Working out the lower body seems to be a low-priority item for many lifters. While it is common in online forums to make fun of people who do not train legs, the reality is that a large majority of lifters still neglect to give their lower body as much work as they are giving their upper body.
One of the most common reasons people skip working out legs is because it’s hard, it involves the use of very heavy weights and quite a bit of volume as well. Also, it is not as prominent on the beach as a well-developed upper body. However, performance-wise in many sports, the legs are very, very important. For gaining all-around muscle, working legs is also very important. Of any 10lbs of muscle that a lifter will gain, 5 would be on the lower body.
A complete lower body routine would cover the basic heavy movements for legs – the squat, dead lift and its variations, the leg press, plus lunges. Ideally you would be working the lower body each time you work out, varying either the exercise used or the specific muscle targeted. You can do a squat/dead lift split to manage the volume better and allow proper recovery between sessions. Here is an article outlining
the facts about
The three large muscle groups in the lower body are the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves. You don’t need to work all three muscles with different exercises in one session since you’ll be hitting them at different intensities when you have a proper routine in place.
Quadriceps The quadriceps are best worked using the squat. Using a high-bar squat allows you to do more work directly with the quads but with less weight, while using a low-bar squat allows you to use more weight since itinvolves more of the lower back in the movement. For the purposes of general hypertrophy, low-bar squats are
better since you can use heavier weights.
A great addition to squats are leg presses. However, if you will be doing them in the same session, make sure you squat first. Using a technique called pre-exhaustion, you can get better gains from leg presses even at a lower weight, but with more repetitions. If you are training as a powerlifter, focus on getting your squat numbers up and keep your leg press sets to two.
Lunges are also very good quadricep builders, and give the additional benefit of training your legs individually for better balance. Use dumbbells to increase the weight with lunges.
Hamstrings The hamstrings are best worked using the dead lift with heavy weights. However, some people who cannot do heavy dead lifts can opt to use variations that work with less weight but more volume.
The romanian dead lift is the next best exercise for building the hamstrings. They target these muscles directly, and with good form, can be done with more volume than regular dead lifts.
Another good exercise that works the lower back and the hamstrings is the glute-ham raise. If you have access to the necessary equipment, this exercise gives great conditioning benefits to the core as well as a good cool-down to heavy hamstring work.
Photo credit: David Castillo Dominici, freedigitalphotos.net