Ladies and gentlemen of the gym, it’s time to talk about leg day.
While so-called “mirror muscles” like your core, back and arms are typically vre noticeable, you’re making a huge mistake if you’re only training above the belt. Your lower body is home to some of the biggest muscles in your body. Focus on workouts that challenge your bottom half and you’ll be rewarded with strong glutes, athletic quads, healthy hammies and toned calves. But it’s not all about looking good. As evidence, we present nine reasons to train your lower body:
1. You’ll be a better athlete.
The power generated from your lower half is essential for nearly every sport. Think of soccer players sprinting to the ball, basketball players jumping above the rim, or baseball players generating enough power to knock one out of the park. According to Stack.com, a well-developed lower body will allow you to exert a maximal amount of force in a minimal amount of time, which in turn makes you faster and more explosive.
2. You’ll reduce your risk of injury.
Lower-body strength could also be the difference between getting injured and staying in the game. Performing functional exercises, like lunges and squats, promotes stability in the knee, which, according to the American Council on Exercise, is your best bet to prevent an ACL tear.
3. You’ll burn more calories.
Whether or not weight loss is the goal, if you want to get the most bang for your buck at the gym, it all starts with the legs. “Working bigger muscles in multi-joint exercises like squats, deadlifts or lunges will require more ‘work’ from the heart and brain and higher levels of metabolism compared to exercising smaller muscle groups,” says MovNat founder Erwan Le Corre. Challenging these larger muscles requires more energy, which means your body will be burning more calories. Fun fact: Your gluteus maximus (aka your behind) is the largest muscle in your body.
4. You’ll improve your balance.
Giant biceps are no match for a patch of sidewalk ice. But having a strong lower body just might help you avoid a wipeout. Exercises like side lunges and deadlifts will increase your stability, develop your proprioception and help keep you ready for anything. Whether you’re an adrenaline sport junkie or a weekend warrior type, balance is essential for maintaining control of your body.
5. You’ll run faster and longer.
There’s more than one reason strength training can make you a better runner. Strength-based movements like squats and deadlifts will help develop your hips, which are typically a major source of injury for runners. Research also shows that strength training can help give endurance athletes a leg up on the competition. In one study, cyclists who strengthened their lower body demonstrated more power during the final sprint of a race than those who skipped the weights.
6. You’ll increase your metabolism.
Not only will leg day make you speedier on the track, but it can also speed up your metabolism. It’s no secret that lifting weights will help athletes build and maintain muscle mass. And when your body composition has more muscle, your whole engine runs faster. Strength training outperforms running, cycling, rowing and other standard cardio exercises when it comes to keeping metabolism revved up.
7. You’ll increase your range of motion.
Think flexibility has nothing to do with weight training? Think again. Olympic weightlifters, elite CrossFit athletes and pro-level athletes from nearly all disciplines need mobile joints in order to maximize their power output. Even if you aren’t a top competitor, learning the correct movement patterns for exercises like the squat, deadlift and lunge will improve your range of motion. Once you’ve got the movements and proper mobility down, you’ll be able to safely tackle more weight and ultimately increase your gains.
8. You’ll have superhero efficiency for everyday tasks.
Even if you aren’t an elite athlete, giving your legs attention will pay off each and every day. Picking up boxes, carrying groceries, or moving furniture will be easier when your lower body is used to squatting down and hinging at the hips. Even if your arms are strong, you’ll be more efficient when lifting heavy objects if you squat down and engage those glutes and hammies instead of straining your back!