In the world of working out and exercise in general, many of us like to focus on the upper body. The biceps and shoulders, and chest get the most visibility and tend to be more gratifying to build up. Although there is nothing wrong with working out the upper body (in fact, it has many health benefits), you should not underestimate the importance of working out the legs.
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Why Work Out Your Legs Anyway?
The legs make up half of your body length, and without strong legs, the rest of your body can only do so much. The truth of the matter is, if you had to choose only one muscle group that has the most benefit on the rest of the body, it would be the legs.
Releases Important Hormones
When you work out your legs, it activates the major muscle groups in the rest of your body. It is also true that leg workouts also release massive amounts of hormones such as testosterone, cortisol, and even HGH. Testosterone is well known for helping the body fix muscle rips, and it aids in creating new muscle growth. For men, it is also an extremely important compound for other reasons specific to men.
Cortisol is responsible for helping you to burn fat and making your body better at responding to physical and mental stress. Basically, nothing will help produce more cortisol naturally than regular leg workouts. HGH has many of the same functions and benefits as cortisol does, just in a different way.
Assists in Building Core Muscles
Leg workouts also stimulate and work your core muscles like abs and lower back muscles. This is especially true when you engage in single-leg exercises. It is important when doing single-leg exercises to alternate between both legs, so you do not end up favoring and building your dominant leg too much. To maintain proper muscle balance, be sure to rotate!
Last Word on Why Leg Workouts are Important
The benefits mentioned already should be enough to convince any serious fitness enthusiast to start paying more attention to the legs, but just in case you are not yet sold, here are some other critical benefits to exercising your legs just as much as your upper body.
Helps Posture- Strengthening legs also influences your spine alignment and with that comes better posture as the muscles get stronger and used to being aligned.
Lessens Back Issues- Lower back pain is way too common today with people spending so much time at desks. Working your legs regularly will help minimize this awful side effect of our unhealthy modern culture.
Boosts Overall Health and Fitness
As stated above, your legs are half your body, yet many people ignore them when working out. This is a huge mistake. In addition to the benefits listed above, workouts focused on the legs when performed regularly have a massive compound effect on your overall health and fitness.
When your legs are strong, the back gets strong, when the back is strong the upper back and shoulders come into better alignment as well. When your body is releasing all those important hormones, the tissues and vital organs become healthier as a result, which affects your sense of well-being and even mental clarity and stress level.
Now, who wants to learn some killer leg workouts?
Killer Leg Workouts and Tips
The first couple of workouts will be focused on using weights since most people that work out at the home or go to the gym regularly will have access to weights. Adding weights to your leg workout is also a good way to amplify the results of a good workout due to the difficulty it places on the muscles, your body sends instructions to the muscles to build more tissue to deal with the added work.
Leg Workouts with Weights
The Dumbbell Stair Step
This is an easy beginner workout that involves only a stair or other elevated surface, and a pair of dumbbells. It will work all of your leg muscles, but you may feel it the most in your calves. As we talked about before it will also stimulate your back and core. This is a great one to start with as a beginner.
How to Do it-
Start off with a light pair (maybe 10 pounders or something not too heavy).
Hold one dumbbell in each hand with your arms relaxed by your sides.
- Get behind the stair or elevated surface and step up onto it with your lead foot.
- Leave the back leg hanging off the stair and hold the position for 10 seconds.
- Repeat using the other leg as the lead leg.
- Continue for five to ten minutes.
Most people are familiar with squats, this exercise is not a beginner exercise, and it is recommended that you have a spotter for squats. If you do not have a buddy or a spotter, make sure you start off with a lightweight, nothing too heavy. Don’t start off with 150-pound barbells!
Squats will work all your muscles, but especially your upper legs. It is recommended to wear a back brace for these, even if you are not using heavy weights. Keeping your back straight is critical.
How to Do it-
- Start with the weights on a rack and grab the bar with your arms far apart to gain better control.
- Place the weight bar on your traps.
- Push your blades together and push up the elbows.
- Step backward and place your feet about as wide apart as your shoulders.
- Breathe in and push your hips back a little and bend at the knees, lowering your body down with your butt just barely below your knees.
- Stand back up pushing your knees outward.
Leg Exercises without Weights / Bodyweight Leg Workouts
Not everyone has access to weights, and beginners are advised to start off with bodyweight exercises. These types of exercises are beneficial because they help you get used to how your body feels when it is working out before you start complicating the process with the added difficulty of weights.
Pistol squats provide several benefits while remaining easy to do and not requiring any extra expense like weights or weight belts or gloves.
- Improves overall flexibility
- Enhances balance
- Works core
- Isolates each leg improving strength deficits and evening out the balance
- Increases mobility
This exercise is quite easy to do and is suitable for beginners.
How to Do it-
- Kick out one of your legs at about a 90-degree angle, making it parallel with the ground.
- While it is out, flex the leg muscles as hard as you can.
- Lower your body, to almost sitting down- go as low as your body will allow.
- Raise back up using the sitting leg to push your body back up.
- Repeat with the other leg.
The lateral lunge is another great bodyweight exercise for your legs. It will work our thighs, especially the outer thigh. It has the added benefit of teaching your body how to move from side to side easily. This is not a direction we are used to moving in normal life and learning it will improve your sense of balance and flexibility. The lateral lunge has some great benefits, including:
- Helps to strengthen glutes
- Improve balance and flexibility
- Not stressful for knee joints
- Easy for beginners
- Works adductor muscles which strengthen the inner thigh
How to Do it-
- Start by standing straight with your arms at your sides.
- As you step backward with one leg, bend at the knee of the front leg.
- Lower your body down to the ground.
- When your knee is nearly touching the ground, stand back up.
- Repeat using the other leg as the front leg.
Yoga squats sound like a passive exercise because of the word yoga. Do not be fooled, this exercise is a seriously beneficial exercise for your legs and the rest of your body. These will strengthen your quadriceps and thighs and engage your core and strengthen your entire leg and core muscle groups. It is an easy exercise suitable for beginners as well.
How to Do it-
- Stand with your feet close together.
- Squat down lowering your body.
- While you are low down, flex your legs pushing out your knees.
- Maintain your hips in a back position to keep the correct form for squats.
- Raise your body back up and repeat.
Final Words & Tips on Leg Workouts
Although some of these exercises are simple and easy to do, they are extremely useful for your overall sense of balance, and they will build up your leg and core muscles more than you may think. The key to making these leg exercises provide the most benefit, you should include them in your workout plan every time that you work out. In addition to these exercises, a good long walk, especially one that includes some stairs or a length of distance that is uphill, will help to supercharge the results you are getting with these leg workouts.