Buildin' Big Wheels
Leg training is a completely different beast to training arms or your abs, the energy required to smash a big leg workout is second to none, needless to say it comes as no surprise that many guys opt to skip training legs entirely or make a weak effort to 'tick the box' and get it over and done with. Well developed legs can take a physique to the next level, while skipping leg day can make you the laughing stock of others while you're walking around in shorts during summer.
Like all things, if you're going to do it... do it right. Are you falling victim to any of these leg training mistakes?
Leg Training Mistake #1
If I had to choose only 3 exercises to perform for the rest of my days in the gym, the squat would be one of them. Needless to say the traditional barbell squat is the best lower body exercise in existence. The barbell back squat when performed correctly will hit your quads, hamstrings, glutes and calfs, and unlike machine based exercises such as the leg extension the barbell squat can safely be performed with heavy weight - allowing us to continually apply progressive overload and build up strong, functional legs.
The leg press, leg curls, leg extensions, dumbbell lunges... all of these exercises come second to the squat.
The squat has stood the test of time and should be included in every leg workout, with many different variations (based on foot placement and bar placement).
Leg Training Mistake #2
Using A Limited Range of Motion
When training legs, strict form and a full range of motion must be utilized to activate and overload the muscles being targeted.
Squat half reps, a minuscule leg press range of motion, not dropping your knee low enough on dumbbell lunges... if you're constantly limiting your range of motion you're not going to be able to build either the size or strength you're chasing.
A limited range of motion is usually due to one of the following three reasons:
Lifting too heavy
When squatting or using the leg press 'getting out of the hole' aka. the bottom portion of the movement is without a doubt the hardest. If you're performing half reps because you're unable to get the weight out of the hole it's a clear sign you're lifting too heavy. Stacking more and more weight on the bar or the machine may make you feel good... but you won't see that weight translate into size or strength gains. Check your ego at the door and lift weight which you're able to manage (while still being a challenge in the prescribed rep range) utilizing a full range of motion.
If you're new to the gym and you've spent the last decade working in an office day in day out chances are your mobility isn't the greatest. Constant practise combined with stretching, foam rolling and a mobility routine will have you getting low on those squats in no time, tight hip flexors (from sitting all day) are notorious for this.
There's nothing pretty about dropping your ass to the grass with 350lbs on your back, multiple times at 5am in the morning. But the feeling of accomplishment, constant progression, mental fortitude and discipline it builds is worth it.
Squatting heavy with a full range of motion sucks, but if you're using the right weight and you've developed the mobility to work a full range of motion you have no excuse.
Leg Training Mistake #3
Relying On The Smith Machine
The smith machine is no substitute or replacement for the squat rack.
From my experience I've found squatting in the smith machine to feel extremely unnatural, as the bar is locked in place you'll often be placing your knees compromised positions to stay in line with the machine. As the barbell in the smith machine is locked in place no core stability is developed either.
You may be able to lift heavier in the smith machine (for the above reason) however this strength does not seem to transfer over to other exercises, such as the barbell squat.
On the other hand, building up a beastly barbell squat will translate to stronger lifts on other leg exercises.
Avoid the smith machine, the safety feature of the smith machine can be replicated with rails in the power rack/squat rack or by having a spotter on hand.
Check out Omar Isuf's video below on squatting safely without a spotter.
Leg Training Mistake #4
Neglecting Hamstrings & Calfs
The legs are comprised of the quads, hamstrings, glutes and calfs... if you're neglecting a muscle group of the legs it'll show both visually and in your lifts.
Emphasis can be changed from quads to hamstrings and vice versa with simple adjustments on squats, the leg press and lunges with small changes to your feet placement (e.g. wider, narrower, higher up, larger or shorter steps).