Rakesh From EHF talks about his experience of leg training, and his top tips to help the everyday beginner obtain stronger, more muscular legs.
It is well known that some of the most useful muscles in the body for everyday life are your legs, be that when you’re participating in high octane sports or just going on your morning run. Any proper training programme should not leave out the legs. Training your upper body without training legs will result in the distortion and lack of proportion in your physique. The bottom line is that training your legs is IMPORTANT. The EHF programme (beginner and standard) specifically sets out two lower body days that incorporate the development of your legs. After all, you don’t want chicken leg syndrome… do you?!
The aim of this post is to guide you through the winding path to strong and muscular legs. In order to do that, I’ll be going through some of my best collected tips for the most vital leg exercises around. But first I explain three excellent reasons why your legs should always be a priority.
Three BIG reasons to train legs:
- Increase of testosterone. You will find many studies which conclude that lower body exercises such as Squats and Deadlift release the growth hormone known as testosterone more than any other exercise. Testosterone is a key hormone in developing male reproductive tissues, but more importantly to us – it helps to build muscle!
- Symmetry, symmetry, symmetry! One of the most standout occurrences at the gym is a guy with a massive upper body but no legs to match. This body disproportion greatly reduces your body’s potential to grow, since many upper body exercises (for example, Overhead Press) require strong, chiseled legs to perform. In essence, strong legs help your upper body to grow.
- Sports! Many of you probably use the gym to supplement a physical activity. Nearly all sports require the use of your legs to a certain degree. The more work you put into making your legs stronger, the better you are likely to perform in your chosen sport.
And now onto the meat of the topic – the exercises you should be doing. The remainder of this post will detail the most important leg exercises:
- Do not fear! Though the idea of making your quibbling legs try to lift moderately heavy weight may seem daunting, it is easier than you think. Start with low weight, and build yourself up.
- The Squat is all about form before weight. When you are increasing the weight you squat, you should focus on the most important characteristics of squatting form. This means: keeping your back straight throughout, making sure your thighs get to being parallel to the floor (at the very least!), and keeping your balance throughout the range of motion. Then, and only then, can you focus on the other aspects of squatting form.
- Your confidence with squatting will only increase with self-belief. Sure you can always have a spotter to help you out in case you suddenly can’t do anymore, or you can MAN UP and burn through that last rep by pushing as hard as you can! You will never progress if you don’t push yourself, so aim to improve yourself in some way every time you squat.
- DEADLIFT/STRAIGHT LEG DEADLIFT
The deadlift is a perfect complex lift that primarily targets the lower back, whilst the straight leg variation targets the hamstrings. The hamstrings are probably one of the most neglected muscles in the legs. Many lifters who train legs do not fully train their hamstrings. The straight leg deadlift aims to fix this.
- Again, form over weight. There is no point trying to deadlift a ridiculous weight if your back folds like paper. Keep the back rigid and straight throughout the range of motion. Only when this is perfect should you then move onto something heavier.
- The deadlift is an exercise that has many variations. I recommend the static deadlift, since it adheres most to the concept of a ‘dead-lift’. You lift the bar and put it back down, and then try again after a few seconds. In my experience the straight leg deadlift can be done either in static, touch and go, or without ever letting the bar down. If you feel it more by training a certain variation, then by all means carry on with it.
- The way you grip the bar plays a key role in how much you can deadlift. The classic and most instinctive grip is called the double ‘overhand grip’. The ‘hook grip’ is a variation of this, with the thumbs hooked under the first two fingers after gripping the bar. The final (and my favourite) grip is the mixed grip, consisting of one hand facing away from you and the other hand facing towards you. Try out all three grips and see which one suits you.
- Since deadlifting has a dependency on your ability to grip, many lifters use chalk to improve their grip when lifting heavier weight. For more information on this, feel free to visit the DIY liquid chalk post, which can also be found on the EHF YouTube channel.
- LEG PRESS
- The biggest starting issue with lifting for leg press is to make sure you are in a comfortable position! Make sure your lower back are firmly rested against the seat. Make sure you can easily reach for the safety bar(s) and start with your legs fully extended in front of you (BUT DO NOT LOCK YOUR KNEES OUT).
- The lowest point you should let the leg press come down to is at the point where your lower back just starts to lift itself. Letting the leg press come down too far will result in your entire lower back coming off the seat, which will put a massive strain on the rest of your back. Don’t let it happen.
NATURAL GLUTE HAM RAISE
- When you come down you must remember to keep your body as straight as an arrow. This means making sure your bum doesn’t stick out and you keep your back straight. I like to keep my hands down by my sides in order to maintain my image of a straight body as I’m going down.
- This exercise is one of my favourites because there is always room for improvement. When lowering yourself, try to do so as much as possible without giving up and falling the rest of the way.
- Once you can do the above proficiently, try to raise yourself back to the starting point whilst maintaining your form. This is a progressive exercise, and will only come to you with practice.
And that’s it! These exercises are the key building blocks to strong and muscular legs. Make sure you do them, but most of all: make sure you have fun doing them!