Don't Be That Guy With Chicken Legs
Contributor - Strength and Conditioning
Go to the gym and note who makes a beeline to the cardio machines or upper-body strength training area upon entering the facility. It’s a good bet you’ll see many doing this. The majority of gym denizens have minimal interest in maximally developing their lower body musculature, especially those guys who hammer their upper bodies and eschew any hard leg training.
That Upper-Body Pump
If you ask him why he does this, Joe Schmoe's usual response is, "Gotta get that upper-body pump in." Wonderful. Go for it, but what about your lower body development?
Joe Schmoe will respond, "The cardio machine stuff and a few leg extensions and leg curls will suffice." Yeah, right.
Admit it, doing lower-body work properly is demanding both physically and mentally. It hurts. It creates a demand on your cardiovascular system (hint, hint), your lower-body muscles burn like an inferno, and it makes you rather be doing some chest or abdominal exercise. In a nutshell, it sucks.
Always remember the old adage from Stuart McRobert in Hardgainer magazine, "The value of an exercise can be determined by its level of discomfort when worked to the limit." That makes perfect sense. The more difficult the exercise, the greater chance it will offer better benefits. But herein lies the gist of hard work. Most trainees avoid proper leg training like the swine flu.
Here's a typical approach to leg development: A one-hour upper-body workout is performed followed by a half-assed five-minute emphasis on the legs that includes a soft set of leg presses, half squats, or the aforementioned leg extension and leg curl song and dance routine. Whatever the option, it's usually a waste of time and it gets you minimal development. You'd be better off reading about a leg-toning workout from the latest fitness magazine obtained from the Piggly Wiggly checkout aisle.
Moving on, here are the virtues of doing serious leg training:
- Your largest muscles - the glutes, quads, and hamstring - reside in the lower body.
- Better gains in muscle mass and body weight can be accomplished by working those muscle structures with demanding effort on a regular basis.
- Per rep, working the lower body utilizes more calories and overloads many more muscle fibers as compared to upper body exercises. You simply get more bang for the buck when addressing the legs with demanding effort.
Working the legs properly makes your body more proportionate. That is, having a more-developed lower body along with a well-developed upper-body avoids that notorious big upper body, small lower body chicken-leg syndrome.
Your legs are your best friend when getting from point A to point B. The last time I checked, any time you are eluding an athletic opponent, lifting heavy resistance from the ground, or chasing a crime-committing dirt ball, it’s your lower body that propels you in your endeavor. I have never seen anyone outrun a foe by running on the hands.
Working your legs makes sense. However, if you're still skeptical, understand that properly addressing the legs does not need to be time consuming. Can you find me two days per week and only twenty minutes per day to target your legs? I know you can find it. What about three days per weeks and fifteen minutes? No excuses. You can do it.
If you're only capable of addressing the legs twice per week, do this, but one caveat is all prescribed sets should be gut-wrenching demanding. Give them 100%, whatever your 100% is. Get after it.
Minimal Leg Workout 1
- Multi-joint leg exercise (squat, leg press, or dead lift) x 20 repetitions (reps).
- A different multi-joint leg exercise x 12 reps.
- Seated, prone, or standing leg curl x 15 reps.
Minimal Leg Workout 2
- Multi-joint leg exercise x 15 reps. Rest 1:30 and perform another set for as many reps possible using the same resistance.
- Leg curl or glute-hamstring raise x 10 reps. Again, rest 1:30 and perform another set for as many reps possible using the same resistance.
If you find the time and can do a bit more, try these minimalist leg workouts:
Reasonable Leg Workout 1
- Multi-joint leg exercise x three sets - 20, 10, and 5 reps. Rest 3:00 between sets.
- Leg curl or glute-hamstring raise x two sets - 12 and 8 reps. Similarly, rest 3:00 between sets.
Reasonable Leg Workout 2
- Multi-joint leg exercise x three sets of 10 reps. Rest 4:00 between sets.
- A different multi-joint leg exercise x 15 reps.
- Seated, prone, or standing leg curl x 12 and 6 reps.
If you really want to get crazy, try these short and sweet leg crushers.
- Load your body weight on a barbell and crank out one set of squats for as many reps possible. Hang in there. Don’t give up because it hurts.
- Do the same but with the deadlift or leg press. Another example of minimal exercise time but quality stimulation to avoid the chicken leg syndrome.
- On that note, perform strip sets on a leg press or standing squat machine. On the first set aim for 12-16 reps. Reduce the resistance and immediately perform a second set all out. Again, a further resistance reduction and one final balls-out set for maximum reps. Bingo. Minimal time yet productive effort.
If you think the above is too low in volume and want to do more, fine. But whatever exercises and prescriptions you add, work your ass off. The chances are you will hit the wall sooner rather than later, so keep the volume of work reasonable. You hate to do legs, so why not do high effort and minimal volume, as opposed to higher volume and more time-consuming work? It's your choice either way.
To summarize the anti-chicken leg syndrome, heed this:
- You can avoid the chicken-leg syndrome by applying only a minimal amount of quality work if you do it consistently.
- Working the legs with effort burns more calories. If you're seeking fat loss, learn to love leg training.
- Want to gain muscle weight? You'll increase your chances by targeting the largest muscles of your body that reside in the legs.
- You'll improve your ability to move from point A to point B with a stronger, well-developed lower body.
Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.