Exercises for the legs enjoy the same popularity among fitness athletes as vegetables do for meat eaters: It’s just got to be the way. This is total nonsense, not only from the point of view of a holistic training. Athletes often think that it is enough to run a little from time to time to get their legs in shape. This is also only partly true.
Ladies, it’s time to leave the treadmill and head for the weight room! If you’ve read this article, you’ll never want to miss Legday again.
Why is it so important to exercise the legs?
“Because you maintain the function of your joints,” says coach Marie Steffen. Ankle joints, knees and hips fulfil certain functions, and these must be fully utilised in order to maintain their performance. If you do not bend, stretch and rotate your joints regularly, the body adapts to this non-use.
“The consequences are not only restrictions in training, for example that you can no longer reach the full range of motion of a knee bend, but also consequences in everyday life,” explains Steffen. “If the hip flexors are too tight, sooner or later this will lead to back pain. If the ankle joints and knees are untrained, even a harmless twist while walking can lead to long-term injuries”.
What is the benefit of leg training?
Still not convinced? Besides maintaining the functionality of the joints, leg training has other advantages:
1. the training of the legs burns a lot of calories
“Because the legs are made up of very large muscle groups, you can achieve a very large caloric output with any kind of leg training,” says the trainer. For anyone who wants to lose weight, leg training is therefore indispensable.
2. leg training improves the body composition
“Through strength and power endurance exercises for the legs, the body composition – i.e. the ratio of muscles to fat mass – can be changed significantly.
3. training of the legs strengthens the connective tissue
If you are struggling with weak connective tissue, you should not skip the Legday under any circumstances, because: “Cellulite can be minimized by this. Although this also depends on training intensity, nutrition and genetics, the training effect should not be underestimated.
4. leg training forms and tightens the legs
“Regular leg training is essential to improve the shape of the legs. This is not possible with pure endurance units,” says Marie Steffen. She recommends doing 3 complex strength-specific exercises for the lower half of the body at least once a week.
How the leg muscles work during training It’s time to leave the treadmill and head for the weight room! © Lucky Business / Shutterstock.com
When do you see the first success in leg training?
It all depends on how intensively you train, where you start from and what level your body fat percentage is. Often the results of your training are hidden under a small layer of fat and are therefore not immediately visible.
“A training beginner will feel a significant difference in strength, stability and mobility after only 4-8 weeks. If you have been training at a good level for 2-3 years, but incorporate new structures and variety and improve your technique, you will see and feel significant progress after 2-3 months with an appropriately adapted leg training”, says Steffen.
But: Every progress stands and falls with your commitment and with whether the plan according to which you train is optimally tailored to you.
The 3 best exercises for leg training on machines
If you are still feeling insecure about the movements, the machines in the gym are particularly suitable because the exercises are guided. “I recommend 4 weeks with a plan to start focused on equipment to build a basic musculature and to internalize the movements guided,” says the trainer.
In addition, the machines are often used by athletes who are returning to training after an injury or who are allowed to train movements only to a limited extent or in very isolated situations. You will find the following 3 machines in every good gym – read here how to use them:
1st leg press
Lie with your back on the incline bench and place your feet firmly on the step plate. Inhaling, release the safety catch and bend your knees, bringing your thighs as far as possible towards your chest. Exhaling you put your legs back and press the plate away from you.
Tip: Depending on how you place your feet on the plate, different muscle strands are subjected to greater stress. Place your feet on the upper edge of the plate, focus on the buttocks and leg flexors. Place the feet on the lower edge, especially train the quadriceps.
2. leg stretching on the device ( leg extension )
Sit on the device and grasp the handles or seat with both hands to keep the upper body stable. Place your ankles under the castors with your knees bent. Extend your legs against the resistance of the castors and let them sink again in a controlled manner.
This exercise mainly trains the quadriceps.
3. bending the legs in prone position ( leg curl )
Lie on the bench with your stomach and grasp the handles with both hands. Your legs are stretched out in the starting position and the roll rests above the heel on the back of your legs. Press against the roll with both legs and lift your heels towards your bottom. Lower them again slowly and in a controlled manner.
This exercise trains leg flexors and calf muscles.
Push-ups: That’s how you do it!
The 3 best exercises for leg training with free weights
Training with free weights allows natural movement sequences: “A barbell trains the awareness of the body’s centre of gravity. Some people can perform a so-called air squat very well, but as soon as a barbell rests on your shoulders, the upper body tilts forward strongly”, explains the trainer. You know the problem? Mostly it is due to a lack of stability and mobility.
The good thing is that you can take targeted action against it with the wide range of exercises offered by barbells and dumbbells:
1. knee bends with barbell
Place the bar on your hooded muscle in the neck and grasp it with both hands, the elbows are also below the bar. Now bend your knees, push your bottom back and go deep as long as you can keep your upper body upright. Attention: The knees should never bend inwards. Always push your knees slightly outwards. Stretch the legs again and straighten up.
Tip: In order to make full use of the range of motion, it can be helpful to raise the heels slightly.
2. cross lifting
Stand with your hips wide apart in front of the barbell lying on the floor. If possible, bend your upper body forward with your legs stretched, grasp the barbell with your palms turned inwards. Straighten the upper body by tilting the pelvis, the back remains straight, hold the barbell with outstretched arms. Lower back to starting position.
3. good mornings
You stand in a hip-wide stance with the barbell resting on your shoulders. Bend your upper body forward until it is horizontal, straighten your back.
Tip: If you keep your legs stretched when bending the upper body, the leg curl will be stretched. This increases the muscle tension in the back of the leg when straightening up.
You can also effectively train your legs with your own body weight. © Joyseulay / Shutterstock.com
The 3 best exercises for leg training without equipment
No equipment or dumbbells nearby? No problem: Even with your own body weight, you can train your legs. “Bodyweight exercises are particularly suitable if you want to work on your stability and explosive strength”, says trainer Marie Steffen.
1st Pistol Squat
Stand with your hips wide apart and shift your weight to one foot. Extend your arms forward at shoulder level to maintain balance. Now push your buttocks back down and bend your standing leg as much as possible. At the same time lift the free leg stretched forward.
Lower your bottom until the back thigh touches the calf. Keep your back straight and your shoulders low. The knee is directly above the ankle joint and the weight rests on the entire foot. Keep the free leg parallel above the ground. Push yourself back up over the heel. To do this, tense your bottom firmly.
That’s why everybody’s cross-fitting now.
2nd Split Squats
In Bulgarian split squats the back leg rests on a training bench. This turns the knee bend into a one-legged balancing act. Make sure your posture is upright and bend the front leg until the back knee almost touches the ground. Push up again with the force of the front leg.
3rd Jump Squats
Jumped squats? Since Kayla Itsines, they have been part of the standard fitness program of almost every woman. Instead of doing normal squats, you push yourself up from a low position into an extended jump and land straight back in the deep squat. Stretch your arms forward and pull them down as a flywheel when you jump.
“In principle, the choice of exercises and type of training should always be based on your sporting goal,” says Marie. In our Coaching Zone you can have her create a training plan tailored to your individual needs.
Here you can go’s to the Coaching Zone
How many times a week should I exercise my legs?
This depends on the training plan. “Optimal is 2 sessions a week with different loads. I like to put one unit on strength and one on endurance. In addition, an endurance unit in the form of running, bike ergometer, rowing or on the Assault Bike would be the perfect combination,” says Marie.
How long should I regenerate after the Legday?
You’ll find out: This leg work is very strenuous. How long you should allow your muscles to rest afterwards is very individual: “The ability to regenerate depends on many factors such as sleep quality and the intake of food and fluids. Basically, there should be 2 days without any strain on the lower body between pure leg days”, the trainer recommends.
You can hardly walk after the Legday? No wonder. After all, leg training is one of the most intensive training units. But: It is worth it.