Don’t Neglect Leg Work in Exercise Routine

From Aug. 6 edition of The Lancaster News

Integrated exercise methods and workouts that include cardiovascular elliptical training and core training can increase fat weight loss as well as maintain and develop quality lean muscle.

But to develop curvy, defined, and toned legs, you have to put in the leg work.

Leg training can be done in several phases. You can develop certain parts of the leg muscles by simply doing certain body weight exercises and some very specific plyometrics (explosive power exercises) that force you to bear your total body weight. Naturally, our legs are meant to bear weight and support our upper body structure during the shift and changes in the center of gravity that occur in exercise and natural body movements.

Here are three exercises you can incorporate into your workouts to develop well-defined leg muscle.

Barbell Squats

The barbell squat exercise works various muscles – and some fitness studies have concluded it to be an 80 percent total body exercise alone.

It’s hard to explain, but barbell squats involve three leg muscle groups: The upper and lower leg of the quadriceps (front of thigh), the hamstring (back of thigh) and the gluteus medius and maximus group (buttocks). If done properly, this exercise alone is very efficient for burning a significant amount of calories in a short amount of time. There are various methods of doing barbell squats.

They can be done in a sumo fashion (a wide stance with the feet externally rotated and toes pointing out). This method puts emphasis on the inner thigh muscles. Other variations can come from the distance and placement between your feet.

Begin by placing your feet together with toes pointing straight ahead or with a narrow stance with your feet about 12 inches apart to put the emphasis on the quadriceps (front of thigh).

You can also place your feet in a more natural stance – about shoulder width apart to target the overall thigh hamstring and gluteus muscles. Keep in mind that each stance places more emphasis on certain parts of the leg.

I strongly believe that barbell squats is a significant exercise that develops total body strength and conditioning.

Standing Calf Raise

Standing calf raises are great for developing toned and defined calve (gastrocnemius) muscle. The outer part of the calf is referred to as the lateral head and the inner part of the calf is called the medial head.

This specific muscle group once again can be worked with various different methods by simply changing the positioning of your feet. If you place your feet externally rotated (toes pointed out), it places emphasis on the inner calf muscle. Secondly, if you place your feet in a more internal rotation (toes point inward), it places more emphasis on the lateral head of the muscle.

Please keep in mind the gastrocnemius muscle is worked in its entirety during any plantar flexion movement (with toes pointed down).

Just like with barbell squats, foot placement puts an added emphasis on certain parts of the muscle. Also, another part of the lower leg muscle referred to as the soleus can be worked during this movement as well by just flexing your knees.

The soleus can also be targeted by sitting and doing the movement. It is important to remember these particular training methods are a bit more advanced and may take practice. As you become more familiar with the basic movement, experiment with your own body and how it reacts to different angles and movements.

Lying Leg Curls

The lying leg curl exercise is great for balancing off the definition, development and overall leg muscle tone. Developing these muscles gives legs that full, curvy look that most women prefer.

For men, it gives us the improved balance that’s needed to achieve muscular fullness and development. I strongly recommend lying leg curls because it involves the entire hamstring group of muscles (back of the leg). Although it focuses on that specific muscle group, other muscle groups and parts of the leg benefit from the movement, too.

However, it is important to remember the dangers of all exercises and that you should always use caution. I strongly recommend that you talk with a family physician before adopting any type of exercise regimen.

Any time you include free weights (like those in barbell squats) into an exercise program, make sure you have not suffered from chronic back pain in the past. Make sure you don’t have any current conditions such as a herniated disk, osteoporosis, back muscle spasm, back surgeries, spinal cord injury or any other back issues or concerns.

Step up and start putting in your leg work today. Until next time, train hard and eat healthy.

– Fitness expert and bodybuilder Kennett Washington is president of Healing Strength Personal Training.

Photo Illustrations

Here’s how to do these three leg exercises

Barbell Squats

This exercise must be done with proper technique and form to avoid injury. When doing squats always keep your back as upright as possible. Think of your back as rigid boards and remember not to flex your spine while doing this movement. It could cause serious lower back injuries such as ruptured or slipped disks. You can refer back to a previous column about the proper blocking technique that is used during this movement. Notice how rigid my back is and look at my upper torso hips and thighs. The angles of my upper body form a backwards “L” shape. My knees form a 90 percent angle with my thighs. My thighs and hips are parallel to the floor, and this is what you want to achieve for each repetition. This movement could be inhibited by muscle imbalances, poor flexibility and muscle compensation.

If this movement is a problem, have a fitness professional assist you to help you determine those weak area and put together a plan of action to help correct them.

Notice that I’m wearing a safety weight belt. Weight belts have been debated and researched for several years; some conclude that they are no safer than not wearing one while others recommend their use. As a natural bodybuilder, some type of resistance training or heavy power training is part of my daily routine. I strongly advise clients to wear them regardless of weight. The belt reduces stress on the thoracic, lumbar and sacral spine (lower back) while providing extra stability and support.

Follow these steps when performing barbell squats:

  1. Position the bar across your shoulders just below or on top of the trapezius muscles (lower neck muscle area just above your shoulder blades).
  2. Grasp the bar a little more than shoulder width apart based on your body type. Inhale deeply and keep you back rigid.
  3. Look straight with your chin raised slightly and lift the bar off the rack. Take two steps backwards (one with each leg).
  4. Be sure to clear the racks, set your feet shoulder width apart and keep your toes pointed straight ahead. You can also slightly angle your toes outward like I have done in the above photo.
  5. Slowly begin the movement by bending your knees and squatting down until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  6. At the top of the movement, exhale as you complete each repetition.

Standing Calf Raise

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This exercise can be done with dumbbell weights or with a free weight barbell.

  1. Position yourself under the shoulder pads, and stand with your back straight.
  2. Place your toes and the balls of your feet on the toe block, and lower your heels until you feel the tension of the stretch.
  3. Raise up as high as you can on your toes while keeping your knees extended, but not locked. Do not bounce during this movement (bouncing increases the chance of injury).
  4. Return to the starting position.

Lying Leg Curl

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  1. Lie down on the machine with hip and pelvic area flush with the pad.
  2. Grasp the handles and straighten your knees as you hook your feet under the pads.
  3. Inhale and simultaneously raise your feet upward (try not to jerk the weight as this will decrease the chance of injury) until your knees are as fully bent as possible. Depending on your knee flexibility, you maybe able to touch your buttocks with your heels. If so, you will feel and even greater contraction of the hamstring muscle.
  4. Exhale as you complete the movement.
  5. Slowly return to the starting position.