Wednesday is leg day. I mentioned yesterday that I hate leg day. From what I gather from social media, I’m not the only one.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but I hate leg day just because it seems especially hard, harder than any of the other “large muscle” days, like chest day and back day. It’s also the day when I use machines rather than free weights almost exclusively. I just don’t trust myself to rest a very heavy barbell on my neck in order to do squats.
So here’s what I do:
- Leg Extension Machine (190-200 lbs)
- Lying Leg Curl Machine (130 lbs)
- Leg Press Machine (280 to 300 lbs)
- Seated Calf Press Machine (210-220 lbs)
- Straight-leg Deadlift (100 lbs)
The photos of the various machines you’ll find if you click the links above (which I recommend since they offer additional information about these workouts) are almost all located in the free weight room of my gym, but I still stick to the machines used by the majority of people who never or almost never enter that area. I suppose I’ll have to get over my being intimidated about using the free weight room for this one part of my body. But in the meantime, what I’m doing now seems to be working out.
Here are the details:
Leg Extension Machine
This machine works the quads (basically, your thighs). I put this exercise first on my list to “pre-exhaust” my quads, since they’ll get another big workout when I get to the Leg Press Machine. I tend to vary the weight somewhat depending on how I feel and whether I want to go heavy with fewer reps or stick to my 8-15 reps per set routine.
These machines are adjustable, both in terms of the seat position and the position of the bar you use to lift the weight. Since I’m rather tall, I set the seat back quite a bit and the bar so I get a full range of motion, from my calves being perpendicular to the floor to the top of the lift when they are parallel to the floor.
Then I just set my weights, grab the handles by the seat to stabilize my body position, and start the lift.
Advantages: Great exercise for the quads. Although I use both legs during the lift, it’s possible to use one leg at a time if one leg seems to be lagging behind another.
Pitfalls: As with many leg exercises, watch your knees. For awhile, I was experiencing some knee pain while doing this exercise and thought I might have to support them by wearing knee sleeves. Eventually my workouts strengthened the area around my knees and the pain subsided. Still, this is nothing to fool around with. A lot of people face knee and hip replacement surgeries as they get older, so if you do this exercise, don’t start heavy and know your limits. Remember to keep control of the weight so you don’t find yourself swinging up too high or letting the weight stack slam down at the end of the move. Like a lot of moves, the lift is explosive and returning to the starting position should take a few seconds.
Lying Leg Curl Machine
I feel like I get more “oomph” out of doing leg curls in the lying position than using the Seated Leg Curl Machine. The only adjustment I make on this machine is the bar position due to the length of my legs. Then I set the weight, lie face down on the bench, grab the support handles, position my feet against the bar, and start the lift. Like other exercises, if you do this one, make sure you perform a full range of motion from the starting position where your legs are parallel to the floor, to the top of the lift with your calves being vertical or nearly vertical.
Advantages: Targets the hamstrings. As with the Leg Extension Machine, it’s possible to use one leg at a time if one leg seems to be lagging behind another.
Pitfalls: If you go too heavy, you can strain your lower back. Also, keep control of the weight so you don’t find yourself swinging up too high or letting the weight stack slam down at the end of the move. Like a lot of moves, the lift is explosive and returning to the starting position should take a few seconds.
Leg Press Machine
This is one of the two most challenging exercises in my current leg routine. Basically, you sit in the machine’s seat with your legs angled slightly up (on the machine I use, other machines provide a greater angle for your body), knees bent, with your feet pressing against a large plate. The seat is adjustable and the adjustment is important, because it determines just how much of your leg you work. I tend to set my seat fairly close. If I were performing a standing squat, my thighs and butt would be parallel to the floor or even a little lower. However this means you have further to lift the weight to get to the top of the move, generating more effort to lift the stack.
Advantages: Works the quads, hams, lower back, and glutes and can work the calves. A very intensive exercise.
Pitfalls: The potential to injure your lower back is serious if you use too much weight. The same goes for your knees and hips. Although the foot stance can be varied depending on the result you want, I’d recommend keeping your foot position in line with your hips so you don’t put too much stress on your joints. This is also a really effort intensive exercise and it leaves me out of breath after each set, so if you are going to use this machine, start out lighter and become familiar with the lift before challenging yourself with heavier weights and a closer position to the foot plate.
Calf Press Machine
This machine isolates the calves. The seat is adjustable so you can position the balls of your feet on the bar with your feet somewhat angled back toward you. This gives your calves a nice stretch and increases the range of motion in the move. I set my weight and press. This exercise can be done with a higher number of reps per set although I heard of people who go heavy and limit their reps. Also keep in mind, there are other ways to work any of these parts of your legs, including your calves.
Advantages: Isolates the calves.
Pitfalls: Interestingly enough, I feel this one in my lower back if I’m going too heavy and my lower back is already sore (and it usually because of the leg presses). Be careful.
This is the only exercise where I use a barbell. It’s my concession to the free weight room since I feel like I should do at least one part of my workout there. This exercise targets the hams and lower back. I’ve felt my hams were a weak area on my body, so I wanted to stress it more. Deadlifts are also an intensive exercise, so it takes a lot of my breath away with each set. To counter this, I’ve limited my reps so I can recover better between sets.
Advantages: Effectively targets the hams as well as the lower back.
Pitfalls: Since this move targets the lower back, be careful with the amount of weight you use if you intend on doing this exercise. Also, as I mentioned, this move is very intensive, so your heart rate and probably blood pressure will quickly spike.
After I’m done with the deadlift, I’m feeling pretty done with my legs. I almost never do a back workout after my leg routine since my lower back has already been well engaged. I usually just do some ab work and then hit the Elliptical.
Cardio is somewhat problematic on leg day since my legs are already pretty tired. I tend to go with a lighter intensity (in this case, slower speed) because of this, and I’ve read some articles saying that it might even be a good idea to not perform cardio on leg day.
However, since I don’t have a lot of discretionary time that would allow me longer periods of cardio on other days (besides Saturday), I try to do my cardio on Wednesdays, just like any other workout day.
That’s it for leg day. Next time, it’s Thursday is Delts and Traps Day.
Oh, here’s a little exercise humor.
Be careful not to fixate on the immediate obstacle or problem. There is always something bigger going on.