For a lot of women, the idea of working legs is a wanted but often avoided venture. Your legs are made of the biggest muscles in your body and can be intimidating to work. And for the ladies, your butt needs to be worked hard to complete your overall look. Think of your legs the same way guys think of their arms and abs, they can be your vanity muscles. We all know that these days, nothing screams sexy as much as tight, round Glutes do. Solid and shapely legs aren’t just a must during summer, but you want to make sure that when you strip down from your snow boots and jeans this winter, you won’t be exposing anyone to any cellulite. Say it with me ladies, if you don’t have a booty, you ain’t shit.
But, again, how do you get started working such a big muscle group? First, you need to know the different parts of the legs:
The Glutes are made of the Gluteus Maximus and the Gluteus Medius and is one of the sexiest muscles in the body, the strongest, and the biggest. The Gluteus Maximus is the largest part of the butt and what makes up the round look and the firmness of the buttock. The Medius makes up a muscle that sits higher and towards the outside of the Glutes. These muscles together assist in keeping your body upright, pushing your body forward, and keeping your knee and pelvis in line.
The Hamstrings is the group of muscles that are the back of the leg between the buttock and the calfs. The Hamstrings are a group of muscles called the Bicep Femoris, the Semitendinosus, and the Semimembranosus. Other than sounding like dinosaur names, the three main muscles of the Hamstring flex the knee and extend the hip. Because they cross and act on two joints, they are involved in much of your leg and hip movement. Everyday uses of the Hamstrings are walking, running, and bending over to pick something up.
The calf is made up of two separate muscles: the Gastrocnemius and the Soleus. The Gastrocnemius makes up the larger, outside part of your calf while the Soleus makes up the smaller part which sits on the inside of your leg. Obviously, the calfs main function is to assist in pushing you forward when you walk or run, and whenever you jump.
Many muscles combine to make up the front of the leg, but the ones everyone knows is the Quadricep. The Quadricep Femoris is made up of 4 different muscles and connects from your hip to your knee. The Quad makes up the front of the thigh, and is responsible for extending the knee. The parts of the thigh that you’ll hear about is the Vastus Lateralis and the Vastus Medialis. Those two make up the muscles you’ll see on the outside of your thigh and the inside of your thigh. Commonly referred to as “the teardrop”, the Vastus Medialis is a very tough muscle to define as most exercises call for assistance and support from the Vastus Lateralis given its larger size and placement along the outside of the leg. The quadriceps main function is to extend the leg and flex the hip.
Ok, so that was a ton of info to take in. Now, training your legs feels even more daunting but trust me, now you are ready to take on the job of making those legs stronger. By knowing the different parts of the leg, you can have a better idea of how to target and work each part. You will also become more familiar with each muscle as you go through workouts, often limping the next day from a muscle you didn’t even know about. While there are so many exercises to work each part of the leg, we are starting basic with just five main moves you can take to the gym right now and perform relatively well.
The Bench Squat:
You can also do this exercise on a small box if there are no benches available. You’ll grab a barbell and place it on your high back (not directly on your neck) and grasp the bar with both hands, palms facing forward. You’ll stand with feet wider than shoulder width, about three feet apart, and in front of a bench about one foot. Make sure that the bench is low enough so when you sit down on it, your thighs are parallel to the ground. The move is simple: chest up and eyes forward, sit back onto the bench. Once your butt touches the bench, immediately stand back up again. Make sure you lower yourself slowly and stand back up quickly. This exercise is perfect to work your Glutes and ease you into the form you will need for full squats.Check out BodyBuilding.com: Bench Squat for the visual.
This machine will work your quadriceps—big time! Remember, when it starts to burn, it’s working and so are you! Find the leg extension machine in your gym and position the seat so that when you sit down, the crease of your knee just hits where the seat ends. With both legs under the pad, slowly raise your legs up until fully extended and then lower back down. Make sure you only begin to release back down after you have squeezed your Quad at the top of the move.Check out BodyBuilding.com: Leg Extensions for the visual.
The leg press can often be intimidating because it’s so large and looks like it has a lot going on. This machine is great because you can work so many parts of the leg at once and without moving. For example, if you want to work your Quads, you will place your feet higher on the foot-pad. If you want to work your Hamstrings and Glutes, you will place your feet lower and wider. You can also work your calfs by placing just your tip toes on the bottom edge of the machine and pushing up and releasing back. Be sure you leave the handlebars in place for safety. For the purpose of this article, you are going to stick with your feet wide and in the middle of the foot-pad. Start with 25’s on each side, this is about form and learning, not about maxing out! Press the weights up, remove the handlebars (often situated by your hips) and then let the weight lower your thighs towards your chest. Once your thighs are about to touch your chest, push “through” the weight until your legs are almost completely extended. Again, for safety, do not fully lock out your knees or you can potentially injure yourself.Take a look at BodyBuilding.com: Leg Press for the visual.
Check out the most badass move of them all…
The great thing about calf raises is you can do them practically anywhere. Just find an edge that is high enough off the ground that your entire foot has space underneath. For the function of this article, lets find the calf raise machine (as seen in the video below). Position your foot so that just the front of your foot is on the machine and your heels and arch are hanging off of the back. Raise yourself up as high as you can and then lower yourself past neutral until your toes are higher than your heels. Again, take your time with this so that you properly work your calf muscle and do not injure yourself.See BodyBuilding.com: Calf Raises for the visual.
Badass Move: Deadlifts
The Stiff Legged Deadlift, also known as the Russian Deadlift, works your Hamstrings like crazy! When done properly, you’ll feel the strain in your Hammies while performing the move and long after recovering. Most guys don’t do this move unless they are serious about lifting. So, if you pull this one out, not only will you be noticed, but you’ll be putting them to shame. Form is crucial with this move, but if you start with just a barbell, you’ll be able to practice and get it right without hurting yourself and while still receiving the benefits.
Start with the barbell on the floor in front of you, as close to your toes as possible. I always position the bar so that it is directly at the bottom of my legs, often with my feet under the bar. Keeping your legs straight, but not locked out, lean over and grasp the bar with palms facing your legs. Grip is important here too, so grasp the bar as firmly as possible. Both your feet and your hands will be just about shoulder width apart. Look forward and stand up straight while lifting the bar. You’ll feel your back begin to pull if you aren’t focused on your hamstrings. You should work to only use your hamstrings in this move, and you’ll definitely feel both the Biceps Femoris and the Semi-membranosus strain to lift the weight. The top of the move is when you are standing straight up, with the bar just below hip level. Make sure to squeeze those cheeks once you complete the move! Then lower the weight in a controlled fashion, starting the move over again once the weight gets just about ankle level. A key part of this move is to keep the bar as close to your body as possible. When I get to heavier weights, I sometimes scrape my shins because I’m so focused on having my form perfect. Really make sure you’re bending at the hips and not at the knees and keep your back straight. A beautiful Deadlift should leave you seeing just the top of your buttocks in the mirror when you’re at the beginning of the move. This move is sexy, tough, and will get you looks both inside and outside of the gym, trust me! Check out BodyBuilding.com: Stiff Legged Deadlift