You still see them in the gym. You know the guys who brag about their bench press and crank away at the lat pull down machine?
The ones doing barbell curls and then preacher curls and then concentration curls. And then some triceps extensions on the cable machine for good measure.
They take their shirts off and they are fitness mag cover ready….. from the waist up at least. From the waist down, well. . . not so much.
Unless you have a medical restriction, there is absolutely no excuse to skip the big lifts that primarily involve the muscles of the lower body. And I’m not talking about lying leg curls here. I’m talking about squats and deadlifts and the different versions of each. Below are the 6 biggest reasons you should be training your legs if you aren’t already.
#1 Without leg strength, the real world will knock you on your ass.
Pushing your neighbor’s car when it’s stuck in the snow. Hauling bags of mulch out of your trunk. Moving your couch to the perfect spot in line with your big screen TV. In all of these tasks, and damn near all off life’s physical tasks, the muscles of the lower body are going to be the primary movers. Your squats and deadlifts will really pay off in these situations.
#2 More metabolic bang for your buck –
The muscles of the legs are the largest muscles of the body. Moving big muscles requires big energy – meaning more calories burned. You can bench press all day long, but nothing is going to get the metabolism cranking like some heavy squats and deadlifts.
#3 Improves your athleticism –
All athletic movement involves the opening and closing of the hip. Think about jumping, throwing, or punching. All of these movements originate with the hip closing to some extent and then violently opening. I don’t care if it’s cracking a home run or playing football with your son, the power for these movements is grounded in the muscles of the lower body.
#4 Moving big weight is fun.
Nothing can replace the feeling of grabbing the bar and ripping a few (or several) hundred pounds off of the floor. Your deadlift should be your strongest lift. And if it’s not, with training it will catch up and surpass your bench press in no time flat. Moving big weight is what being strong is all about – and the strength you find in the gym with lower body training will carry over into other areas of your life.
#5 You’ll see your biggest strength and muscle gains.
Anyone who has ever done a typical muscle magazine workout that doesn’t include squats and deads, will see the quickest and biggest strength gains in their life once they start squatting and deadlifting. Single joint movements like calf raises will seem laughable after you see the gains squats and deads give you.
#6 You’ll have a great ass.
Yep, I said it. Guy or girl, straight or gay, I don’t know any healthy human being who doesn’t appreciate a tight and shapely butt on their object of affection. We all know guys love a nice ass, and it’s been proven in studies that girls find a guy’s butt the most attractive part of their body.
Could our interest in the ass be because visually pleasing glutes are an indication of strength, power, and health – traits we find desirable in a mate? I’ll leave that debate to the sociologists and scientists. In the meantime, I’m gonna gawk at my Jessica Biel screensaver for a while.
What are some of your favorite leg exercises? And were you ever an “upper body only” type person before? Let me know in the comments below!
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I used to be one of the unenlightened many who only trained upper body “beach muscles,” but I’ve seen the light since, and now I love leg work.
An awesome version of the deadlift that I’ve learned to love is the Jefferson lift (http://www.davedraper.com/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/PmWiki/JeffersonLift), definitely worth experimenting with
I am a 4’10”, 106lb. girl and I LOVE training legs and swear by it! Not just a few leg curls. I’m talking squats, leg press, plyometrics, you name it. It makes a HUGE impact on physique, speeds up metabolism, and gives me killer overall results. Highly recommend it to EVERYONE! Thanks so much for posting this!
@ Nick: Thanks for the Jefferson link. Good stuff!
@ Jenny: Hell yes! I’m a fan of plyos myself. Keep spreading the word to the ladies that they have to hit those legs with the big lifts. The men of the world will thank you. 😉
I’m a big Zercher Squat guy. I think if you can’t hang onto a weight with your hands, then you shouldn’t really have to lift it. Same reason I really like deadlifts. Good post brother.
I’ve never been an “upper body only” person but if I’m going to have to miss a session then legs are usually the body part I sacrifice. However, I’m trying to change that now as I understand they should not be neglected. I’m also making an effort to incorporate more multi joint exercises into my leg routine as it normally relies heavily on the machines (leg extensions, leg curls etc).
For some reason, I started off as a lower body guy, as I couldn’t even push my own weight, leave alone pull it.
I love the things I used to hate and dread: the sprint is my favorite workout, followed by jumping ropes, and then the squats, front squats and the lunge. I love the leg press, too, though I know it is rather useless!
One question for you: I tend to be unable to get up (and actually fall back) when I am squatting more weight than usual. Any tips to avoid that and increase my squatting weight?
For those of us that don’t go to a gym and don’t have bar n weights, would you say that doing squats using dumbells in each hand, stretched above head (as if it was a bar) would suffice?
I tried it earlier with 2x10lb and it had the desired effect; my legs gave out after 5 squats! (have only been using body weight so far, as previously suggested). But I guess I’m not sure if the dumbells aren’t stable enough/may lead to injury?
What says you?
Great post — funny and so true! I hardly ever see people doing squats (and never deadlifts) at my gym. But I’m doing them anyway. Maybe we can start a movement.
@Rambodoc: Do your best to focus on pushing through your heels. I often tell clients to pretend like they have a $100 bill under each heel and if they don’t stay on their heels I’m going to take their money! Also, if you can’t get up from the bottom of the squat the real answer is you need to lighten the load.
@Tusc: When using dumbbells for the squat I recommend one of two positions. 1) Arms hanging at the sides; this is really a dumbbell deadlift I suppose but can become a squat by descending to a point where the hip crease is below the knees. 2) With arms extended over head in an “overhead squat” position. This is an advanced movement, especially when using dumbbells that will truly smoke the “core”. This can also be done with only one arm extended overhead.
@JohnB: I’m all for a “train your legs” movement. Sign me up!
That’s great! Thanks Vic 🙂 I haven’t been able to walk properly for 2 days having done the overhead ones….lol
As usual well written, informative, informative,informative. Thank you Thank you THANK YOU!
One becomes completely stronger when he/she indulges in the deadlift and squat, period. One will also produce testosterone levels that could not be done with any upper body exercise alone. So what it hurts, the long term benefits-like those that Vic mentioned-are worth it.
The squat is the single most productive exercise, with the deadlift being a very close second in my opinion. There are times the the deadlift may even be superior as a total anabolic activator so to speak. either way it’s close! And either way you should learn them and make free-weight leg training the core of your routine. And yes, I do like a gal with nice glutes. Of course. One needs a good strong lower back to push the weights necessary to build legs and butt however. Train with precision and add weight slowly with full concentration so that you do your leg movements perfectly. Don’t rush the process.
Vic- I am curious if you ever tried the Tru Squat. I totally agree 100% with you about machines being worthless, but this apparatus can be helpful. I am wondering if you have ever used it for any training cycles. Also, have you ever used the Safe Squat? I have not used mine in years- barbell squats RULE of course, but I suffered a low back injury in 1999 and these two pieces did help me get back. But now that I think of it, I wonder if I could have done without them. Barbell squats and deadlifts are a catch-22: they are potentially dangerous when weights heavy enough to produce gains are used, but they are really the ONLY way to produce gains in the first place!
Deadlifts and Lunges….love to hate them!
Waaay to go vic… i’ve always been a “lower body” type of guy…prolly one of the reasons why i really love running…and i have always believed in having a strong “base”… Mongol women, when looking for a husband would look at the legs and thighs; they would look for the guy with the biggest legs and thighs because they believe that it is a sign of strength and “stamina”…hehehe … Great post Vic 🙂
@ sangita: No, thank you! I appreciate your readership big time!
@ Saadiq: Right on, man. Bottom line: if you don’t have a medical restriction you need to squat and deadlift.
@ Chris C: Squat, deadlift. Squat, deadlift. Tomato, tomatoe. Man, they’re both great movements! Like you said, they’re close. But I’m not familiar with the Tru Squat or Safe Squat; can you post a link to the comments so we can all check them out? Thanks! As a guy who is no stranger to low back injury, I’m curious.
@ Mike OD: Yeah, I like some lunges my self. And it’s been a while. I see them in my training journal next week. . .
@RolanMan: If you know of any Mongol women strolling through Columbus, Ohio, send ’em my way. 😉
Great article, succint and to the point! Always worth being reminded about this.
Does anyone else roll their eyes when they hear deadlifts being referred to as a ‘back exercise’?
It’s not just a semantic issue, it contributes to bad form. I see a lot of people doing deadlifts with insufficient leg involvement because they don’t understand that the lift is 50/50 back and legs.
@tusc: in addition to dumbbell squats, you can do lunges, Bulgarian split squats (both with dumbbells), and pistol (one-legged) squats. Look up those last, they’re brutal, work both strength and balance.
One-legged deadlifts are another good exercise. Doing one-legged and asymmetric work is another great core workout.
Don’t overdo it — yes, you can overtrain with dumbbells. 1-2 days rest between workouts.
Love it! Great article! Every gym I’ve ever worked in or worked out at is littered with giant arms, pumped chests and yes…chicken legs. Thanks for writing this!
Legs…the one body part I hate working out, but love to feel a burn in. Whenever it’s time to do legs, I get this nervous feeling. Well, it’s more like fear. Fear because I know that for a few days after I won’t be able to walk right.
I love that nervous feeling before I hit a workout. That’s when I know it’s going to be a damned good one! Keep training those legs, Israel!
Love the article. Thank you. Work on my legs often and am increasing my vertical jump!
To Your Health!
James Reno (editor)
I used to focus primarily on my upper body until I got a trainer who emphasized the importance of a strong lower body as well. Then my girlfriend started telling me how sexy my legs are lol…good stuff
Excellent post. A resistance training program that ignores legs is like building a house and ignoring the foundation. Eventually things will fall apart.