Skipping legs is probably the biggest strength training mistake you can make:
- Low muscle mass in the legs means you’ll have more belly fat.
- Weak legs lead to poor posture and faulty movement patterns.
- Skinny legs make you more vulnerable to develop knee and low back pain.
- A weak lower body drastically reduces your athletic potential.
Here are five tips to ensure you never neglect to squat and deadlift again. Don’t let your lower body be the limiting factor in your success.
#1: Squat Low
Every experienced coach has made it a practice to squat low. Deep squats are essential since they are a fundamental movement in human life and they improve balance and flexibility in the lower body.
Deep squats in which you go all the way down to the point where the hamstring covers the calf result in all of the following superior outcomes:
- Improved joint stability by increasing the strength of the cartilage tissue and ligaments surrounding the knee.
- Enhanced muscle coordination and movement patterns.
- Maximal increase in muscle cross-sectional area of the hamstrings and quads.
- Greater vertical jump and improved running speed.
Start Squatting Low
Deep squats require flexibility, but if you don’t have adequate range-of-motion in the ankles or hips, squat with your heels elevated on a wedge board or with weight plates under your heels.
#2: Train Deadlifts
We’ve said it before but it bears repeating:
If you want big hamstrings, do deadlifts.
If you want sculpted glutes, do deadlifts.
Lean quads? Deadlifts.
Lose fat? Yep, do deadlifts.
See a pattern?
Deadlifts are so darn useful because they let you train around a lot of the factors that limit us when it comes to leg training:
- You don’t need the same degree of flexibility in the ankles to deadlift as you do with squats.
- Technique is simpler than the squat and it’s safer to perform deadlifts in a fatigued state, making them a great exercise to use when training for fat loss.
- Because you don’t need a spotter, you have more freedom to max out so that you’ll build greater strength and mass.
If you’re new to deadlifting, or haven’t made it a habit, start with the hex bar deadlifts. Because you grab the bar on the sides of your body with a neutral grip, the weight is distributed more uniformly over your center of mass than with the barbell deadlift so it’s an easier motion to learn.
Hex bar training can also be used during the late recovery stage from lower back injury as it evenly distributes the stress throughout the joints.
#3: Get Leaner Legs with German Body Comp—Forget “Spot” Training
Despite much debunking, people still believe in “spot” training for problem body parts. Don’t. It doesn’t work.
What everyday folks don’t realize is that the “problem” is too much body fat. The best way to get rid of body fat is to train the whole body, while fixing nutrition.
Training-wise, leaner legs will come from a German Body Composition-type workout that uses both upper and lower body exercises with short rest and high volume. The goal is to produce significant peripheral lactic acid buildup, which will cause a lot of growth hormone to be released for greater fat burning.
Train multi-joint lifts, doing a squat or deadlift every workout. Pair those with lunges or step-ups, sequencing in other compound upper body lifts such as bench press, chin-ups, and rows, with at least 4 sets per exercise and 30 seconds rest or less between sets. Always count tempo.
#4: Do Sprints—Avoid Distance Running
Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ll build better lookin’ legs from distance running. Endurance exercise trains efficiency, which is the opposite of what needs to happen if you want to build muscle or lose body fat. It’s also catabolic in nature, leading to the loss of muscle mass.
Sprint training, on the other hand, will help you build muscle and it preferentially increases the size and strength of the powerful, fast-twitch fibers. Studies show sprinting enhances protein synthesis pathways by as much as 230 percent.
Start Sprint Training
Two options that serve the purpose of building leaner, stronger legs are as follows:
- A descending distance protocol in which you do 4 sprints per set of 400, 300, 200, 100 meters. Beginners do one set and work up to 3 sets.
- A track-based Wingate protocol on the track of four 250-meter repeats with 3 minutes rest. Work up to six repeats.
#5: Do Single-Leg Training
Unilateral exercises such as split squats and step-ups are not as sexy as the squat and deadlift, but being able to perform them will set you up for superior numbers in the big lifts.
First, unilateral training develops equal strength on both sides of the body, which is important because just about everyone suffers from having one leg significantly stronger than another.
Second, unilateral training allows you to target specific muscles in the lower body musculature. For example, a study of college football and track athletes found that single-leg squat training produced higher glute muscle activity compared to bilateral squats.
Third, single-leg exercises improve strength ratios between the different muscles within the prime movers that do most of the work. Step-ups will target the vastus medialis obliquus (VMO), a commonly weak muscle in the quadriceps.
A weak VMO is a serious performance-limiting factor for athletes, which leads to much pain and suffering in the general population as well.
Start Single-Leg Training
Just about everyone will benefit from doing simple front foot-elevated split squats. You’ll strengthen the VMO, improve coordination and running speed, and build your thigh cross-sectional area for more sculpted quads.