"Of all the days to skip, leg day should not be one."
Said by: Your Posture.
Training quality is important regardless of what methods are used. All too often, a person's leg development can be the one thing that separates the men & women... from the boys & girls.
THIS JUST IN!: According to Daily News, "Americans are skipping 'leg day'" and a study from Skulpt is there to prove it. Out of 600 exercisers surveyed: the majority of people using the Skulpt app revealed that their glute and calf muscles were in fact the least developed on their bodies. Many people outside this study also report disliking lower body training due to its intense nature, difficulty, and risk of injury.
This is a call for concern...
Why? Well, not putting any focus on the lower half of the body can present itself with many issues. Muscle imbalance, muscle weakness, and overall athletic development is greatly hindered when lower body training is not prioritized. So why might people shy away from "leg day" along with what's already been mentioned?
Lower body training, for one, typically requires heavier external loads which raises the risk of injury no matter how experienced you are. Leg training using compound movements requires a person to have a good training foundation, good coordination, mobility, and ability to manage RPE (rate of preserved exertion). Injury can occur if a person is lacking in any one of these areas especially when completing more complex movements such as the squat or deadlift.
But what if the reason people skip leg day is centered around the fact that not everyone wants to use heavy weights? Think about it. You walk into the gym and the first thing you see is someone squatting 400lbs. To someone who hasn't learned how to train for that, that's either a bit intimidating or motivating and it's most likely the the former.
What's not talked about much is other training methods available which don't require heavy loads with lower rep ranges.
"Ugh so I CAN'T skip leg day?!".... NO.
Although it's encouraged to learn how to train with loads more than your bodyweight (especially with legs), if you just want a good workout and decent leg development- you don't have to get under a barbell... for now at least.
Known as "calisthenics" or "bodyweight training", applying resistance with no external load is EXTREMELY effective and shouldn't be belittled. Using only your bodyweight is a fantastic tool not only for muscular development but sensory and coordinative abilities as well.
No weights, No problem.
So assuming you don't have access to heavy weights or choose not to partake in heavy loaded leg workouts, I have a solution to your problem...
In this article, we'll briefly tackle how to train legs when the only resistance available is your bodyweight. We'll quickly cover programming training volume, manipulating training variables over time, and applying progressive overload to achieve an effective stimulus
Building Strength With Bodyweight
Why can we get an effective workout with only our bodyweight you might ask? Firstly, we need to understand that resistance in any exercise can be anything or any method that stresses our skeletal muscle and CNS (central nervous system).
With this being said, the body doesn't know the difference between a barbell and your bodyweight; only the relative intensity of the movement and mechanical stress being applied on an individual.
Absence of heavy weights isn't the determining factor for a good workout up to a certain point. It's the lack of progression and proper training parameters which is especially important when using only your bodyweight.
Dancers and gymnasts are two great examples of athletes with great leg development; their foundation of strength and muscle attributed to bodyweight resistance (dancers more so than gymnasts as you might imagine why).
This can be attributed to each athlete's requirement to jump, bound, control extremely difficult movements, and handle a lot of time under tension. In order to work up to these levels, it's important to apply progressive overload and work our way up to harder movements.
Progressive overload drives muscle growth and performance.
This is ultimately the goal when no weights are around to use. When going about training solely with bodyweight, the first step would be programming your volume (reps you complete in a session), intensity, and frequency.
Volume, Intensity, Frequency
Firstly, let's define volume, intensity, and frequency:
Volume: Repitions completed within a given workout at a certain intensity
Intensity: Difficulty of movement in regards to number of repetitions performed in relation to your RPE
Frequency: How often a movement is trained within a given cycle.
If our motive is bodyweight training, organizing these 3 factors is the first step to an effective workout/program.
According to Eric Helms and the research he has gathered, the optimal amount of volume needed in a session to produce a growth stimulus is going to fall between 40-80 repetitions per body part/movement with an RPE of 1-2 reps shy of failure. The frequency for this prescribed volume/intensity is 2-3 times per week depending upon various factors.
For example, your leg training could be mapped out as follows with a two time per week frequency:
Tuesday and Saturday are lower body dedicated with a total weekly volume between 80 and 240 repetitions.
Our exercise selection is varied while aiming to add more repetitions each week before we alter our intensity- known as double-progression.
When Bodyweight Gets Easy
To make this training method effective long term, you have to think a little bit harder since adding weight isn't an option. When bodyweight movements become effortless, it's important to introduce harder exercises during your working sets.
As we mentioned earlier, the reason why weight training is so effective is because it's the most accessible form of resistance that's easy to manipulate. Simply increase the weight on the same movement and do more volume overtime.
With bodyweight however, you have to think interns of tension on the muscle and how you can apply a harder resistance to get the same effect.
A good example is the bodyweight squat completed at a normal pace. If we know applying more tension and resistance on a muscle is important for growth, then we can slightly change how we do the movement to produce a harder exercise.
Slowing down the eccentric portion of the movement is a great example. In other words, instead of squatting up and down with one set tempo- count to 5 on the way down (eccentric portion), hold for a count of 2 at the bottom, then explode up. You'll most likely find the movement more intense and as a result, your volume will drop.
We can also add a plyometric element, bring our feet closer together, and use single leg methods when you really get good.
In each of these examples, the movement is now harder via longer time under tension, greater force production, and challenging your range of motion respectfully.
But do these methods really work?
In a study conducted by Dr. Schoenfeld and team, "results showed that eccentric muscle actions resulted in a greater effect size compared with concentric actions, but results did not reach statistical significance (ES difference = 0.25 ± 0.13; 95% confidence interval: -0.03 to 0.52; p = 0.076)". However, "the mean percent change in muscle growth across studies favored eccentric compared with concentric actions".
Therefore, by slowing down the muscle lengthening portion of an exercise, you can create a more intense exercise.
In another study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, participants were examined by the effect of free-weight-resistance and plyometric training on maximal strength, explosiveness and jump performance compared with no added training in young male soccer players.
Findings showed that resistance and plyometric training resulted in significant improvements in muscle strength and jump performance. Training resulted in similar muscle hypertrophy in the two training modes, with no clear differences in muscle performance.
Although these are just two of many examples (I encourage you to research yourself), it's been shown that manipulating variables like time under tension and adding plyometric elements can improve muscle action and performance. Not only this, but bodyweight methods can create a training response similar to using free weights up to a certain point.
A big take away however is the importance of adding more training stress on the muscle. If you don't stress the muscle beyond what it's use to and choose not to make the movement harder: there will be no catalyst for change.
But I feel silly using only my bodyweight!
You shouldn't. The benefits of learning sensory and motor patterns will only benefit you when you transition or have access to heavier resistance.
Your body is your base.
Learning core, closed-chain movements without external loads is very valuable regardless of your fitness goals. In regards to your legs, bodyweight training introduces a wide range of benefits to those who choose to partake.
Leg training, and any form of exercise, doesn't have to require a powerlifting mentality. Breaking down exercise on a more simple level, we can see that other methods of training are available for us to use.
In regards to bodyweight training, this method is a fantastic and very effect form of training. In addition to the body awareness you receive, you can really customize your lower body training with the parameters available to use.
Always include harder variations of the exercise when the time is right and be sure to achieve the weekly volume requirements for progress.