Go into any gym on a Monday evening, and compare the number of people you see banging out endless bench presses and bicep curls to those you see doing squats. Chances are, that squat rack is collecting dust, and it’s no secret why. Leg workouts can be hard, intense, and leave you shaking like a bowl of Jello. But in terms of sheer effectiveness, they are without equal. Training your lower body is the fastest way to gain lean muscle, rev up your metabolism, and get in peak physical condition. As an added bonus, your entire core (yes, even abs!) will benefit from stabilizing and controlling the weight load. And unless you are training to be the next Mr. Olympia, you can get a complete leg workout without spending hours in the gym by following these guidelines.
Mix It Up
As with most workout plans, variety is key to successful lower body training. A low number of repetitions with heavy weights is optimal for adding mass and strength, while high reps and a moderate weight load will promote growth and muscular endurance. So which combination is best? Both, and everything in between. This does not have to be accomplished all in one day; mix it up week to week to keep your muscles guessing and avoid hitting plateaus.
Get In and Get Out
Like most people, you probably want the best workout possible in the shortest amount of time. This can be accomplished by training hard, and training smart. Have a plan before you go into the gym. Keep rest times brief (a minute or less) to not only shave time off your workout, but also keep your heart rate elevated. Here is a sample workout that will optimize the time you have without cutting any corners.
Warm up your legs with 5 minutes of cardio on the machine of your choice, followed by some jumping jacks or anything else that gets your legs moving and ready for action. Start with your heaviest lift (I like squats or deadlifts) while your legs are fresh and can handle the most weight. Shoot for 3 sets of 8-10 reps. Follow this with 2 sets of 10-12 jump squats, which not only work your leg muscles but also improve athletic performance. (To do these, hold a pair of light dumbbells at your sides, lower yourself into a squat position, and explode upwards as high as you can jump. Bend your knees as you land.) Choose 2 machine isolation exercises (e.g. leg extensions, hamstring curls) to end your workout. Do 2 sets of each, 10-15 reps. Good form is essential; check out this site for detailed how-to videos of these and hundreds of other exercises. Follow your workout with a 5 minute cool-down of light cardio. And that’s it!
No Pain, No Gain…Right?
Well, sort of. This workout should not take much more than a half hour to complete. You will be feeling “the burn,” but should have enough left in the tank to walk to your car without your legs turning to mush. You are utilizing more than half of your body’s muscle mass while performing this workout, so emphasize quality over quantity and you will see results. Do this routine 2-3 times a week, but make sure you rest your legs a full day between workouts. Happy lifting!