Ahh leg day. The one workout that everybody loves to hate. (And maybe just secretly loves?) Leg day has made a bit of a name for itself in the fitness world.
I had a killer leg day session at the weekend. It’s been a little while since I’ve trained them due to an unfortunate incident with an escalator, which left me with a slightly bloody and swollen knee. It was great to get back into it, even though I really felt the different after just doing copious amounts of upper body for two weeks!
In last month’s Fit Bride Bootcamp, I shared one of the leg day workouts that I’ve been doing with Staci. It’s perfect for beginners, or people who are just starting out lifting weights. It includes all the basic but really effective exercises for a good leg session. That’s the great thing about leg day- you really don’t need to over complicate things! You can feel the burn even just sticking to the most simple exercises.
The important thing with these exercises is that they need to be performed with correct technique. I realise that I didn’t go into this is great detail in the last post, so I thought it’d be a good idea to share some useful tips and key teaching points to go with it. Hopefully these will help you get the most from your leg day workout.
To be honest I could pretty much write an essay about the correct technique of each of the below exercises. It’s extensive! But that would leave you with a pretty long winded post to read. Instead, I’ve listed some of the basic exercises that are often used when training legs – as well as the most common teaching points that I always find myself repeating to my clients.
Teaching Point 1: Push BACK onto the heels
I ALWAYs need to remind my clients of this – whether they’re beginners or not! When you’re squatting, your bodyweight should be pushed back onto the heels and NOT over the toes. Ensure your weight is driven into your heels by pushing backwards as far as you can (without falling over!) This helps the glutes to kick in and keeps that all-important line between the ankle and the knee.
Teaching Point 2: No knocking knees!
In order to get greater depth in the squat, most people have to have their legs fairly wide apart (a couple of inches wider than hip width). This makes it all too easy for the knees to fall inwards. Remember to squeeze the glutes and push the knees OUT so that they stay in line.
Teaching Point 3: Don’t let the back drop
It’s easy to let the back fall reaaaallly far forwards in order to go lower into your squat. Try to resist. The squat is a big compound movement and it’s not just the legs that are workout. The back muscles must also work hard to keep a straight spine and a nice, lifted chest.
Teaching Point 1: Don’t round the back
A big difference between a squat and a deadlift is that you do have to lean forwards slightly more in a deadlift than you do in a squat. The key is that you do so with a straight spine. To bend forwards with a straight spine, think about hinging at the hips, rather than rounding in the upper back and letting the shoulders pull forwards. If you think about keeping the shoulder blades squeezed together, that should help.
Teaching Point 2: ABS ABS ABS
Most people don’t think about it, but deadlifts are a KILLER core exercise. If you get uncomfortable twinges in the lower spine whilst lifting a heavy weight, it could be because you aren’t using your abs to support yourself. Tighten the ab muscles throughout the exercises. Think about wearing a really wide, tight belt and pushing out against it with your stomach muscles. This should help to support the lower spine.
Teaching Point 3: Drive up through the heels
Just like in the squat (and lunges too), most of the power of the movement in a deadlift comes from shifting your bodyweight into your heels. Think as if they’re screwed into the ground and use them to drive yourself up, nice and powerful.
Teaching Point 1: Equal Bend in the Legs
Ensure that your bodyweight is equally placed in between both legs. You may be stepping forwards or backwards with the legs in order to get into position, but the lunge is fundamentally an up and down movement. Both the front and the back leg should be equally bent, ideally into 90 degrees each.
Teaching Point 2: Knees and Ankles in line
It’s useful to do lunges side on to the mirror. That way you can look at yourself and double check that when you’re at the bottom of the lunge, the front knee is in line with the ankle. It shouldn’t be travelling too far over the toes, which a lot of people are often guilty of. Again, think about having the weight in the heel, (rather than the toes) and this should help keep it nicely in line.
Teaching Point 1: Heels. Again.
See a theme coming along? In a step up, if you think about driving the heel of the raised leg down into the step, this will help to engage the glutes. When the leg is raised, take a moment to ensure that the knee is nicely in line with the ankle and not knocking in, or falling out.
Teaching Point 2: Don’t Spring!
It’s tempting to cheat doing step-ups by using momentum, rather than muscle. Try not to “spring” off the bottom leg and instead really use your legs, glutes and core to push yourself up.
Cable Kick Backs
Teaching Point 1: Don’t drop the chest or overarch the back
Doing cable kick-backs, it’s tempting to completely drop the chest in order to lift the leg higher behind you. Try and keep the chest high, without crunching the lower spine. It’s all about that abdominal engagement. Use the back muscles to keep the chest up and squeeze the abs to support the lower spine. You’ll feel it more in the hamstrings and glutes that way.
Teaching Point 2: Muscle, not momentum
This is another one where it’s tempting to get it over with as quickly as possibly by using momentum to go really fast. This is not effective. Kick backs are all about power on the kick back, and control on the way down.
I hope these all make sense! As ever, if you have any questions, just get in touch and I’ll be happy to help out 🙂
Want more leg day? Check out my lower body TRX burner!