg workouts? One of the most obvious reasons is that of symmetry and full body equilibrium.

If you’re looking to develop muscle mass and strength on your upper body then surely you should attempt to be doing the same on your lower body? There’s no escaping the fact that a huge upper body on a pair of legs which look like they’ve been borrowed from a chicken looks ridiculous.

Additionally, performing lower leg workouts might also improve your general health and well being. Exercises such as squats and dead lifts both require and enhance core stability strength. Ultimately, this could serve to reduce future injury potential whilst enhancing the support mechanisms available throughout your torso and lower back regions. It might also serve to improve the stability of key joints such as your hips, knees and ankles.

If these potential benefits on offer just aren’t enough to convince you, and you’re an individual who spends all the time in the gym developing their upper body, then there’s even a justification for you: performing lower limb workouts can actually enhance your upper body:

“According to Strength Training Anatomy, the dead lift uses more muscles than any other single movement lift. This means that during a dead lift, the forearms and biceps are worked intensely.

The dead lift is the heaviest trapezius exercise there is, working the lower traps and rhomboids at the bottom of the movement and the upper traps at the top. Once your dead lift gets really heavy, you’ll even feel your latissimus dorsi and teres major working almost as hard as they would during pull ups.”
Livestrong, 2011.

Are you sold on the idea of a leg workout yet? For those of you that are, this article considers three essential lower limb exercises which should feature heavily in your workout regime.

Each of these will now be considered independently, including key muscle groups targeted, exercise prescription and a demonstration video, so that next time you hit the gym to undertake a leg workout, you can rest assured that your technique is textbook perfect.

Three Essential Lower Limb Exercises
1. The Squat

Target Muscle Group: Quadriceps.

How To Execute: Instructions
  1. Position the barbell high on the back of your shoulders with appropriate resistance.
  2. Grasp the barbell just wider than shoulder width apart on both sides.
  3. Dismount the barbell fully from the rack and stand with feet shoulder width apart.
  4. Initiate movement by bending at the knees and allowing your hips to move backwards.
  5. Throughout ensure a rigid back and that your knees and feet are facing forwards.
  6. Continue to descend until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  7. At this point reverse the movement by extending your knees and hips until straight.
How To Execute: Video

2. The Dead Lift

Target Muscle Group: Hamtstrings and Gluteals.

How To Execute: Instructions
  1. Select the appropriate barbell resistance.
  2. Grasp the barbell from a rack or initiate from the floor whichever you prefer.
  3. Position your hand grip just further than shoulder width apart with a comfortable grip.
  4. Position your feet shoulder width apart with your knees and feet facing forwards.
  5. Maintain rigid knees and back throughout the movement.
  6. Initiate movement by bending at the hips until your hamstrings restrict any further movement.
  7. At this point reverse movement by extending through the hips until straight.
How To Execute: Video

3. The Lunge

Target Muscle Group: Quadriceps and Gluteals.

How To Execute: Instructions
  1. Select the appropriate barbell resistance.
  2. Position the barbell on the back of the shoulders and grasp either side.
  3. Initiate movement by lunging forwards with the first leg with heel contact primarily.
  4. Lower the body positioning by bending at the hip and knee of the lead leg.
  5. The knee of the rear leg should almost be in contact with the floor.
  6. Reverse this movement by extending powerfully with the hip and knee of the lead leg.
  7. Repeat this process by alternating with the opposite leg for required repetitions.
How To Execute: Video

Final Word

The squat, dead lift and lunge are three incredible lower limb exercises that can transform your physique and offer several additional health and fitness benefits. Additional free weight exercises such as step-ups and calf raises, as well as machine weight exercises such as leg extensions and leg curls, can also be added to the end of your lower limb workouts to complete your session and offer variation.

Remember, when performing any exercise it’s important to work within your limits. There’s nothing wrong with pushing yourself to get the most out of your sessions, but don’t do this at the expense of your exercise form and technique. Instead, opt to build slowly and allow yourself time to progress gradually; it’s not a race.

So there you have the squat, dead lift and lunge. Combined as part of a larger health and fitness regime, these key exercises have the potential to bring about significant alterations in your quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteals, core and a whole lot more.

If you’ve been avoiding these exercises in the past and neglecting your leg sessions, then why not put it right today and make an impact on tomorrow.