I know many people who neglect to train their legs. I used to be one of them. Before I dive into the benefits of leg day, let’s consider the excuses I frequently hear from people who skip legs:
“Legs Aren’t Sexy.”
Some people overtrain their vanity muscles, like arms and chest. Those top-half muscles—the ones that give guys the coveted “V shape”—are the ones people notice first. Big guns still get too much attention. When was the last time someone flexed for you and asked if you had tickets to the “quad show”?
Well-developed legs aren’t as apparent as big arms. Even though big booties are fashionable these days, some people still prefer a nice biceps pump.
I’m getting tired of calling bullshit!
You’re here to train your entire body and to be as healthy as possible. Legs are a part of your body, and they are sexy, too. Plus, guys with massive torsos and stick-thin, underdeveloped legs look… kinda strange.
“Because It’s Hard.”
You burn more energy in an intense leg workout than you do in an intense arm workout. Bigger muscles require more energy expenditure, and training your legs can tire you out!
Get over it. Follow a nutrition and sleep plan that provides you with the energy you need for leg day. Eat appropriately and get those squats in!
“I Run (Or Walk) A Lot!”
I used to run a lot. For most of my twenties, I ran an average of 40 miles a week. I initially decided to take up running after I read an interview with a Broadway actor in which he explained he started running to lose weight. He was a fat kid and a fat young adult, and he credited running with his recent career success. He also mentioned that he went to the gym several days a week, but that he never trained his legs. He assumed he was adequately training his leg muscles by running, and he didn’t want them to get “big.”
He seemed successful, so I figured his approach was good enough for me, too! I started running like a maniac, and I avoided strength training my legs altogether. I didn’t work legs for almost a decade.
What happened? Without resistance training, my legs became weak, a muscular imbalance led to chronic back pain, and I experienced fewer gains in other muscle groups. I learned (the hard way) that running is not a substitute for training your legs by adding resistance.
The Benefits of Training Your Legs
About five years ago, a personal trainer forced me to resume strength training my legs. Honestly, it was tough! My legs were weak from years of neglect, and I hated leg exercises at first. Eventually, I got better at all those squats, and I noticed improvements in balance and posture. I actually began to look forward to leg day.
Later, when I started my recent fat-loss quest, another friend suggested I try training legs twice a week. That’s correct: two leg days each week.
Say WHAT!? I thought he was crazy, and I didn’t want to do it. It sounded terrible. But he was more experienced than me, so I decided to give it a shot.
I incorporated a second leg day into my routine, and guess what? That’s when my body completely changed. I saw a drastic increase in muscle—both in my legs and overall—and I started burning more fat. I also noticed I would be super hungry after every leg workout, and that’s how I knew something was happening…
Leg muscles are the largest muscles in your body. Studies show that working your legs causes your body to release more testosterone and growth hormone (GH) than any other muscle group.1Kraemer, William J., Keijo Häkkinen, Robert U. Newton, et al. “Acute Hormonal Responses to Heavy Resistance Exercise in Younger and Older Men.” European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology. 77(3): 206–11. February 1998. https://doi.org/10.1007/s004210050323.
That’s right: you produce and release more testosterone and GH when strength training your leg muscles. Testosterone is necessary to grow all of your muscles. An additional leg day means more testosterone in your body for growth in all of your muscles. Who wouldn’t benefit from that boost?
A recent study showed that guys who worked their biceps right after a leg workout saw significantly more biceps growth than guys who trained the biceps with the exact same exercises on a non-leg training day.2Rønnestad, Bent R., Håvard Nygaard, and Truls Raastad. “Physiological Elevation of Endogenous Hormones Results in Superior Strength Training Adaptation.” European Journal of Applied Physiology. 111(9): 2249–59. September 2011. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-011-1860-0. The additional growth is likely attributed to an increase in testosterone from the leg training.
Plus, additional testosterone helps with many other metabolic and general health concerns, like preventing heart disease and increasing libido.
Testosterone and Fat Loss
Extra testosterone helps you maintain muscle mass while cutting calories. Nobody should skip leg day, especially if they’re trying to lose fat. Retaining muscle mass while dieting is one of the most significant challenges you can face while sustaining a caloric deficit. Training legs is your first line of defense in preserving mass while trying to lean out.
Testosterone Is Good for Women, Too
Scientists have also documented similar testosterone increases in women. Another study, published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, tracked women and men who performed a heavy resistance leg workout—squats, leg presses, and leg extensions—twice a week for eight weeks. “The results showed an increase in pre-exercise concentrations of testosterone in both men and women after both six and eight weeks of training.”3Ahtiainen, Juha, Arto Pakarinen, Markku Alen, William Kraemer, and Keijo Häkkinen. 2003. “Muscle Hypertrophy, Hormonal Adaptations and Strength Development during Strength Training in Strength-Trained and Untrained Men.” European Journal of Applied Physiology 89 (August): 555–63. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-003-0833-3. Another study indicated total free testosterone increases of 25%4Nindl, B. C., W. J. Kraemer, L. A. Gotshalk, J. O. Marx, J. S. Volek, F. A. Bush, K. Häkkinen, R. U. Newton, and S. J. Fleck. 2001. “Testosterone Responses after Resistance Exercise in Women: Influence of Regional Fat Distribution.” International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism 11 (4): 451–65. https://doi.org/10.1123/ijsnem.11.4.451. in young, healthy, non-obese women after a bout of heavy resistance exercise. “The role of this increase is unclear but could serve to augment neuromuscular performance and metabolism.”
Will adding a second leg day turn you into a giant? No. It’s important to note that these increases in testosterone are not equivalent to using a synthetic steroid. This increase in testosterone from strength training is natural and proportionate to other biological factors. Women who train legs won’t turn into the Incredible Hulk. They are more likely to experience similar incremental performance increases and fat loss effects to those experienced by men.
I’m not talking about aesthetic balance, although the lollipop look never did anyone any favors. I’m talking about musculoskeletal balance. When you train some parts of your body but neglect others, you create a muscular imbalance, which often leads to joint injuries, back pain, etc.
Vanity aside, musculoskeletal balance is reason enough to train your legs. The human body is a complex machine with many working parts. Your body instinctively enlists whichever muscles it can to complete a task as quickly as possible. Imagine pushing a car up a hill, for instance. How far will you get if you are only pushing with your arms and shoulders? Your biceps can’t move the same amount of weight your legs can move, and if you try to use your back, you know you’ll throw your back out.
Sticking with the car analogy, if your car has a busted radiator and the battery is dead, you wouldn’t decide to replace the battery and disregard the radiator. You need both of those things for your car to run. Leg day is an essential part of any function, whole-body training regimen.
You Need To Train Your Legs!
I used to skip leg day. Now I prioritize it. Always include a leg day in your strength-training split.
Additionally, consider training legs twice a week during a four- or five-day split. A second leg day allows for both strength and hypertrophy exercises for anterior (front) and posterior (back) leg muscles. It also allows you to add on a few exercises for other muscle groups to take advantage of the testosterone boost that happens right after you work legs.
- DON’T SKIP LEG DAY.
- Your leg muscles make up the largest muscle group in your body. When you train them, you release more testosterone than you do when training other muscle groups. That added testosterone benefits your other muscles and helps prevent muscle loss while maintaining a caloric deficit.
- Neglecting your legs leads to a musculoskeletal imbalance, which increases the chance of injuries to your joints, muscles, and connective tissues. It may even create the dreaded “lollipop” look, lol.
- If you strength train more than three times per week, consider adding a second leg day to your routine.
|↑1||Kraemer, William J., Keijo Häkkinen, Robert U. Newton, et al. “Acute Hormonal Responses to Heavy Resistance Exercise in Younger and Older Men.” European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology. 77(3): 206–11. February 1998. https://doi.org/10.1007/s004210050323.|
|↑2||Rønnestad, Bent R., Håvard Nygaard, and Truls Raastad. “Physiological Elevation of Endogenous Hormones Results in Superior Strength Training Adaptation.” European Journal of Applied Physiology. 111(9): 2249–59. September 2011. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-011-1860-0.|
|↑3||Ahtiainen, Juha, Arto Pakarinen, Markku Alen, William Kraemer, and Keijo Häkkinen. 2003. “Muscle Hypertrophy, Hormonal Adaptations and Strength Development during Strength Training in Strength-Trained and Untrained Men.” European Journal of Applied Physiology 89 (August): 555–63. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-003-0833-3.|
|↑4||Nindl, B. C., W. J. Kraemer, L. A. Gotshalk, J. O. Marx, J. S. Volek, F. A. Bush, K. Häkkinen, R. U. Newton, and S. J. Fleck. 2001. “Testosterone Responses after Resistance Exercise in Women: Influence of Regional Fat Distribution.” International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism 11 (4): 451–65. https://doi.org/10.1123/ijsnem.11.4.451.|