Who hasn't dreamt of fine thighs, well-turned calves and, topping it all off: a sweet rear bumper?
What if we told you that, by the end of this article, you would have all of the knowledge needed to gain those attributes?
Before we get started, you should take a short anatomy course, just so you'll know how all of the body's muscles work together.
Done reading? Are you ready to take it to the next level; drill down to leg muscles and how to work them?
Ready! Steady! Go!!!
Recognising Leg Muscles
To attain the results you want when exercising your legs, you should first know what muscles you are working.
- The gastrocnemus is the larger of the two calf muscles. With its two heads, it gives the calf its well-defined bulge.
- The second calf muscle is called the soleus. It is flat and runs behind the 'twins' – another name given to the more prominent calf muscle.
- Quadriceps are the muscles at the front of your thighs; and arguably the most powerful in the human body.
- They are called quads because they are made up of four muscles that work in concert.
- Hamstrings are located at the rear of your leg, the anterior of the quads. They tend to be overlooked in the course of a workout, but are vital to knee function and walking.
- Adductors are the three muscles on the inside of your thighs.
The glutes are not technically a part of leg musculature, even though they feature heavily in leg workouts, and in this article.
In the course of your physical training, whether for a crossfit challenge or other athletic competition, it is as important to work your glutes as your leg muscles.
Glutes provide balance and stability for your core.
They also provide a certain aesthetic appeal, don't they?
Program Design for Quads and Glutes
There is no better move to incorporate into your fitness program than squats.
This functional training move targets your quads as well as your glutes, all while working your leg joints: hips, knees and ankles.
If you are just starting out on your path to physical fitness, you should do squats at the barre, for extra stability and to develop good posture and form.
If you are working with a personal fitness instructor at home, s/he might recommend holding on to the back of a chair, at least until you develop proper form.
For those of you at intermediate level and above, you can squat freestanding, while doing arm curls or with a barbell on your trapezoids.
Of course, if you are into circuit training, squats are already a part of your personal fitness training program.
Still, here are a few tips to follow from our Superprof fitness professionals:
- keep your feet at shoulder width, your back straight and your head firmly upright
- project your glutes back, as though you were getting ready to sit down.
- Your knees should point forward, and be in line with your feet.
- Inhale on the descent, hold it at the nadir, and exhale on the rise
- Don't squat too deeply!
For the most benefit out of this move, hold your pose when your thighs are parallel to the floor.
Shallow squats, and squatting too deep put more work on your hips and knees than on your quads.
If you are training in-home, you can use a broomstick to assure yourself of proper form – and to add extra work to your routine.
Simply place your broom across your shoulders, at the nape of your neck. Your hands should be as far to the bar's extremes as possible.
If you are taking a group fitness class or follow an aerobics routine, you might have already made use of this fitness tool.
Leg Workouts Using Resistance Bands.
Resistance training means working your muscles against some form of resistance, such as weights or gravity.
With bands, you are using your body's movement to cause resistance that the target muscles must overcome.
Try this move, using resistance bands:
Attach the halter's loops to each of your feet.
Laying flat on your back, pull the bands until they are tense, along the line of your body.
For an extra boost to your workout, you could stretch your arms over your head.
Alternate lifting and lowering your legs, inhaling on the lift and exhaling as you bring them down.
Take it to the next level by lifting and lowering your legs together!
You could also climb stairs: while laying on your back, move your legs as though climbing a set of stairs.
If it helps, you can think of the move as bicycling your legs in the air.
The resistance manifests itself in the stretching and lowering of your legs, so you should do so slower than lifting them. This is also a good exercise for your lower back.
Beginners should start with twenty lifts per leg. As your muscular endurance grows, you can increase the number of lifts.
Lunge for Glutes and Thighs
A final move on this decidedly non-exhaustive list of ways to work your legs is lunges.
Taking a large step forward, bend your front knee. Your weight should be evenly distributed on both legs, and your hands should be on your hips.
As you lunge forward, your weight should shift entirely to the front leg. Hold the pose when your front knee is at ninety degrees, and then raise up again.
Be careful to keep your chest out, shoulders back and head up. Leaning forward puts the pressure on your hip, rather than on your quads.
Inhale on the lunge and exhale on the release.
Firm Up Your Calves to Avoid Shin Splints
This is the last month of a hot marathon season and you might want to run a race or two.
Shin splints: the bane of every runner. Nothing dampens a distance runner's ambitions like pain in the shins!
This type of stress injury is actually a misnomer: not only are the bones in your lower leg affected. More often, such a pain results from poorly conditioned muscles, and/or a lack of warm-up before a run.
Failing to stretch after a run can also cause musculoskeletal damage.
We will talk about warm-ups and cool-downs, and other facets of exercise safety a bit later.
What can you do to tone and condition your calves?
If you have not subscribed to a gym membership, do not belong to a fitness club and have not yet consulted with a personal fitness trainer, you could try calf raises:
Resting your fingertips on the back of a chair, roll onto your tiptoes, and then roll back down.
Your weight should stay in your feet; your hands are only on the chair back for balance.
More advanced athletes modify this move by cantering: alternately lifting one heel and the other at a fast pace, while keeping the balls of their feet on the floor.
To execute this move correctly, you must be sure to keep your hips level and your back straight.
Other Ways to Work Your Calves
Power walking, race walking, and even Nordic walking: all are functional training that exercise your calf muscles.
If you love dancing, or you exercise to music, there is a good chance that you already work your calf muscles.
Pointing your toes, flexing your ankles and doing ankle circles: every bit of it helps develop strong calves!
Riding a bike is not only a fun way to tone your leg muscles overall, it boosts your metabolism and raises your heart rate.
If a personal trainer near me has recommended a cardio workout, riding a bike – aqua biking, stationary bike or outdoors, on a trail is one of the best ways to comply.
Before we talk about the last target muscle group – the adductors, let's talk about safety.
What Not to do when Working Out
At some point during your fitness career, hopefully before you started any exercise programs, you should have learned training techniques and measures to ensure you are not injured during the course of your workout.
Physicians who practice sports medicine and A&E doctors have seen a consistent rise in sports injuries over time.
There is a definite trend in trying out new and ever more dangerous activities, even though people are not always trained or equipped for them. - Dr. Loosemore, English Institute of Sport
How can you achieve your goals of health and wellness, while keeping out of the clutches of emergency room doctors?
1. Before starting any type of training, undergo a fitness assessment.
Your physical assessment should consist of body composition analysis – your ratio of body fat to muscle; as well as cardiovascular and cardiorespiratory fitness tests.
You may have to embark on a corrective exercise program before your exercise physiologist permits you to start any fitness courses.
2. Discuss your fitness goals with a certified home or online personal trainer.
Superprof fitness and nutrition professionals can help you design a bespoke program to address all of your training aims, be they: losing weight, gaining muscle mass, or simply toning up to get ready for the holiday season.
During your personal training sessions, you can count on your chosen Superprof fitness professional to motivate you to a healthier lifestyle.
S/he will also instruct you on how to train safely:
- NEVER engage in any training session without first warming up
- Warm ups are: any aerobic routine that raises your heart rate
- At the first twinge of pain, stop working immediately!
- The whole push through the pain idea is a recipe for long-term injury
- After every session – even aqua jogging and swimming, cool down
- stretching the worked muscles is integral to avoiding tears and ruptures.
- Always drink plenty of water
- Athletes are especially at risk for dehydration because they work their body harder than most.
Now that we know how to work out safely, let's learn how to do leg adductions!
Working Your Adductors
The easiest way to work this muscle group is by laying on your side.
If you are on your right side, you will raise your left leg, as high as you can - ten lifts should suffice. And then switch sides to work the other leg's adductors.
You can also work them standing up.
Hang on to a barre for balance, (or chair back, if you don't happen to have a barre handy), and raise your leg to the side, as high as you can. After ten leg lifts, change sides to work the other leg.
The benefit of flexing adductors while standing is that you are also working the abductors – the complementary muscles on the outside of the hip.
Leg Workouts for Special Populations
Senior fitness, youth fitness, post natal workouts and strength training for the disabled.
More and more, the fitness industry is concerning itself with workouts suited to these demographics.
Health clubs and gyms across the country are now offering fitness testing and physical education especially for those who need it the most.
You can find fitness and exercise classes that teach non-mainstream athletes how to exercise safely for their circumstances.
Superprof has one on one fitness trainers to help you get fit, no matter your condition. Legs, arms, abs or chest, we even offer online personal training, if getting to your local sports facility is inconvenient!
With all of this knowledge now at your fingertips, aren't you ready to get those legs in shape?
Come on! We're ready for you!