Leg Day Workouts: An overview
Going to the gym is like running errands. If you don’t know why you are there, you’re going to leave without doing the things you need done. Unfortunately, most people, at least the newer ones, start hitting the gym without a well rounded fitness plan, and they quit shortly after they start. It isn’t because they don’t want to work on themselves. It is usually because they don’t know what to do, don’t see any progress, and ask what the point it.
Well, I am here to say that creating a plan is pretty easy. Just make sure that within whatever workout plan you create, include a session for each major muscle group, add in some cardio, and stretching should be a priority. A week’s worth of workouts might look like:
- Monday: Chest Day
- Tuesday: REST / CARDIO
- Wednesday: Back and Shoulders
- Thursday: Legs and Glutes
- Friday: REST / CARDIO
- Saturday: Arms and Core
- Sunday: REST / CARDIO
A fantastic plan is only good if it is followed, however. For those who do have a plan, quite a lot skip one day in particular: Leg day.
Confidence is Key
Heading to the gym can be daunting and confusing, especially if you are new to fitness in general. Throw in all the people who walk around so confidently like they own the place, and you you *might* get 30 minutes of cardio in before you leave out of intimidation.
If that is you, here is your chance to be confident. Hit the gym, and hit it hard. Head in confidently, knowing exactly what you are going to do. Chances are after reading this you will know more about the best gym day of the week than 90% of those at the gym.
Best Day of the Week!
Leg day is my favorite. It has a fairly bad reputation, but if you keep at it and regularly work your legs you will reap a whirlwind of benefits. For most people, legs are where real strength and power lie. In the world of professional sports, most athletes are nothing without leg strength. Legs generate the power needed for running backs to lay people out when they run through the line, soccer players to hit the top corner of the goal from 60 feet away, and sprinters to shatter the 100 yard record with a stunning 9.58s time.
Even for people who haven’t started their lifting journey, their legs are naturally going to be where their body is strongest. It makes sense to start your plan with legs. After all, you’re walking around all day so they naturally have more strength than your arms. Incorporate leg day workouts into your fitness program to make sure you hit each muscle group properly.
Anatomy of the Leg
The leg contains the largest muscle group in the human body. Within the leg there are:
- Quadriceps – Thigh
- Hamstrings – Back of the upper leg
- Glutes – Buttocks
- Gastrocnemius – Calves
- Stabilizer muscles
This list doesn’t take into consideration any of the muscles found in the hips, even though they are equally important to the overall function of the legs.
Each muscle has it’s own function, with some being push focused (Quads) and others being pull focused (Hamstrings). All good leg day workouts hit each major muscle group at least once. In some cases, they are hit multiple times between compound exercises like squats and isolation exercises, such as leg curls.
Leg Day Warm Ups
As with any visit to the gym, or when you exercise at all, properly warming up is crucial. With legs, a proper warm up is even more important due to the size of the muscles being used and their importance to mobility. Warm ups reduce the overall chance of injury, while helping the muscles get primed for the work that they are about to do. A good warm up *could* even help you reduce the ‘day-after-next’ soreness that leg day is renowned for.
The first step should be some dynamic warm ups to get the blood flowing. This is a necessary step regardless of muscle group. Take 5-10 minutes and do some high knees, lunges, and air squats. Pick some stretches that target the lower body and get the blood flowing.
Once you are limber, jump on a treadmill or stair master for a few minutes to really get the muscles warmed up and the heart rate elevated. Don’t overdue it! Jog/climb slowly and only for a few minutes. You want to be warm, not tired.
Leg Day Workout
After about 10-15 minutes, you should be pretty well warmed up. This is when the fun actually starts.
NOTE: The most important thing that you should focus on whenever you are working out is that your form is correct. Doing any movements with incorrect or bad form can be dangerous and can lead to injury. Additionally, if your form isn’t correct you are not really doing anything positive for your body, regardless of if you are injured or not.
Structurally, any work out should begin with the strongest lifts (in this case squats) and then move into more isolation (single muscle group) movements, such as leg raises/curls/etc., as you progress with the workout.
- Barbell back Squats: 1-2 warm up sets, 4 sets of 10 reps.
- Dumbbell lunges: 4 sets of 12 reps
- Hack Squat: 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps
- Leg Extensions: 3 sets of 10 reps
- Lying Leg Curl: 3 set of 10 reps
- Calf raises: 4-5 sets of 12-15 reps
NOTE: Warm up sets should be done with a lighter weight, while working sets use heavier weights to get the muscles working.
Fantastic Leg Day Exercises
Squats. The nemesis of most casual gym goers. Most people associate squats with pain, and while they have been known to cause a few sore legs, they are a necessary portion of any fully formed fitness regimen and NEED to be incorporated into leg day workouts. This movement is incredibly effective at building lower body mass since it recruits muscles from basically the entire body. Feet, calves, quads, hamstrings, glutes, core, and even a few upper body muscles are used for stability and form when a squat is properly done.
What most people don’t know is that squats actually help regulate certain hormones as well, and this leads to additional growth throughout the rest of the body.
There are tons of squat variations out there, so you shouldn’t get bored with them:
- Back squats
- Front squats
- Goblet squats
- Hack squats
- Even the leg press is a somewhat variation of squats
How well you squat can influence your overall flexibility and mobility as well. When you squat, pay attention to tight spots so you can stretch them better later. Common tight spots lie in the hips and ankles/calves. If you find your heel coming off the ground with each squat, stretch your calves well. They should stay planted!
Don’t neglect these.
The humble kettle bell is a fantastic, but often neglected gym instrument. For such a simple thing, it can do wonders for anyone, and quickly, too!
Get a kettle bell that has enough weight to it for you to create momentum. Stand with your legs shoulder width apart, squat down, pick up the kettle bell, and thrust your hips enough to get it swinging. After a few full range swings from behind your legs to over your head, you should be out of breath and your legs should be burning (along with the rest of you).
They are called deadlifts for a reason. You should feel like your legs and back are jelly after you are done. Depending on preference, you can use either dumbbells or a barbell for this movement. Just make sure you use enough weight to break a sweat, get out of breath, and actually put your muscles to use. Just make sure you don’t do deadlifts and squats during the same leg day workouts. That could overwork the muscles, leading to issues.
This movement requires a lot of focus and control. Your body will naturally want to bend at the waist. Make sure that you are keeping your back completely straight and use your hips for the movement. Don’t forget to breath, either.
Lunging is a fantastic lower body movement with tons of variations as well.
- Walking lunge
- Reverse lunge
- Weighted lunge
- Lateral lunge
This movement can target lots of the smaller muscle groups that may be somewhat left out when doing the heavier lifts.
At the end of any workout, it is important to stretch out the muscles you just worked. Leg day workouts are notorious for causing tight muscles. Properly cooling down helps to remove lactic acid build up and lengthens muscles and tendons.
Finally, make sure you get some good nutrients into your body either during or after your workout. Following a proper diet can go miles in speeding up progress.
Don’t neglect your legs. Throw in a lower body workout at least once a week. Your entire body will grow faster, you will feel better, and you won’t have that weird chicken leg syndrome you see some people suffering from. Not much worse in the gym than seeing someone with an enormous torso and legs that look like Earthworm Jim.
Take a rest day at least once a week, as a rule. If your body is yelling at you for recovery time, take another one. Don’t neglect rest and think you will grow faster. In fact,rest periods are when you grow the most.
Leg day take a lot of out of your body and it will need to recover. That recovery includes rebuilding all of the tissue that you damage when you workout, removal of lactic acid build ups, and replenishment of glycogen stores. That is a tall order for the largest muscle group you have in your body to fulfill, so don’t over do it.
To Sum It Up
Leg day is an important part of a fully formed fitness regimen. Make sure you include it in your weekly rotation. It doesn’t have to be restricted to the exercises here, either. Running, HIIT, and swimming are all fantastic workouts that are also necessary parts of the overall routine and heavily target your lower body.
Your fitness goals are about your health, mental as well as physical. Feeling confident walking into the gym with a plan helps you get more out of your workout and give your body what it wants and needs.
Take care of your body and it will take care of you. Stretch properly before and after exercise, work each muscle group at least once a week, follow a good diet plan, and get plenty of sleep. You will hit all your goals in no time.