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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Hamstrings for the Win: Avoid Common Leg Day Mistakes

GettyImages-914656088What is the most feared and most skipped gym day of the week? Nearly every person despises it, and few survive it. Yes, you guessed it. I am referring to the infamous “leg day.” However, even if you can endure training your legs, how beneficial is it if you aren’t training your hamstrings correctly, efficiently, and according to their full potential?

The hamstring is a large group of muscles (the biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus) located on the posterior side of the upper leg. They have two main responsibilities: flexion at the knee (pulling the ankle toward the glutes) and extension at the hips (pulling the ankle back toward the glute while maintaining a stiff leg). Therefore, the hamstring’s main goal is to balance out the action of the large quad muscles on the front side of the leg, assisting the knee in stability.

In his blog Five Biggest Mistakes in Hamstring Development, the late Dr. Charles Poliquin, a remarkable pioneer in the field of fitness and bodybuilding, put into perspective just how important the hamstring muscles are. He recollects, “When I was a kid, hamstrings were called in bodybuilding magazines ‘leg biceps.’”

Don’t Neglect Posterior Leg Development

A standard leg day, as one could imagine, might include the leg press, back squat, leg extension, leg curl, and perhaps a lunge variation. If that’s the case, there is simply not enough emphasis on posterior leg development. We naturally experience quad dominance simply because we are human and the majority of our daily movement requires being in a squat or quad-dominant position. This includes daily functions such as sitting and standing up out of a chair or car. The issues arise when the quadriceps overpower the action of the hamstrings throughout a certain range of motion or movement pattern. This can often happen when walking or running, but it occurs mostly when it comes time to execute cutting, jumping, and landing mechanics.

Simply put, athletes across most major sports have below-average hamstring development. This goes for every individual on the planet as well. It becomes a rather large issue and argument for some injuries that these athletes typically encounter.

Common Mistakes in Exercises for Hamstring Strength

If you are looking to improve hamstring strength, there are several exercises you could add to your workout program. However, I’m here to tell you that there are also a few common mistakes that could be holding you back from reaching your full potential.

  • Wrong timing: The first mistake is that you are most likely waiting to train the hamstring until the end of your leg workout. Ultimately, you should program hamstring-specific exercises.
  • Incomplete range of motion: Secondly, it is quite possible that you might not be completing the full range of motion when targeting this muscle group.
  • Not enough time under tension: The final common mistake is that when performing the movement pattern, you are not spending enough time under tension for that muscle to respond and grow. So a tip would be to use a tempo count where you control down and explode up each rep.

Do Those Leg Curls!

If you’ve learned anything from the last five minutes of reading this article, I hope it is the importance of training the posterior chain, especially the hamstring. Not only is it aesthetically appealing, but the with strong hamstrings, functionality and safety of young athletes should be at an all-time high. So jump in and do those leg curls!

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This blog was written by Cara Hartman, NIFS Health Fitness Instructor. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: injury prevention muscles strength training hamstring leg day

Back to Exercise Basics: The Split Squat

As we continue down the road of improving our basic movement patterns (which is always under construction, by the way), we take a look at the squat pattern and its variations a bit further. Many fitness pros, including myself, argue that we spend more time on one leg than we do on two. Think about it: walking, running, traveling up stairs—for varying amounts of time, you can find yourself on one leg a lot.

What Makes a Split Squat a Split Squat?

So if you are on one leg a bunch, it only makes sense that you build that position to be strong and stable, and in many different planes of motion. Let’s take a look at what makes a split squat a split squat, which is very different from the lunge but often is called by the same name (kind of a pet peeve of mine).

Tony_split-squat

  1. Base of support—Forward Foot – Weight on heel
  2. Base of support—Rear Foot – Weight on toes, heel up
  3. Base of support—Split distance is 3-4’ 
  4. Shin angle—moving forward
  5. Front Knee – Tracking over but not beyond toes
  6. Trail knee – path towards ground, suspended
  7. Glute “stacked” above knee
  8. Neutral Spine
  9. Shoulders back and down
  10. Eyes up

Many of the aspects of the regular squat are found in the split. You are simply in a single-leg-supported position.

Options to Get More Out of the Split Squat

Now that you have the foundation, here are a few options you can use to get more out of this movement pattern.

  1. TRX Split Squat
  2. 2KB Split Squat—Farmer position
  3. 1KB RFEE Split Squat—Down position
  4. 2KB Split Squat-Racked position

 

Exercise Variations in the Frontal and Transverse Planes

Human beings need to travel in 3D. It’s important to all of us, from the athlete to the accountant. Often we train in one plane of motion, typically the sagittal plane (in the regular squat, for example, or the overhead press). But in the real world we move in more ways than straight ahead. Here are some variations that will get you in the frontal (side-to-side) and the transverse (rotational) planes.

  1. 3D Body Weight
  2. Offset KB Spit Squat
  3. SaB Lateral Split Squat
  4. SaB + KB Rot. Split Squat

 

The split squat is a super-important movement pattern that I feel we need to train more. As single-leg beings, mastering this pattern in multiple planes will transfer big time to the real world and allow us to move better, more often, with fewer injuries.

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This blog was written by Tony Maloney, ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist and Fitness Center Manager. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: fitness center injury prevention functional movement movement squat stability leg day exercise basics

Leg Day Workouts for Non-Squat Enthusiasts

GettyImages-622809280For some people, leg day at the gym is the greatest single day of the week. For others, however, there couldn’t be a more grueling and loathsome experience. We all know that leg workouts are essential to our total-body fitness plans and that there are consequences to not doing leg day, like becoming internet memes.

Reasons People Skip Their Leg Workouts

Some of the reasons people do not do leg day include knee pain, hip pain, after-workout soreness, poor technique, and sometimes mechanical reasons (your body just can’t do squats due to anatomy). Whatever the reason may be, you still need to address your lower body and quit skipping leg day.

I, for one, have been guilty of skipping leg day from time to time, but I know that there are important benefits to doing the workouts. The main reasons I do not like doing the exercises began with just being tired of standing at work all day after a great leg day. It made the rest of my day brutal. You might feel the same way, but it’s just part of the process that your body needs to go through to get stronger and better.

A very plausible reason some people skip leg day could be that they decided to start a workout “split” (each day of the week dedicated to a body part—Monday is chest day, Tuesday is bicep day, etc.). With the split, you would have to spend a lot of time at the gym to ensure each body part is worked each week—a minimum of 5-6 days per week to do the job. If you have a life event come up, such as a work meeting, a kid’s birthday party, or an illness, you will need to skip a day this week to deal with that situation. What happens is that people will skip the day they like the least, leg day. When next week rolls around, it will have been two weeks since your last leg day. That’s not good.

Leg Workout Ideas

Here are some ideas for leg workouts that are set up for beginners and people who are not fans of squats. You will see a lot of familiar exercises that will give you benefits. Hopefully, with the right motivation, you will become better at leg day.

  1. Deadlift: This can be done with a barbell, dumbbells, or even kettlebells. This link shows a variation of a deadlift called a trap bar deadlift. As you can see, the legs are definitely getting a lot of attention, while good form can be easily distinguished.
  2. Lunge: Although this exercise is about as popular as squats, the benefits are equally impressive. Not all lunges are the same. Check out this example of a lunge variation that you can easily add to your workout.
  3. Hip press machine: We don’t always want to use machines, but in this case, the hip press machine is a great way to get your legs and hips stronger and more ready for squats. Check out this video that highlights a hip press machine.

Leg day doesn’t have to be the most dreaded day of the week. You do not have to hide from your leg workouts any longer. Start off small and smart. Talk to a Health Fitness Specialist at NIFS. They will not only help you set up a workout tailored to your needs, but also monitor your progress through benchmarks you can set at your free strategy session. Words of wisdom: Do not become an internet meme because you skipped leg day!

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This blog was written by Thomas Livengood, NIFS Health Fitness Instructor and Personal Trainer. To read more about the other NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: Thomas' Corner workouts videos squat leg day