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Leg training – building leg muscles effectively and safely

Leg training – building leg muscles effectively and safely

Alot of us are guilty of putting all of our focus on the upper body and neglecting the legs. A ripped six pack and perfect pecs are great but you should always include leg exercises in your workout at home. Your legs are your base and the stronger they are, the better your entire body performs. Whether you’re a newbie or a gym rat, here are some leg exercises for all levels to get your legs in great shape.  

Quads, biceps, triceps. What are your main leg muscles?   

The most powerful leg muscle is the quadriceps femoris on the front of your thigh. Its four individual muscles allow the knee to be stretched. The inner muscle component is particularly important because it contributes significantly to the stabilisation of the joints. On the back lies the hamstring muscles, which consist of the two-headed thigh muscle (biceps femoris), the half-tendon muscle (semitendinosus) and the flat tendon muscle (semimembranosus). All three act as hip extensors and knee flexors. The lower leg muscles consist of the three-headed calf muscle (triceps surae), the twin calf muscle (gastrocnemius) and the clod muscles, called soleus. The gastrocnemius in particular acts as a powerful flexor in the ankle and has a stabilizing effect on the knee joint.

 

 

 

What you need to know about leg workouts

There are a few key principles to keep in mind when smashing out leg sets. The main part of your workout should consist of multi-joint and compact exercises. As a beginner, six exercises are usually enough. Two of them should work the leg muscles. Two to three training sessions on non-consecutive days are ideal. In studies, the rule of three has proven to be particularly effective. In other words, do three sets of 12 to 15 repetitions per exercise with a break of about 60 seconds in-between. 

You know you’ve got balance right when the last repetition is strenuous, but you still do it correctly technically. After 6 to 8 weeks of regular training you can increase the load and workout until your muscles are exhausted. But even then, ensure you’re executing the exercise correctly. A technically correct movement is vital. Aim to alternate between exhaustive and slightly less exhaustive workouts. 

Professionals can train with up to 90 percent of their maximum strength. Then 3 sets of 4 to 8 repetitions are ideal.

What’s the best equipment to use?   You have two options for leg training at home ­­– free weights or multi-gym stations.   With free weights, you can use both dumbbells and kettlebells. The advantage of free weights is that the movements correspond to everyday movement sequences. They’re also more effective because more muscles are used. However, the disadvantage is they are also a

little more difficult to perform. Even small changes in the sequence of movements can activate completely different muscles. We recommend training in front of the mirror or with a training partner to monitor your execution.

Multi-gyms are ideal for beginners because they are easier to use in terms of movement. You choose the weight you want and start pumping. Professionals do train on multi-gyms from time to time, as they can be used to precisely dose the weight.

Time to rack up for some leg reps

One of the most effective exercises to build up leg muscles is the squat. You can do them in different ways with different equipment. We will introduce many of them to you below. Calf raises, lunges and stair climbing are also effective ways to work your legs.

Leg workouts for beginners

Squats with dumbbells

Targets the quadriceps femoris and the glutes

Grab a dumbbell in each hand and hold it next to your body with your arms outstretched. Then lower your buttocks with your back straight with a 90-degree angle in your knees. Hold briefly and push back up without stretching your knees completely.

Squats with a barbell

Targets the quadriceps femoris and the glutes

You put the barbell behind your head on your shoulders and stand hip-width apart. The feet point slightly outwards. This allows the knees to safely align with your knees. Then tighten your abdominal and glutes and squat with your back straight to a 90-degree angle. Hold briefly and then stretch again without pushing your knees all the way through.

Squats with a kettlebell

Targets the quadriceps femoris and the gluteal muscles as well as the back extensor

Grab the spherical part of the kettlebell from below with both hands and hold the weight in front of your chest. Stand a little more than hip-width apart with your feet point slightly outwards. Then crouch down with your back straight. The knees point towards the toes. Then press up again without going into full extension.

One-legged squat

Targets the quadriceps femoris, glutes and hamstrings

The one-legged squat is a highly effective exercise you can do this with dumbbells, a barbell or kettlebell. Hold the dumbbells on the right and left side of your body. Place the barbell behind your head on your shoulder. Grab the kettlebell from below with both hands and hold it in front of your chest. The basic exercise then looks like this:

Go into the lunge step with your chest raised. Look forward with your weight on the front leg. Then slowly bend your knees and hips, making sure the front knee doesn’t extend beyond the tip of your foot. Lower your back knee almost to the floor, then slowly stretch out again.

Calf raises

Targets the two-headed calf muscle and the clod muscle

Calf raises are another exercise you can do with dumbbells a barbell or kettlebell. Hold the dumbbells or kettlebells in your right and left hands and place the barbell behind your head on your shoulder. Stand with the balls of your feet on a stable platform or step board while standing very straight. Then you lift both heels as high as possible, hold them briefly and then lowering them again.

Leg curls on the multi-gym

Targets the hamstring flexors

Depending on the kind of multi-gym, you can do the leg curls while sitting or lying face down. Make sure your curls are controlled and steady, not jerky movements.

Leg extension on the multi-gym

Targets the quadriceps femoris

Leg extensions are a sitting exercise that really target the quadriceps. This exercise is self-explanatory with the multi-gym dictating the movement.

Ripping leg muscles for advanced trainers

The following exercises go to the next level. They either strain more muscle groups or require you to keep your balance at the same time as lifting some serious weights. 

Front squat with barbell

Targets the quadriceps femoris, glutes and hamstrings

When doing front squats, the barbell rests on the front of your shoulders. Stand straight with your legs a little more than hip width apart and your feet pointing slightly outwards. Then raise the barbell to your chest and squat with your back straight until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Hold briefly and press up again.

Bulgarian squat with dumbbells or barbells

Targets the quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, biceps, and clod muscles

For Bulgarian squats, stand with your back to a low bench or step. If you’re using dumbbells, take one in each hand and hold them by your side. If using a barbell, place it on your shoulders behind your head. Then bring one leg back and put the tip of your foot on the bench or step. From this position, slowly bring your back knee down until your front thigh is parallel to the floor. Hold briefly and press up again. Change legs after each set.

Lunge to the side with a dumbbell or kettlebell

Targets the quadriceps femoris, the hamstrings and the two-headed calf muscles

Stand straight holding the dumbbells or kettlebells at chest height. Then take a big step to the side with one leg, keeping your upper body straight. The knee of the straight leg must not extend beyond your toes. The thigh of the bent leg should be parallel to the floor. Then return to the starting position and change sides.

Climbing stairs with dumbbells, kettlebells or a barbell

Targets the quadriceps femoris, the hamstrings, the glutes, the two-headed calf muscles and the clod muscles For this exercise, you need a weight bench, a fixed stool or another stable raised platform. Stand in front of the bench and place your left foot on the bench. Ideally the upper and lower legs should form a right angle. Tensing your thigh and gluteus muscles, lift

yourself up and place your right foot on the bench. Then come down from the bench with the weight on your right leg. Change sides and repeat.

Seated calf raises with a barbell

Above all, it targets the clod muscle

Sit on a weight bench or a stool and place a heavy barbell on the front of your thigh. Then lift the wights up by bringing your heels up.

Leg workouts for pros

If you’re a seasoned gym junkie you may be looking for a challenge so here are three exercises for professionals:

Hackenschmidt squat with barbell

Mainly targets the quadriceps femoris, but also the glutes and hamstrings

Hold the barbell in an overhand grip and bring it up behind your body in an upright position. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart and turned slightly outwards. 

Go into the squat by slowly lowering the barbell behind your body and bending your knees so your thighs are parallel to the floor. Your back should be straight and your buttocks stretched out backwards. Then straighten up again.

Lunge with a barbell over your head

Targets the quadriceps femoris, glutes, hamstrings, deltoids and back extensors

This drill is very demanding because you have to keep your balance while lunging low at the same time. Start by standing upright with your feet hip-width apart. Bring the barbell upwards in a wide overhand grip, bending your elbows slightly. Then, with the core muscles tensed, take one leg forward with a large step until the back knee almost touches the floor. Hold briefly, then shift your weight onto your back leg and return to the starting position.

Deadlift with barbell

Targets the glutes, the hood muscles, the back extensor muscles, the straight abdominal muscles, the hamstrings and the quadriceps femoris

This highly effective deadlift is also part of powerlifting training. Start with the barbell in front of you under your feet. Hold the barbell bar more than shoulder width then lift by bracing your legs and straightening your knees and hips. Your back should be very straight. Go up to a standing position, then steadily lower the weight to the ground.

Tip: You can also do this exercise with dumbbells.

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