3 Steps to Make Weak Legs Stronger With Lower Body Workouts

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My legs are my weakest muscle group. Tips?

-Andrew Hernandez

WE ALL HAVE points of weakness, and for lots of guys (myself included), the lower half of their body is their biggest problem spot. My calves have long felt like the weak link in my body. Whether your issue is that your legs look weak or you actually struggle when you try to do lower body-focused exercises in the gym, it’s not an uncommon phenomenon.

But beating ourselves up about our shortcomings—or worse, totally ignoring them—won’t help to make them better. Your solution here isn’t to focus your gym time on your arms and back instead, transforming yourself into a top-heavy titan. Instead, we can focus our efforts on building our weak points so that they can become strengths (or at the very least, stronger than they once were).

The first thing to know is that you’re asking the right questions. Your weakness should be a point of focus. The second thing is to figure out exactly what you can do to address the issue. The simple answer is: Train your legs. But it certainly helps to have a better strategy for success after struggling for so long; you won’t get any better by just throwing more of the same at the problem. I talked to some experts—Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. and MH Advisory Board member David Otey, C.S.C.S.—to iron out a three-tiered approach that will get you started. And yes, we’re focused on the lower body here—but all of this guidance can apply to other problem areas.

Train Your Legs Differently

What do your lower body workouts look like? If your training sessions are always identical, we’ve found your first problem. Constantly doing the same rep schemes (whether that’s high reps or low reps) doesn’t give you a chance to find the rep scheme that’ll help you build the mind-muscle connection you need to build your legs. “Not all people’s bodies respond to the same training stimuli,” says Samuel.

“If you’ve been training your lower body with higher-rep, lower-load ideas, reverse that and hit higher loads for lower reps,” Samuel continues. “If you’ve been doing the opposite, then shift it. This may help you develop a better mind-muscle connection, or subject your body to heavier loads that can spur the strength and size gains you’re missing. If you try this approach, make sure to try it for more than one workout. Keep at it for at least a full training block (four to six weeks).”

You’ll probably also want to switch up the types of movements that make up your workout. If both of your feet are planted firmly on the floor working together for the entirety of your leg day, you’re putting yourself in a bad spot. Otey says that his first concern when a client tells him their legs are weak is that they’re not doing enough unilateral (single-leg) work.

“Most exercise movements are group projects in high school,” says Otey. “So if you have five people, three or four of them kind of just hang around and wait for the one or two people to just do all the work for them. What you actually want to do is individual assignments. I want to individually assign [movements] so that this one leg needs to do its job, or this one muscle needs to do its job—or else. And if the body is put in that position, it’s going to do the ‘or else’—it’s going to really prioritize making you successful because your body doesn’t want to fail.”

You’ll be able to suss out muscle biases and asymmetries by doing more unilateral exercises, Otey says—and in doing so, you’ll be in a great position to address some of the weaknesses that might be holding you back.

Train Your Legs More Often

Part of your problem might be that you’re not giving your legs enough attention within your workout program to see real results.

Samuel suggests developing a more consistent regimen to address your lagging legs. “If you’re only training legs once or twice a week, that may not be enough to develop the mind-muscle connection or movement mastery that you need to spur growth (especially for the once-a-week people),” he says.

Just be careful not to overdo it once you ratchet up the frequency. “That doesn’t mean training them hard-and-heavy three to four times weekly, because especially for legs that’ll fry your CNS [central nervous system],” Samuel continues. “Instead, think of adding low-CNS options into your non-leg day sessions two to three times weekly.”

Good examples of these moves are isolation exercises like quad extensions and leg curls or bodyweight moves like lunge variations. The overall goal should be to develop a strong mind-muscle connection with your lower body, he says. This is a good idea for my problem specifically—according to Samuel, this is a solid approach for training those pesky calf muscles.

Make Leg Day Your Main Focus

If you’re really committed to improving your leg strength, you should make it a priority. Do you observe International Chest Day every Monday? It’s time to kick off your split differently. Your leg day should now take the lead-off spot in your training cycle.

“Make sure leg day is the dominant day in your program,” Samuel says. “So it should be your Day 1 of your training cycle, when you’re most optimized to go hard.”

This priority isn’t just a mental trick to give your lower body precedence. Think about how your week goes when you put other heavy lifting days ahead of a focused lower body session. Even if you follow a balanced program like a “push-pull-legs” split, you’ll have worn yourself down to some degree if you’ve been lifting hard. “At a base level, especially if you’re lifting hard, that means you have a little systemic fatigue on your lower body by the time you get to leg day,” Samuel says. “You want to be at your freshest and most badass-focused on leg day, if you’re trying to get them caught up. So make them Day 1.”

This increased focus can’t only be on the big-time movements. If you jump right into the meat and potatoes of your workout, you’ll be shortchanging your lower body’s ability to perform. As you prioritize leg day, prioritize your warmup, too. “A five-minute focus on range of motion and warming up could dictate the next 45 minutes of your leg workout,” Otey says.

“Missing a warmup specific to lower body activities might be one of the most critical things holding you back,” he continues. “When you try to perform any task, you want to have the full, uninhibited range of motion of that joint. And if your body hasn’t done a lot of work with that joint—specifically through a full range of motion in the immediate amount of time you’re talking about— it’s not gonna be able to leverage the muscles the way that it needs to.”

Not sure exactly how to get moving the right way? Start with this four-part series. Give yourself plenty of time to crush your warmup, especially on that first day of the week. Just think—if you’re no longer fighting for your spot in the bench press line on Mondays, you’ll have plenty of space to give your legs the attention they need.

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Brett Williams, a fitness editor at Men’s Health, is a NASM-CPT certified trainer and former pro football player and tech reporter who splits his workout time between strength and conditioning training, martial arts, and running. You can find his work elsewhere at Mashable, Thrillist, and other outlets.

This article was originally posted here.

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