09 Mar Secrets of effective leg exercises
Strong legs will help you do more and achieve more with every other aspect of your exercise regime, so leg exercises really matter for your overall fitness and health.
So you need to include leg work in your regime but doing an effective leg workout requires just as much thought and effort as any other session. Here are some tips for getting the most out of your legs.
First and foremost: Squats
Squats are one of the best leg exercises you can do for strength, power and flexibility. They also use up a lot of energy, so do them early in your session to get the full benefit.
Squats work your glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves, so if you do them well and often, then the benefits will roll into all sorts of other exercises.
But don’t be fooled into thinking you need to be on the squat machine or use a barbell every time, because you can gain a lot from doing squats without weights as well. If you can do weighted squats at least twice a week then bodyweight squats on the other days will help your flexibility, especially if you go deeper in the movements than you would with weights.
Make sure you look after those glutes
Your gluteal muscles play a major role in keeping your body strong, upright and balanced, so make sure you work them regularly.
Squats will definitely help your glute strength, but step-ups are another option for building the efficiency of these important muscles.
Another great glute exercise is the sumo squat, which you can do with a kettlebell. Another incredibly simple way to work them is walking or running uphill, which engages glutes more than if you are working on flat or downhill surfaces.
Lunges are versatile leg exercises
The lunge is a group of versatile and incredibly effective leg exercises which you can do with or without weights. They will build your strength and endurance quickly, and if you have knee problems lunges can be a bit gentler than squats.
One of the great things about lunges is that you can add in all sorts of varieties, including pendulum lunges, which can help improve your balance, and jump lunges to develop your power.
Lunges are often a good way to end a session, as you work hard but they don’t need weights and the movement is less complex than squats.
Jumping works the muscles and the heart
Jumps of different types are a fun, effective way to build leg strength, and you can usually do them without any specialist equipment or weights so they’re perfect for doing at home.
A set of box jumps will soon get your legs working, demanding power from your legs as you start on the ground and drive up with both legs to land square on the box.
Another option is the speed skater jump, in which you jump sideways from one leg to the other. You can build up to using weights but bodyweight exercises are generally an excellent way to condition your body so don’t feel like you need to.
Watch out for lazy legs
Your leg muscles will respond pretty swiftly to working hard, but they are also quick to plateau if you don’t change your leg exercises on a frequent basis.
To avoid this, try introducing a little chaos to your workout by adding sets or reps. Try some drop sets, in which you work the muscle to failure, then drop the weight and continue.
You can also add in new exercises, and this is where a personal trainer can be invaluable. He or she will have the knowledge to come up with something new to try; don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Be safe and stretch often after leg exercises
Safety must always your first thought whenever you start a new workout or add new elements to an old one. Leg exercises are no exception, as injuries to your leg joints or muscles can really slow your progress and affect your confidence.
Avoid locking your knees, as this can cause nasty injuries, and as a general rule you should keep your toes pointing straight to ensure that your ankles and knees are distributing the weight evenly.
You should also integrate stretching into the start and end of your workouts and do stretches even on days when you’re not doing exercises. This is an underrated aspect of fitness, but one you should be obsessive about, because muscles need to be long and flexible to provide the leverage you need to exercise.
If you exercise and look after your legs then you will gain even more from your other works. These simple tips will help you on the way to improving your leg strength, endurance and flexibility.