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Why You Should Never Skip Legs Day

Written by: Nick Jack
Category: 2014
on 09 August 2021
Hits: 1747

Developing incredible leg strength and power is very important for those who play sports for the muscles in your legs are the engine room that provide the ability to run, spring and jump. Spending time in the gym to build leg strength is one of the most important goals during the off-season training for many sportsmen and sportswomen. You only have to look at the thigh development of sprinters, rugby and football players to see how important leg strength and power is. However, it is an area of the body that is often neglected by many of the general population who just wants to get fit and lose a bit of weight. This is a real concern, for apart from the obvious benefits for sporting performance, strong legs can prevent many of the injuries we see today with the knee and the back. Strong quadriceps enhance knee health and strong glutes and hamstring muscles can be real back savers when lifting heavy objects from the floor. And in terms of losing weight and obtaining that toned and athletic appearance, the strength of your legs can play a massive role in this department too. The message is clear, leg strength is critical to your overall health and daily function so it is never a good idea to skip legs day.

Go into any gym and you will find many people with a strong and sculpted upper body, but you will not find too many with ripped legs. I worked in a massive gym for 7 years before opening my own studio, and I remember every day how hard it would be to use the bench press for there was always a que of young guys waiting to use it. Whereas, the squat rack or deadlift barbells I could access immediately and never had to wait. I think I was the only doing deadlifts for a few years.

Many of the girls would love to train their legs, but their fear of using big weights with either technique or “getting bulky” and look like a man, often meant they selected inferior exercises and methods that yield poor results. If technique was their problem you would see them wasting their time with machines or doing hip rep body-weight exercises like clams and hip extensions. If getting bulky was their problem they would prefer to do group classes and Pilates believing they will get the toned look.

Firstly, it is almost impossible for females to bulk up like a male for they lack the single most important ingredient to get big, and that is testosterone! Secondly, you would need to eat huge amounts of food to gain mass required to get bulky and most females would never be able to do this. If you are female and reading this article now looking for ideas to tone up your legs but fear getting big, you can relax in knowing it will not happen, no matter how many weights you lift.

Read this article to see more – 7 health facts every female should know

6 Reasons Why You Should Never Skip Legs Day

  1. No more “chicken legs” and asymmetrical body: This is a no-brainer, and I could never understand how any guy could think it looks good to have a massively strong upper body with tiny, weak legs. It simply looks ridiculous and to be honest they are missing out on using all of the exciting exercises. All the leg strengthening exercises leave you feeling exhausted, and you know after a hard session with some squats and lunges that you have worked out.
  2. Increased metabolism and energy expenditure: The fact that the leg muscles are the biggest muscles in your body means they require huge amount of energy when they are under duress. Leg strengthening exercises like squats, lunges, and deadlifts require lots of oxygen to get blood carrying oxygen to the working muscles. If your goal is to lose weight and improve fitness leg exercises will provide great results. See article about cardio vs weight training for weight loss for more detail on this.
  3. Improves stability and balance: Once again this comes as no surprise to know that stronger legs will provide improvements in balance and stability. Research has proven that weak leg muscles also have a high correlation with falls in older adults. (A study by Skelton, Kennedy and Rutherford (2002) found that women who fall have 24% less explosive power in their weaker limb than women who did not fall). However, it is not just older adults who benefit from improved balance and stability as this is a skill we all need. See the article on falls prevention for more on this.
  4. Strong Legs Help Prevent Back Pain: While strength is not the only thing that can save you from a back injury, it certainly can help. The strength in the glutes in particular is very important for the health of the back. When our glutes work correctly they provide optimal hip extension for walking, running and jumping, and also when we lift heavy objects off the ground. At the same time they act as a gross stabilizer by providing external rotation of the hip when we stand on one leg. When you consider that 85% of the population will experience a severe case of back pain at least once in their life it makes sense to do all that you can to prevent it. Read the article – How to strengthen the glutes to see more on this.
  1. Reduces Risk of Knee Injury: This is even more obvious than the back pain example as strong legs are pivotal to preventing knee pain. Once again the strength in the glutes is pivotal here in providing optimal alignment of the knee during movement, but also the strength of muscles in the quadriceps, in particular the vastus medialis (VMO). Knees are exposed to tremendous pain and problems whenever they are forced into a twisting or bend sideways, (eg ACL tear) known as valgus or varus, and lastly if they hyper-extend. This joint is more or less a hinge, it cannot twist and rotate itself, and it cannot bend the other way either. The strength of the muscles that support this joint is vital for preventing injury. For more detail read this article – What causes Knee Pain?

The last point is one that is not very well known so I will go into more detail about this point.

How Leg Training Increases Upper Body Strength

Those with a great understanding of the human body and physiological adaptation to training will know that leg training is a trigger for whole body growth.

Heavy leg training causes your body to increase its production of testosterone and growth hormone - both essential ingredients for muscle growth.

The reason for this is that the leg muscles are the largest muscles in your body and demand huge amounts of blood and testosterone in order to repair damage from heavy training. This is also why they take so much out of you when you complete them in your workout as we explained earlier.

Unfortunately this information is not passed down the average guy in the gym who spends all his time with bench press, ab exercises, and bicep curls looking to build the ultimate beach body. If only they knew how much benefit leg exercises would provide their body and get them much closer to their goal.

There are numerous leg strength routines such as the ‘squats and milk method’ that use this information with their approach to gaining whole body mass by focusing predominately on lower body exercises. Superior leg development is not an easy task but it’s this that makes it all the more worthwhile. Now before you rush off to the leg press and leg extension machine you need to know HOW to train the legs.

Always Use Functional Movements

Building strength at the expense of how you move is never a good idea. And that is exactly what you do when you predominately use machines as your way of building strength into the legs. It is very important that you spend the time to learn how to move correctly with the “big” movements of squat, lunge, deadlifts, and single leg exercises. This should be the cornerstone of your leg day.

Read the article – Squats vs Leg press to see more on the danger of using machines.

The good news is that there is not many exercises you have to do. You will not need an exercise for every muscle in your legs which is a good thing for there is over 100 muscles in your legs so you would be working out all day if you went down this path. This is why you only need to stick with the main exercises to get great results.

Below is a FREE report you can instantly download with tons of information about functional movement patterns.

You will also find the article about functional movement is a valuable resource to help you gain a better understanding of all the key fundamentals.

Good Technique Is Vital

Before you start loading up the barbell with plates and try to crush your body with loads make sure your technique is up to standard. The risk of injury to your body is incredibly high if you attempt to bypass this step. Exercise technique should never be sacrificed to simply do more. You must earn the right to train with high intensity. We all know that poor performance, injury, and pain is the end result from using poor training techniques. What does come as a surprise to people is how difficult it can be to change a faulty movement once it is encoded into your nervous system.

A great quote that really stuck with me about exercise technique and its value to preventing injury and pain is in the book “Corrective Exercise Solutions for Hip & Shoulder” by Dr Evan Osar. He says,

"It is much harder to detect the subtleties of compensatory movement in the early stages although easier to correct them, and much easier to detect errors in chronic movement dysfunction however they are much more difficult to change."

This is so true.

Over the past 14 years in our rehabilitation program we have worked with so many people suffering with really complex cases of injury and pain that took a long time to help the person find relief and a solution. Sometimes the dysfunction was so great we could not find a solution and the best we could do was to find ways to manage the problem.

The most important point is that in ALL of these cases the problem could have been very quickly corrected or prevented if we saw the person BEFORE they began exercising, and were taught efficient strategies of movement. Their ignorance to quality of movement with endless repetitions of poor form eventually broke down their body’s structure.

You can begin to see my frustration knowing how easy exercise can be when you have been taught correctly from the start. Don’t be that guy or girl who ends up like that.

Below are two great videos of squats and lunges to watch but I do suggest reading the article about exercise technique that features 14 video tutorials of various movement patterns to watch.

 

Be Careful of Over-Training

Apart from ignorance of exercise technique the other big mistake often made by the gym junkie is over-training. Their thinking is if three weekly workouts are good, six workouts a week must be twice as good! Sadly this is not the case. Exercise is a catabolic process that actually breaks your muscles down.

Your muscles respond to this attack by becoming bigger and stronger which is an anabolic process called hypertrophy. This rebuilding process can only happen when you are resting. This means that for every hard workout, you’ll need a couple of days rest. Remember, you aren’t being lazy by taking time off training between workouts; you are giving your body the chance to adapt and grow.

In order for the body to adapt, it must have a period of repair. If you cannot adapt to and cope with the physical and mental demands of training, you will quickly become exhausted.  The key lies in one of the simplest yet most neglected training principles: RECOVERY.

Light cardio sessions can be a great way to enhance your recovery process by flushing your muscles with oxygen and nutrient rich blood, making it easier to get back to your heavy training with less fatigue. If you devote as much effort to recovery as your main workouts you will reap massive rewards later.

I often find that I only need TWO hard legs workouts per week. The other workout or sessions will be focused on mobility or technique development in order to make the hard sessions a better quality.

Click here to watch a video explanation about this.

Make Sure You Warm-up before the Workout & Stretch at the End

We are almost up to our training program, but before we jump right in it is important to discuss the value of warming up and stretching. It is important to allow at least 10-15 minutes for you to do an effective warm up. This will ensure you have enough time to prepare the body for what you are about to do.

The very first thing to do is get the body warm, and get the blood moving to the muscles. This is important for the blood allows more the muscles, tendons and ligaments to become more flexible as they warm up, providing you with extra mobility in movements you need to use in your upcoming workout.  I would allow 5 minutes minimum and 10 minutes max to do this. It is a time to focus and concentrate on the workout you are about to do, leaving all outside distractions and stress from your life out the door. 

At the end of the session and on the following day you must follow up with stretching and mobility work to ensure your muscles do not shorten and lose their flexibility.

Great articles to read with ideas about this are shown below.

You MUST Eat Quality Food

You can’t build a house without bricks and you can’t build muscle without optimum nutrition. A big mistake many people make is devoting hours to training but cutting corners with their food. Correct nutrition can make or break your success using this programme so you will need to make a commitment to shop, cook and eat good food to refuel and build your muscles.  Eating the same foods all the time can leave your body starved of essential vitamins and minerals so make sure you eat a wide range of healthy foods.

Everything that happens within your body is a chemical reaction and vitamins and minerals are the catalysts that keep those reactions happening. No vitamins or minerals equal much slower or non-existent reactions. Good fats, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein are the four cornerstones of your nutrition plan and you should aim to eat something you should be able to stick to forever. Avoid fad diets and extreme supplement regimes that claim to add muscle fast. Eat good food and train well and the rest will take care of itself.

If your goal is to bulk up you are going to need to eat fairly often to create a calorie surplus. Aim for 500 calories a day above your current intake which is about one extra meal’s worth. If you feel that you are putting too much fat on your belly then cut back slightly.

Your body is going to need a steady supply of nutrients to so it can go about the job of refuelling, repairing and building your muscles. You are going to have to be organised and possibly carry food with you to work, school or college because if you miss a meal, you miss an opportunity to give your body the essential fuel it needs to develop bigger and stronger muscles.

Good articles to read about nutrition are shown below.

Okay, that concludes all the things you need to know so now it is time to go through the program.

16 Week “QUADZILLA” Workout Plan

This plan assumes that you have correct technique with all the exercises, no injuries, and are someone who has plenty of experience in the gym. If you are a beginner, or someone getting back into it after a long break these workouts maybe too challenging for you at the moment. It would be wise to spend some time building up a base and correcting any movement weaknesses before attempting hard training like this.

Feel free to change the exercises I have suggested, but remember the exercise order is very important. Always keep the most complex exercises at the start, and avoid doing heavy squats and deadlifts on the same day. I find it is too much compression into the spine in one workout and it is safer to break them up. Always do a warm-up set before lifting heavy and if things do not feel right back the intensity off and do a light workout instead.

You will find I like to use a lot of supersets in the following workouts. Supersets contain pairings of exercises that can target the same muscle or muscle group. This is where one set is performed of one of the exercises in the pair, then the other immediately afterwards without any rest between. A short recovery can be taken between each pair before the next set is performed. Supersets are great way to hit the muscle fibers with an abnormal amount of workload. This stimulates muscle growth, particularly if they target the same muscle group and medium to heavy weights are used. It is also a great to achieve more volume of work within a session without needing hours to do it.

Okay, let’s get into it.

Weeks 1-4 Build a Base – Contrast Load Supersets

This first block is all about building some strength endurance with a program that tries to combine maximal strength and endurance together. I have always found the heavy sets the easy part and lighter high rep sets the killer in this program. This is a great way to build a strong base with supersets that double up on the leg muscles.

The first exercise is loaded up maximally, if you can do more than 5 reps it is too light. As soon as you finish this set immediately superset with a similar movement but with a light load and more reps! This gives a massive contrast in muscle demands and is a great transition into complex training used commonly in sports. Gives a great pump in the muscles. Best to do with a spotter as fatigue kicks in quickly!

 

Weeks 5-8 High Volume – Drop Sets & Tri-Sets

Drop sets are an advanced version of supersets. This system will have a serious anabolic (growth) effect and significantly overload muscles (all fibre types). As such it is a good option for increasing muscle size.

This method is used to extend a set beyond its normal finishing point. It takes advantage of the fact that, just because you can no longer lift a weight, it doesn’t mean that your muscles are completely gone! Often when doing this workout you end up lifting the tiniest of dumbbells or barbells but it still hurts as much as the big weights as your muscles are being forced into complete meltdown.

For example, if you were using 100kg on a barbell squat and could just man-age 10 reps and not an 11th, all that has happened is that you are no longer able to generate 100kg of force. You could, however, probably generate 75kg of force. So by lowering the weight to 75kg, you can continue the set beyond the point you normally would have stopped at. After a few reps, 75kg begins to feel like 100kg again and cause your muscles to burn and quickly run out of power. So then you take more weight off the bar to 50kg and continue the set for a few more reps, and again it will feel like 100kg in next to no time. I usually stop this pro-cess after the 3rd lowering of the weight.

It is important to note that to get the most out of drop setting, it’s important to try and reduce the resistance as quickly as possible once muscular failure has been reached. I like to set up the bar with the exact plates so I can make it a quick drop and minimize the time between sets.

Tri-Sets are very similar to Supersets except it includes one more exercise, hence the name Tri-Set. These are often my favourite to do as they add that extra variety and can really bring in additional nervous system and muscle fatigue. Great for strength endurance and muscle size programs.

Weeks 9-12 - Complex Training

This method is all about trying to transfer strength into powerful explosive movements often used in sports. The complex movements are not suitable for building maximal strength as too many things can go wrong compromising safety. By using a simple exercise for strength development prior and immediately following up with the complex athletic sports movement, you give yourself every chance of transferring the strength gains into the complex exercise. Don't be fooled by thinking the single leg hopping exercises are easy, these are much harder than they look and the strength needed in the quadricpes to provide deceleration is immense. If you are not familiar with these exercises make sure you read the article - 25 best agility exercises to enhance braking skills

This workout also gives your joints a break from the heavy lifting and allows you to catch up a bit for you are going to need it for the next phase!

Weeks 12-16 Wave Loading

This is a very advanced style of training and designed by Weightlifters. This is not suited to beginners or anyone with an existing injury. It is great if you are looking to improve your maximal strength. A word of warning you MUST have a spotter to do this workout and you can only do this for a maximum of 3 weeks at a time before lightening the loads and giving your body a chance to repair the damage. Weightlifters work off a ratio of 3,2,1 but I find it is a bit risky for most general gym goers and I work off a ratio of 6,5,4 or 5,4,3.

How it works

Perform a set of 6 reps, rest and increase the weight and do 5 reps, rest and increase the weight and do 4 reps. Now you go back to doing 6 reps again but go back to the weight you use for 5 reps and repeat the process. I take a 90 second to 2 minute rest between sets. This workout takes a long time so you need to break up upper body and lower body exercises into separate days.

Here is an example of a squat wave load set.

  • 6 reps = 100kg
  • 5 reps = 110kg
  • 4 reps = 115kg
  • 6 reps = 110kg
  • 5 reps = 115kg
  • 4 reps = 120kg

As this workout takes a long time I only use this method with one exercise and use some simple sets with the complementary exercises after the main set.

What About the Upper-body Exercises?

Of course you will need to do exercises for your upper body and you can use any combination of these you like. I like to try to use the functional movements that require me to stand up such as, single cable press, wood-chops, bent-over row etc. It just depends on how tiring the workout is and if I need to rest my legs due to fatigue. Depending on how tired I am I will keep the sets and reps of these exercises to 3 x 8-12 throughout the program and not add drop sets or advanced methods to the workout. It just depends on how tired I am.

Want More Workout Ideas?

And if you want even more circuit workouts, strength programs and even cardio and sporting workouts, make sure you get a copy of the Little Black Book of Training Secrets where I share 101 amazing programs just like the ones shown in this article. Click here to see more about what is inside this special report and download your digital copy instantly.

Summary

I am sure you would agree that there is a lot more to leg strengthening than you think. It is never a good idea to skip “legs day” and I don’t know why you would want to when you consider how many amazing benefits strong legs provide your body. From moving freely without pain or limitation, to improving sporting performance, and even helping you slim down and lose weight, the value of strengthening your leg muscles cannot be overstated. Remember, if you are a female and scared of getting big, or even a male for that matter, you will not get big if you do not eat with additional calories. If anything these workouts will make you lose weight incredibly fast as your body goes into metabolic over-drive. I hope this article and the workout ideas provided give you everything you need to know about leg strength.

For more ideas and information on specific topics I may not have covered in detail be sure to check out our INDEX PAGE on the website that has over 300 of our best articles. These are all sorted into categories for quick reference so you can find what you are after more easily.

And if you live in Melbourne Australia and need specific help with your exercise program please feel free to reach out to me by clicking the banner below and we can organize a time to discuss how we can help you.

 

About The Author

Nick Jack is owner of No Regrets Personal Training and has over 15 years’ experience as a qualified Personal Trainer, Level 2 Rehabilitation trainer, CHEK practitioner, and Level 2 Sports conditioning Coach. Based in Melbourne Australia he specialises in providing solutions to injury and health problems for people of all ages using the latest methods of assessing movement and corrective exercise.

References:

  • Functional Anatomy of the Pelvis and the Sacroiliac Joint - By John Gibbons
  • The Vital Glutes - By John Gibbons
  • Movement - By Gray Cook
  • Corrective Exercise Solutions - by Evan Osar
  • Back Pain Mechanic - by Dr Stuart McGill
  • Diagnosis & Treatment Of Movement Impairment Syndromes - By Shirley Sahrman
  • Low Back Disorders - by Dr Stuart McGill
  • Ultimate Back Fitness & Performance - by Dr Stuart McGill
  • Core Stability - by Peak Performance
  • Athletic Body in Balance - by Gray Cook
  • Anatomy Trains - by Thomas Meyers
  • Motor Learning and Performance - By Richard A Schmidt and Timothy D Lee
  • Assessment & Treatment Of Muscle Imbalance - By Vladimir Janda
  • How To Eat, Move & Be Healthy by Paul Chek
  • Scientific Core Conditioning Correspondence Course - By Paul Chek
  • Advanced Program Design - By Paul Chek
  • Twist Conditioning Sports Strength - By Peter Twist
  • Twist Conditioning Sports Movement - By Peter Twist
  • Functional Training For Sports - By Mike Boyle
  • Athletes Acceleration Speed Training & Game Like Speed - by Lee Taft
  • Knee Injuries In Athletes - by Sports Injury Bulletin
  • The ACL Solution - by Robert G Marx
  • Understanding & Preventing Non-Contact ACL Injuries - American Orthopaedic Society For Sports Medicine