When it comes to leg day, I would rather run an extra five miles. The thought of knowing that tomorrow will hurt when I sit down or walk down stairs doesn’t excite me one bit. Yet, that’s why we do it right? No, not the part where you feel like your lower extremities are mutilated. I mean the sit down and stairs part. Without leg day, you would not only look like a chicken, but you may regret it later on in life when you start crying out like Bubba in Forest Gump, “I can’t feel my legs! I can’t feel my legs!” (Wait, we might be doing this already after leg day.) What I’m trying to say is that if we don’t strengthen our legs, we’re prone to future weakness that can lead to not being able to sit down, stand up, or even walk, let alone climb stairs.
You may say, “but Doug, if you run that extra five miles, aren’t you building up your leg strength that way?” The simple answer; no. If I need to push my car home because it dies just a hundred yards from my driveway, running five more miles isn’t going to give me the right kind of strength to get my car home. Ok, that’s an extreme example, but you get the idea. Your body not only needs muscular endurance (running), but it also needs muscular strength (weights), hence, leg day.
Let me break it down for you. Your muscles have two types of fibers; slow twitch and fast twitch. You may have also heard of them called white and red fibers. Our bodies contain both sets and most of us have more of one type, however, we must remember that we do have both kinds. When we lift weights or perform resistance training, we’re primarily targeting our fast twitch muscles. These are the muscles that allow us to get off the toilet, sit down without collapsing into the chair, and climbing that flight of stairs. If you want to stay independently functional (not having to use a walker or worse a wheelchair) I would suggest continuing with leg workouts, or if you haven’t started one yet, it’s not too late; even if you’re in your later years.
I would like to explain the purpose of the major leg muscles and then identify the five exercises that I feel are the best to target all of them.
These are the muscles of your butt, tush, rump, whatever you want to call your backside. These muscles consists of your gluteus minimus and maximus. Their purpose is to help your thigh extend backwards and for your hip to straighten back up from a flexed position (think standing up from a chair).
The quadriceps consists of four muscles (obviously, right?); vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius, and rectus femoris. (Click the link above to find each muscle labeled) Just a quick side note. I have heard from a couple of people who I have worked with and met in passing that some trainers have told them that they have a “teardrop” muscle which only certain people can have. I don’t know what the point of this statement was, but I would like to set the record straight. Everyone has the “teardrop” muscle in their quadriceps. This is otherwise known as the vastus medialis (red colored muscle in diagram). If someone tells you that you’re one of the few that have that muscle, please enlighten them.
The purpose of the quadriceps are to extend your lower leg below the knee (ex. Kick a ball). It also allows you to lower yourself into a seated position.
The hamstrings consist of three muscles; semitendinosus (green), semimembranosus (blue), and biceps femoris (red). The hamstrings contract the lower leg backwards.
The gastrocnemius, a.k.a calf muscle, allows you to rise your heels off the ground. To note, many people have an overactive gastrocnemius, especially if you’re someone who wears high heels.
Working all these major muscles of the leg will keep you moving in the right direction; literally. Here are the five best leg exercises to target these muscles.
- Dumbbell/Barbell Squat
- Prone Hamstring Curl
- 4-Way Lunge
- Weighted Bridges
Even though I would prefer to run five extra miles than kill my legs with weights, I know the benefits of having strong legs. There isn’t any other way to get my legs to gain strength to get up and walk out of my house. So yes, if you want to leave your home fully capable on your own, don’t forget leg day.