Jan 19, 2016
Is leg training absolutely necessary? This really depends on your goals. I’m not going to say that you absolutely must train legs in order to get into shape or even build a half decent upper body.
I know plenty of guys who never trained legs a day in their lives and managed to develop very impressive upper bodies. In fact, I remember two twin brothers from the neighboring community who would periodically come to train at our gym. Both of these guys could bench press over 500 pounds and had huge upper torsos. These guys were freaks and pushed a lot of weight in the bench press and shoulder press. However, I never saw them train legs, not once. They always had on what seemed like two pairs of jogging pants. They knew their legs were small and skinny so they tried to hide them behind layered jogging pants. They had no problem training in tank tops and t-shirts but never in shorts.
I actually did get a glimpse of their legs one time and it was almost comical. Here were these two guys with huge upper bodies but with these little bitty legs. I was about 18 years old and weighed about 185 pounds at the time and these guys must have weighed at least 260 pounds each. I actually had bigger legs than these guys. Mind you, my legs weren't anything to brag about but they were still more developed than these guys tiny legs. I couldn’t believe it! It was all too funny.
Over the years, it doesn’t matter where I go or what gym I train at, I see the same patterns of trainers who neglect to train legs. As much as I’d like to say that one must absolutely train legs, there is no rule that says you have to. However, if you are one of those trainers who don’t train legs, think about the following.
1) If your goal is to build muscle and strength, developing the strength in your legs using compound movements will actually help build more muscle for your entire body. These types of exercises include squats, lunges, hack squats, dead lifts, and stair step ups. Performing squats will not only build the legs, glutes and hamstrings but it will help strengthen the entire network of back muscles. In addition, squats will help strengthen your core (abs) which helps stabilize the squatting movement. Squats will even help improve your balance and coordination.
In my opinion, squats are the king of weight training exercises that if you’re not doing squats, you’re missing out on what could potentially be a fast forward track to building more strength and muscle mass.
Legs also play a big part in helping generate extra push for exercises such as the bench press, incline press, shoulder press, clean and press, and other similar compound movements. The stronger your legs are, the more they help to “drive” the weight up. Leg drive plays a huge part in generating extra push strength in the bench press, incline press and shoulder press. Strong legs will always drive the movement harder which means pushing more weight in the bench press and other similar pressing movements.
Personally, I’ve always found that when my legs are strong, all my pressing movements become stronger especially the seated shoulder press. If you want to push more weight in the bench press, incline press, shoulder press, clean and press or other similar pressing movements, do yourself a favour and strengthen up your legs.
2) One of the biggest benefits to weight training is the way it makes you look. Let’s face it, our appearance matters when it comes to making first impressions and attracting the opposite sex. Sexy, sleek and well-toned bodies speak volumes about who we are without us having to mutter a single word. Strong and well developed legs are sexy especially when the legs are in balance with a developed upper body. If your upper body is big and developed but your lower body is small and under developed, you’re going to look a little funny. Often called CLS (Chicken leg syndrome), this affliction will probably throw your appearance off a little and make your physique look unbalanced (IE: the two big brothers in the above example).
Case in point (image below)
Don’t kid yourselves, men and women check out each other’s lower body parts all the time and if you have no legs and no butt, you’re not going to make much of an impression. The entire package matters.
3) Training legs is tough work. Even with a moderate level of training intensity, exercising legs can be hard. Squats and dead lifts are the most rewarding weight training exercises you can do but they are also the most physically and mentally demanding. I’d rather do 10 sets of 50 burpees or run 3 miles than do 4 set of 20 squats with moderate/heavy weight and 50 rep leg presses. Why? To do 4 sets of 20 squats with moderate/heavy weight and the leg press right after takes 100% focus and mental determination. That’s how hard it is. The first time ever tried doing 50 rep leg presses; I almost didn’t make it down the stairs at our gym.
Squats and dead lifts will not only build your body but they also build mental determination and toughness. It’s been my experience that other multi joint leg movements such as the leg press, hack squat, stair step up, and lunges have similar effects. These are all great leg builders and take a lot of mental toughness to get through them.
4) Weight training as all about balance. It’s about using weights as a way to enhance your well-being including health and strength. Your body works as a synergistic machine relying on the lower and upper systems to move your body. Having a strong, toned and healthy upper body is a little unbalanced when the lower quadrant isn’t as developed. Develop your lower body and you’ll feel a lot stronger and healthier.
5) Respect. Putting effort into training your lower body and having a well-balanced lower body will earn you a lot of respect in the gym. Let me give you an example. There’s this older lady (probably about 60 to 65 years of age) who trains at our gym. This lady lives under the squat rack and she bangs out set after set of squats and puts in a lot of effort in other leg exercises such as the leg press and lunges. I have to tell you, she looks great. She’s the only 65 year old I know who can wear yoga pants and make it look good. She’s in great shape but it’s her lower body that draws your attention. She has the thighs and glutes of someone 30 years younger. She has the respect of just about everyone in the gym, especially the men and makes a lot of the younger women very envious.
There’s also this kid at our gym that puts in a lot of hard work under the squat rack and trains his legs extremely hard. He’s not the biggest or strongest guy at the gym but he works harder than anyone under that squat rack. His sheer determination and work ethic when it comes to squatting (and leg training for that matter) is enough to gain my respect. He kind of reminds me of my younger self. He doesn’t train with a bunch of other guys; he doesn’t goof off or look around to see if anyone is watching him. It’s just him and the weight and each time he gets under that squat rack he’s all business and you can see his determination.
In fact, whenever I see someone belt out a tough set of squats (in good form) or doing lunge after lunge across the gym floor I can’t help but be impressed because I know how physically and mentally hard it is to do - Respect.
There are no hard and fast rules that say you have to train legs. You can still build an impressive upper torso without training legs. However, there are just way too many benefits for you to not train legs. Of course, if you physically can’t train legs because of an injury or pre-condition, that’s another story but if you’re a healthy adult looking to get into better shape, seriously think about adding leg training into your program.
I’m not going to lie to you, attaining a pair of strong and well developed legs is hard work but if you truly want to develop a well-rounded and health body, leg training is a must. You’re not going to attain this kind of development running, skating or jumping rope. You need to put in the effort and train those legs. I can say this with 100% certainty. Once you put in the work, develop your legs and see the fruits of your labour, there is no better feeling in the world.
All the best,
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