neta & afaa Certified Trainer
Watching the Olympics has made me focus even harder on my training. My legs and glutes have always been my trademark features. Since the legs are the biggest muscle group, it’s easy to see why their strength is so important to performance and metabolism.
Training the legs is hard work and requires some background knowledge to truly understand the complexity of the leg. For example, are you aware that there are three planes of movement: the sagittal, frontal and transverse. You exercise on the sagittal plane when you move forward and backward. When you move side to side, you’re on the frontal plane. Any rotation occurs on the transverse plane. Easy, right?
We could make this much more difficult and super-duper geeky, but I don’t think we need to focus on various movements, concern ourselves with concentric versus eccentric motions, or worry about stabilizers versus prime movers.
To make this simpler, we’re going to stay on the sagittal plane. It’s where you do most of your lifting, anyway. Now, let’s break down the most notable parts of the leg.
The glutes — everyone likes a nice set of glutes. Everyone.
There are three glute muscles: the gluteus maximus, the gluteus medius and the gluteus minimus. The gluteus maximus is important for hip extension — think deadlifts and hip-dominant variations — but it also gets stimulated the farther down you squat.
The hamstrings are an oft-forgotten muscle, and I’m not exactly sure why. Maybe it’s simply because the novice strength trainer can’t see their hamstrings in the mirror, so they think they’re not as important as the quads. Well, not only are they important for performance, but well-developed hamstrings help distinguish and separate the front and backsides of the body.
The quads are major players in thigh development. I can’t remember one single person in my life that had a great set of legs that didn’t also have amazing quads. Your four quad muscles are the rectus femoris, vastus medialis, vastus lateralis and the vastus intermedius.
All of the quads work together to extend (straighten) the knee, and the rectus femoris also helps flex the hip.
Working to balance the muscles on the front and backside of the body isn’t just a good idea for aesthetic purposes, but for long-term muscle and joint health as well.
The following are a list of leg exercises that are basics and essentials to creating a strong and sculpted set of legs.
Traditional squats: Feet parallel, booty out-torso upright, press thru heels to straighten up-Use weights as resistance or add an arm movement.
Sumo squats: More of a dancers move with inner/outer thigh and toes turned out, butt tucked under with torso upright.
Front step lunge: Step forward on front foot with a heel-toe step. Keep torso upright and both toes facing forward, as well as both knees at a 90-degree angle. Step should be large enough so that knee is directly above ankle.
Back step lunge: Step backwards on ball of the foot. Keep torso upright with both toes face forward. Again, knees are at 90-degree angles.
Static lunges: Start in a lunged position and drop your back knee in a controlled manner.
Side lateral lunge: Step out to side. The leg left behind stays straight. Push off with bent leg back to center. Alternate or stay in one direction.
Dead lift: Shave the front of your legs as your reach down for your toes. Then press thru toes to straighten up.
Good mornings: Similar to a dead lift, except you keep your back flat and aim for your torso to be parallel to floor.
Calf press: Can be done with toes forward, turned out or turned in. Variations include lifting the leg to add balance, putting two exercises together (i.e. lunge combo: side lateral to back step lunge), or add arms to the move (i.e. bicep curls to squats, or front laterals to lunges).