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February 18, 2011

5 New Ways to Train Your Legs

In the world of devoted fitness buffs, there is a certain unspoken dread associated with training legs.  We know we need to do it, but the intensity of using 50% of your body in one colossal effort during a heavy squat can have some running to the nearest trash can.  The truth is, leg training is brutal and doing only traditional bodybuilding workouts for legs can get tedious.  Progressive resistance is a worthwhile approach, but you can only add so many plates before you get bored, plateau or simply become unmotivated.  While using the leg machines at the gym creates a solid base from which any leg workout can build on, sometimes you just need to change it up.  Variety is a good thing when training any body part—the more varied the movement patterns, the less likely the body will become efficient at them.  Efficiency, unfortunately, means fewer calories burned and a less-pronounced physical change.

The training techniques contained here are considered intermediate or advanced, and beginners should focus on building a base of leg strength before attempting these protocols.  Beginners should perform squats, lunges and bench step-ups using bodyweight only to start.  Once these movement patterns are mastered and solid neuromuscular connections are built, then progress to more advanced techniques like these.  To begin, complete a thorough 10-minute cardiovascular warm-up to minimize injury and to loosen up the joints.

1] Twelve 12’s

This is an example of volume training that Jade used with me when I was prepping for my very first show and helped me create a streamlined look for my legs.  Volume training is getting a lot of attention lately; the idea of cramming a lot of exercise into a small amount of time and focusing on one muscle group repeatedly to force a training effect.  Though some protocols require up to 10 sets of a single exercise, Twelve 12’s is a little less demanding, but just as effective.  This technique is ideal for people whose goal is not hypertrophy or strength, but instead to stimulate a muscle enough to get a localized burn, lactic acid accumulation and thus a fat-burning effect.  I use this technique on many of my female clients who do not want to build muscle, but instead want to activate the muscle just enough to enhance tone and shape.   This protocol can be done with any leg exercise, though it is ideal for single-joint movements like leg extensions and leg curls for isolation and to force several brief lactic acid-induced failures.  Pick a machine and perform a total of 5 sets using a moderately-light weight.  Perform 12 repetitions.  Now count 12 long seconds of rest, then perform another set of 12 reps.  Continue with 12 reps, followed by 12 seconds of rest until you complete 5 sets total.  A moderately-light weight should induce a brief lactic acid failure within the 3rd set, after which, you will have to rest briefly throughout the remaining sets to allow for lactic acid dissipation.

2] 15-Minute Stadium Workout

A new twist on an old stand-by, this protocol will not only get you out of the gym, but get the legs completely torched.  Traditional stadium runs will usually call for the trainee to sprint up an aisle of stairs and walk back down, and then repeat.  This approach is an exciting and unexpected form of interval training, especially for beginners because they can go at their own pace.  However, for advanced exercisers, I have sprinkled some tough and effective leg exercises throughout.  After performing a couple of easy up-and-down the stairs to warm-up, complete the following circuit non-stop for a total of 15 minutes:

Start at the bottom of a flight of stairs, and then:

  • Sprint up the stairs as fast as possible, skipping every other step
  • At the top of the steps, perform 10 squat jumps and 10 squat-thrusts
  • Perform fast walking lunges along the top until you reach the top of the next set of stairs
  • Perform 5 single-leg squats with the right leg, and then 5 single-leg squat jumps with the right leg
  • Perform 5 single-leg squats with the left leg, and then 5 single-leg squat jumps with the left leg
  • Run down the stairs hitting every step on the way down
  • Perform lateral side squats back to the starting position at the bottom of the first flight of stairs


3] Burn Training

This protocol incorporates the use of burn techniques to reach failure several times in a short amount of time.  Burn techniques are great ways to increase intensity and a change from the usual straight-set approach.  Here is an example using bodyweight squats (no weight needed).  Perform the following protocol without resting for as long as you can stand it.  Then, when you reach failure, rest briefly and then return to the workout when you are ready:

  • Fast squats – 15 reps
  • Half-squats from the bottom to the middle – 15 reps
  • Pulse the squat at the mid-point for 15 inch-reps
  • Squat jumps – 15 reps
  • Pause all the way at the bottom, count to 10
  • Move up 1 inch, count to 10
  • Move up 1 more inch, count to 10


4] Hybrid Movements

Body-part training approach for the majority of clients is overrated. It is inefficient and unrealistic for today’s time-starved average exerciser, and frankly does not achieve the results that many are looking for.  Thus, here is one of Metabolic Effect‘s core concepts, hybrids, which focuses on functional training, moving the body in multiple planes within the same movement, to save time and to increase the density of the workout.  However, I think many make the mistake of using a weight that is simply too light for these exercises.  It is true that multi-planar movements work on balance and stability to going too heavy can cause injury, however, for legs, you can and should really pile on the plates.  To really generate a huge caloric deficit and metabolic effect, hybrid and compound movements for legs are ideal.  And heavy leg workouts achieve these goals even better–for leg day, don’t be afraid to leave it all out there.  Lift heavy, get breathless, get burning and reap the physical and metabolic benefits.  Here are some of my favorite hybrid leg workouts (beware: heavy weight involved, so get a spotter if needed):

  • Lunge-Squat-Lunge-Squat – Using an Olympic barbell and 10-15 lbs on either side, lunge with thr right leg, then press back immediately into a squat, and then lunge with the left leg, and press back immediately into another lunge.  Continue alternating legs, squatting in between. Complete 10 lunges on each leg (20 squats)
  • Lunge-Squat-Squat Jump – Holding 15-lb dumbbells in each hand, lunge with the right leg forward, and then press back into a squat, immediately followed by a squat jump with the weight. Repeat on the left side.  Complete 10 lunges each leg.
  • Step-up-Squat – Holding 20-25lb dumbbells, perform a bench step-up on the right leg, when you return to the floor, perform a deep squat touching the weights to the ground. Perform 10 alternating step-up-squats on each leg (note: touching the dumbbells to the ground during squats activates the glutes more).

5] Unilateral or Single-Leg Training

Though this technique has been around for a while, it can be an effective protocol to come back to every 6 months or so.  The idea is to load each leg one at a time to force the stabilizing muscles to develop strength, and as a result fine-tune functional parameters like balance, stability and coordination.  Here are some of my favorite exercises to torch each leg separately.  Perform 10 reps with each leg, 3-4 sets:

  • Single-leg squat – Holding 15 lb dumbbells in each hand, lift the left foot off the ground behind you, and bend the right knee into a squat.  To increase intensity, touch the dumbbells to the ground on either side of the right foot.  Press back up to the starting position.
  • Bulgarian Split-Squat – Holding 15 lb dumbbells in each hand, arms straight down at sides, stand about 3 feet (facing) away from the long side of a flat bench.  Reach the left foot back and place the shoe laces against the top of the bench (lunge position).  Lunge down with the right leg until the right knee is at a 90-degree angle, and then press back up to the starting position.   Complete 10 reps on the right before moving onto the left leg.
  • Single-leg Squat Jump on BOSU – Using no weight, stand with the right foot on the top of the round side of a BOSU ball, with the left foot on the ground in front of you.  Bend the left knee down until it touches the BOSU and then jump up in a jumping lunge, however, keep the feet in the same orientation as you lower down (do not switch legs in the air).  Your left knee will become straight as you jump, though your right foot will barely come off the BOSU and right knee remains bent.  This exercise really targets the glute of the foot that is on top of the BOSU.  Complete 10 fast reps on the same side, before moving to the other side.

Next time you decide to train legs, think outside of the box and grab one of the these techniques to begin with.  Let us know how you do!  Want more leg training ideas? Here is another one of our favorites! Good luck! ox Jill

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