How to target your legs properly

Legs are the most over and under trained part of the body all at the same time. How’s that possible though? Well girls love to train legs and understandably will prioritise this in their workout week. However, much of this is misguided down to the fact that many female gym goers will fear getting big and bulky therefore avoiding upper body exercise. This is simply not true as putting on muscle takes time and a lot of effort so you wont suddenly wake up as Arnie after consistently doing upper body exercises for a few months. If you keep your reps up then largely you are going to use more energy and train the slow twitch muscle fibres (type 1) which are generally smaller than fast twitch muscle fibres (type 2) that are big as they need to be explosive and powerful. So this misconception here is mainly surround the confusion with rep ranges but that’s another story. Girls in this situation can begin to only train legs and not let them repair sufficiently and then decrease quality of their workouts. For guys, it is generally the other way. They’re not bothered about training legs and will largely neglect them leading to this big mound of muscle on top of some toothpicks. So being a polarising topic, the need for some education on how to target each area properly should be useful.

Some basic anatomy

The main areas of your leg to train are :

  • Quadricep (muscle on the front of your upper leg)
  • Hamstring (muscle on the back of your upper leg)
  • Calf (muscle on the back of your lower leg)
  • Adductor (muscle on inside of your upper leg) – brings about motion of bringing leg back towards your body
  • Abductor (muscle on outside of outer leg) – brings about motion of bringing leg away from your body

These are just the basic names and should help you to give an understanding of the different areas to focus on.

Quadricep

The quadricep looks to create extension at the knee joint as well as flexion at your hip joint.

How to target the quad :

  • Leg extension machine (will work to isolate the muscle as much as possible)
  • Squat (This works the quad as one of the many muscles it works as it is a compound lift. So this should be used at the start of a leg day.)
  • Step ups (this can be progressed by using dumbbells in hand to increase difficulty and help further your body to adapt and improve)
  • Plyometric box jumps (focussing on the explosive up movement will help to develop the fast-twitch muscle fibres in the quads)
  • Leg press (of course)

Hamstrings

The hamstrings looks to create flexion at the knee joint. This is the opposite muscle to the quad acting as the agonist muscle compared to its antagonist partner.

How to target the hamstring :

  • Hamstring machine curl (will work to isolated the muscle as much as possible)
  • Romanian Deadlift
  • Nordic Hamstring Curl (can be used with no equipment at home!) –
    • This is done by fixing feet under or around something so you are standing up on your knees. Then tensing your hamstrings as much as possible to resist falling to ground until then release and put your hands out to put on the ground. Then push up off the ground and tense your hamstrings again on the way back up.
  • Hamstring heel curl
    • This is done by sitting on the ground with your legs out in front of you. Then place your hands on the ground and raise your rear off the floor. Then with your heels only part of the foot in contact with the floor, bring your bum towards your heels and then back to original position. Try to dictate the movement with your hamstrings contracting as much as possible.

Calf

The calf is also known in its fancy form as the gastrocnemius and the soleus that make up the muscle. The gastrocnemius is what gives the muscle the most of its shape and visibility whereas the soleus is underneath this meaning its often the forgotten part.

How to target the calf :

  • Calf raise (can be done using a barbell on your back or holding dumbbells)
    • Do this by standing with you feet about 2 inches apart and then extending up so you are standing on your toes. This should be done by contracting the calf.
  • Seated calf raise (same principle here but adapted for those who may not be completely mobile or find the original version to be too unbalanced)
  • Toe focused farmers walks
    • These are great for some variation when training your calves and making sure they don’t get overly used to being statically used all of the time. This can be used without weight if needed.
  • Calf jumps
    • This is fairly self explanatory as they are just jumping and pushing through the calves mainly to target them the most.

The different areas of the calf can be targeted more by slightly turning the toes in. This will help target the outer head.

Abductors and Adductors

Here’s how to target the abductors :

  • Abductor raises
    • This can be done laying down or using resistant bands.
  • Single leg deadlifts (using either no weight or just dumbbells)
  • Clamshells
    • Lie with knees slightly bent and touching each other. Then bring the top leg away from the other as far as the ROM will allow.

Here’s how to target the adductors :

  • Prayer squat
    • This is done with no weight and feet positioned wider than hip width to help try to put the emphasis on the inside of your leg where the adductors are located.
  • Adductor machine
  • Adductor raises
    • This is done by lying with your feet underneath a chair, on your side. Then place your top leg on the chair seat on its side. Then contract your inner leg to bring the bottom leg up to touch the underside of the seat.

We understand we have left out the gluteus or ‘bum’ from this post but that’s because we feel it deserves its own dedicated post which we will be releasing soon.

Any terms you didn’t understand? Check out our Gym Dictionary for simple translations!

Let us know of any questions in the comments below!

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