Personal Trainer Notes: 7 Reasons to Strength Train Your Legs (Even if You Do Cardio)
The dreaded leg day: feared by most, skipped by many. While devoting an entire day’s workout to strength training legs isn’t necessary for everyone, skipping leg exercises all together can cause you to miss out on many benefits that could help you achieve your overall goals. Even if you’re already working your legs during cardio exercises you could still be missing out on exercises that could be a game changer for your fitness. Adding in just a few leg exercises such as squats, lunges, leg presses or step-ups, can make a big difference in the effectiveness of your workout routine and provide the following benefits:
- Strength training your legs can help you burn off more calories. Some of the largest muscles in the body are in your legs, including your Gluteus Maximus (butt), Quadriceps (front of your thigh) and your Hamstrings (back of your thigh). The larger the muscle is, the more blood is needed to get oxygen and fuel to the muscle during exercise. These muscles are also located further from your heart than the muscles in your upper body, so your heart must work more to get blood sent to them. Both result in your body burning off more calories when you are strength training your legs.
Strength training your body releases testosterone and growth hormone. This process helps in muscle recovery and building. By training larger muscles your body will release more testosterone and growth hormone than when training other, smaller muscles. This will benefit your entire body as you not only add more muscle, but also increase your metabolism in the process.
You can gain strength in areas you are missing. Many people who stick to primarily doing cardio on treadmills or ellipticals feel as though they have plenty of strength in their legs. However, after a few leg exercises they notice they aren’t really as strong as they thought in some areas, and they can begin to see what they’re missing out on. This is because strength exercises target your leg muscles at different angles and range of motion than cardio exercises.
Strength exercises focus on a different type of muscle fiber in the body than cardio. Cardio exercises work the Type I muscle fibers which are smaller and made for endurance. Strength exercises work the Type II muscle fibers which are larger in size and are needed for shorter duration strength and speed movements. By focusing only on cardio exercises, you could be missing out on training an entire type of muscle fiber. By incorporating strength exercises and training your Type II muscle fibers you will also enhance your ability to perform cardio exercises.
Strengthening your legs can help improve performance and overall quality of life. Strength training your legs will help with many activities that you do from day to day throughout your life such as sitting down and standing up from a chair, picking up something off the ground, and walking up stairs. It can also increase your overall balance. For those who participate in sports, strengthening your legs will help with many skills such as jumping, running, and other powerful movements that are of vital importance to your performance.
Working legs can help correct muscle imbalances and aid in injury recovery. Adding leg exercises to your routine allows you to focus on muscle groups that get underworked and neglected during your daily life, sports or other exercise. Strengthening these muscles can help you to prevent imbalances. If you already have an imbalance or an injury that you know of, adding specific leg exercises can help to counteract that imbalance or injury and help to strengthen and stabilize the body part affected.
Leg work keeps your body looking balanced and toned. This is possibly most important benefit to some people. Adding strength exercises to target your larger Type II muscles fibers will help you to be more effective in getting toned looking legs. It will also keep your body looking proportional and avoid chicken leg syndrome (large upper body with small skinny legs) that may result if you only work upper body.
If you are not currently doing any strength training for your legs a good growth goal would be to try adding one to three exercises to your routine twice a week with at least a day in between. If you already regularly mix a few leg exercises into your routine try adding a few more and concentrating on an entire day of six to eight leg exercises.
Leg exercises can be targeted towards your personal goals and needs. Contact a personal trainer if you have had an injury and you have concerns about safely adding leg exercises. A trainer can also help determine what leg exercises to add to your routine, suggest appropriate modifications to exercises, and help you to develop a strategy where you feel confident that you are doing a great leg workout that is right for you!
Personal Trainer Josh Lewis M.Ed., NSCA CSCS has a Bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology from UW-Eau Claire and a Master’s degree in Kinesiology from the University of Minnesota. When he’s not at the gym he enjoys hiking, camping, fishing, hunting and watching sports with family and friends. Josh’s love for being active, along with the enjoyment he receives from helping people reach their goals, is what led him to become a Personal Trainer.
Contact Josh Lewis at (507) 287-9335 ext. 351.