By Jonathan Thompson
Thanks to the countless memes littering the internet, you probably know that you should never skip leg day.
And yet, the sad fact is that the so-called “mirror muscles” – the visible and impressive groups like pecs, abs and biceps that you can see when you check yourself out in the mirror – still tend to get all of the attention.
Frankly, this needs to stop. But, why? What makes leg day so important? What are some of the most noteworthy benefits of leg exercises?
While it might see a little counter-intuitive, regularly training your legs is one of the most effective ways to burn more calories and lose weight faster. It might help, however, if you think about your working muscles as machines.
Everything that you do, whether it’s putting away groceries or running a mile, burns fuel. For your muscles, that fuel comes in the form of calories. Just like any other machine, bigger muscles require more fuel.
As it happens, the biggest muscles in the human body are the gluteus group, more commonly known as the butt. In sheer size, the glutes are very closely followed by the thigh muscles – namely, the quadriceps and hamstrings. Logically, then, exercises like squats that focus on all of these bigger muscles will burn up more calories than say, bicep curls or crunches.
For those looking to lose weight, this is valuable information. Since numerous studies -including a 2013 piece fromThe Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research – have found that exercise causes fat reduction throughout the body rather than in just the muscles being worked, the best strategy is to work your biggest, hungriest muscles as much as possible.
You depend on your legs a lot, even though they often go unappreciated. Unfortunately, because of the immense amount of stress that the muscles and joints in your legs endure on a daily basis, an untrained or weak lower-body can greatly increase your risk of injury.
According to the American Counsel on Exercise, however, functional leg training is the best preventative measure that you can take against knee problems. By strengthening the muscles that surround this highly-important, and yet surprisingly fragile joint, you provide it with a more solid support system.
In a more indirect way, leg exercises can also help to improve your sense of balance and improve your overall quality of movement.
Improved Athletic Performance and Mobility
Fast, powerful legs are vital for just about any sport. Properly training your lower-body will allow these muscles to keep up with the demands of your chosen activity. Of course, to be most effective, your workouts have to be sport-specific.
Sprinters who are primarily concerned with generating short bursts of power, for example, should take a totally different training approach to endurance runners. And this is just one example.
Aside from the more dynamic aspects of performance, though, leg training can also increase your mobility. As mentioned, leg exercises will develop balance in your lower-body and allow you to move more freely. The benefits of this, however, extend a little beyond the obvious.
While they tend to be forgotten, the small muscles that surround your hips tug lightly on your lower back. When everything is working properly, this supports your spine and your entire core. If these muscles become too tense, you will likely experience pain in that already temperamental area.
Often, tight hip flexors are the result of weak glutes and hamstrings placing unnatural stress on these much smaller muscles that aren’t built to carry all that much weight. As a result, the hip muscles put too much tension on the lower back.
Healthy leg muscles, could prevent this entire unfortunate chain from ever starting.
Avoid repeating the same exercise more than once each week and make sure to give your legs time to recover between each workout.
Not Convinced yet? It’s a Long Term Investment
While leg exercises do offer all sorts of relatively short-term benefits, the truth is that the real value of proper leg training stretches over many years or even decades. As the human body ages, of course, lots of less-than desirable changes happen. Included in this process is both osteoporosis and sarcopenia – a reduction in bone density and a loss of muscle mass, respectively.
When these losses occur, lots of complications can follow, including an increased risks of falls, fractures and related injuries. Here’s the thing, though: If your muscles are already strong and your bones are dense, the severity of both osteoporosis and sarcopenia will be greatly reduced.
And what does this have to do with leg training? Well, if you only train your upper-body then only those limbs and joints will be prepared to battle with muscle and bone loss. Your legs will be left defenseless. Unfortunately, your lower-body is much more likely to suffer injuries from osteoporosis and sarcopenia.
Sticking With The Routine
Leg day is a vital part of any fitness routine – whether you’re trying to lose weight, improve your athletic performance or just keep up with the demands of daily life. To get the most out of your training, consider your personal goals and design your leg workouts to keep you progressing in the right direction.
Keep in mind, however, that the muscles in your legs do need to rest just like all of their counterparts.
About the Author:
Jonathan Thompson is a Certified Personal Trainer and Nutritionist who has written extensively on health and fitness since 2009. Thompson is also the author of Weighted Vest Workouts and two science-fiction novels. Additionally, Jonathan has been able to apply his love of storytelling and journalism into the realm of film-making as the director and co-founder of Signal Film Company.