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Strength training is one way to build leg muscles, but not the only one.
Well-toned legs with clearly defined muscles carry far more than just an aesthetic appeal - they carry you. The role of strong legs goes beyond looking great in shorts or a skirt; they're key to how you move through life.
Achieving the long, lean look of a runner, along with the strength of a hurdler, isn't as hard as you might think, if you combine the right amount of targeted strength training with a proper diet and rest.
1. Cop a Squat
"Of all the leg exercises, squats produce some of the best results because they truly isolate the muscles in your legs," says Sanja Brosnan of Sanja Brosnan Training in Malibu, California.
For a basic squat, stand with your legs hips-distance apart, keeping your weight balanced more toward your heels. Then simply squat down until your knee forms a right angle and come back up again. Be sure to also keep your back straight, resisting the urge to tip forward.
"To really build muscle, hold some weights in your hands for extra resistance," says Brosnan. You can use 5-, 10-, or 15-pound weights and keep them at your sides as you bend and straighten. Depending upon your fitness level, you should ideally get to a point where you're doing three sets of 12-15 squats.
If you want to target your calf muscles, as well as your balance, you can also try doing a set where you put more of your weight toward the front of your feet.
2. Lunge It Out
Lunging is another great way to target your leg muscles. Standing with your feet together, take a giant step forward with one leg and then come back to standing. "Your front leg should get to a 90-degree angle and your back knee should come close to the ground without touching it," says Brosnan.
Three sets of 12-15 lunges on each leg is more than sufficient to help build good leg muscles.
3. Walk It Out
If you want to combine some cardio with building leg muscles, a stair climber or good old-fashioned hike up a hill can accomplish a great deal. As you increase your strength and stamina, you can ratchet up the degree of the incline, as well as the length of your stride, for better muscle building.
And keep in mind that, as you descend, you're also engaging your leg muscles in appreciable ways.
4. Balance Your Diet
"If you really want to build muscle," Brosnan says, "you should make sure you don't have a calorie deficit." This means that you should take in enough protein to sustain your leg exercises, because if your muscle-building exercises use more energy than you're taking in, you'll lose both fat, and potentially, muscle. Muscles thrive on protein, especially lean proteins, so make sure you're eating enough to support healthy muscle growth.
5. Give It a Rest
"There's a running joke in the training world about how much body builders sleep, day and night," says Brosnan. And it's not because they're exhausted. "If you're not giving your muscles adequate rest in between workouts to rebuild, your muscles won't bulk up," she says. And by rest she means good restorative sleep, which is when your body sets to work to rebuild and repair muscle.
Well-defined leg muscles are within reach for anyone who approaches the process the right way: through strength training, good nutrition and rest.