Archive for the ‘Leg Building 101’ Category

Our legs are the largest muscles on our body. They can be separated into two portions: the upper legs and the lower legs.  We’ll be looking at the anatomy of the muscles that make up the upper and lower legs, their functions, and some exercises and tips to help develop some badass legs. Grab them notebooks, sip on a nice protein shake and get to readin!

As mentioned above, there are two parts to your legs. The upper legs,  which are known as the thighs, consist of the quadriceps (anterior), the hamstrings (posterior) and the glutes, whereas the lower legs, which are the calves. To help you get through this, I’ve divided the post into 3 sections: Quads, Hams and Calves, respectively.

Section 1 

Let’s start by taking a look at the anterior (extensor) compartment of the thigh.

Looking at the photo, you may notice that there are many muscles that make up the anterior compartment of the thigh. The one’s that we can train, develop, grow, and define are the quadriceps (the technical term is quadriceps femoris). The term quadriceps means four heads, which means that there are four heads that make up the quadricep femoris.

The four heads are the:

  1. Rectus Femoris
  2. Vastus Lateralis
  3. Vastus Medialis
  4. Vastus Intermedius

The rectus femoris is located at the front of the quad. The vastus intermedius, not shown in the photo, lies underneath the rectus femoris. The remaining two muscle heads run parallel to the rectus femoris. The vastus medialis is the head found in the inner thigh, and the vastus lateralis is located on the outside of the thigh. All four heads work synergistically to extend the leg and flex the thigh, while the rectus femoris simultaneously acts alone to flex the thigh at the hip.

To develop the quads we use variations of squats, lunges, leg presses and leg extensions. Something important to remember when training the quads is that foot stance and toe positioning determine which muscle head gets targeted. For example, for squats and leg presses, performing these movements with your feet shoulder width apart and pointed slightly outward will provide overall thigh development. Closing your stance, meaning bringing your feet closer together, with toes pointed straight ahead will hit the whole thigh, but will target in on the outer thigh (vastus lateralis). Widening your stance, on the other hand, past shoulder width and pointed your toes out past a 45 degree angle will work the whole thigh, with a particular focus on the inner thigh (vastus medialis).

As mentioned above, there are many variations of the squats, lunges and extensions you can perform with varying stances and toe positions to hit each muscle head and develop some great quads. Some of my favourite exercises are:

  • Full Back Squat
  • Front Squat
  • Close Stance Squats
  • Wide Stanced Squats
  • Pistol Squats
  • Sumo Squat
  • Barbell Lunges (Forward/Reverse)
  • Bulgarian Split Squat
  • Step-ups (Barbell/Dumbell)
  • Machine Hack Squats
  • Leg Extension
  • Wall Squat
  • Unilateral Leg Extension
  • Single-Legged Leg Press
  • Leg Press
  • Wide-Stance Leg Press
  • Close-Stance Leg Press
  • Deadlift
  • Sumo Deadlift (ABSOLUTE MURDERER OF INNER THIGHS)

How we feeling so far?! Take a quick break, I recommend it, and come back ready to learn about the hamstrings. See you in 5!

Section 2

Okay, we’re back! On to the posterior (flexor) part of the thighs, the hamstrings. 

As with the deltoids, the hamstrings are a combination of three separate muscles and these are the:

  1. Biceps femoris
  2. Semitendinosus
  3. Semimembranosus

Opposite the quadriceps, the 3 muscles that make up the hamstrings are responsible for flexing the leg at the knee joint and extending the thigh at the hip joint. There is no need in getting into it because the exercises for the hamstrings generally work all three muscles and the glutes as well.

In addition to working the quads, squats, lunges and deadlifts also work on the overall development of the hamstrings, there are, however, certain exercises that isolate the hams. These badboys include:

  • Lying Leg Curls
  • Seated Leg Curls
  • Standing One-Leg Hamstring Curls
  • Flutter Kicks
  • Stiff-Leg Deadlifts (Barbell/Dumbell) (*My absolute favourite for hamstring development)
  • Good Mornings
  • Glute-Ham Raise (*This one is really difficult and requires a spotter because when you fail, you’ll drop on your face, I recommend working up to this with stiff-leg deads, leg curls and flutter kicks)

Section 3 

Congrats on making it to the final section! By now you should have a good understanding about the anatomy of the quads and the hams, their functions, and some movements that if performed will make them grow! In this last section, we will be covering the lower portion of the legs known as the calves. 

Screen Shot 2013-09-10 at 23.28.42

As you can see in the photo above, the calves are made up of three muscles, these are the:

  1. Plantaris
  2. Gastrocnemius
  3. Soleus

Another thing you may notice in the photo is the the gastrocnemius is the largest muscle in the calf. It’s function is elevating the heel (known technically as plantar flexion). The soleus shares the same function as the gastrocnemius, however it comes into play when the knee is bent. The plantaris at the top of the calf is a very weak muscle that also aids the gastrocnemius in elevating the heel.

How do we train the calves?! Before I get into the exercises that will help us males develop monstrous calves and help the ladies develop heel complimenting calves, I must bring to your attention that the calves are worked everytime your foot leaves the ground. This means that they are used to being worked often. How do we translate this in the gym? We use higher reps, I personally never train calves with less than 15 reps to a set. Just like the quads, the positioning of your toes targets specific areas of the calves. If I’m doing an exercise for 3 sets, I like to vary my stances to hit each part of the gastrocnemius and soleus. My first set will usually be standard toes pointed forward, the next set i’ll turn my toes out so their pointed in a 45 degree angle, and for my finisher set i’ll point them back in to what I call a duck stance and finish off the set.

With that said, lets look at some of my favourite exercises that will provide you with a lovely burn and shape those puppies into deliciousness. These movements include:

  • Seated Dumbell Calf Raise
  • Seated Machine Calf Raises
  • Donkey Calf Raises
  • Standing Machine Calf Raises
  • Leg Press Calf Raises

** Remember that the soleus is only used when the knee’s are bent so for every calf workout, make sure that you have atleast one seated variation of the calf raise, either before or followed by a standing variation.

THATS IT!! We’ve made it, wooohoooo!!! You should have a solid understanding of the upper and lower portions of the legs, how they work and how to develop them through exercise! I hope you’ve learned something, we’ve almost completed the muscle anatomy series. Sit tight while I finish the write up for the anatomy of the arms and the abs, and I’ll have some muscle-spefic workout templates that you can use to really eff shit up and build that body of your dreams! Until next time everyone, stay jacked!

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