We all understand how physical activity can make the body stronger. But there is increasing evidence that physical activity combats depression as well. Still, with all the evidence we have of how important exercise is, there is one thing even diehard fitness fanatics tend to skip: leg day.
Judd NeSmith is the founder of Serious Fitness and BestReviews’ fitness expert. We asked him why leg days are so important to your fitness regime and if it’s ever OK to skip them. Here’s what we learned.
Many people do not realize or they neglect to consider that legs make up the entire lower half of the body. Leg day is any day that you focus on working out the glutes, hamstrings, calves and quads.
NeSmith thinks the answer is simple: “Training the lower body is a lot harder than training the upper body, so some people take the easy way out," he said. "They just do the easy exercises like chest presses, rows, pullups and bicep curls. When you ask them to train their lower body with any kind of squat variation or dead lift variation, they shy away from lower body exercises because they are hard.”
“To be fit overall, you have to do more than just walking or running or riding a bike,” NeSmith said. “You have to perform some strength-training exercises to help you build more muscle, to burn more calories, to prevent injuries and help improve your posture.”
NeSmith explained that the quads, glutes and hamstrings make up the largest muscle groups in the body. Whenever you recruit those muscles in a strength-training exercise, you’re going to burn more calories because those muscles need more energy to perform. But what people don’t understand is when you engage those larger muscle groups, it will help you build more muscle throughout the entire body.
“When you perform any type of squat exercise or dead lift exercise or any kind of compound movement in the gym, you are going to raise your growth hormone and your testosterone levels, which is going to build more lean muscle in the entire body,” NeSmith said.
“A lot of injuries happen because people have very weak hips,” NeSmith began. “They have a weak hip imbalance, meaning they are either weak in their hamstrings, weak in their glutes or weak in their quadriceps. When you have a weak hip imbalance, it leads to a lot of issues, such as lower back pain, knee pain and even neck and shoulder pain. This is because your hips are your foundation. It’s the center of all movement, so when someone is weak in their hips they are definitely at jeopardy of having a lot of muscle imbalances which can cause pain throughout the body and lead to injuries. That is why it’s really important to train your legs.”
As you get older, building and maintaining more lean muscle becomes a big concern. NeSmith said it is even more important to continue to work out once you are over 50 because you need lean muscle mass to prevent osteoporosis and sarcopenia.
“Osteoporosis is bone loss. You lose bone density because you are not doing enough weight-bearing exercises, so you can’t protect and build stronger bones,” NeSmith said.
“Sarcopenia is common with a lot of individuals who only do cardiovascular exercise. They may just ride bikes throughout the week or walk or jog or run. This is great for cardiovascular health, but it doesn’t provide enough resistance as a stimulus to build and maintain lean muscle. Sarcopenia is when someone older gets frail because they do not have enough muscle mass to support their joints,” NeSmith said.
NeSmith is a fan of the full-body workout. If you have 45 minutes to an hour to spend in the gym, and you want to burn more fat and get leaner, you should work your chest, your back, your quadriceps, your hamstrings, your glutes, your biceps and your triceps. According to NeSmith, this is because “you get a phenomenal muscle-building response when you train the body as a whole.”
However, if you are more concerned with bodybuilding or you are a strength-training enthusiast, NeSmith recommends four days at the gym.
This routine would look something like the following:
Alternatively, you could do a full-body workout every other day, such as Monday, Wednesday and Friday or Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
“Absolutely,” NeSmith responded. “And for a lot of my clients, that’s not uncommon because they are athletes. Let’s say you were running a 5K, a 10K or a marathon, and your race is on a Saturday. I would tell you not to work your lower body with resistance probably that entire week because you want to have fresh legs for your race. The same goes for cyclists who have a race or for serious recreational athletes who compete in a sport that requires their legs. If you are playing in a competitive soccer league and you have an important game on Saturday, for example, skip your leg day on Friday.”
A quality pair of dumbbells helps you get the most out of your lower body exercises, such as squats and lunges. This offering from NordicTrack lets you quickly choose from 2.5, 5, 7.5, 10 and 12.5 pounds to customize your workouts. Sold by Amazon and Dick’s Sporting Goods
A kettlebell can deliver a high-intensity lower body workout in as little as 15 minutes. This model has a weight selection dial that adjusts from 8 to 40 pounds, offering convenience while saving you storage space. Sold by Amazon and Dick’s Sporting Goods
Using a balance ball lets you increase the range of lower body exercises you can perform, giving you a comprehensive workout that targets all the desired muscle groups. The URBNFit stability ball is made with anti-slip, anti-burst, high-quality PVC that can handle a 600-pound weight load. Sold by Amazon
Besides providing a high-intensity workout, a suspension trainer can give you confidence to really dig deep and maximize your range of motion when it comes to lower body exercises. This pro set gives you three suspension anchors, rubber-grip handles, padded foot cradles, access to the TRX Training Club app and more. Sold by Amazon
Resistance loop bands add resistance to your exercises, so you can gently increase the intensity. There are five bands in this set which range from 5 to 40 pounds. Sold by Amazon
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Allen Foster writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.