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Written by Joe Palumbo
You don’t have much time for the workout, so you cut the leg training. Why not? It is more important to have those biceps bulging out of a short-sleeved shirt because that is what people see most. Well, “chicken legs” is the term for those with a trained upper body and neglected legs. It is as if they don’t have a full-length mirror.
Not training your legs is one of the most detrimental fitness mistakes a person can make. Beside the unappealing look, not training the legs leaves you prone to injuries due to weakness and the unbalance of your body structure.
The massive gluteal muscles of the buttocks are the largest combined muscle group in the body. They help maintain posture to stand up and stabilize our hips for walking and running. The longest muscle in the body is in the thigh, known as the sartorius muscle. The sartorius muscle and the four bundles of muscles on each side of it, called the quadriceps, move the legs and help maintain balance.
Exercising the thighs induces endocrine changes, which point to anabolic effects on muscle and bone. Because the legs have a massive amount of muscle tissue, when exercised, they release anabolic hormones such as testosterone and growth hormones more effectively than a smaller muscle group. Therefore, training your legs benefits the entire body. You can actually kick start your metabolism and burn more calories by incorporating a leg routine.
The legs perform the greatest physical tasks of which humans are capable. This is true whether we refer to speed, endurance, stamina or strength. Whatever the physical task, even though the arms may seem to do the work, it often in reality is the power of the legs. It is not the size of the biceps that will help you when needed, but more likely the strength in your legs! Remember the police academy textbook maneuver when taking down a subject for control? Sweep the legs. In other words, take the power and control away from a subject by getting him off his legs.
Training the legs requires a complete development of all the leg muscles. The proper way to do the job is to practice a number of movements designed to bring out the combined strength and muscularity of the legs as a whole. Start with the top of the leg and work down. It is essential for the beginner to become familiar with the movements and proper form before moving on to heavy weights. Start out slow with light weights and higher reps. Familiarize yourself with the correct movement, position and balance.
The exercise should include 1) squats (the king of leg development), 2) hack squats (for shaping the inner and outer thigh), 3) leg extensions (for density and fullness to the front of the thigh), 4) leg curls (to beef up the thigh biceps) and finally 5) calf raises.
Begin with two to three sets per exercise and eight to 10 reps per set. At the advanced level, do three to four sets with six to 10 reps. The advanced level is for power and increased leg size. For the advance level, you want to push your muscles to almost failure and then rest with enough time enabling you to repeat the same exercise while increasing resistance. When training with this kind of “pushing to the limits,” for assistance and safety, you must have a spotter.
Being a compound exercise, the leg press is unquestionably more effective than isolation exercises such as the leg extension or the leg curl. It is in turn less effective than the squat, which works the muscles of the lower back, as well. But due to the safety concerns associated with the squat and because people often have prior physical injuries (I myself have had knee surgery), the leg press is often used as the primary lower body exercise instead of the squat. By simply placing your legs high on the plate, you can affect the same muscles as the squat exercises.
When training the legs for a lean muscular look, you want to keep the weights light with higher reps, 12 to 15 per set, and take a short rest in between. Leg training can also be performed as circuit training, providing your body with an aerobic workout, as well as enhancing speed, stamina, endurance and flexibility. Keep in mind, you can add or replace an exercise with single leg squats, single leg press, lunges or Plyometrics—known to increase speed and strength.
There are important differences in training for power and size. The weights are heavy and the sets and reps are lower. Most important, the rest between sets is higher to give your muscles enough time to recover so you can lift heavy again. To facilitate muscular growth, you want to push your muscles to almost failure, creating the repair of the muscle tissues, hence larger muscles. You want them to work hard and then let them rest and grow.
Joe Palumbo is a police officer with the Nassau County, NY Police Department, Bureau of Special Operations, SWAT Unit. He is also a professional bodybuilder and trainer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can visit www.scitecnutrition.com and click on “Athletes Corner.”
Published in Tactical Response, Sep/Oct 2006
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