Everything you need to know about building lower body strength is right here. No excuses! Bigger, stronger wheels can be yours if you follow these tips!
Too often when you walk into the weight room, you see gym-goers focusing on their upper body while neglecting their lower half.
When building a house, the roof is not the first thing that’s built. If you start with the roof, what are you going to put it on? It all starts with the foundation. Much like a house, the human body needs a strong foundation or it will have weaknesses further up the chain. It all starts with the lower body.
Whether you’re an elite football player, top-flight sprinter or just someone looking to gain more strength and improve in day-to-day life, constructing a strong lower half should be first on your checklist.
When creating a training regimen to build lower body strength, you should focus on big muscle movements such as squats, lunges and deadlifts. You should supplement those with isolation moves such as leg curls, leg extensions and calf raises to help build a concrete lower half.
These Are The Three Lower Body Sections.
To fully understand how to build lower body strength and what exercises to put into practice in your routine, you must first know the muscles of the lower half. The lower body can be divided into three different sections. These sections are your hips, thighs and calves.
The muscles of the hip include the gluteals, hip flexors, adductors and abductors. The hip is the strongest joint in your body. It allows you to run and jump. It also bears the weight of your body. The hip joint is a very flexible one and can move through all planes of motion. At the hip joint, extension, flexion, abduction, adduction and rotation can all take place.
The thigh group includes the quadriceps and hamstrings muscles, as well as the abductors. Located between the knee joint and the hip joint, the quadriceps are found on the front of your thighs and are responsible for knee extension. Hamstrings are located on the backside of your thighs. They are the primary movers during knee flexion.
The knee joint is another strong joint as it bears most of your body weight and, like the hip, it allows you to walk, run and jump. The final muscle group of the lower half resides below the knee joint and that includes the smaller calf muscles, as well as shin and ankle muscles. At the ankle joint, the movements include plantar flexion and dorsiflexion.
Without proper form, injury risk rises greatly and the muscles are not targeted the right way. Execution requires good form, which takes place only when all the muscle groups are in sync. To develop a dynamite base, you need to have some dynamite exercises.
Build Strong Legs Using Compound Exercises.
Compound exercises are the primary ones that build strength. These exercises are ones that engage two or more joints. They also hit multiple muscle groups in the process. Squats, deadlifts and leg presses are the primary lower-body compound movements. All three of these movements hit multiple muscle groups. Squats and deadlifts are movements we do every day in our lives even outside of the gym.
Want more proof compound movements are the real deal for building strength? The muscle-building process involves breaking down muscle fibers and building them back up bigger and stronger. Every rep causes micro tears to the tissues and the body then repairs those tears as part of the muscle-building process.
To build muscle, the body must be stressed though. The overload principle states that gradually boosting the stress placed on the muscles will help build strength and build muscle.
Compound exercises activate multiple muscle groups and place lots of stress on your body. This creates a positive hormonal response as testosterone and growth hormone, both beneficial to muscle growth and fat loss, are released into the system. The foundation of any weight training program should be compound movements as they have plenty of benefits and are the key to building muscle. Start squatting and deadlifting and your lower body strength will grow exponentially.
Single-Limb Moves Can Also Help.
While the big movements such as squats and deadlifts comprise the foundation of any program, unilateral exercises such as lunges and single-leg deadlifts are also beneficial to building strength. Sadly, unilateral, or single-limb, exercises are skipped by many in the gym. Why? Some people see them as a waste of time. That is the furthest thing from the truth.
Unless you are a lab creation, all humans have some weaknesses and imbalances. Whether it is a stronger right leg or right arm, weak lats or whatever it may be, everyone has some form of weakness. Unilateral exercises can help target those weaknesses.
No, you are not going to be able to deadlift as much with a single-leg as opposed to the traditional two-leg deadlift. Single-leg exercises target more stabilizer muscles as balance and stability are tested. It also lessens the load on your joints.
Should single-leg exercises be the focal point of your training program? No. They should be present in your regimen though. Single-leg training can help shore up weaknesses and also build strength. Remember, gains from single-leg training translate over to bilateral training. By improving your single-leg deadlift, squat and lunges, your bilateral squat and deadlift will be stronger.
Machines Can Be Good Options To Achieving Strong Legs.
Should you ever use machines? Sure. Far too often, we fall into the notion that we should only focus on certain exercises or stay in a certain rep range. Some even think machines should be avoided. But, machines have their place in workout programs. They definitely should not be the focus of your program, but they can be a nice supplement.
First, if you are recovering from an injury and squats or lunges aren’t quite in the cards for you at this point, hopping on the leg extension and leg curl machine is a great way to target the quadriceps and hamstrings, respectively.
Machine work and smaller movements to isolate groups such as the calves are the third piece to building a strong lower half. Isolation moves are a great way to target weaknesses, hit smaller muscle groups and help shore up muscle imbalances. Do not ignore those machines in the gym as they have a place in your workout. Just use them to supplement the rest of your strength training exercises.
Finding The Right Range For You.
Now that you know how to structure your lower body strength-training program, how many reps and sets should you perform? Good question. Why? There are no one-size fits all workouts. There is no magic workout or magic pill that will help you build strength. It requires preparation, a good training program, hard work and discipline in and out of the gym.
While there are a million different rep schemes that you can use to target your lower body, we can make things simpler by dividing it into three different categories: Muscular power, muscular hypertrophy and muscular endurance.
Muscular power refers to maximal output during an exercise. This can also be referred to as really heavy lifting. For those looking to put on some size and with a specific focus on strength, you should do two to four sets of three to six reps.
On the other end of the spectrum is muscular endurance. If you’re a runner, someone looking to get toned or just looking to get a nice workout in without lifting really heavy weights, this is the category for you. With the focus on working until fatigue and building up endurance, lighter weights are used, but the rep ranges from 12 to 25 for two to four sets. The muscular endurance phase also gives cardiovascular benefits as the heart rate rises when performing that many reps in a set.
Want the benefits of both? Lock into the muscular hypertrophy phase. This focuses on enhancing muscle size by staying in the 8 to 12 rep range for two to four sets. It not only gives you strength benefits, but it gives cardio ones as well. And, that’s a winning combo if there ever was one. While there is no magical set and rep range, find what works best for you to fit your end goals.
Training Focus Is Vital To Getting Strong Legs.
Some gym-goers have exercise attention-deficit disorder or ADD. You’ve seen them. These types are at every gym. Every time they go the gym, they do a new workout with no rhyme or reason. Don’t be that person. Every set or rep should have a purpose. Don’t forget: You’re doing these exercises to make you better and to help you reach your goals.
With that said, to build lower body strength, variety is a good thing. Sticking to the same program for more than six weeks will most likely result in plateauing. The body gets used to the reps, sets, weights and movements. It’s time to progress things. To Shock The Muscles, It’s Okay To Implement Some Variety.
Are you hitting a plateau? Throw in some supersets for your squats and deadlifts. Supersets are working two exercises back-to-back with no rest in between. How about working opposite muscle groups with supersets? Try some leg extensions and leg curls. Want to pack on some muscle? Try five sets of five reps for a few weeks to focus on building some power and strength. Variety is good if you use it the right way. You should sprinkle variety into your program so that your body does not plateau.
What About Cardio?
Should I do cardio before or after I lift? Should I do cardio at all? There is no magic answer. It really depends on what your goals are. Generally, if you are training for power, steady-state cardio does not have many benefits. If you do it before exercise, it can wear you out when you need full energy to do your big compound lifts such as squats.
Cardio can be a good thing though. When developing lower body strength, cycling is a great cardio tool. If you were an endurance athlete, then going for a 20-mile ride or 60-minute spin class would be perfect for you.
How about if you want a short cardio workout and still get the benefits? Try interval training. For example, get on the bike, set the resistance to moderate and do 10 sets of 30 seconds of high-intensity cycling followed by 30 seconds of low-intensity, which represents your rest period.
Not only will your performance rise, but also plenty of calories will be burned and your lower half will feel smoked at the end of your 10-minute cardio burst. Cardio can be a good thing, but you need to find what works best for you.
Want to build something strong? Whether you are building a house, building a family or building a strong body, having a proper foundation is key. Without the right foundation in place, there isn’t a sturdy house, great family or strong body.
To build lower body strength, you must stick to the basics. Use compound movements such as squats, deadlifts and lunges. You should also supplement these exercises with single-leg training and isolation moves. Be sure to incorporate variety and some form of cardio. Using this combo will help you construct a strong foundation. Work hard, lift using proper form and start constructing a strong foundation.
– By Adam Clark, CPT