Fitness Advice for the "Average Joe"

By Paul Kim (Silicon Valley Entrepreneur & Certified Personal Trainer)

Say NO to Chicken Legs: Why it’s Vital to Work Your Legs (40-minute full leg workout included)

6 Comments

(Pic: Demonstration of Dumbbell Stiff Leg Deadlifts)

Legs… they’re the largest muscle group in your body and are vital for so many of your daily activities, from walking, running, jumping, playing with your kids, playing sports, etc. And yet they are the most neglected body part when it comes to working out. I know you’ve heard people ask, “how much do you bench?” But have you ever heard anyone ask, “how much do you squat?” Probably not, unless you’re talking specifically about squats. This shows how non prioritized leg workouts are in our society. It’s kind of funny to see the wide gamut of excuses that people employ for why they don’t work their legs. I’ve heard so many, ranging from “My legs are big already” to “I run for my legs” to “I don’t do legs because I won’t be quick and flexible.” Well let me pull out my B.S. translator… hmmm let’s see… it says these excuses are often used by people who are usually lazy or unmotivated to work legs because it takes so much effort… it also says that sometimes these excuses are used legitimately by people who really don’t know any better.

It’s important to realize that you can work your legs to accomplish many different goals, just like you can for your other muscles. If you want, you can train to get your legs big, muscular, and strong (e.g. power lifters, strength athletes). On the other hand, instead of focusing on getting super thick legs, you can work them to be functionally strong, quick, and flexible, like what sprinters and professional athletes who play football, soccer, basketball, etc. do. Actually, I’m one of those people whose goal for legs is not to necessarily become “Quadzilla” but to build functional strength, agility, and quickness for sports – naturally, these workouts come with size gains, which is great, but again, this is a somewhat secondary for me to athletic performance. And I accomplish this goal by combining hard leg workouts in the gym with actual game play (e.g. soccer, basketball) and plyometrics. The only challenge that I carefully manage is to plan my workouts and sporting activities so that I have plenty of time to recover from each activity and give my full attention to the next. For example, as I’ve gotten older, I definitely need at least 48 hours to recover from a soccer or basketball game, and I need even more days to recover from a hard leg workout. So what I do is play indoor soccer on Tuesday nights with my team, work my legs with weights on Thursdays, then play basketball on Sunday evenings. This allows me to recover from each activity to concentrate fully on the next. Now, you may ask the question whether intense, heavy leg workouts have hampered my speed and agility? Not at all, in fact, they have helped me become faster and more powerful. Frankly, I love the look on a defender’s face after I burn the crap out of him all night to score a hat-trick or drive around him all day for easy layups… they simply don’t expect a “beefy” guy to be faster and quicker than them. But hey, look at NFL running backs… they are some of the fastest, most powerful, and most agile people around, and those guys do serious squats, deadlifts, and legs in general, so obviously, these workouts help performance. The point I want to make is that having different goals for your leg development is totally acceptable – what’s not acceptable is not training them because you’re lazy, it takes too much effort, or you have some erroneous notion of intense leg workouts.

Below, I’ve summarized the primary reasons why, in my opinion, legs are the most critical body parts to work out in your entire body:

  1. Releases more natural, anabolic hormones in your body than other exercises. Research shows that working legs releases more growth hormone and testosterone naturally in the body versus other exercises. As such, working your legs benefit your other body parts because of the increase in these natural bodily hormones. Ladies, there’s no need to worry, as increased natural testosterone will help your workouts but won’t make you more masculine, I promise 🙂
  2. Burns the most calories and fat. Your legs are the largest muscle group in your body. As such, working your legs burns the highest amount of calories and fat. This is fantastic, especially if you are looking to get more toned or trying to lose weight/fat.
  3. Fundamental for all sports, athletics, and day-to-day activities. Can you think of many physical, day-to-day activities or sports that don’t involve your legs? Whether you’re carrying luggage, cleaning out your garage, running, jumping, or playing sports, your legs are essential for success. As such, you will see your athleticism improve as you continue to develop your legs.
  4. Achieve large strength and muscle gains EVERYWHERE on your body. The cool thing about working out your legs is that these exercises benefit many other parts of your body. For example, doing squats and deadlifts will not only strengthen your legs and butt, but they also strengthen your lower back, core, and upper body muscles (yes, it’s true!). If you have never done weighted leg exercises before, I promise you that you will see huge increases, not only in legs, but also in other areas when you start working your legs. It’s actually quite amazing.
  5. Symmetry (e.g. NO CHICKEN LEGS!). Finally, you don’t want to be the person that people laugh about at the gym… you know, the one people say should be walking on their hands as opposed to their legs? You want to make sure you have a good balance in your body, even for the sake of aesthetics alone!
  6. It gives you a sexy looking butt! Seriously, it does! Many of you will now work your legs, just because of this, right? Oh well, whatever gets you to do it!

My 40-minute Leg Workout

I’ll finish off this segment by sharing a 40-minute leg workout that I use quite frequently. Again, I change my workout around quite a bit, but when I’m pressed on time, this one works like magic. It’s optimized to build general strength and power in your legs. Now, here’s a few things to remember when you’re working your legs:

  • Stretch and warm up your body well, especially your legs, knee joints & ligaments, and lower back. Leg workouts put tremendous strain on these body parts.
  • Use strict form and be particularly careful with your knees and lower back. These are very critical areas of your body, and injury to them can cause serious disruption to your life, work, and athletics. As such, it’s especially important to use strict form and focus on safety.
  • When you do Squats, do not go lower than “90 degrees” unless you are using much lighter weights. There is a bit of tradeoff between incremental growth by breaking 90 degrees (where your butt is almost touching the ground) versus the risk of serious knee injury – in my opinion, the very slight gain from going down all the way until your butt nearly touches the ground is not worth the dramatic increase in potential injury. I know many people who’ve sustained serious injuries from going down too deep in their squats, and they are never the same afterwards. As such, I espouse going down deep, but only until your thighs are parallel or close to parallel to the ground – I don’t recommend you go down any lower than that, unless you are on a very specific program and you are using much lighter weights.

1. Squats: 5 total sets. Go down until your thighs are parallel or close to parallel to the ground. Don’t go lower than that because the risk of injury outweighs any potential benefit. Also, keep a natural arch in your back and look up 45 degrees in the air while doing your sets, as this helps you keep the natural arch in your back. NEVER round your back, as this is a one-way ticket to injury.

  • Warm-up Set 1 (very light weights): 15 reps @ ~30% of 1RM(1-rep max). I use 135 lbs.
    • Rest: 90 seconds afterwards.
  • Warm-up Set 2 (light weights): 10 reps @ ~50% of 1RM. I use 225~275 pounds.
    • Rest: 90 seconds afterwards.
  • Heavy Set 3: 5 reps @ ~85-90% of 1RM. Go to failure. I use 385~405 lbs.
    • Rest: 2 ½ minutes afterwards.
  • Heavy Set 4: 5 reps @ 85-90% of 1RM. Go to failure. I use 385~405 lbs.
    • Rest: 2 ½ minutes afterwards.
  • Burnout Set 5: 10~15+ reps @ ~65% 1RM. Go to failure within this range. I use 275~315 lbs.
    • Rest: 2 ½ minutes afterwards. Go to your next workout station.

2. Leg Extensions: 3 total sets. Squeeze your quad muscles up at top and pause momentarily. Focus on getting a great contraction and pump.

  • Intermediate Warm-up Set 1: 15 reps. Don’t go to failure but focus on feeling the pump and the contraction.
    • Rest: 90 seconds afterwards.
  • Heavy Set 2: 6~10 reps. Go heavier. You should fail on your 8th ~ 10threp.
    • Rest: 90 seconds afterwards.
  • Burnout Set 3: 10~15 reps to failure. Drop the weights to somewhere between your warm-up set and your heavy set. Target going to failure around the 10th ~ 15th rep.
    • Rest: 2 minutes afterwards. Go to your next workout station.

3. Stiff Leg Deadlifts: 4 total sets. Be careful of your lower back on this exercise. Keep a slight arch in your back at all times. Do NOT round your back. Be sure to keep the bar in contact with your legs while doing this exercise (e.g. slide the bar down your thighs and shins), which helps keep tension on your hamstrings and glutes, which is the objective of this exercise.

  • Warm-up Set 1 (very light weights): 15 reps @ ~30% of 1RM(1-rep max). I use 135 lbs.
    • Rest: 90 seconds afterwards.
  • Warm-up Set 2 (light weights): 10 reps @ ~50% of 1RM. I use 225 pounds.
    • Rest: 90 seconds afterwards.
  • Heavy Set 3: 5 reps @ ~85-90% of 1RM. Go to failure. I use 315~335 lbs.
    • Rest: 2 ½ minutes afterwards.
  • Burnout Set 4: 10~15+ reps @ ~65% 1RM. Go to failure within this range. I use ~235 lbs.
    • Rest: 2 ½ minutes afterwards. Go to your next workout station.

4. Leg Curls: 3 total sets. Squeeze your hamstrings at the top and pause momentarily. Focus on getting a great contraction and pump.

  • Intermediate Warm-up Set 1: 15 reps. Don’t go to failure but focus on feeling the pump and the contraction.
    • Rest: 90 seconds afterwards.
  • Heavy Set 2: 6~10 reps. Go heavier. You should fail on your 6th ~ 10threp.
    • Rest: 90 seconds afterwards.
  • Burnout Set 3: 10~15 reps to failure. Drop the weights to somewhere between your warm-up set and your heavy set. Target going to failure around the 10th ~ 15th rep.
    • Rest: 2 minutes afterwards. Go to your next workout station.

5. Calf Raises3 total sets to failure. Go all the way down to stretch your calves, then go up and hold at the top of the movement. Don’t just go through the motion, exhaust your muscles.

  • Set 1:Perform 10 reps to failure. Select weights where you fail around ~10 reps.
    • Rest: 60 seconds afterwards.
  • Set 2: Perform 10 reps to failure. Select weights where you fail around ~10 reps.
    • Rest: 60 seconds afterwards.
  • Burnout Set 3: Perform 15~20 reps to failure. Select weights where you fail around 15~20 reps.

Let me know what you think about this workout. And remember… don’t neglect your legs because they’re the most important muscles in your body to work out!

Advertisements

Author: Paul Kim

I'm a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and Certified Personal Trainer who is passionate about fitness! Come join my blog, as I deal with topics that are most pertinent to fitness for working professionals and homemakers. Follow me on Twitter @paulkimpk

6 thoughts on “Say NO to Chicken Legs: Why it’s Vital to Work Your Legs (40-minute full leg workout included)

  1. What’s your opinion on deadlifts vs lunges for glutes?

  2. Hi Sue Zann,
    They are both really good for your glutes. Stiff Leg Deadlifts work the Posterior Chain (e.g. erectors, glutes, hamstrings, and even calves), while the lunges work some similar body parts, with a focus on your quads and glutes (hamstrings and calves are used as stabilizers) depending on how far you lunge. As such, instead of thinking of one versus the other, why not incorporate both into a routine, whether it’s in the same day or not? For example, you can try a few weeks of squats and stiff leg deadlifts, then maybe you can try a few weeks of lunges and stiff leg deadlifts… of you can substitute squats and lunges in alternating workouts. Another method is to do both squats AND lunges, but obviously you should cut down the sets of both so that you can handle the exercise load. By the way, squats are really good for your glutes too… I mean, people who do a lot of leg workouts have great butts in general 🙂 Hope that helps!~

  3. that is pretty awesome workout. I really have to work out m legs from now on. Thanks hyoung.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s