Get Your Leg Day On: A Beginner's Guide to Effective and Safe Leg Workout

Jumpstart Your Fitness Journey with the Ultimate Beginner’s Leg Workout

If you are here, it could mean one of two things: you have yet to experience the pain that comes with training your legs; you have, but the workout you did might have been too much for your first. If so, you are in the right place.

Leg workouts are essential for any fitness routine because they help build muscle and improve overall physical strength, balance, and endurance. And who doesn’t want strong, toned legs that can power through any activity and feel confident showing off their legs in their favourite shorts or skirt? 

Whether you’re a seasoned gym-goer or just starting, make sure you don’t skip leg day – your body (and wardrobe) will thank you later!

"What exercise should I start with?"

Choosing the right exercises and putting together a solid leg workout can be challenging for beginners, but don’t worry – we’re here to help. 

In this guide, you’ll find practical leg exercises and tips for creating a well-rounded leg workout that may help you achieve your fitness goals. So let’s get started!

THE WORKOUT

The beginning of the weightlifting part of the workout it is recommended to always start with a compound movement, an essential part of any weightlifting routine, as they activate multiple muscle groups and joints simultaneously, resulting in an efficient and effective workout. Starting the weightlifting part of your routine with a compound movement ensures that you get the most out of your training. In this case, the good-ol’ Back Squat.

For optimal results, we suggest performing the Back Squat on a Smith machine. The Smith machine allows you to have enhanced support and stability, leading to better control with your movements. This is particularly advantageous if you’re a beginner, or if you are recovering from an injury. With the Smith machine, you don’t have to rely on your balance as much as when using free weights since the barbell is fixed on a guided track which minimises the risk of getting injured.

So, incorporating compound movements and using the right equipment will help you reach your fitness goals and minimise the risk of injury.

Smith Machine Squat

Squats are a highly effective exercise for building leg muscle mass, as several muscles are worked simultaneously, such as the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. They also improve overall lower body strength, power, and mobility, which benefit your athletic performance and help you avoid injuries.

As mentioned before, one of the key benefits of the Smith machine squat is the added safety and stability that the machine provides for the lifter, particularly for those who are new to lifting or who struggle with balance. Additionally, the Smith machine squat provides a wider range of motion compared to the traditional squat, allowing for greater activation of the glutes, quads, and hamstrings. The machine also makes it easier to perform different variations of the squat, such as front or rear lunges.

Finally, because the Smith machine squat does not require as much stabilisation as traditional squats, it enables users to focus on building strength and endurance in their leg muscles.

But, for the crucial part of the exercise, performing it correctly.

  1. The key is to perform the exercise as well as possible to avoid injury. Adding unnecessary weight for the first time could develop bad habits, as your body will try to adjust to any imbalances, so make sure it’s not too much.
  2. Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes pointing slightly outwards. 
  3. Duck beneath the bar and make sure the bar is placed behind your neck and on your upper back. At first, it may feel uncomfortable. If so, do not hesitate to ask the gym staff for a barbell pillow/pad.
  4. Once you’ve found that comfortable position, lower your hips and bend your knees, keeping your chest up and your back straight. Keep your knees in line with your toes and not caving inward. 
  5. Once you’ve reached the bottom of your squat, push through your heels to stand back up straight. Remember to keep your core tight throughout the movement and maintain proper breathing. Breathe in as you descend and breathe out as you ascend.
  6. With practice, patience and persistence, you’ll do squats safely and effectively in no time.
  7. Perform the exercise for 10-12 reps for 4 sets.

For the second exercise; when it comes to workout routines, not all exercises are created equal. Some movements are designed to work several muscles at the same time, while others are targeted to specific muscle groups. If your fitness goals include building muscle mass or increasing strength in a particular area of your body, then isolated exercises are an excellent tool to use.

Isolated movements entail targeting a single muscle group, thereby allowing you to concentrate on its development wholly. This approach enables you to focus on the muscle group you want to develop and is an effective way to help you reach your fitness goals. Moreover, using isolated movements can help you ensure proper form, prevent injury and optimise your overall performance.

If you’re looking to grow/strengthen your quads:

Machine Leg Extensions

Leg extensions are an effective way to strengthen and develop the quadriceps, helpful for running, jumping, and squatting. Leg extensions can help improve knee stability and reduce the risk of knee injuries. Leg extensions also offer a controlled and low-impact way to improve strength and range of motion in the knee joint.

To perform leg extensions correctly:

  1. Sit on a leg extension machine with your back against the backrest and your feet firmly on the footrest. 
  2. Adjust the leg pad so that it sits just above your ankles. 
  3. Extend your legs to lift the weight, exhaling as you lift and keeping your back straight. 
  4. Pause at the top of the movement and squeeze your quads. 
  5. Avoid locking your knees when extending your legs, as this can cause knees unnecessary stress. 
  6. Slowly lower the weight and inhale as you go. 
  7. Perform the exercise for 10-15 reps for 3 sets.

Aim for proper form over heavier weights and avoid swinging your legs or using momentum to lift the weight to maximise muscle growth. Start with a comfortable weight to avoid future injuries, especially if you are new to this exercise. Take some time to get comfortable with the movement before increasing your weight. Remember, the correct technique is always preferable to increasing resistance.

The hamstrings are undoubtedly one of the most essential muscle groups in the body when it comes to lower body strength, stability, and coordination. In order to maximise these benefits, it is crucial to perform exercises that specifically target these muscles.

So, if you’re looking to grow/strengthen the lower backside muscle groups of your body:

Machine Leg Curls

Leg curls are a resistance exercise that targets the glutes and calves, but mainly the hamstrings, located on the back of the thigh. These muscles play a vital role in extending the hip, flexing the knee joint, and strengthening them. 

Leg curls offer several benefits, including reduced risk of hamstring strains and injuries, improved posture and better overall muscle balance between the quadriceps and hamstrings, which can reduce stress on the knee joint and potentially prevent knee injuries.

To perform this exercise:

  1. Begin by adjusting the machine to fit your body. Sit on it and have the backrest align with your back.
  2. Place your ankles under the pad on the machine and adjust the pad snugly against the back of your ankles.
  3. Slowly raise your feet towards your buttocks while keeping your knees stationary. Pause, then slowly lower your feet back to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for 8-10 reps for 4-5 sets.

The laying leg curl is another variation of the exercise that you may want to consider adding to your workout routine. This exercise is very similar to the standard leg curl, but instead of performing it while seated, you will lay flat on your stomach on a leg curl machine. By laying down, it allows for a different muscle engagement.

To perform this exercise, simply adjust the machine to fit your height and ensure your legs are securely tucked underneath the padded bar. Once in position, exhale and use your hamstrings to curl the bar towards your buttocks, pause briefly at the top of the movement and then slowly lower the bar back to the starting position.

The following exercises can be in the order of your choosing. While you have the flexibility to decide, keeping in mind the muscles you want to target is essential. To ensure maximum growth prioritise exercises that target that muscle group earlier in the workout when the muscles are fresh. If you leave those exercises for the end, they may be too tired to perform at their best, hindering your progress. 

Barbell Hip Thrusts

The Barbell hip thrust is a highly effective and valuable compound exercise that is designed to specifically target the glutes, hamstrings, quads, and lower back muscles. By performing this exercise properly and incorporating it into your regular workout routine, you can reap numerous benefits that can improve your overall physique and enhance your strength and endurance. One of the most notable benefits of the Barbell hip thrust is its ability to strengthen your glutes, resulting in an improved appearance of your buttocks. A well-toned butt not only looks great but can also enhance your athletic performance and reduce your risk of injury by improving your posture and alignment. Furthermore, the Barbell hip thrust is an ideal exercise for those looking to improve their lower body strength, explosive power, and overall conditioning. With so many benefits to offer, including enhanced muscle activation and optimal results, it’s no wonder why the Barbell hip thrust is a popular exercise among fitness enthusiasts of all levels.

Here’s how to perform it:

  1. Sit on the ground with your back against a bench, preferably on the declined part of the bench, and your feet flat on the floor. 
  2. Place a barbell across your lap, just above your pelvic bone.
  3. If the bar feels uncomfortable, just as with the squat, find yourself a pad/pillow to avoid pain.
  4. Lean back against the bench and brace your core.
  5. Drive your hips toward the ceiling, pushing the barbell up with your hips. And make sure you are looking forward rather than up. Keep your neck in a neutral position and avoid arching your lower back. 
  6. Pause at the top of the movement and slowly lower your hips back to the starting position.
  7. Perform the exercises for 12-15 repetitions and 5 sets.

Start with a lighter weight and gradually increase as you become more comfortable with the exercise.

Bulgarian Split Squats

Bulgarian split squats are a highly effective exercise that provides numerous benefits to individuals looking to build lower body strength, improve balance, and increase flexibility.

One of the main benefits of dumbbell split squats is that they can be performed with weights, allowing individuals to target and build their quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. The exercise also improves balance and stability by requiring individuals to maintain their form and core stability. And also help individuals to prevent injury by improving flexibility and range of motion in their hips and legs.

To perform Bulgarian split squats:

  1. Start by standing straight with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a barbell on your neck at a squat rack or a dumbbell in each hand and an elevated surface behind you, preferably a bench.
  2. Next, put one leg on the surface.
  3. Step with the other leg forward while keeping the other in place, creating a lunge position. 
  4. Lower your body towards the ground by bending your knees until your front knee is at a 90-degree angle.
  5. Then press back up to the starting position. 
  6. Keep your upper body straight and your core engaged throughout the exercise. 
  7. Repeat the movement for 12-15 repetitions before switching to the other leg, with a total of 3-4 sets.

Some individuals may tell you that this exercise may be the worst exercise to ever appear on a gym floor. Not because it’s not optimal. It’s very optimal, as explained above.

The reason behind its reputation is that it takes willpower to complete it. Which is why we believe it must be in any leg workout.

Finally, for the final exercise of the workout, the Leg Press.

Leg Press

The Leg press is an effective exercise for targeting the muscles of the lower body, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. Any leg press machines can perform the exercise.

The leg press is a safe and low-impact exercise. It can be beneficial for individuals with knee or back pain. What’s more, it’s an exercise that has several benefits when it comes to building strength. By utilising the leg press machine, individuals can easily complete a full range of motion without experiencing excessive stress on their joints.

Here’s how to perform a leg press:

  1. Adjust the seat and foot plate to align with your feet and body.
  2. Sit on the leg press machine with your back flush against the pad and your feet flat on the footplate.
  3. Press the platform away from your body as you breathe out. DO NOT LOCK IN YOUR KNEES.
  4. Breathe in and lower the platform back down to the starting position, keeping your legs engaged and under control. Try to have your knees touch your chest, or if flexible enough, have them sit by your body.
  5. Perform the exercise for a total of 12 reps with your feet centre and at shoulder width. Repeat this for a total of 3 sets.

DURING THE WORKOUT

It’s important to remember to breathe throughout the exercise and maintain proper form to prevent injury. The amount of weight used should also be appropriate for your fitness level.

Resting between sets and exercises is vital for any workout routine. It allows your body to recover and prepare for the next set. The length of the rest period will largely depend on the intensity and type of exercise you are doing, as well as your fitness level and personal preferences.

In general, rest periods should last between 30 seconds to two minutes.  Lengthy rest periods are necessary to prevent injury and allow a full recovery. On the other hand, for low-intensity exercises such as yoga or pilates, shorter rest periods may be more appropriate to maintain the flow of the workout.

Listen to your body and find what works best for you. Adjust the length of your rest as much as necessary to optimise your workout and achieve your fitness goals.

BEFORE YOU LEAVE THE GYM

Stretching after a workout is just as important as the workout itself. When you exercise, your muscles contract and tighten. Stretching helps to loosen and lengthen these muscles, which reduces stiffness and soreness later on.

Additionally, it can help improve flexibility and prevent injury. Stretching can also help to increase blood flow to your muscles which aids in recovery after your workout. So before leaving the gym, take some time to stretch out your major muscle groups, such as your quads, hamstrings, calves, and back. Hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds, and remember to breathe deeply throughout the stretching. Not only will stretching help you feel better after your workout, but it can also help you to see better results over time.

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