Never Skip Leg Day

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by Devin Sarno, NSCA-CPT

Are you always looking for a new excuse to not train your legs while also bench pressing or doing curls multiple times per week? You may not think that there is anything wrong with this, but there are actual consequences to not training your legs beyond just aesthetic. Your legs are the base of your body and the centerpiece for most of your movement so they deserve much more attention in your training than your biceps. Outside of just looking disproportionate, skipping leg day will cause you to be less athletic, it will be more difficult to build muscle, it will be more difficult to burn calories and fat, and you’ll be more susceptible to injury. If you tend to skip out on leg day, follow along and learn why you need to work those legs next time you hit the gym.

Recreational and competitive athletics are a major interest of many, but if you are neglecting your leg training then you are holding yourself back when it comes to participating in sports. Now this is not to say that you cannot be athletic if you do not regularly train your legs, but I can say with certainty that you will be a fraction of the athlete that you could be if you ignore your legs. For almost all sports, it is of utmost importance to be strong and generate as much power as you can from your lower half. Whether you are running, jumping, shuffling, starting, or stopping; it all starts with your lower half. Your lower half is also even where power is generated for any sort of swinging or throwing in sports like baseball, golf, hockey, or football. While on the surface, movements like that appear to be upper body focused, it is important to be able to generate all of your power and torque from the lower half to maximize your performance in those movements. Since all of this strength and power comes from your quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes, you NEED to train all of them to maximize your athletic performance. If not, then expect for your sports performance to be far from where it could be.

Skipping leg day will also make it harder to build muscle. No, not just in your lower body. Neglecting your legs will make it more difficult to build muscle even in your upper body. Muscle growth is in large, based on the hormones that your body secretes, most namely testosterone and growth hormone. The secretion of these hormones is elevated during training and given that the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes are some of the biggest muscles in your body, training them will elevate your testosterone and growth hormone to levels that training your biceps and triceps are just incapable of reaching. So regularly doing squats and deadlifts will help make that upper body training more effective and allow you to build muscle more effectively.

If you neglect your leg training, your body will also burn fat and calories far less efficiently when you are working out. As already mentioned, your lower body is home to some of the largest muscles in your body. With that being the case, they also require the most energy for use. The more energy required of you, the more calories that you will burn as well. So if you are using muscles that require less energy to function, then you are also burning fewer calories. As far as fat burning goes, hormones like testosterone and growth hormone that we already mentioned are released in greater quantities when your train bigger muscle groups, are also essential to burning the most fat both directly and indirectly. Indirectly, since they help in building more muscle mass they are also helping increase your resting metabolic rate so that your body will burn calories and fat more efficiently.

Lastly, not training your legs will also leave your more susceptible for injury. While this is especially important for athletes, it is really the case for anybody. Given the explosive movements involved in athletics and the amount of lateral movement in most sports, lower body strength and stability are especially important for keeping your body healthy. Many sports tend to cause quad dominance, so there should be extra emphasis on training the glutes and hamstrings to help maintain stability especially around the knee to avoid things like ACL injuries. Even for people that do not classify themselves as athletes, it is still important to train your legs to help prevent injury. Lower body training is an integral part in helping improve balance which is important in our everyday movements and especially important as you age and your bone density lessens so that you can avoid falling or even just to simply avoid having to use a walker. There are also potential links between lack of lower body muscle mass and chronic disease. One Japanese study actually found an association between reduced muscle mass and type 2 diabetes patients, as well as a correlation between lack of leg muscle mass and a number of other risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Lower testosterone levels tends to have a negative effect on how well your body can regulate insulin, which could be the link to these problems. While correlation does not prove causation here, why risk it right? Keep those testosterone levels high and train those legs!

Can leg day be difficult? Absolutely! But if you avoided every difficult task you’re faced with, it is likely that you will not get very far. As you can see, there are a number of reasons to include leg day in your workout regimen. Be sure to keep all of this in mind the next time you are considering skipping out on leg day and if you’re already hitting those legs regularly, maybe use some of this information when one of your friends is thinking about skipping out on you when it is leg day…again!

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