No, my legs aren’t literally spaghetti, but a little surprised how changing my leg workout (again) almost immediately affected them.
Yesterday (as you read this), I published a blog post about a leg workout for beginning weight trainers. That was Wednesday and Wednesday is my leg day.
So last Wednesday (today as I write this), I finally decided to wean myself off of all LifeFitness weight machines with the exception of some of the plate loaded Hammer Strength machines found in the free weight room. This has been a personal goal of mine for a while, and I’ve finally achieved it. Now to see how the results turn out.
The last two LifeFitness weight machines I had been using were the Leg Extension machine for my quads and the Lying Leg Curl machine for my hams. Incidentally, these are two machines I do recommend for beginners. For me though, I felt it was time to move beyond them.
But I wanted to make sure I could find free weight or plate-loaded machine alternatives. Here’s number one on the list.
Barbell Squats are considered the king of all weight training exercises. Although they hit mainly the quads, this move also works the calves, glutes, hams, and lower back and is considered an all-around lift. All you need is a barbell, some weight plates, and a squat rack.
It’s also intimidating as anything, at least to me. Having no one to spot me and never having performed a barbell squat in my life, I really was having second thoughts about attempting this.
I seriously considered doing squats on a smith machine where the weight follows along a track, but I’ve read a lot about how smith machine squats are an accident waiting to happen. So after some internal debate, I decided I needed another alternative.
I settled on doing squats with dumbbells. Yeah, I know it sounds like cheating, but the risk of injuring myself or mishandling the weights is a great deal less (that said, dumbbell squats aren’t completely danger free). The only problem is being able to use enough weight since the heaviest dumbbell at the gym is 100 pounds. I don’t know if I’d be able to hold 100 pounds in each hand for very long and I’m pretty sure that would be way too heavy to start out with.
So I decided to be conservative and use 30 pound dumbbells, one in each hand. Well, that was an easy 15 reps. Next set, I moved up to 50 pounds which left me out of breath by the 15th rep. Finally, I tried 70 pounds which seems to be a good place to start. It’s difficult to estimate what I’m actually lifting since the squat is also a bodyweight exercise. You can perform squats with no weight at all and still benefit.
For me, dumbbell squats will have to do until I can figure something else out.
I’ve mentioned using the plate loaded leg press machine before. Although the leg press gets a lot of bad press, it more specifically works your quads than squats do. I can also load on the weight (for me), which I really can’t doing dumbbell squats for the reasons I mentioned above.
But using this machine isn’t without its hazards. Unlike its LifeFitness counterpart, you sit in this thing facing up at a 45 degree angle. After loading up as much weight as you want, you have to set the stopping position of the foot plate. Then, to unlock the foot plate so you can move it (and thus the weight) toward you, you have to press up against it with your feet, lifting the weight, and then unlock the plate with the release handle.
Now you can bend your knees and lower the plate toward you until your legs (my legs in this case) are at a 90 degree angle. Then you press up again to perform the lift. If you’ve put on too much weight and you lose control, potentially, the foot plate and all the weight behind it can come crashing down on you.
Also, to lock it in position, you have to press up again and hold while you reset the release handle to the locking position. Then you can slowly lower the plate until it locks into place.
I can see myself in a mirror when I do leg presses so I’m checking to make sure my legs are at the proper angle when the foot plate is closest to me. I also happen to notice that my face turns beet red while I’m doing leg presses. This takes a lot of effort and after 3 or 4 sets, I’m ready for something else.
Since performing a seated calf raise engages much smaller muscles than my quads and hams, and since I’m lifting the weight (including my body weight) a relatively short distance, it doesn’t fatigue me to the same degree as the other leg day workouts, so it’s a chance for me to get a little “rest” before trying to kill myself (Okay, I’m exaggerating) with the following exercise.
The only problem is that occasionally, one of my calves will decide to cramp up, limiting the number of reps I can perform. I decided to throw in 4 sets this time instead of my usual 3 just because.
Straight Leg Deadlifts
It’s not the weight, it’s how I feel between sets. There are all kinds of deadlifts you can perform that work different areas of your legs and back, but I chose the straight leg deadlift with barbell to isolate my hams and lower back.
While I’m actually performing the deadlift, I feel fine. For my first set, I did 15 reps. The weight definitely wasn’t too heavy for me to lift, but the minute I finished my first set and put the weight down, I was huffing and puffing like an old steam engine. By the time I’m doing my second set, as I bend over, I can see drops of sweat falling from my face to the floor. I’m sure my heart is pounding a mile a minute and by the time I finish the third and final set, I’m ready to be done.
I actually considered throwing in some other leg exercise but decided to call it good.
For this past Wednesday’s leg day, I decided to use the Captain’s Chair for leg/knee raises. It was pretty easy to get out of breath while doing this since waiting only 60 seconds between sets for all of my different exercises keeps the intensity of my effort pretty high.
I used my traditional Elliptical Cross-Trainer for 25 minutes cardio (mine comes without the television monitor), but I found that my heart rate remained pretty high (150+ beats per minute) at my usual resistance setting and a slower speed.
Rather than letting “distance,”speed, and resistance run my cardio, I pay attention to my cardio, that is, my heart rate as the final indicator of what I’m doing what I should be doing. On the previous two days, and especially on Monday, I was able to go at a faster speed and still keep my heart rate in the high 140s to low 150s range, but the fact that my heart rate got up to and stayed at the low to mid 150s while I was moving slower than usual told me that I had really maxed myself out with my modified leg workout.
After I got off the elliptical and as I was getting ready to leave the gym, I noticed that my legs were kind of “wobbly”. I didn’t have any trouble walking as such, but my legs were really tired.
I’m hoping this change in my leg day workout will reap some demonstrable benefits. I think just about everybody dreads leg day based on this meme from the FerrignoFit Facebook page, but it also produces a terrific sense of accomplishment in me when I push through it all and find myself walking out of the gym having achieved my goals for that day.
Yesterday, I described a beginner’s weight training routine for legs, and just now, I’ve shown you what I’ve been up to. I hardly think I’m at my limit and certainly there’s a lot of folks out there, even older than I am, who can do so much more. But just because you’re a beginner right now, whether you’re younger or older, doesn’t mean you have to stay that way.
Challenge yourself. You can do more than you imagine.
Don’t dream it, be it.