Leg Day: Learn to love it and reap the rewards
The gym world is divided into two main groups, those who love leg day and those who HATE it (vast majority). However, regardless of our opinions, there seems to be a general consensus that a leg workout is an important part of the week (and a necessary evil!). I mean, we all want broad shoulders, with a tight core, and a big chest right? But what's the use if you have to cut out your knobbly neglected pins from your beach pictures!? Not only do strong sturdy legs give you an air of pride and accomplishment, but they also help in athletic performance too. And along the way, there are some pretty amazing physiological benefits from a good old ‘leg sesh’ too!
When muscle fibers contract e.g. during resistance exercise, there is a release of testosterone and growth hormones into the bloodstream. These hormones play a direct role in strength, performance, recovery, and adaptations. And although this response is triggered during any resistance training, leg day is the real catalyst, and here's why.
Your legs are the largest limbs in the body, no matter how skinny and untrained they may be. Therefore, naturally, they contain more muscle fibers than any other body part. Simply put, the more muscle fibers working at any one time, the higher the concentration of hormones in your blood, and the better your results will be. This is why compound exercises such as squats and deadlifts are so popular, they recruit muscle fibers from the entire lower body and core and subsequently lead to huge hormonal responses. Furthermore, there is also some evidence to suggest that the hormonal responses to lower body and compound exercises may also aid muscle growth and adaptation in other muscle groups. So… not only will you be filling out your shorts this summer, but you’ll be bursting out of your t-shirt too!
Reduced risk of injury:
If you are an athlete or an avid gymgoer, there is a strong chance that you have experienced some form of injury in the past. And whether you like them or not, lower body lifts can actually be a preventative measure of a wide range of injuries from repetitive strain to twists and sprains.
Many injuries are caused by muscle imbalances, which start in the lower body and reach the higher extremities through a chain reaction e.g. weak ankles leading to poor shock absorption and increased load on the knee joint. These types of injuries can take years to form, and unfortunately also take time to correct. However, such imbalances can be avoided through incorporating unilateral exercises e.g. Bulgarian Split Squats, into your leg-day routine. Unilateral exercises reduce the risk of injury by isolating one leg at a time, eradicating the risk of over-compensation (where the stronger leg takes more load than the weaker one in a normal squat). Furthermore, lower body resistance training can increase ligament and tendon strength, and increase mobility in the ankle, knee and hip joints. These factors make us more resilient to injury, and enable our bodies to utilize our strength/power more efficiently.
Increased Calorie Burning:
Lastly, and most definitely not least… Here is ANOTHER incentive to smash a leg workout this week (thank me later). We’ve covered increased training adaptations and reduced the risk of injury, but this one may come as a surprise... you also burn more calories on leg day!! Using the same principles as we did earlier to describe the hormonal responses to muscle fiber recruitment, the same can be said about energy expenditure. Bigger muscles require more energy, and therefore if you are working larger muscle groups e.g. quads & glutes, or multiple muscle groups e.g. compound exercises, then you will burn far more calories than in a bicep curl for example. During high-intensity exercise sessions, such as leg day, you will also achieve the added benefits of the mysterious ‘afterburn’. Where due to the bodies physiological reaction to stress, your metabolism will remain elevated and you will continue to burn calories long after you've left the gym. So what are you waiting for, put down those dumbbells and jump on the squat rack!!
Here is a Lower Body Workout to kick things off:
Back Squat - (3 sets) 8, 6, 5
Single leg landmine RDL - (3 sets each leg) 8, 8, 8
Swiss ball hamstring curl - (3 sets) 8, 8, 8
Deadlift - (4 sets) 8, 6, 5, 3
Single leg calf raise - (4 sets) 10, 10, 10, 10
Bulgarian split squat - (3 sets each leg) 8, 8, 8