I remain eternally grateful for my strong, powerful, flexible legs. The ability to move any which way, to run for miles, to hop and skip and climb and perform the splits and no-handed cartwheels…..I try never to lose sight of the miracle of it all. The joy of unfettered movement is something I hope never to take for granted, and I know I owe much of this mobility to my legs!
Admittedly, though, my legs also get a fair share of attention visually, everything ranging from comments about the shape of my muscles to questions about what I do to sculpt them. I wish I could say that running alone accounts for the leanness of my legs (if you saw my running speed/distance, you’d instantly know I’m not the cream of the crop there!), but the truth is, it’s a combination of numerous activities, and indeed, there’s a lot of work behind any strong/lean leg program. Hopefully, reading about what I personally do will help you steer your own strategies:
1: Running and other cardio. It may not be THE strategy for my leg training, but it’s certainly a key player. I try to do some form of cardiovascular exercise every day, though I do take a break every now and then for the sake of resting my body. Understand, even though I do cardio daily, it’s often very light — an “active recovery” day of light walking or swimming. But it’s important as it keeps up my endurance and burns the calories. There are many people out there with fabulous legs, only they don’t see it because unfortunately it only takes a small amount of subcutaneous fat to obscure the muscle tone underneath! Which brings me to Strategy #2…
2: Clean eating. It’s perhaps the hardest part but it’s the most crucial, at least in terms of keeping one’s weight and body fat down so that those great legs can come out of hiding! Good nutrition, combined with eating within your calorie needs, is what I’m talking about here. In addition to losing excess body fat, proper nutrition is extremely important in helping your legs (and the rest of your body) recover from your vigorous workouts and training. Additionally, eating right will help boost your energy, which means you’ll be able to put more effort into your workouts, which means you’ll get more out of your workouts. Which leads to Strategy #3….
3: Flexibility training. An EXTREMELY important aspect of leg training is in keeping them flexible and supple. Once again, this helps your muscles recover and reduces the risk of injury. But it also serves the purpose of keeping you more comfortable, both in your day-to-day living and in your workouts. Which means guess what? You’ll be more likely to follow through with your workouts (who wants to workout if they anticipate feeling uncomfortable?) AND you’ll move more freely during the course of your day. Translation: more calories burned and better overall use of your leg muscles. Every little bit counts!
4: Targeted, smart strength exercises. I typically put my legs through a thorough strength session at least twice a week, on non-consecutive days. Most of the time, I add a third strength training day, which is usually different from the other two, in that it’s either lighter or just completely different. Whereas the first two strength days are more “hard core” — targeted toning/strengthening exercises such as squats, knee extensions, lunges, stability ball work, machines, etc…..that third day is where I’ll throw in more yoga or dance-based moves, to give my muscles something different to adapt to.
5: Focused effort with each exercise. The thing about the body is….it’s not impressed by logs, or the way things look “on paper.” Your body knows only one thing: what it needs and what it currently has. If you simply “go through the motions” of a given exercise, stopping at 15 repetitions simply because that’s what you’ve always done, your body has no reason to change. You’re not providing any stimulus to create new muscle mass. The movements you perform don’t have to be super-intense in of themselves, but if you really concentrate on them, keeping them slow, deliberate and meticulous — i.e. go through the full range and squeeze at the crux of the contraction, you’ll find your muscles fatigue much more thoroughly, which will encourage far better results than if you “clock out” and watch TV while doing a million leg lifts.
6. Consistency. The body needs weekly reinforcement of all of the above. Going all-out on one week and then taking a week off is too inconsistent and too stressful on the muscles.
7. Genetics. I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that your inherent body type does play a role in what your legs can look like. Some of us have long legs, others short. Some tend to carry their body fat on the legs and hips, others the abdomen, still others all over. Some put muscle on easily, others tend to be “softer.” The good news is, you can always improve upon what nature gave you. Follow the above principles, and you’ll be amazed at where you can take your body!
So what are you waiting for? Get those legs moving!