Why You Shouldn't Be Skipping Leg Day: Top 5 Reasons to Train Legs
Your legs have the potential to be the biggest and strongest muscles in your body. Why wouldn’t you train them?
It’s a meme in fitness culture that it’s funny skipping leg day to do upper body or celebrate “International Chest Day”, but it’s not worth taking seriously. It’s good for a joke, and let’s leave it at that.
Training your legs can lead to serious benefits for athletes and recreational lifters. Depending on what your goals are as an individual, you can customize your leg days to focus on strength, hypertrophy, or impulse.
In this article, we’ll look at what leg day is, when you should train legs throughout the week, and key benefits for why you SHOULDN’T skip leg day.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
What is Leg Day?
The goal of leg day is to focus on increasing strength, power output, or hypertrophy within your legs. If you train three or more days per week, your training split should include two days where leg training is the main focus. Incorporate a strength-based leg day at the beginning of the week and a hypertrophy-based leg day later in the week.
Peak Strength’s Athletic Fitness path is a great example of how non-athletes should incorporate leg days into their weekly workout routines. Regardless of if you train 3 days a week or 5, at least one day a week should be focused on the lower body..
In the realm of sports performance, you also want to be focusing on impulse-based training to increase the amount of force you can apply in a short period of time. As an athlete, your leg day should focus on movements like squats, cleans, snatches, and lunges to improve your performance in a specific sport.
Depending on your sport, you may be focusing on different variations of these lifts. For example, a soccer player should be doing 1 box cleans to improve their speed on the pitch while throwers might need to focus on box squats to improve their leg drive from higher positions.
To see exactly what leg day exercises you should be doing for your sport, try the Peak Strength Sports Performance path that offers over 700 exercises across 30+ sports.
When to Do Leg Workouts
Within Garage Strength Program Design, we have developed a system that puts leg day at the forefront of our training week. Regardless of if you train 3,4,5, or even 6 days a week, the first day in your training week should be a heavy leg day.
Then depending on how many days a week you train, you’ll have one more impulse day for legs or an additional hypertrophy day towards the end of the week.
Identifying your goals is important for figuring out how your leg days are going to be placed throughout your week. That’s if you are going to do more than one.
You need to ask yourself. “What are your specific goals for that training day?”. Do you want size? Do you want to gain strength? Do you want to gain speed? Do you want to improve your mobility and stability?
Anatomy also plays a part in determining when and how often you should train legs. Ironically, people will program or plan to train their upper body more frequently than their lower body. But when we look at our muscle groups, we see that our quads, specifically our vastus lateralis, respond better to more frequent training sessions than our upper body.
5 Reasons to Not Skip Legs
Bigger & Stronger Legs
The obvious reason to not skip legs is that your legs won’t grow if you don’t train them! If you skip leg day every week, you may not be strong enough to produce power for your sport or lift as much weight in another lift. Do you really want to be stuck with chicken legs?
If we take deadlift for example, it is a compound exercise that people will do on their back day. Although, conventional deadlift also uses your posterior chain like your hamstrings and glutes. Depending on the variation, like trap bar deadlift, it may engage your quads as well.
If you skip leg days, you will inhibit your ability to maximize your performance in other areas. There’s a reason NFL running backs like Nick Chubb and Saquon Barkely squat 600 lbs for reps and can clean over 400 lbs. It’s so they can be as powerful and explosive on the field. They even incorporate plyometric leg days into their workouts for speed and balance.
Increased Anabolic Hormones
Training and strengthening your legs can also lead to a positive hormonal response. Many athletes will see an uptick in their anabolic hormones like IGF-1, testosterone, and Mechano Growth Factor E (MGF-E) for a period of 24-36 hours after a heavy leg session.
When you train legs in the beginning of the week and follow it with a chest or or another hypertrophy day, you’re able to take advantage of elevated anabolic hormone levels. Training legs will lead to growth in other areas like your upper body muscles.
When you do compound leg exercises like squats, deadlifts, and cleans, you are going to burn more calories. You are able to move more weight, use more joints, and use more muscles to burn more calories.
Not to mention, your leg muscles are some of the biggest in your body. When your quads, glutes, and hamstrings are used then you are burning more calories than if you were doing an upper body isolation exercise like bicep curls.
We can also take our hormonal response into account. With the anabolic hormones that our bodies release when we train legs, it’s going to help put us in an excess burn of calories. When we combine a caloric deficit and the excess burn from training our lower body muscles with compound lifts, we will increase our overall daily energy expenditure.
Improved Range of Motion
Squatting, leg pressing, or doing Olympic lifts like snatches and cleans at a higher frequency is going to give you more practice being in different positions. When you do these dynamic movements, your body will adapt and improve to the joint angles it’s exposed to.
If you have a hard time getting to parallel or pushing it past it in a squat, the only way to improve your depth is to practice it more. That means leg training and squatting more than once a week! Say goodbye to doing upper body every day.
You don’t have to go very heavy and close to 90% of your max everyday, but practicing the motions at different weights will improve your range of motion and efficiency overtime.
Higher CNS Function
Your central nervous system will benefit from leg day because of the speed and intensity that is required from the legs. Because of the high level of intensity, your central nervous system learns how to have a stronger twitch force.
With a stronger twitch force comes growth and even greater displays of strength.
To put this into practice, think about plyometric training or back squats. These are complex exercises that require you to move and produce force and multiple joint angles. This forces your body to learn how to coordinate rapidly which makes your central nervous system more efficient.
Best Overall Leg Exercise
The back squat is a staple of any good leg workout. While it primarily targets the quads, hamstrings, and glute muscles, it also activates the adductors, calves, and lower back. Due to the level of high threshold motor units that are recruited, the back squat makes for an extremely efficient exercise for leg development and the entire body.
Whether you're a beginner using just your body weight, or an advanced lifter going for heavy maxes, the back squat can be adjusted to meet individual fitness levels and goals.
Best Leg Exercise for Beginners
Beginners need to focus on technique and range of motion before ramping the weight to near maxes. The goblet squat offers a safe and functional introduction to the squatting movement.
Holding a dumbbell or kettlebell close to the chest during a goblet squat helps beginners naturally maintain an upright torso, which can lead to better squat form. The anterior weight placement can counteract common beginner tendencies like leaning forward excessively.
With the weight held in front, there's also a reduced risk of back strain, especially for those unfamiliar with the squatting movement. If a beginner loses balance or feels fatigued, it's also easier to safely drop a dumbbell or kettlebell from the goblet position than it is to bail from a back squat.
Best Leg Exercise for Athletes
Single Leg Squat
Many sports, whether it's sprinting, jumping, or cutting, place a significant load on one leg at a time. Single leg squats mimic this unilateral loading, making them more sport-specific than bilateral exercises. Not only do single leg squats help with performance but are a great exercise for injury prevention and preventing muscle imbalances.
Performing a squat on one leg demands not just strength, but also stability and balance. The use of dynamic trunk control needed for the single leg squat enhances proprioceptive abilities (the body's awareness of its position in space), which are critical for athletes in dynamic sports settings.
The unilateral nature of single leg squats often results in higher gluteus medius activation, a muscle essential for hip stabilization during running and jumping. If you’re using a single leg roller, you’ll also be able to engage more of the quads which can help develop speed and vertical jump ability.
The bottom line is this…don’t be the guy that skips leg day. Training your legs should be incorporated at least once into your weekly workout routine. From the benefits in hormone production to the benefits in functionality, your legs are arguably one of the most important muscle groups to train.
Remember to train legs at the beginning of the week. That way your body and other muscle groups can reap the benefits of elevated anabolic hormone levels. If you want a program that puts leg day first and tailors to your goals or sport, sign up for Peak Strength and get 7 days of free training.
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Welcome to the Garage Strength Blog, where it is my goal to provide you with the experience and knowledge I've gained in the strength and conditioning world over many years of learning from both successes and failures. I train elite-level athletes in a multitude of sports from the high school to professional levels, already producing 5 Olympics and 30+ National Champions. If you want to be the next champion I train, check out my strength programs below!
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