4 Reasons Why You Need To Work Your Legs

Posted by Andrea Lawson in Training
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It’s become pretty common in the fitness world to talk about not skipping leg day. There are even copious amounts of Internet meme’s to help drive home the point. But despite all of the talk, few actually practice what they preach.

Let me explain…

The typical split program that a lot of men tend to follow looks something like this:

Area of Focus
Monday Chest and Back
Tuesday Bi’s and Tri’s
Wednesday Legs (which is usually some sort of leg press, calf raises, knee extensions, hamstring curls, more calf raises, etc. and rarely consists of things like deadlifts, squats—to actual depth, single leg work, GHRs, Prowler, etc.)
Thursday Shoulders
Friday Chest (again…)

 

While many women typically follow a program that looks similar to this:

Type of Exercise
Monday Cardio + 30 minutes of “weights”
Tuesday Spin
Wednesday Cardio
Thursday Yoga
Friday Cardio + 30 minutes of “weights”

 

Ladies will also typically throw in some lunges, or maybe this cable exercise to help work their butt, but usually shy away from lifting heavy.

Before I go any further, and my inbox gets flooded with defensive emails, know that I love bicep curls and have nothing against yoga, so everyone just relax. I do however feel that people should do exercises that give them the greatest return specific to their goals and needs.

So, without further ado here are the reasons why you should be including more productive legwork in to your exercise routine.

 

4 Reasons Why YOU Need To Work Your Legs

1. In general, more muscle will help to reduce body fat.

Since 70% of our muscle mass is below the waistline, (I’ll refrain from using an obvious joke here…) targeting your legs is a must if you’re trying to accomplish any sort of body composition change.

Building muscle to facilitate fat loss works in a couple different ways.

Having a greater amount of muscle will increase your resting metabolism (RMR) because it takes more calories for your body to maintain muscle compared to fat. RMR of skeletal muscle is approximately 6 calories per pound, while fat burns just 2 calories per pound. [1]

Resistance training burns calories during, and after your workout. Studies show that the more muscle you have the greater the number of calories you will burn after. [2] The increase in post workout caloric expenditure after strength training occurs as a result of the recovery process, specifically protein synthesis and the breakdown required to repair targeted muscle groups.

Lastly, if you don’t include resistance training while in a calorie deficit you will lose muscle in addition to fat. This is why only doing cardio while trying to lose weight is not a good idea. 😉

 

2. Insufficient leg strength can lead to faulty movement patterns and postural imbalances.

For a deconditioned individual or someone recovering from a back or lower body injury a common compensation we see is people using their backs during activities such as, lifting and/or simply rising from a chair to stand. While completing tasks such as these, people will generally compensate with their spinal erectors and quadratus lumborum—compromising their spinal positioning as they do it—instead of bracing all the stabilizers of the trunk to hold the spine neutral and using their legs to drive power.

Back_Pain8

This pattern can easily be corrected by reestablishing core activation and basic movement patterns, such as the squat and/or the deadlift. Once pain has subsided and movement has been restored we can than build strength with these patterns to help prevent future injury.

In general we know that exercises that strengthen the lower body build whole-body and joint stability in a unique fashion that preserve mobility at some joints, such as the hips, and build and/or maintain stability through the trunk and pelvic region. [3]

Strength training in various ranges will help to increase joint stability, enhance muscle coordination, and generally improve overall movement patterns.

So whether you’re an individual recovering from an injury, or are someone who’s trying to build strength to maintain longevity of your movement, lower body strength training is essential.

 

3.  It will strengthen your core.

Deadlifts, Squats, Hip Thrusts, and their single-leg counterparts are compound movements – meaning they engage two or more different joints to fully stimulate entire muscle groups. Incorporating these exercises into your routine not only gives you the benefit of targeting multiple muscles and obtaining a higher caloric output, they’re also extremely effective at strengthening your core.

The primary function of the core musculature is to prevent motion rather than initiate it, which is contrary to what most believe and how many people employ their core training strategy. [5] The function of core stability is to control position and motion of the trunk and pelvis. It should also remain neutral against force and motion. It’s important to note that when I refer to the core, I’m referencing all muscles that contribute to its function, this includes your…

  • Abdominals
  • Paraspinals
  • Glutes
  • Hip flexors
  • Lats
  • Adductors

 

In addition to the deeper muscle, such as the transversus abdominis, pelvic floor, multifidus, and diaphragm.

Having ample core strength will enable you to effectively transfer energy, as well as stabilize your body against the following forces: flexion, extension, rotation, and lateral flexion.

Depending how you load your exercises, lower body strength training can be made up of anti-flexion and/or anti-lateral flexion core exercises. Depending on how much you load it and/or your rep scheme you can also utilize lower extremity strength work to build up both core strength and/or endurance.

 

4. It will increase your athletic potential.

Lower body strength is the foundation of athletic performance because it enables athletes to sprint, jump, and have the capacity to change direction efficiently and explosively. Some athletes are under the impression that because they use their legs during their sport, training the legs in the gym is less important, when it’s actually quite the opposite.

It is particularly essential to use a combination of compound unilateral and bilateral strength training exercises to develop muscles and movement patterns that athletes don’t develop in competition or practice to help reduce strength imbalance between their left and right sides.

Studies show that having an asymmetry threshold of 10–15% or more is thought to place additional strain on the weaker leg, compromising the player’s performance and predisposing an athlete to various injuries. [4] This is because when a single-leg is used to propel the body and absorb the intense impact forces and torques incurred upon landing in activities (such as sprinting, jumping, and bounding) any muscle imbalances could affect the success of the movement by placing increased strain on the weaker leg.

In order to master multi-directional speed, agility, and power you must have the supporting strength and stability from your lower extremities. Single leg training not only helps you correct strength imbalances between your right and left side, but also is an effective way to overload your legs to build strength without stressing your spine.

Here are my favourite single leg exercise:

 

Your goals will obviously dictate how often you incorporate leg training into you routine. As a general rule I suggest targeting your legs with the strength work outlined above at least two days per week. First and foremost it’s always important to master form and technique before loading up on weight. However, progressively overloading your muscles is essential for everyone. Adjusting weight, varying tempo, and your reps scheme are just a few ways you can challenge your targeted musculature for specific results.

For more information on programming, check out THIS article.

If you have any questions about lower body exercise, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at andrea@balancemotion.com.

Happy training!

Andrea

 

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References

1.Wang, Z., Heshka, S., Zhang, K., Boozer, C.N., & Heymsfield, S.B. (2001). Resting energy expenditure: systematic organization and critique of prediction methods. Obesity Research, 9, 331-336

2. Smith, J., & McNaughton, L. (1993). The effects of intensity of exercise on excess post-exercise oxygen consumption and energy expenditure in moderately trained men and women. European Journal of Applied Physiology,67, 420-425

3. McGill, S. (2002). Low Back Disorders: Evidence Based Prevention and Rehabilitation. Champaign, Ill.: Human Kinetics.

4. Cronin, J., Hewit, J., & Hume, P. (2012). Multidirectional Leg Asymmetry Assessment in Sport Strength and conditioning journal(Impact Factor: 0.6).. 34(1):82-86.

5. Core Training: Evidence Translating to Better Performance and Injury Prevention by Stuart McGill.

6. Kibler, W., Press, J., & Scisicia A. (2006). The Role of Core Stability and Athletic Function. Sports Med; 36 (3): 189-198.