The Importance of Leg Day
Let’s discuss the importance of leg day. I can argue that leg day is the most important and beneficial part of any strengthening program. The legs house some of the largest muscles in the body and training those muscles can effectively yield big returns such as increased athletic performance, increased balance and stability, reduced risk of injury, and increased metabolism. Based on the needs of the athlete or client, leg day should be implemented without question. I can relate to how exhausting leg day can be and the want to say “Ahh, maybe another day”, but the truth is leg day must be done. In my professional opinion, leg days should be done at least twice a week. The reason is that legs are essential to any kind of fitness goal. Whether you’re a distance runner and looking to increase your leg endurance, or a powerlifter who’s looking to go heavier on compound movements like squats and deadlifts, leg day offers many alternative benefits. Back squats and deadlifts are not novice moves. Training legs twice a week while incorporating these exercises can familiarize you with the lift. In return, this allows for you to safely and efficiently increase the weight or go for one rep maxes when the time comes.
When looking to improve the performance of an athlete, strengthening legs can prove to be very effective. Think about it, every sport imaginable puts a heavy emphasis on legs. Whether it’s running up and down a football field, jumping for a rebound on the court, or kicking a soccer ball down a field, leg strength is crucial. It’s needed to run faster, longer, and to jump higher.
Leg day even has benefits for clients from all ends of the spectrum, making everyday tasks a breeze. Strong legs can assist with tasks such as lifting heavy boxes at work or even bringing in the groceries. Mastering exercises such as squats and lunges can greatly increase muscle mass while simultaneously increasing joint range of motion (ROM). Weightlifters and cross-fit athletes greatly rely on joint ROM in order to maximize power output on various lifts, specifically squat cleans. Good ROM can also improve the client’s life outside the gym when it comes to things we may often take for granted like grabbing objects from low areas and even playing with little ones.
Increasing Balance and Stability
Increased balance and stability is something that everyday people of all ages can benefit from. Big complex lifts such as back squats and deadlifts force the individual to engage the core muscles thus strengthening the abdominals and back. Core muscles are often associated with just the abdomen, but core muscles include every muscle group that supports the hips and trunk while the body’s extremities perform daily movements and tasks. The stronger the core the better stability and balance you have simply because these muscles brace the spine for excessive weight loads while working to transfer force from the lower body to the upper body or vice versa. Furthermore, the more muscle mass around weak joints the better stability within the joints. You should aim to strengthen not only the upper body but the lower body also. And not just because it makes the body more symmetrical and aesthetically pleasing, but because it makes the body more functional. Think about it, something has to support the enlarged trained upper body muscles and if the leg can’t support the upper half then that puts more pressure on the leg joints.
With that being said, it is important to train legs in order to reduce the risk of injuries. Neglecting the legs and solely training the upper body creates muscle imbalance which can increase lower back pain and the risk for anterior cruciate ligament (commonly known as ACL) injuries. Weak hamstrings can cause anterior pelvic tilt which causes the pelvis to tilt forward, leading to lower back pain. According to Austin Physical Therapy, “when the hamstrings are weak, the hip can over time drive forward putting the lumbar spine in a more compressed and extended position”. ACL tears are common when it comes to knee injuries. We see them all the time in sports. The ACL is a vital ligament in the knee that works to stabilize the joint during rotation movements while also bracing the knee from hyperextending. Hyperextending can happen when stopping abruptly. Weak hamstrings are also thought to be a cause of ACL tears. By properly strengthening the hips and thighs, you can greatly lower these chances of injury.
Finally, leg day is a great day to burn loads of calories! As mentioned above, the legs are composed of some of the biggest muscles in the body such as the gluteus maximus. The bigger the muscle, the more energy is required for training. The Journal of Applied Physiology did a study on athletes’ metabolism or energy expenditure after a workout session composed of compound lifts and heavy resistance exercises and it showed that their metabolic rate continued to increase for hours after training (Mens Health). If weight loss is your biggest focus in fitness, leg day truly gives you the biggest returns. Increased muscle mass can increase your basal metabolic rate which means more calories are being burned when sitting or resting. If that’s not ideal, I don’t know what is! When it comes to increasing muscle mass in the legs, exercises such as deadlifts, squats, and lunges can drastically promote hypertrophy or increased muscle mass.
In conclusion, skipping leg day can definitely hold you back more than you would think. Neglecting the muscle groups in the leg can increase the chances of injuries around the knee and contribute to lower back pain. As an athlete, it can reduce performance. On the other side, training legs can greatly reduce back pain and the chance of injuries while also providing some outstanding benefits such as increased metabolism, increased athletic performance, and improved normal day to day activities. So the next time you think about skipping leg day, DON’T! Sure leg days can prove to be one of the most strenuous training days of the week, but the benefits are very much worth the extra energy needed to complete these workouts! Besides, isn’t greater energy expenditure what we want?