A lot of athletes think they have to have tons of machines to effectively train their legs... things like the leg extension machine, the hamstring curl machine, and the famous and often comical-looking seated hip abductor machine. Seriously? Why train on something that looks like you should be preparing for a visit with the gynecologist?
The truth is much simpler:
- You MUST train legs, preferably 2 to 3 times a week, AND...
- You DO NOT need fancy machines to get a good (and hard) lower body workout.
Trust me on this. In my gym you won't find a single leg machine, and I have strong legs. Now I don't have huge freakish legs, but they are strong and balanced with the rest of my body - as well as give me good sprinting power when needed. I just use some good old fashion iron and my tool kit of torturous leg routines! But before we go any further into specific exercises and routines, let's first discuss why you MUST train legs.
- Basic lower body movements like Squats and Deadlifts build a ton more muscle and burn massive amounts of calories. There are a multitude of studies out there that show that Squats and Deadlifts increase the release of Growth Hormone and Testosterone more than any other exercise. These build more muscle, which in turn means a hotter fat burning furnace!
- Squats & Deadlifts work your whole body, not just your legs... leading to a bigger upper-body. Think about it: Your arms squeeze the bar hard during heavy Squats & Deadlifts, your abs work hard at stabilizing the weight during Squats, and your chest muscles tense hard during heavy Deadlifts.
- Stronger legs and core muscles will increase your strength on almost all upper-body lifts, helping upper-body muscle development. How you ask? Leg drive is a huge part of the Bench Press - ask any powerlifter and they will definitely set you straight on that. Basically, stronger legs equals more leg drive and a bigger bench, making bigger upper-body muscles. Squats & Deadlifts also strengthen your lower back as well, and help you stay strong during any standing movements, such as the Overhead Press.
- As much as I hate to say it - aesthetics. Having a huge upper body with teeny-weenie chicken legs looks really stupid!
Now about those exercises... almost any exercise you use machines for can be completed using body weight, dumbbell, or barbell weighted movements. Here is a listing of variations you can use:
- Leg Press - substitute with Body Squats, Barbell Squats, Pistol Squats, Zercher Squats, Goblet Squats, Overhead Squats, Step-ups, Tire Flips, and Lunges
- Leg Curl - substitute with Barbell Stiff-Legged Deadlift, Deadlift, and Swiss Ball Leg Curls
- Leg Extensions - substitute with Wall Sits, Sissy Squats, Pistol Squats, Barbell Front Squats, Sled Drags, and Sled Pulls
Other great exercises for the lower body and posterior chain include the Barbell Glute Bridge, Kettlebell Swings, Calf Raises, and Plyometric Jumps. All these are just the tip of the iceberg. Basically, if there is a machine out there - there is a free weight exercise to do it the same or better!
So train your legs hard for Arnold's sake, and don't hide behind the excuse of not having machines to do part of the work for you!
GET STRONGER - RUN FASTER - PLAY HARDER - BE BETTER!
Iron Mike Hard Corps Strength and Conditioning