At UPPPER, we know a thing or two about how to maximize your lower body gains. In fact, we specialize in fitness gear that is designed to help take your leg day to the next level – Resistance Bands and Barbell Pads to name a few. Aside from fitness gear, we want to help give you tips on ways to maximize your leg day to ensure that you're on the right path to those dreamy strong legs you want 😉
So, what's the key to growing stronger legs?
Aside from never skipping leg day and lifting heavy, we have 8 tips you should consider implementing in your lower body workouts to start seeing better muscle growth!
Don't forget to squat
Squats are and will always be your key lift for getting your legs in shape. When you lift heavy with proper form, you’ll burn fat and build muscle in all the right places! If your training sessions already include squats, then you're on the right track! If they're not, and you're leg pressing your life away then it's time to start squatting! The leg press is a great piece of exercise machine that you should include in your workout routine, just make sure you don't cut out squats completely because it can't replace all the benefits of barbell back squat or any other type of weighted squats.
Another piece of advice... When you're training legs do squats first (if you plan to squat that day)! After your warm-up, always do the most challenging exercise first, this goes for any muscle group. You want to pick the most challenging exercise first because that's when your energy levels are high and you can give the exercise your maximum effort. You don't necessarily need to do squats first, there are other challenging leg exercises like deadlifts, but squats are usually known as the best exercise for gaining strength in the entire lower body, especially the glutes. It's a compound exercise that hits various muscles and joints, squats specifically, hit pretty much your entire lower body in one exercise - Glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and even your calves! Plus it strengthens the smaller stabilizer muscles and ligaments that support the main muscles in your legs.
Just don't expect to get massive results by lifting the same weight! Make sure to practice progressive overload so you can work your way up to heavier weights. Aim to lift heavier weights with a 5-7 rep range for best results.
Have a variety of strength exercises
Squats are just one of many great leg exercises to do, and although you should consistently work at improving your barbell back squat and going heavy, you shouldn't neglect other strength exercises...
Your legs are made up of dozens of muscle groups of varying sizes, you can’t possibly hit them all with just 3-4 heavy strength exercises! This is why you should do a combination of heavy compound lifts, like squats, deadlifts, lunges, hip thrusts, and lighter isolation exercises, like leg curls, leg extensions, calf raises, hamstring curls.
Aside from the main compound and isolation exercises, there are other more challenging variations of those main compound exercises that help target the muscles in your lower body differently thus helping maximize your results. A few great exercises you should have in rotation for your leg days are:
- Front squats
- Goblet squats
- Kneeling squats
- Split squats
- Bulgarian split squats
- Curtsy lunges
- Staggered stance deadlifts
- Single-leg deadlifts
- Single-leg glute bridges
There are so many more to choose from, but you get the point – variety will enhance your gains! You can take things further and use different free weights to change things up. Like using a barbell for your main compound lifts, and dumbbells or kettlebells for your other exercises.
So, remember to continually do key heavy lifts (squats, deadlifts, lunges, hip thrusts), isolation exercises, and mix in challenging variations as you make progress. And if you're not sure how often you should change up your workout, we have the breakdown on when to change things up your workout routine to maximize results.
Warm-up and activate your glutes
We did say do squats first on your leg day, but we also mentioned doing it after your warm-up 😉
Warming up and activating your muscles before lower and upper body workouts is the key to muscle growth. Neglecting to warm up can cause unwanted injuries that will definitely put a damper on your gains! And neglecting glute activation before leg day is not going to get you any closer to building the nice round, strong glutes you've always wanted...
Not only that, but the glutes are a huge muscle group that helps us move forward, jump higher, and even pick up things! So neglecting to activate them before your workouts will lead to weak glutes which means you'll be less prepared to handle strenuous leg exercises and end up recruiting other muscles to help. Now that you understand why you should do this, here's how to implement glute activation into your routine...
Before you start your leg workout, pick 2-3 glute activation exercises, and perform at least 2 sets and 10-15 reps, use a resistance band to really fire up the glutes! Perform the exercises slowly and in control making sure to focus on the glutes doing the work.
Play around with foot placement
The great thing about leg exercises is that most of them can be easily tweaked to hit specific muscles. You can use a number of foot positions and widths, for example doing sumo squats, opposed to narrow squats, with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart and toes slightly pointing outwards will hit your inner thighs and glutes more. Narrow squats are more quad-focused. The same principle applies when using exercise machines like the leg press. You can place your feet high, low, wide, or right in the middle. Doing this will help you place a greater emphasis on one muscle group more than the other. For example on the leg press, placing your feet lower will increase the engagement of the muscles around the knee joint, thus working your quads more. A higher placement places an emphasis on the glutes and hamstrings. So don't be afraid to switch up your foot positions, it's a great way to target specific leg muscles that you want to grow!
If you want to gain leg strength efficiently then you have to practice going through the full range of motion for every strength training exercise. The problem with partial reps (going through the movement halfway) is that they don't target all the muscle fibers in the targeted muscle group. So you're not working the muscle completely thus minimizing your results.
Let's take squats for example... Going deep in your squats will help you build stronger legs because you’re engaging every muscle in your legs, including your core and traps (upper back muscles). Thus helping you build whole-body strength! This applies to any multi-joint movements that require a deep knee bend – Think lunges and deadlifts.
Going through the full range of motion is difficult and requires time, practice, and good exercise form. So, don't rush through it. If you're just starting out strength training or trying a new exercise, start with a lighter weight, or even just bodyweight, and practice the movement slowly and moving through the entire range of motion. Once you're able to do it for 10-15 reps with good form then you can increase the weight or change up the equipment to continue making progress!
Choose your cardio wisely
When it comes to building muscle, weightlifting is the best route to take... But that doesn't mean you should neglect cardio exercises completely. But not all cardio is created equal, there are certain types of cardio workouts that are better for those trying to gain leg strength and a booty 🍑
So, what type of cardio should you do?
Most say to avoid running or jogging, and we agree. Running is a great form of cardiovascular exercise, but if you're trying to seriously build full-body strength and build muscle in your lower body then other forms of cardio might be better. Moderate to high-intensity cardio seems to be the sweet spot! This could be done by walking on an incline on a treadmill, hitting the StairMaster at the gym, or doing a HIIT workout at home.
If you're really short on time, and don't have 15-30 minutes after your lifting sessions then consider adding plyometric moves at the end of your routine as a way to burn out! These types of exercises require a lot of power and jumping, but they are an excellent way to work your leg muscles differently and get your heart rate pumping! Exercises you can try are...
- Squat jumps
- Jumping lunges
- Box jumps
- Weighted lateral jumps
- Long jumps
- Single-leg deadlift into a jump
Implementing these moves after lifting weights or on your cardio day can help slim down your legs while maintaining the muscle you've built. Just keep in mind that these exercises are more taxing on your joints, so work your way up to them, get your form down first, and then progress into jumping movements.
Leg day is NOT every day
Although leg day is painful, you might be training it too often expecting to see results faster. Here's why you don't want to do that... On a typical leg day, you are exercising more than half your body’s skeletal muscle weight! Yeah, that’s a lot. You can’t exactly fix that overnight… So make sure you give yourself at least 24-48 hours to recover from your leg day with plenty of water and nutritious foods! Remember, rest is when the real muscle building happens, so instead of training your legs every day, give the muscles time to rest by getting good sleep at night, having at least one full rest day a week, and by implementing training splits.
Training splits divide training by body regions - Lower body and upper body. But you can take it a step further and get more specific of the muscle group you want to train. For example, having an upper-body split and a lower body split. Since we're focusing on legs, let's take a look at lower body splits... If you want to train your legs more, but want to make sure you're getting enough rest then you can split your lower body workouts in a way that allows you to train your legs 3x a week. You can do more quad-focused workouts along with a few other leg exercises on Monday and then do hamstring-focused on Wednesday, and then do a full lower body day Saturday. That's just one way to split your lower body workouts, find what works for you and your lifestyle! That way you can start training specific muscle groups extensively while still allowing them to rest in between each session. Whatever training split you decide to do, remember to have an adequate amount of rest before hitting a specific muscle again!
Use fitness gear for your heavy lifts
Lifting heavy is of the utmost importance when it comes to building muscle in your lower body. There are other great techniques that help stimulate muscle growth, but nothing beats heavy weightlifting to achieve better muscle growth and strength. With that being said, to consistently make progress on important compound lifts while minimizing your risk of injury, consider using lifting gear like weightlifting belts, lifting straps, and even barbell pads. These three pieces of lifting gear can make all the difference!
As an example... Romanian deadlifts are known for being a killer leg exercise that hits your entire posterior chain, and it maximizes the effectiveness it's better to go heavy with a barbell. But this exercise is quite heavy on the back, and one small mistake can lead to lower back pain or worse... an injury! Using a lifting belt and lifting straps can help you pull heavier weight while reducing the stress on your lower back, and on your grip and forearm so you can fully concentrate on pulling the heavy weight. Even barbell pads can help maximize your heavy squats and hip thrusts (which are probably the two most important exercises for leg and glute growth)! Using a barbell pad on heavy squats and hip thrusts will protect your neck, upper back, and hips from the heavy barbell, to ensure that you're comfortable and focusing fully on your form and technique.
So, if you can, or when you're ready to lift heavier, invest in fitness gear that will help enhance your workouts. And in case you need a reminder, we have an amazing collection of cute, but effective lifting gear that is designed to take your workouts to the next level. So, if you want to hit strides on your fitness journey and achieve your lower body goals then check out our collection of Lifting Gear!
In summary, training your lower body the right way will help you build strong legs, glutes, and overall strength! Don't get discouraged if the results don't come right away, building muscle takes time, but implementing these strategies will ensure that you're on the right path. Also, keep in mind that lower body workouts are tough and require a lot of energy, so don't forget to prepare mentally and physically. To prep for your leg day workout get enough rest, eat plenty of carbs, and hydrate!