Ah, summer. The one season when it's socially acceptable to wear shorts to more than just the gym. But if you're like most guys, your exercise routine has left those legs anything but ready for public viewing. Aside from looking a little on the slim side, underworked, undertoned legs are actually the culprit of lackluster fitness gains from head to toe.
Why? The quadriceps (a group of four muscles on the front side of your thighs) is the largest muscle group in your body, with the hamstrings (a group of three muscles at the back of your thighs) coming in second. The glutes (in and around your butt) are pretty hefty, too.
Together, these muscle groups have the ability to burn crazy calories—a whole lot more than your upper body's much smaller muscle groups can, says certified personal trainer, Reggie Chambers. Every lower-body rep requires tons of energy and power, resulting in calories burned both in the gym and later on, too, thanks to an elevated metabolism. What's more, working these large muscle groups stimulates the release of growth hormones that can help add muscle definition throughout the body.
Perhaps most importantly, working your legs prevents injury-causing muscular imbalances that can sideline your fitness. "Your legs are the body's base," Chambers says. "As with any structure, the base should be solid."
For example, weak hammies can cause ACL strains, while undertoned quads have been linked to knee pain and injury, according to orthopedic surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Berg. Weak hip flexors (common among runners, cyclists, and the desk-bound alike) contribute to lower-leg running injuries, according to a new review presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine.
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Ready to shape up, chicken legs? Once a week, Chambers advises completing 10 to 15 reps of each of the following moves, then repeat the set three times.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding dumbbells at your sides.
(A) Push your hips back to lower your body until your thighs are nearly parallel to the floor, keeping your knees behind your toes.
(B) Raise to return to the starting position. That's one rep.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding dumbbells at your sides. Step forward with one leg and slowly lower your body until your front knee is bent to 90 degrees.
(A) Pause, then raise up, bringing your back foot in front of your body to lower into another lunge.
(B) That's one rep. Continue moving forward for all reps.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart, the balls of your feet resting on a stable platform. Hold dumbbells at your sides.
(A) Contracting your calves, raise your heels above your ankles.
(B) Pause, then lower to return to start. That's one rep.
Alternating Step-Ups on Bench
Stand facing a bench or high step, holding dumbbells at your sides. Keeping your back straight and chest out, raise one leg to step onto the bench.
(A) Follow with your back leg to stand on the bench.
(B) Lower in the same order. Complete leading with the opposite leg. That's one rep. Continue all reps alternating lead legs.
Single-Leg Dumbbell Straight-Leg Deadlift
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding dumbbells in front of your thighs. Balance on one leg, keeping that knee slightly bent.
(A) Brace your core, bend at your hips, and lift your raised leg behind you until your torso is almost parallel to the floor.
(B) Pause, then squeeze your glutes to raise your torso back to start. Complete on the opposite side. That's one rep.