How do I improve my leg strength?
May 5, 2005 4:26 PM   Subscribe

How do I get into and stick with a good leg strengthening (muscle building) program?

The problem I have is this: I've been working out regularly for about 10 years, and really don't have that much of a problem sticking with a regular schedule. I long ago found a routine I really enjoyed, and while I take my multi-month hiatuses (hiatii?) sometimes, in general I'm comfortable with my level of dedication.

Except that I absolutely cannot seem to get into a groove when it comes to leg strengthening exercises. I do cardio before every workout (running or biking) and it goes fine, but whenever the day comes to do squats, or deadlifts, or whatever, I feel like I have no energy to really pour into it, and even when I spend like a month *forcing* myself to do it anyway, I never see any gains. My squat weight is pitiful and my quad extensions have been at exactly the same weight for like 6 years now.

I recognize that these are some of the larger muscle groups in the human body, so it makes sense that I'm going to find it harder to get up the energy to do a full workout with them. But I've broken through most of my other walls in this regard, just not this one. I'd like to think it's a problem that could be solved with the right routine, but I've not been able to find one that seems to suit me.

Any advice?
posted by wolftrouble to Health & Fitness (8 answers total)
Best answer: I've been off the wagon lately (wrecked my back last summer and never got back into the groove), but I used to love legs day. I'd really suggest you lay off the running/biking before a legs workout, except as a brief (5-10 minute) warmup, otherwise you'll wear yourself out.

I always started with squats. I never worried about going heavy, but rather maintaining perfect form and going parallel. I'm not terribly flexible in the hips, so I had a heck of a time with it, but it's worth it. Whether you increase the weight or not, if you can improve your form and go deeper, you're building strength. I would usually warm up with a light weight (or even the bare bar), squatting deep and stretching well. Once I was ready, I went right into my work sets: 3 sets at whatever weight I could manage 8-12 reps with (I am a pretty small guy; I don't think I've ever attempted even a single at more than 205).

We usually did deadlifts next; sumo-style deadlifts are great for the legs and core (although I like straight-leg deads for hamstrings and erectors). But watch your form very carefully here, this is one exercise where you might be tempted to lift too heavy with poor form. 3 more sets where I could barely manage the last rep.

We finished legs with some calf raises. My calves are monstrously strong (for whatever reason), and I can rep all day long with very heavy weight. I tried to slow this one down and work til absolute failure. A killer.

All-in-all, while I was serious about lifting, I improved my leg strength quite a bit with just these 3 exercises. We occasionally threw in some hamstring curls for the heck of it. I would advise against quad extensions; the mechanics of the machine are all wrong and there is a potential for injury. You will also want to avoid the Smith machine for squats; it encourages bad form and prevents the bar from following the path it ought to take with a proper squat.

I usually worked a 2-day split (upper/lower) and did this twice a week (for a total of 4 work days). We sometimes threw in some additional back work (bent rows, seated rows) and always finished every workout with pullups. Work hard, do fewer sets, eat like a machine, and I think you'll see gains.
posted by uncleozzy at 4:57 PM on May 5, 2005

Bike to and from work. Your legs will become iron.
posted by AlexReynolds at 5:24 PM on May 5, 2005

Spin class has taken care of that problem for me. I got away from strength training for awhile (I use machines) and when I went back to it I could do much heavier weights simply from doing the spin classes.
posted by konolia at 5:27 PM on May 5, 2005

Lift heavy and fewer reps is my suggestion, you don't need to love it because it goes quickly.

I do legs once a week and have gotten fantastic strength gains and tone from a simple squats, lunges, sumo squat, calf raises program. I leave deadlifts for back day. I always lift as heavy as I can, minimal reps to failure, quickly finished and my results have been great.

Also, do some jump rope as part of your cardio routine, as well as kickass cardio it gives your calves a really good workout. Biking and tennis are fun ways to work your legs too, of course.
posted by dublinemma at 5:45 PM on May 5, 2005

Hike mountains.
posted by maschnitz at 9:21 PM on May 5, 2005

Hill sprinting will strenghten your legs. Pick a hill, run up as fast as you can, stroll down, run up again. Do this ten times a day.
posted by Panfilo at 10:24 PM on May 5, 2005

I do lots of balance exercises. Squats on a half ball, one legged squats, lots of jumping. Its great. Do lots of one-legged stuff. Because one-legged exercises not only work the muscles you're activating, but also your balance muscles (glutes and ankle). A great one is to stand on one leg and with the other arm lean all the way forward, really stretching that glute.
and dips and squats. squats really are some kind of all body exercise, but i agree about going with less weights and focusing on your form (i too am very inflexible hips --probably from sitting all day typing).
mainly, same advice i give everyone--get a trainer to look at how you move, and design exercises for your specific issues. this is money well spent as you can really learn and reuse what she tells you.
posted by alkupe at 10:37 PM on May 5, 2005

I both hate and love leg day... Love it because the next day I almost always feel sore, but hate it because I never really push myself as other workout days. The exercises are just so draining.

Anyways, I've got a few recommendations, you've probably already tried all of this already though.

Try alternating squats one day and leg press the next day you workout your legs (if you have access to machines.)

For deadlifts, try a trap bar if you haven't already.
posted by formless at 10:38 PM on May 5, 2005

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