Fitness has evolved so much over the last 20 years but yet I still see the same common mistakes during leg workouts. I hate to even say this but mostly women are making the mistakes! We want slimmer thighs, a more shapely butt, a smaller waist and for a lot of women, they don’t want too much muscle. But yet I see women doing mostly isolation exercises and moving in one direction, forward and back.
The best movements for your legs are compound movements. Meaning they require more than one muscle group and/or joint to perform it.
There are so many beneficial reasons to do compound movements in your leg workouts and here are a few:
1. More functional. Isolation exercises are great for putting on more muscle and for strengthening muscles that are weak or injured. But even then, doing exercises that work the legs that mimic your activities of daily living will benefit you a lot more.
2. More muscles being used means more energy burned! Legs are the largest and strongest muscles in your body. By doing compound movements you not only use a larger amount of muscles you will also burn more calories. If you need to strengthen a muscle but still want the calorie burning effect, I suggest super setting a compound movement with and isolation movement.
3. By doing a variety of compound movements in different angles you will help increase stability in your hips and knees plus create a less boring routine! One of the reasons we slack off is due to boredom! Switch it up! Do different lunge variations, squat variations and bridge or hip thrust variations.
These exercises and their variations are a MUST for your leg workouts:
Now keep in mind you have to learn the right way to squat. Especially a back squat or barbell front squat. But there are some variations to start with:
- Body squat
- Cyclist squat
- Goblet squat
- Back squat
- Barbell front squat
- Overhead squat
You can change the variables as well. Squat side to side with goblet squat. Single leg squat from a bench or using TRX. Change your time under tension. This is your tempo going in and out of a squat. These are just a few things you can do for progress. But also for variety and moving in different angles. Squatting is earned and not necessarily great for everyone. Progressions are key here and needed.
Now here is where you can get creative! You have your basic stationary lunge which is great to start with. From there here are some variations:
- Reverse stepping lunge
- Forward stepping lunge
- Walking lunge
- Lateral lunge
- Angled lunge
- Bulgarian split squat
There are also variables here as well. You can add height to your lunge by starting off on a bench or raised platform. You can load both sides or one side to challenge balance. Using a glider is also a great way to do lunges for form and for a challenge. I suggest using all types of lunges to properly work the hips. I put in lateral lunges and curtsy lunge in all my programming to keep the hips strong and to create proper movement.
This is by far the most important and the hardest to master. Form is very important in all movements but with the deadlift, like a squat can be the most injury causing exercise. Progression is important!
- Tradition deadlift
- Romanian deadlift
- Single leg Romanian deadlift
- Sumo deadlift
- Trap bar deadlift
- Hip bridge
- Hip thrust
- Cable pull throws
Deadlifting is the most form challenging of the exercises. Start with KB’s or a dumbbell. Then move into rack pulls (elevated bar). For the RDL it is important to learn to initiate the movement from your hips. This is difficult for those who sit all day. A proper warm up is very important to open up the hips. Hip thrust and hip bridges are great to target the glutes and hamstrings. But again it is hard to do if you have been sitting all day. Start with hip bridging focusing on glutes and abs being tight. Then move into weighted bridges then into hip thrusts weighted. Some variations can be made for most of these. Single leg for bridges and thrusts, cable for the single leg RDL, use a stability ball for bridge and thrusts, and for single leg dead’s load one side to challenge balance and rotation.
If you are looking for an efficient, effective and less boring leg workout, make sure you are using these exercises. Use the variables and the progressions to focus on good form and to keep your legs guessing. Remember if you work a muscle in isolation it gets bigger. So for example doing the inner thigh machine every day it will create a growth response. You cannot spot reduce an area by working it every day. It will only create bigger thighs over time. Working legs in compound movements requires all muscles in the legs to work. Doing lunges and squats requires the adductors (inner thighs) to work. You don’t need to use the adductor machine every day to get results. Rep range is also key to putting on muscle. So if you are looking to avoid too much growth keep your rep ranges higher.
The side lying leg lifts, donkey kicks and cable kickbacks have their place put again it focuses on a small portion of your legs. Our muscles function together and work better together. 80% of your leg routine should be compound. Add in isolation to the areas you need to strengthen or feel you want to increase muscle.
Bottom line add variety, progressions and change the variables! This is what will get you results not just in aesthetics but in proper movement and injury prevention!