For anyone who is serious about weight training, you know that “leg day” can be pure hell! Your leg muscles (quads, glutes, ham- strings and calves, among others) are some of the deepest and hardest muscles to train thoroughly and effectively. Leg routines require, above all others, exacting and proper form, serious concentration, and set after set of some of the most important and grueling exercises known in bodybuilding. Yet, strong legs are an important asset in all sports and daily activities. Here are my choices for some of the best leg exercises for developing overall strength, mass, and symmetry.
Full Barbell Squats: When you do squats, place a barbell on a squat rack or set up the bar on the Smith machine. Doing squats on a Smith Machine at the outset at least can be safer, but the apparatus does restrict the range of motion of your squat somewhat. Whichever you prefer, use light weight when you begin. Duck under the bar and position it across your shoulders on your trapezius, slightly above the rear deltoids. Grasp the bar using a grip width that is comfortable for your body and pull your elbows to the rear. Inhale deeply, rotate your pelvis forward, keep your head up, look straight ahead and carefully lift the bar off of the rack. Move back a step or two from the rack and set your feet shoulder width apart, keeping your toes pointed at an angle slightly outward. Try for 3 to 4 sets of eight to twelve reps with squats at every leg training session!
Let me share a few more pointers/cautions about this most essential exercise, the squat. You must maintain a very erect body position when descending into the deep squat position. Leaning too far forward, or flexing the spine as you squat can be dangerous for your lower back. Once you have descended so your thighs are parallel to the floor, extend your legs and straighten your torso to return to the starting, upright position.
Deadlifts: Barbell deadlifts are superb for developing legs, butt, and ham-strings and along with squats, this movement will increase overall body strength mightily! Stand up straight before an Olympic bar (use a manageable amount of weight), feet firmly planted, knees unlocked. Bending at the waist with knees bent, reach down and grasp the bar with a shoulder width grip. Bring the weighted barbell up to your waist, pushing through your feet when lifting the weight to ensure your legs and glutes are powering up the weight and not your lower back. 3 or 4 sets of eight to twelve reps of these deadlifts every leg day should solidify things nicely!
Stationary Lunges: Stand facing an aerobic step or stair about mid shin height. Your feet should be a long stride away from the stair or step. Begin by taking an exaggerated step forward with your right leg, stepping with your foot onto the stair. Bend the forward knee in line with the floor, but keep your rear leg as straight as possible as you drop it down to stretch the glutes. Push off with the front foot and return to starting position. Alternate legs and repeat the exercise. Perform 3 to 4 sets of twelve to fifteen reps per leg.
Tom Bonanti is a certified fitness trainer and licensed massage therapist (MA#40288) with his own one on one gym www.pumpnincgym.com at 1271 NE 9th Avenue in Ft. Lauderdale, Fl. 33304. Contact [email protected] with all questions or call Tom (954) 557-1119 today to set up a free fitness consultation!