The large muscle groups in the legs and hips are critical in generating force and producing power in every sport, and should thus be given a priority in most strength- training programs.
In one of my previous articles last year, I described several of the activities we use for the development of the legs and hips outside the weight room. We would now like to take a look at some of the exercises used inside the weight room.
They include a wide assortment of resistance movements for the large muscle compartments, using every piece of safe, productive equipment at our disposal. The groupings are categorized as single-joint exercises (involving the musculature surrounding one joint) and multi-joint exercises (involving the musculature crossing more than one joint).
Let us begin by checking the primary movers that are activated by the exercises under discussion.
Superficial Hip Muscles: Their primary actions are hip extensions and abduction--taking the leg away from the mid-line of the body.
Intrinsic Hip Muscles: A deep compartment responsible for several actions, most prominently the lateral and medial rotation of the thigh.
Anterior Thigh Muscles: Responsible primarily for thigh extension, hip flexion, and abduction--taking the leg toward the mid-line of the body.
Posterior Thigh Muscles: Primary responsibility is thigh flexion.
The single-joint movements do not receive the respect they deserve. Much of this thinking stems from the unsubstantiated notion that single-joint exercises are useless because they do not replicate sports movements.
Facts: Little to nothing done in the weight room replicates sports movements, regardless of how many joints are brought into play. Strength and power development are the focal points in the weight room.
All of the links in our muscular chain work in concert and should be stimulated in a comprehensive fashion. A well-conceived program will always include a varied complement of single-joint exercises.
Hip Flexion: Start with the leg in the extended position. Lift the leg toward the belt-line as high as possible, pause briefly, and then return to the starting position.
Hip Extension: Start with the hips in the flexed position. Extend and lower the legs to the lowest position comfortably attainable, pause briefly, and then return to the starting position. Note: When the legs are lowered, they can be in either a straight or bent-knee position.
Abduction: Start with the legs close together, and then widen them beyond the mid-line of the body as far as possible, with the resistance being applied to the outer hip/thigh areas.
Adduction: Start with the legs in the widest position possible, and then bring them toward the mid-line of the body, with the resistance being applied to the inner thigh region. Pause briefly and then return to the starting position.
Leg Extension: Start with legs in the flexed position and then extend them to a position just short of lockout. Pause briefly before returning to the starting position.
Leg Curl: Start with the legs in the extended position and then curl them to the fully flexed position. Pause briefly before returning to the starting position.
Note: While all of the exercises are demonstrated with machines, manual resistance provides a viable alternative.
Recommended Sets and Reps: During the in-season period, we perform 1-2 sets of 8-12 reps for each exercise chosen for that day. It is not necessary to perform all of those exercises on the same training day, though we would suggest that they all be done by the end of the training week. We may increase to 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps during the off-season, depending upon the chosen routine for the day.
We have several favorite exercises in this category, with an assortment of equipment to accompany them.
Pendulum Squat: This piece of equipment allows us to perform the squat motion with a very good upper and lower body posture. Keep the back in a relatively straight position, while maintaining its normal curvature. Look straight ahead with a "big chest" and squat to position where the thighs come approximately parallel to the floor. Pause briefly and then return to the starting position.
Front Squat: We use specially made bars with perpendicular handles for this exercise. These bars reduce the stress on the wrists--a common occurrence with conventional straight bar front squats. Hold the bar just above the upper-chest area and perform the movement with all of the same coaching points described for the Pendulum Squat.
Lunge: Can be performed with a straight bar (photo) or with dumbbells. Start with the feet parallel, step forward with one foot to a point where the toes come in front of the knee, squat to a "thigh parallel to the floor" position, and nearly touch the floor with the bent knee. Pause briefly and return to the starting position. Repeat with the opposite leg.
Leg Press: We are fortunate to have five different types of leg presses, each with its own unique characteristics. The leg press offers direct work on the hips/leg complexes and provides versatility and variety. Set the seat in the best and safest position for a deep movement range. Note the starting position in the photo. Press the legs out to a position just short of lockout, pause briefly, and then return under control to the starting position.
Recommended Sets and Reps: This will vary, depending upon the time of year and the specific routine. During the in-season period, we generally choose one or two of these movements per training session and perform up to a total of 2-3 sets.
During the off-season periods, we may perform up to four total sets of the chosen exercise(s). In other words, if we perform the front squat and leg press on the same day, we might perform two sets of each exercise. Rep ranges will vary from 8-10 to 10-15 and sometimes go as high as 20.
Comprehensive hip and leg training should be a staple of all athletic programs for the better part of the year. The total volume of exercises and sets will decrease somewhat during competitive and/or heavy running and agility training periods, but it should never be completely abandoned.
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