5 best exercises for legsBy Linda Ericson // Personal Trainer and Operations Manager at RCSN Fitness April 2018
In this article, we are going to give you some tips on what exercises you should prioritize if the ambition is to build a couple of impressive legs, but we will begin with a quick review and clarify the anatomy of the different muscles.
Our leg muscles are the ones that support and carries our body. They are responsible for a large part of our mobility such as walking, running, jumping, and so on. Our focus this time will only be on the upper part of the leg, namely the thighs and glutes, which in turn are divided into different groups.
The gluteal muscles consist of three individual muscles and these, in the order of size, are called gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. The biggest and most visible of these three is gluteus maximus – it is even one of the biggest muscles we will find in the human body at all! Its main function is to rotate the leg, enable hip movements towards and out from the side of the body, as well as stretching the leg backward.
The front thigh muscles, also referred to as quadriceps, consists of what the name reveals, four muscles. These are called rectus femoris, vastus intermedius, vastus lateralis, and vastus medialis. These muscles are responsible for extension of the leg, and they also play an important role in stabilizing and strengthening the knee.
The back thigh muscles, the hamstring muscles, consist of the three muscles biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus which allow us to bend the knee joint as well as stretch the hip. These are relatively sensitive to excessive weight so it is pretty common that athletes suffer from some kind of problem-related to this area.
With a little bit of knowledge of what we are actually training, we will now give you the five best exercises that guarantee not only increased strength but also some impressive definition we all like to show off in the summertime.
The exercises are not in any certain order, but an advice would be to always start your leg workout with the heaviest exercise and then move on to more isolating exercises. Mainly to save energy so you can last the whole workout.
This is without a doubt one of the most effective exercises we know of, not only for the legs but also for many other parts of the body. Heavy squatting involves a considerable amount of muscle work, which results in a very positive hormonal response, which of course is beneficial to anyone who wishes to increase in muscle volume.
Starting position: Place the bar on the upper part of the back and tighten the muscles properly. Keep the grip slightly wider than shoulder-width apart (approximately one hand’s width between hand and shoulder). The placement of the feet should be kept to the width of the shoulders and toes slightly pointed outward. Breathe in.
Execution: With a strong core, bend the knee joint and get seated until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor. Return to starting position by pushing upwards from the heel. Exhale.
Another great leg exercise is deadlift where we also activate the lower back. It is important to be careful and to make sure to perform this exercise correctly since a weak technique can cause many unnecessary back-related problems. Always start with low weights and make sure you have enough strength in your lower back before you start chasing any personal records.
Starting position: With the bar lying on the floor, grab it with your hands shoulder-width apart. The toes should point straight forward. Take position by bending your hip and go down into a kind of squat. Make sure that your spine keeps its normal curve. The chest should be held high and hips just above knee height.
Execution: Lift the weight from the floor by straightening the legs, always with a straight back. When the bar reaches the upper thigh, stay upright for a moment before you slowly return to the starting position. Keep your back straight at all times!
If you only have time for one single exercise you should take a closer look at the lunge. The exercise can be performed standing with the feet statically on the same place or by taking steps forward or backward. The technique is far from advanced and you probably already have this exercise as a natural part of your workout routine. Beginners are wise to perform the exercise without any additional weight, while more experienced lifters may hold a dumbbell in each hand or a barbell either behind the neck or in front of the chest.
Starting position: Stand with your legs far apart and your toes pointing in the same direction. The arms should be held on the side of the body.
Execution: With the upper body held upright, lower the back knee down to the ground. Make sure to keep your back straight. Return to starting position by straightening the rear leg.
4. Crossing lunges
A more advanced version of the classic lunge is the crossing lunge. This exercise trains virtually every muscle from the trunk down, allowing us to stretch the hip muscles at the same time.
Starting position: Stand upright with your feet hip-width apart and your arms along the side of the body.
Execution: Take a controlled step backward to the opposite side, so that both legs cross each other. Stretch your knees down to the ground and remember to keep your back straight. Return to starting position. Remember to hold a strong core throughout the whole movement. As in the case of the classic lunge, beginners should start without additional weight.
5. Seated leg extension
This exercise is performed sitting in a machine, either with both or one leg at a time. This is the only exercise that effectively isolates quadriceps (the front thigh) and should, therefore, be seen as a self-written part of leg training.
Starting position: Sit down with the upper body upright and the pad towards the lower part of the tibia.
Execution: Lift (do not kick!) the weight stack by straightening the legs. Avoid stressing the knee joint by extending too much. Lower the leg slowly to return to starting position.
Perform all exercises with at least 8 repetitions, 3-5 sets.
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After our leg muscles, one of the largest groups of muscle is our back. The back can be divided into deep and superficial muscles where the deep muscles consist of those who move and stabilize the spine. The superficial ones are most commonly referred to as m. latissimus dorsi, m. trapezius, and the shoulder blade muscles m. rhomboideus minor, m. rhomboideus major, as well as the long, straight muscle m. erector spinae. These are the ones mentioned in daily speech and are what we usually target in the world of bodybuilding.