Three Ways to Get Great Legs
Whether your legs are too bulky, too fat or even too thin, you can take action to make them more lean or shapely. "If you're busy and can pick only three exercises to do for your legs, these are the three: the squat, the lunge and the calf press," says Rob Zschau, a personal trainer at a 24 Hour Fitness in Plano, Texas. "To get results, these exercises should accompany a healthy diet and cardio workouts. It works hand in hand. Building your leg muscles will increase your metabolism so that you'll burn more calories during your cardio workouts."
Zschau recommends 30 minutes of cardio per week and two sessions per week of weights or strength training to work the entire body. While you can't spot reduce, you can target and tone certain areas of the body such as the legs.
"Squats are one of the very best exercises for legs, they enervate muscles in the whole body – they work all the muscles from the waist down," says Zschau. "But they're also the most dangerous, especially with weights on your shoulders. If they're done improperly, you can really hurt your back or knees. This is the one exercise more than any other where I suggest that people work with someone to teach them how to do it correctly."
Do "straight squats" without a weight machine, using barbells or dumbbells or just a bar over your shoulders. You can even do them effectively without holding anything. Just place your arms out in front of you at shoulder height. You can also use a Smith machine* or squat rack. Look for them in the free weight room. Both are machines used to do squats, but the Smith machine provides a bit more stability than the squat rack.
*A Smith Machine is a free-weight rack with a barbell that slides a track and can be turned with the flip or a wrist to lock the barbell. It's a free-weight/machine hybrid that combines the power of free-weights with the control and safety of a machine. They can be found in most 24 Hour Fitness locations.
For proper squat form, place the legs shoulder width apart, with weight evenly balanced on both legs. Keep your abs tight; imagine that you're pressing your belly button to your spine. Lower your body until the thigh is parallel to the floor, without lifting your heels. Do not drop your rear down to the floor; pretend as if you're sitting in a chair. Also, as you squat, keep your knees in line with your toes... don't point your knees out, this isn't ballet. Tighten the butt and thigh muscles of the front leg. And, finally, breathe in going down and out going up.
Zschau suggests starting out with no weight except the bar. Begin with two to four sets of 12 to15 reps. Increase the weight gradually until you are tired at the twelfth rep on your second set. This will help you determine the proper weight to use for your squats.
Lunges are also an excellent exercise for firming quads and glutes. "Everyone has one leg that is stronger than the other. In a squat you compensate with your stronger leg. But in a lunge, since you're working each leg separately, it forces you to develop the strong and weaker leg," says Zschau.
For proper form, step forward with your right leg to form a scissor formation with your legs. Both feet should be facing forward and parallel to each other. Make sure that your knees stay in alignment with your hips and ankles. Keep your back straight and bend the right knee to lower your torso towards the floor. Avoid standing with your legs too far apart, touching your knee to the ground or letting your right knee extend too far beyond you right ankle. Begin with two to four sets of 12 to 15 reps for each leg. You should not feel strain in the hips.
The Curvy Calf Press
Squats and lunges work the calf indirectly, but to develop really curvy calves, try the calf press. "There are two muscles in your calf, the gastrocnemius that can protrude and make your legs shapely and the soleus that gives your lower leg a nice line," says Zschau. Do the standing calf raise at the calf press to work the gastrocnemius and the seated calf raise for the soleus. Zschau recommends two to four sets of 15 to 20 reps. Make your movements slow and controlled – and relax your heels.
You can do a variation of this without weights: the heel raise. Stand on the floor or a stair and place your feet directly under the hips. Raise up on your toes and hold the pose for one second, keeping your weight on the big toes. Slowly lower and repeat, doing two to four sets of 15 to 20 reps. Exhale on the way up and inhale on the way down.
If you do these exercises, combined with cardio workouts and eating a sensible diet, you will have great gams!
Rob Zschau is a certified personal trainer with a bachelor's degree in exercise physiology. He works at a 24 Hour Fitness club in Plano, Texas.
This information and other information on this site is intended for general reference purposes only and is not intended to address specific medical conditions. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice or a medical exam. Prior to participating in any exercise program or activity, you should seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional. No information on this site should be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition.