Thursday, August 13, 2009

Why so MANY squats?

You may have noticed that your ChrisFit Trainer just loves the time(s) in your workout when you will use your legs for any number of different kinds of squats or lunge variations, or even the dreaded leg press, but do you know why so much emphasis is put on your legs, or why so many different "tortures" are employed? Let's take a look at the why of leg training in the first place.Even though most of us will not be competing in a high-jump contest any time soon, there are plenty of very important reasons to do resistance training with your legs. 1) Your legs (comprised of the Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Glutes, Calves, and smaller anterior muscles of the lower leg such as the Tibialis) are the biggest muscle group in your body. That means that when you put sufficient stress on these muscle groups, you are going to burn a tremendous amount of calories. Think about it from a logical standpoint: the energy used while performing a bicep curl with, say, 20 lbs., using one relatively small muscle group in an isolated fashion, simply cannot be compared to that used when all of the afore-mentioned muscle groups, plus the Spinal Erectors, Abdominals, Trapezius and numerous other stabilizer muscle groups are engaged to do perform a barbell squat with, as an example, 75 lbs, plus the weight of your body. All of those muscles working together to lift a larger load = more calories burned, and more muscle created to boost your metabolism and make you stronger. 2) Your legs must be strong to support your upper body. To have a heavy top half and comparatively weak legs can cause not only muscle imbalances and back pain, but also take a toll on your joints. This is mostly seen in men who prioritize their training on the "beach muscles" in their upper body that can be seen in the mirror. Aside from the fact that you may end up with propotions similar to the kool-aid guy, this is just unhealthy, and not practical for your everyday life. Sure, it's great that you can bench press your bodyweight, but make sure you can also stand up from the bench without needing a hand. This functional component to leg training is also important to you moms out there: how often do you have to carry the kids up and down stairs or hills, or pull or push them around in a wagon or stroller? My guess is that you do this a lot, and having stronger legs will make this easier and more enjoyable for you both. 3) Although the weather may be trying to fool us this year, it is summer, and we wear shorts when it is hot outside. That said, I think just about everyone would like to have the confidence to know that they have shapely legs with some muscular definition, rather than legs that have never once been exercised, when they go out in shorts.Now that you have a burning desire to go to squats today, lets discuss your options for effectively working your legs. I have occasionally been asked by clients why i am always making them do all sorts of different squats and lunges. The answer to that is two-fold. On one hand, even the most die-hard exercise nut would get very bored doing just one version of the squat week after week, and there is something to be said for variety for the sake of boredom prevention. More importantly, however, is the fact that different movements hit different muscle groups in specific ways. There are four different Quadriceps muscles that make up the front of your thigh, and three Hamstrings in the rear, plus different hip flexor, extensor, adductor, and abductor muscles to be considered when doing leg exercises. Varying foot positions can go a long way to accomplish this. For example, a wide stance on a squat will target the inner thigh, while a very close one will focus on the outside. Having your feet on the top of the leg press plate, or out in front of you as in a wall-squat, smith-squat, or lunge will target the hamstrings and glutes, while having your feet low on the leg press plate or directly beneath you as in a Goblet squat or Barbell squat will use the Quadriceps more heavily. Variances in where the weight is positioned relative to your body can also effect the target muscles of any leg movement. Having a weight high on your torso in front of you (front squat, goblet squat) can add a lot of work to your Abdominals and Quadriceps, while holding a weight at arms length (deadlift) can put more focus on your spinal erectors and hamstrings/glutes. These variations can go on and on, but rest assured, there are lots of great reasons to work your legs, and many ways to do so. So, be sure to work your legs hard, but do so safely, and preferably under the guidance of a knowledgeable trainer. We are here to give you the blueprints for not only a tough workout, but more importantly a safe and effective one.

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