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 more 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 hamstrings and toned calves. But it’s not all about looking good. As evidence, we present six reasons to train your lower body.
1. 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 Jon-Erik Kawamoto, CSCS, a personal trainer based out of Newfoundland, Canada . 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.
2. You’ll improve your balance
Giant biceps are no match for a slimy patch on the sidewalk. 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 junkie or a weekend warrior type, balance is essential for maintaining control of your body.
3. 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. 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.
4. You’ll relieve lower back pain
If you sit for the majority of your day, odds are good that you experience some back pain from weak hamstrings and short and tight hip flexors. Most people blame tight hamstrings and attempt to stretch them. In actuality, they would be better off stretching the hip flexors and strengthening the hamstrings, glutes and abdominal muscles.
5. 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.
6. You’ll have superhero level efficiency while performing everyday tasks
Kawamoto notes that 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.