Monday is for bis and tris, Tuesday is for the bench and pec flys, Wednesday is for rest, and before you know it, it’s every trainee’s day to slay — leg day. Unfortunately, not everyone’s enthusiastic about hitting the squat rack. Most would rather skip leg day to tone other muscle groups. However, this is a serious mistake.
Leg day leads to gains in overall size and boulder-moving strength, and it lets you build muscles that look just as good as they feel — the glutes, quads, calves, and hammies. We at Iron Bodies and Minds can’t overstate the value of squats, deadlifts, and unilateral leg work. Read on to find six reasons to not skip out on the squat rack and leg press machine.
Regardless of who you’re trying to impress, an aesthetic physique requires size and definition in the lower body. Think about it; what’s the point of having a V-taper without glutes to balance things out? This is where leg day comes in. Muscular legs complete that coveted athletic look past the development of your back and shoulders.
Leg day training adds girth to the muscles of the calves and the quadriceps. Shapely quads, in particular, fill and create an appealing silhouette for lifters. A nice butt is always an asset, and it’s one that not everybody has. Some get it through genetics, but luckily, leg day is a time to ignore genetics and train for aesthetic greatness.
Guns are for show; buns prove that the trainee is a pro.
2. Maximum Calorie Torching
The body uses fuel at varying rates throughout the day, and this can change depending on a trainee’s preferred exercise. While it’s enjoyable to work on those beach muscles, nothing burns calories more than leg-focused exercises.
Depending on how a trainee does them, squats activate the quadriceps, glutes, and even the spinal erectors. These muscle groups are some of the largest in the body, and because of their size, they use the most glycogen — carbs stored in muscles that are three calories per gram.
Deadlifts fire up the glutes, one of the largest movers of the body. Done at a high enough intensity and with enough volume, this can cause a metabolic spike. In short, trainees that don’t skip leg day don’t just develop athletic physiques; they develop lean ones, too.
3. Maximum Strength
Squats and deadlifts are in every powerlifter’s program for a reason: they lead to the largest gains in strength. They use the largest levers and muscles of the body, delivering maximum force to your barbell, dumbbell, or kettlebell.
These also train the nervous system to work in unison with your muscles to produce maximum force. Over time, trainees learn to use the most muscles to move anything from a loaded barbell to a couch or fridge.
To maximize the effects of leg day for strength, it’s best to load the bar with a heavy load. This goes for both squats and deadlifts. The load should be heavy enough that a trainee can’t lift it for more than six reps. However, it should be manageable enough for the trainee to lift with consistent technique. Careful load selection will help you prevent injuries.
Speaking of injuries, if you want to stay safe while working out, this is another reason not to skip leg day.
4. Bullet-Proof Back and Knees
By training the largest muscles of the body, the surrounded joints receive a layer of protection. The muscles of the quadriceps protect the knees, and the spinal erectors built up by squats and deadlifts give the lower segments of the spine a protective layer of muscle.
Even the shoulders and the upper back become less susceptible to injury once they’re well-toned. To correctly perform leg day exercises, the shoulders and upper back need to be upright. When a trainee performs the exercises this way for a long time, they will reinforce better posture for themself. This posture makes them less vulnerable to shoulder injuries from hunching forward.
Squatting and deadlifting also train and stimulate fast-twitch muscle fibers. Fast-twitch fibers are the first fibers to respond during sudden movements, like breaking a fall or recovering footing after slipping. However, these muscle fibers atrophy with age, and quickly, so it’s crucial to train them. To train fast-twitch muscle fibers, studies have found two approaches to help: lifting fast and lifting heavy. Both are possible during leg day, whichever approach the trainee takes.
5. Better Athletic Performance
Because leg day exercises train the largest muscles of the body and the neural components that support their use, leg day benefits athletes in sports as well. Competitive athletes can benefit from spending some time in the squat rack or the platform. During leg day, athletes can develop the musculature of their quadriceps and hamstrings, which are the prime movers while sprinting and jumping.
Squats and deadlifts also strengthen the lower back, helping athletes prevent lower back injuries. This is crucial if the athlete performs a lot of turns, throws, and sprints on the field. It’s especially a must if the athlete is in strength sports like powerlifting, strongman, or weightlifting.
By not skipping leg day, athletes can get a leg up on the competition.
6. Muscular Size Beyond the Legs
We could’ve put this reason at the top of the list, but we figured we’d save the best for last.
The most sought-after benefit of leg day is the size it can put on a trainee. While it’s undeniable that the lower body grows in its musculature, the upper body shares in the benefits of leg day.
Recent research is showing the effects that some exercises have on anabolic hormone secretion. In other words, some exercises increase the secretion of muscle-building hormones better than others. The effects of these anabolic hormones are systemic, meaning that the entire body experiences the effects.
One study even discovered that loaded squats done at a high intensity led to the greatest secretion of testosterone and growth hormones. According to the study, squatting with a moderate to heavy load increases growth hormone and testosterone levels significantly after 28 weeks.
Squats stress a large portion of the body. Moderate stress during exercise is what leads to increased muscular size, which is further aided by recovery and anabolic hormones.
This means that squats and other leg day exercises will trigger a cascade of anabolic hormonal responses. These anabolic hormonal responses don’t just grow the legs, but the entire body of the trainee.
Leg Day or Leg Days? — How Often to Train Legs and How to Recover
From a time management and recovery standpoint, it’s best to spread out leg training into two or three sessions. An approach that has stood the test of time is having heavy, light, and medium days, à la Tommy Kono.
Lift heavy one day, light but with perfect form on day two, and at 70% to 80% capacity on the last day. This balances training volume and recovery between sessions.
Speaking of recovery, training legs can drain trainees if they don’t recover properly. Here are some easy recovery strategies:
Metabolites in your muscle tissues prolong the recovery period and make the muscles stiffer. Lucky for you, just a few minutes of pressure with a foam roller along your sore muscles will help to clear out a lot of them.
Increase Calories and Hydration
Food and hydration are the pillars of recovery. For leg day recovery, it’s important to increase calories by as much as 300 above your usual daily intake.
Hit the Snooze Button
Whatever the program, getting seven to nine hours of sleep is essential for recovery. Without sufficient sleep, your muscles won’t recover and overtraining comes quicker than expected.
Stretch Before and After
Stretching improves the range of motion in the ankles, knees, and hips — all important for going below parallel on the squats. Stretching also prevents injuries, especially when it’s done both before and after leg day.
The Consequences of Skipping Leg Day
Besides missing out on those leg and glute gains, trainees who skip leg day can experience the following:
Regardless of how a trainee looks up top, the absence of musculature in the spinal erectors and legs can spell injury. Also, it’s not a good look to have; just picture Johnny Bravo.
Low Functional Strength
It’s one thing to be strong on a pec dec or the bench. It’s another to have the strength to lift things off the ground or on the shoulder. By skipping leg day, a trainee misses out on developing practical strength.
Don’t Skip Leg Day
Leg day is arguably the most important day of a trainee’s week. Not only does it add size to the legs and other areas, but it’s also the day of the week when lifters can strengthen their joints and improve their athletic performance the most.
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