It’s a misconception that leg day has to be filled with squats and leg presses and lunges. Leg day can also be fun. Especially if you include plenty of of balance work, exercises that focus on muscles in the lower body that don’t usually get attention, and also corrective moves that will add to the health and longevity of your legs rather than just bulk them up.
That doesn’t mean you don’t rack up the smith machine and hit the squats. But there are other ignored areas on leg day that can help you mix things up without making it difficult to walk back home once you are done.
Natural leg extensions: The leg extension machine has its advantages in isolating the quadriceps, but the increased pressure on the knees makes it worth avoiding, especially if you can master natural leg extensions. The best part is, it can be done anywhere and without any equipment. Get down on your knees, keep your back straight and your arms either out or folded over your chest. Now slowly, with controlled pace, lean back until you feel the quads are activated and use those muscles to sit back up on your knees.
You can take as long as five seconds as you move into the eccentric (leaning) position, and even two to three sets of 10 reps will give you the advantages. As you get stronger, feel free to lower yourself all the way back. As far as bodyweight quad extension exercises go, this is probably the best one. It will also make your ankles stronger.
ATG split squats: Do you hear that cracking sound in the knee when flexing and unflexing it? Well, ATG or “ass-to-grass” squats can help you safeguard your knees while extending your hip flexors or working your hamstrings. This also adds stability to your ankles while also working your tibialis, which is the front portion of your leg. There are ways to progress in this but the checklist is simple: get into a lunge position and go as far as possible, taking your knee past the toes (yes it is safe) to the point where your front hamstring touches the back of your calf while your hind leg is a few inches off the surface.
Doing this exercise will make your natural leg extensions easier too. Go slow, and feel each and every muscle in the back and front part of your leg work in this one. As you progress, you can use a slight elevation on the front leg to also work your adductor muscles. Having flexible hip-flexors also helps make those ab exercises bearable. What else do you want from a leg exercise?
Tibialis raises: If you’ve been running or playing sport, and feel a tightening tooth-ache like pain in the front of your leg, then it’s because the tibialis is feeling stressed and weak. This is called shin splits and this pain stays for a few days and can feel very restrictive for movement. Part of this is because most people ignore strengthening the front of the leg, focusing on the more flashy back part of the calf. That is like training only one of either the biceps or triceps. So, be kind to yourself and add tibialis raises to your leg day.
The no-equipment version of this involves leaning back on a wall, creating a 15-20 degree angle between your back and your heels before pulling the toes up. This is one rep.
If you want to add weights to this, you can sit back, attach a resistance band to a bar and pull it up with the toes. You can also add a strapped dumbbell for the same. There are multiple options: the one thing to remember is to pull the toes up while keeping the leg straight, forcing the shins to pull the toes up.Any activity that involves running will require your knees to be protected, and interestingly the tibialis anterior is the knee’s first line of protection.
“It is responsible for deceleration, so when it’s strong and working well it significantly reduces the amount of force going through your knee joint, helping to protect it,” states an energyforlife.com article titled Tibialis Raises: A Simple Yet Powerful Knee Strengthening Exercise. Start with the bodyweight version in the video below and progress from there.
Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator and writer.