How To Build Size, Strength And Razor-Sharp Shape In Your Legs
Have you ever noticed the upper and lower leg development of elite soccer players, sprinters or NFL running backs? If not, you should because all of these athletes have extraordinary leg development. If you’re like most beginning bodybuilders, you spend most of your time checking and working on the “t-shirt” muscles of your upper body. But ignoring your legs as part of your bodybuilding program is like a tree trying to grow without roots. A balanced physique requires powerfully built legs to complement your arm, chest and shoulder development.
For powerlifters, heavy squats are the beginning and end of virtually all of their leg training efforts. And if all you want is to be able to squat 500 pounds, you should stop reading right now because this article won’t show you how to do that. But if you want to develop strength, size, shape and flexibility in your legs, keep reading because I’ve got some useful suggestions for you.
First, forget about spending all of your time doing nothing but squats, squats and more squats to build up your legs. While barbell squats are a good primer to start building strength in your quadriceps or “quads,” leg training limited to heavy squats won’t provide balanced development of this area. Additionally, you must always be mindful of your ultimate weight-training goal. If you ultimately want a bodybuilding or athletic type physique, you shouldn’t spend too much time training like a powerlifter. While heavy squats can provide an overall anabolic effect, a leg-training plan limited to this exercise usually produces a blocky or shapeless lower body.
As I’ve said repeatedly, there’s nothing wrong with training like a powerlifter if powerlifting is your ultimate goal. But if you’re prime objective is to simultaneously build power, size and shape in your legs, you need bodybuilding techniques to reach this goal.
These training techniques include hack squats and front squats for the lower quads, dumbbell squats for the mid-thigh area and machine leg extensions for overall shape and flexibility. You can perform each of these exercises with weight sufficient to force muscle growth and produce gains in overall quad strength. For variety and examples of bodyweight leg training for your quads, try box jumps, hill walking with a weighted backpack or high intensity stationary cycling. Always make sure that you stretch your quads before and after training them to decrease the likelihood of a cramp or injury.
When it comes to adding strength, size and shape to your hamstrings, what can heavy squats do for you? Well, in a word, nothing! To develop your hamstrings or thigh biceps you need exercises targeted specifically to build and strengthen this area. Chief among these exercises are machine leg curls (seated or standing), stiff-legged deadlift and, when done with light weight, good-mornings. Your thigh biceps are relatively small muscles so be careful about using heavy weight with these exercises. As with your quad training, make sure that you stretch before and after working your thigh biceps to reduce the chance of cramping or muscle soreness.
On your lower legs, the calf is the most visible muscle area. Whether your calf is high or low, consistent training of this area can produce excellent results. To get started try some standing calf raises with both leg simultaneously using a machine or wood block with free weights. If you’re using a barbell, you can do this exercise with the barbell resting comfortably on your shoulders as you contract and extend your calves on wood block or platform. If you’re more comfortable with dumbbells, simply hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms naturally extended at your sides as you raise and lower your body on the block or platform.
In addition to standing calf raises, you should balance out your calf workouts with seated calf raises, donkey machine calf raises and single leg calf raises with a dumbbell. As with your quad training, you can perform each of these exercises with weight sufficient to add size and strength to your calves. However, in my experience, your calves will experience the most growth and display the best shape from high rep work with moderate amounts of weight.
So, the next time you go to the gym, instead of eye-balling your GUNS or pumping your pecs, try paying some attention to your legs. Your quads, hamstrings and calves will return the favor by making you look great in a pair of shorts!