Skipping your leg workout is one of the biggest strength training mistakes you can make. The muscles in your lower half make up the largest muscles in the body, which drive metabolic rate and encourage longevity and well being in several key ways:
#1: Protect Against Belly Fat
Low muscle mass in the legs means you’ll have more belly fat. Muscle is the primary consumer of glucose, or sugar, in the blood, meaning that it allows your body to use the carbs you eat instead of storing them as fat.
#2: Increase Longevity
Weak legs are associated with increased risk of mortality. A 2005 study found a close association between the degree of strength in the quadriceps and risk of dying in elderly men and women over a 6-year period. Conversely, subjects with the strongest legs had the least risk of dying.
#3: Improve Mobility
A weak lower body leads to poor posture and faulty movement patterns. Lack of leg training leads to muscle imbalances and tightness due to long periods spent sitting.
#4: Protect Against Cancer & Other Diseases
Low muscle mass in the lower body is linked with increased risk of disease, possibly due to the fact that muscle improves insulin sensitivity and has an anti-inflammatory effect throughout the body.
#5: Avoid Low Back & Knee Pain
A weak lower body makes you more vulnerable to develop knee and low back pain. Low back pain is often a result of tight hip flexors and weakness in the posterior and core musculature, both of which are targeted with lower body exercises.
#6: Improve Brain Function
Lower body movements improve brain function. In a new study, researchers found that exercises that engage the large muscles in the legs trigger the production of stem cells in the brain. Generation of stem cells helps the brain to renew itself, and lower body activity also improves oxygen and blood flow to the brain, which are key for cognition.
What Lower Body Exercises Should You Be Doing?
There’s no end to great exercises you can use to train the lower body. The key when training legs is to ensure the following:
You are targeting both the muscles in both the front and back of the body. It used to be that leg training tended to be quad or front of the body dominant. With the surge in popularity of glute training, this has shifted somewhat, but similar problems arise when you focus too much on one part of the body. Instead of spending time isolating specific parts of the body, focus on balance throughout the lower body with multi-joint training (squats, deadlifts)
You are training balance on the right and left sides of the body. Unilateral training helps overcome the natural asymmetry that plagues us, increasing risk of pain and injury. Step-ups, lunges, single-leg deadlifts, and split squats will improve structural balance in the lower body.
You are incorporating core exercises to build up your center of power. Back extensions, reverse hypers, glute-ham raises, and good mornings may not be your typical “core” lifts but they will do more for improving overall strength and function than sit ups or crunches and they hit key muscles in the lower body.
You include exercises that overcome natural weaknesses, such as quad dominance. Posterior-chain focused lifts (hamstring curls, back extensions, calf raises) can help improve balance throughout the body.
Final Words: By ramping up your lower body workouts you should be well on your way to achieving peak levels of fitness and wellness for longer, activity-filled life.
Adami, R., Bottai, D. Movement impairment: Focus on the brain. Journal of Neuroscience Research. 2016. 94(4), 310-317.
Fukasawa, H., et al. Lower thigh muscle mass is associated with all-cause and cardiovascular mortality in elderly hemodialysis patients. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2017. 71, 64-69.
Newman, A., et al. Strength, But Not Muscle Mass, Is Associated With Mortality in the Health, Aging and Body Composition Study Cohort. Journal of Gerontology. 2006. 61A(1), 72-77.
Ruiz, J., et al. Association between muscular strength and mortality in men: prospective cohort study. British Medical Journal. 2008. 337:a439