Legs are the most neglected part of the body with regard to strength and exercise. Most people pay little attention to legs; whether it be post exercise delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) three days later, poor mechanics from a sedentary lifestyle, difficulty in adding lean mass to them, or because big legs just are not the trend they never get the attention they deserve. The importance of having strong and mobile legs, however, is unrivaled.
The lower appendages are responsible for most of the strength and power that a body produces. They are also responsible for most good and bad movement patterns throughout the body as they are the first link in the kinetic chain (the first body part in contact with the ground). While neglecting them may be easier than the initial pain and discomfort, doing so is at the ownerʼs own risk.
Mobility of the legs is paramount. Because they are first in the kinetic chain, poor mobility has the potential to alter the mechanics of every joint above it, or the entire body in other words. Think about lifting a heavy object. Most people lift with the back muscles because sufficient flexibility does not allow a deep squat to occur an isolate the stronger leg musculature. And it is not just the back that can be injured, but the mechanics of the arms and and neck, among others. Because of this mobility should always be considered a priority over strength. Before thinking that little 10s stretches are sufficient because it is “stretching”, well it is not. Additionally the legs rarely move insolation so why add flexibility without including functional mobility.
Below is a list of mobility warmup exercises that will prepare increase flexibility and adjust heart rate before and after a workout.
– Small Walkouts
– Larger Walkouts
Supine 90° Alternate Leg Drops
Hip Flexor Lunges
– Pause 10s at the bottom of each lunge
Lateral Adductor Lunges
Walking Glute Stretches (Knee to Chest Pulls)
Static stretches have their place and allows the isolation of specific stretches, and can be incorporated with all or a mix of the above techniques. Remember without correct mobility, strength throughout the entire range of joint motion cannot be achieved potentially exposing the body to faulty mechanics and extreme loads causing injury.
Strength is always broken down into endurance, max strength, and power. However, because the legs require such a larger blood supply it is always best to start from endurance when pertaining to the legs to build a solid base (excuse the pun) from which to work. The leg muscle groups can be categorized into the lower leg, quads, hamstrings, adductors, and glutes.
Typically, these groups are worked in isolation. However, this was not how the human body moves and each group provides a checks and balances system to stabilize the lower limb joints. Because of the tendency to sit for prolonged periods and certain heeled footwear, this balance becomes jeopardized. Without delving too much into the science, short muscles weaken their opposing antagonist and the range of strength is reduced; therefore reducing overall leg strength.
As the body typically moves without restraint and requires balance it is always best to build the legs with free weight exercises. This does not mean that weights have to be used as body weight will suffice. For beginners and those who would benefit from leg machines should do so to gain initial strength, but should combine free weight exercises so that function can also be improved. The biggest issue is to not focus on isolation machines.
Below is a list of leg exercises that are paramount to building leg strength and improving function. All can be performed with or without weighs and some include exercise machines.
– Leg Press Machine
— Two Footed
— Single Leg
– Sack Lift
– Bulgarian Split Squats
– Glute Bridge
– Tube Walking
– Single Leg Standing
— Can be combined with curls or shoulder press
— With alternate leg reach
– Heel-to-Toe Walking
Speed, Agility, Quickness Exercises
– Jump Rope
– Speed Ladder Exercises
– Cone Exercises
Regardless of the goal or gender, the legs play a vital role in overall movement, strength, and ability. Leg mobility and strength compliment each other and need to be progressed evenly.
The above exercises provide a solid mobility platform from which to work and ideas to mix up leg exercise days and maybe try some new variations on known exercises. And remember, have an excuse to take the elevator next time.