Written by Tim Rigby, copyright IFM Media
In the best of times, when the world is “normal” and pandemic-free, a trend within the fitness community over the last few years has centered on the neglect of legs training. Starting with competitive fitness athletes who strut around on stage, the so-called “board shorts” down-to-the-knee fashion has served as an effective cop-out for athletes to avoid training their legs, and what amateurs and beginners see as aspirational on stage, soon becomes the statement of the day; they also similarly avoid or neglect legs training. This unfortunate phenomenon is really a shame for many reasons that we’ll explain herein, but before you get dejected about this trend, all is truly not lost. With the assistance of Canadian IFBB Pro bodybuilder Mike Cipriani, we’ll get your leg training kick-started in a safe and effective manner after being away from the gym for many months due to COVID-19. If there’s anyone who knows a thing or two about legs training, it’s a guy whose nickname is “Wheels”, in tribute to his jaw-dropping lower half. So, before we get to the program you should employ, let’s take a look at reasons why legs should be something you emphasize when training, right from the get go.
>> Your quadriceps are your biggest muscle group. This set of muscles includes the rectus femoris (the largest and most noticeable muscle of your quads), vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius. Well-developed quads are not only attention-grabbing, but they have enormous function when you’re resistance training. They can be trained in isolation or compounded with other muscle groups – and even in “average” level athletes, they can press well over 500 pounds on the 45-degree leg press, but where they really shine is in the major powerlifting moves of squat and deadlift. Due to their size, well-built quads can literally help you boost your testosterone and natural growth hormone (GH), which in turn helps you build additional muscle throughout your body more easily. Did we mention this also means you can burn fat more efficiently? This is because of the effect of GH on your metabolism. So you’d really be wise to take advantage of the natural size of your quads relative to the rest of your body, in order to increase muscle development and get yourself shredded lean while you’re at it.
>> Your hamstrings are key to injury prevention, yet very few people appreciate this. When you perform a leg heavy lift like the squat, your main aim is to build strength and size in your quads, however, without strong hamstrings to engage on the eccentric (downward) portion of the lift, your knees would collapse and you’d lose all control of the bar. This can have quite injurious repercussions that can put you on the sidelines for a long time. By strengthening your hamstrings, you can prevent this and really get yourself into a safe power position before you begin the ascent. Another application for hamstrings is when you perform a box jump – before you leap upward onto the box, you first descend into a partial squat and load a lot of stored energy into your hamstrings that’s just waiting to be released.
Aesthetically, hamstrings are also very important. If you take competitive fitness seriously and have a true appreciation for symmetry, it’s imperative that you bring up your hamstrings to an appropriate level relative to your quadriceps. Don’t forget that the judges will be observing your muscle development from the back as well as the front. Sometimes even those flashy board shorts won’t be able to hide the fact your hammies are weak, if you choose to neglect them. As a matter of fact, in days of bodybuilding yore, the hamstrings were known as the “leg biceps”, in honour of their similar biomechanical action to your arm biceps. Make no mistake, they’re very functional and important, especially for strengthening the stabilizer ligaments in the region of your knees.
>> You can’t hide poorly developed calves. The lower half of your legs has unique functions, but before we get into an excess of kinesiology, let’s remind you that even your board shorts won’t hide the appearance of your calves. Whether you like them or not, you’re going to have to face the music and reveal the development of your soleus and gastrocnemius muscles, which we commonly refer to as your calves. In a similar way to how your traps define the extent to which your upper body looks athletic, your calves do the same thing for your legs. If you have skinny little match sticks for calves, you lose a lot of credibility on stage, and the sequence of symmetry from your thighs downward gets out of whack. On the other hand, if your calves are dense and wide, you look much more like what the judges consider to be a true athlete.
What it all comes down to, my friend, is that now that you have the opportunity to begin training with real weights and real weightlifting equipment, you should push off (with your legs) in the right direction. Massively developed upper bodies – especially wide shoulders – scream for superior development of your legs, and let’s be brutally honest – if you don’t train them hard but aspire to compete on stage, you’re going to seriously disappoint the judges and earn a reputation as being a one-trick pony with very little dimension. Your legs are so functional in compound moves (you even use them in the bench press more than you probably realize), and they’re so important to your overall appearance, that keeping a balance in all quadrants of your body will ensure you remain on the same playing field as the best in your class.
- 4 sets Leg Extension
- 3-4 sets Leg Press
- 3 sets Barbell Squat alternating with Smith-Machine Squat
- 3 sets Leg Press alternating one-legged Press
- 2 sets Bodyweight Lunge hold and stretch at the bottom of the movement
- 4 sets Seated Leg Curl
- 4 sets Lying Dumbbell Leg Curl
- 3-4 sets Stiff-Legged Barbell Deadlift