It probably isn’t uncommon for one to have a quick scroll on Instagram and decide that in order to get the bum and legs they so desire, all they need to do is squat and do those weird cable rope pull throughs and they’ll be set.
Of course, these exercises work. Do them and you’ll be well on your way, but ignore other parts of your lower body and you won’t get very far.
Your glutes and your quads – the lower body parts people will always focus on – are incredibly important and should be trained weekly, but your leg days also need to include a couple of muscles often forgotten: hamstrings and calves.
If you take a quick look at any athlete, you’ll see their well-developed legs have hamstrings of absolute steel. That’s because this muscle group is vital for power, strength, and explosiveness, and a well-rounded athlete will need strong hamstrings to enable them to compete at the highest level.
Granted, us mere mortals don’t need hamstring strength in everyday life, but it is important for a good physique and strong legs. They are also one of the most frequently injured muscle groups (how many times have you heard ‘I’ve pulled my hamstring?’) so we shouldn’t risk injury by neglecting them.
Top three exercises
RDLs can be done with either a barbell or dumbells, and I love using both to really burn them out. As the pressure will be on your hamstrings, go for a lighter weight than a normal deadlift.
When using a bar, get into a deadlift position and lift the bar up, stand with a slight bend at the knee and tilt your body forward from the hips, keeping the bar close to your body. Stop just before you reach the floor, or until your hamstrings start to burn. Pause for a second or two, and then return to your starting position.
If using dumbells, again, deadlift them up so that you don’t hurt your back by picking them up awkwardly. Stand in the same position as if you were to do it with a barbell, and roll your hips forward. The dumbells won’t touch the floor. Pause and retune back up, ensuring you keep your back tight and the pressure is on your hamstrings.
NB: For both, you can elevate your heels with small plates which will put more pressure on your hamstrings.
I love to superset these with dumbell RDLs. Grab a barbell – I use about 20kg especially when super setting – stand with your legs roughly shoulder width apart and the bar on your back, as if you were about to squat. Tilt your body forward, keeping your legs straight and your back flat as you bend. Tilt until you feel it pulling your hamstrings, pause, and return to the top of the movement.
Curls are brilliant as there are different variations and the chance to do drop sets, single leg work, and tempo work.
The lying hamstring curl is fairly straight forward, and I love doing drop sets or triple drop sets near the end of my workout. Try and keep your feet floppy during the movement to ensure the pressure is on your hamstrings. You’ll want to watch your back on this one too, as he heavier you go the more likely you are to lose posture and your back will raise upwards to help lift the weight – drop the weight if you feel this is happening.
Another leg curl variation can do done on the leg extension machine. Position the pad on the back of your ankle and raise it upwards – control it on the way back down to really feel it in your hamstrings. You can lift it all the way to the top and squeeze to get some glute work in there, too!
Calves are, without a doubt, the most neglected muscle for everyone who goes to the gym. There is no such thing as ‘calf day’; they are stubborn and we find them hard to grow, which is why we may be guilty of not paying too much attention to them.
Generally training your legs at the gym will, of course, involve the use of your calves. But how about doing exercise to target them specifically? There are three different sections in your calves, but let’s not get bogged down with too much information: the most important thing, for now, is that you start training them at all.
And the good thing about training calves is that it doesn’t tire us out. We can throw in calf exercises throughout our workout on leg days and help to grow them, without finding it too much of a chore.
Top three exercises
Smith Machine Raises
They are my favourite exercise to work calves and super easy to throw on at any point of your workout. Grab either a plate or a box and position it underneath the bar. Load the bar up with your preferred weight and stand with your heels hanging off the back of the box/plate. Unhook the bar and lower your heels, stand on your tip toes and pause, before returning to the starting position. Using a plate or box will give you more range of motion and allow you to work your calves more that standard raises with no elevation.
Seated Calf Raises
If you follow me on Instagram you’ll see a nice outtake from this and how it’s not as easy to use as it looks. Or maybe just harder for people with short legs.. anyway, it is straight-forward: sit down, move the bar away and raise your calves. Pause at the top for more of a burn. There really isn’t much to calf exercises, but it’s good to vary them to keep it more ingesting.
Leg Press Calf Raises
These can be done on either a plate loaded leg press or a resistance machine, I like to do them on a resistance machine but it’s personal preference. I feel like this calf exercise feels like it’s working more than the others when I do it, I will always squeeze my calves really hard at the top of the movement and do 12-15 reps. Again, you’ll want your heels hanging off and the pressure to be in your toes to really work your calves.
Once you’ve grasped the basics at the gym, it’s always good to look at your overall goal. If you want nice legs you’ll have to put the effort in, and that means targeting glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves each week to hit all the muscles and to attain the body you want. Having a strong overall physique will also help you with your other exercises and compound lifts, too.