To answer this question we need to take a step backwards and ask what makes up the legs? There are 4 main muscles groups; the Quadriceps (front of your thigh), Hamstrings (back of your thigh), Calves (lower leg) and glutes (your bum). Each of these are made up of several smaller muscles and it is important to know which movements activate each of them in order to structure the ‘perfect’ leg day.
The quads are made up of 4 muscles;
· Vastus Lateralis (outer part of the quad)
· Vastus medialis (inner part of the quad)
· Rectus femoris (middle part of the quad)
· Vastus intermedius (underneath the rectus femoris)
The overall function of the quads are to extend/ straighten the knee. All 4 of the quad muscles attach near the patella (kneecap), but they start at different places. While in addition to knee extension the Vastus medialis also adducts the thigh (brings it back towards the centre of the body), in general knee extension based exercises such as; squats, lunges, step ups and leg extension will all pretty comfortably tick off the workload for the quads.
The hamstrings are made up of 3 muscles;
· Semitendinosus (furthest in of the 3 muscles)
· Semimembranosus (middle muscle)
· Biceps femoris (outer muscle – has both a long and short head)
The hip flexion and extension used in a movement such as the stiff leg deadlift will help to significantly work the hamstring muscles, the inclusion of a leg curl exercise (seated or lying) is also important so to include a knee flexion exercise in your session.
The calves are made up of 2 muscles;
· Gastrocnemius (this is the larger muscle which gives the visible bulge of the calf)
· Soleus (this is a smaller flat muscle which lays under the gastrocnemius)
When it comes to calf training there are a few variations of exercises but ultimately a calf raise is your best bet. Your calves are worked significantly when performing exercises such as running. But if you are focused on adding muscle and size to your calves remember the ‘hypertrophic rep range’ (6-12 reps), while it is definitely possible to build muscle above this range, even on a short run your calves will probably perform several thousand steps (meaning several thousand small contractions) so this form of training will definitely work the muscle in an endurance way rather than muscular way. A side note that I have seen with many people when trying to build their calf muscles, always bare in mind, you use them literally everyday when you walk, go up stairs, run anything using your legs. So their ‘work capacity’ will be through the roof! So many times I see people do 3 sets of calf raises where they are just going through the motions then they question why their calves wont grow. Your calves are so difficult to grow because they are so well adapted to handle such a high volume and workload that it makes it really hard to overload them. So when you are training your calves make sure you are:
A) Using full range of motion, fully stretching the muscle at the top and bottom of the movement
B) Executing the movement under control , to increase the time under tension and ensure proper form
C) Progressively getting heavier, you’re not aiming for the lactic acid burn of having done 50 reps you are aiming for the muscle stimulation of having lifted a weight for 6-12 reps close to failure.
The glutes are made up of 3 muscles;
· Gluteus minimus (this is the deepest and smallest of the glute muscles)
· Gluteus medius (this muscle sits between the gluteus minimus and maximus and is similar in shape and function to the gluteus minimums
· Gluteus maximums (largest of the glute muscles and is what gives the glutes their superficial shape)
Function of each of these:
· Gluteus minimus – abducts your leg and rotates your leg inward
· Gluteus medius – abducts your leg and rotates it inward
· Gluteus maximus – extends the hip and rotates your leg inwards
This means that the glute abductor machine (the machine where your push your legs apart is very effective at working the top two and then the upward part of the squat is very effective at working the larger gluteus maximus muscles. Exercises such as hip thrusts are also very effective at working the gluteus maximus muscles.
A possible template of exercises to include:
1. BB Back squat
2. Stiff leg Deadlifts
3. Hip thrusts
4. Leg extensions
5. Leg curls
6. Calf raises
This is just a very basic list of 6 exercises which you could include into your leg workout, there are so many varieties and variations which you can use, swap in and out or incorporate into your training, such as lunges, Bulgarian split squats, single leg variations and isometric holds such as wall sits.
The final thing to take into consideration when planning the ‘perfect’ leg day is, rep range. Most of the muscles of the legs are made up of both fast and slow twitch muscle fibres, this means that to most effectively work them and recruit the maximum amount of muscles fibres, you will need to include a good balance of heavier low rep work to work the fast twitch muscle fibres along with some lighter higher rep work to work the slow twitch muscle fibres.
I hope this has helped to give you an idea of how you can structure your leg day. If you have any questions or are interested in any of the plans on the website feel free to drop me a message.
Next week’s topic – The perfect Back workout