I don’t know about you but I used to skip leg days quite often when I first started working out. I guess that’s something most guys do when they start working out.
Unless you are in a sport which requires solid leg strength such as basketball or soccer, as a guy you don’t really feel the need to have a well-developed and really strong lower body. You just want to have an aesthetic, thick upper body with nicely defined shoulders, a big chest, wide back, toned up arms and a small waist.
That’s the key to looking aesthetic!
But at some point, when you look into the mirror and you notice that you look a bit disproportioned, with under-developed legs, your training routine probably needs to be reconsidered.
That is when you should seriously consider stepping up your lower body training routine. And that’s exactly what I did after I started gaining enough size in my upper body.
Unfortunately, due to my boundless desire to get my legs up to speed, I overdid it and started to experience knee pain whenever I squatted using relatively heavy weight. As much as I loved to squat I had to step it down a little bit so I wouldn’t completely screw my knee up.
Knee issues are a common thing when there’s an imbalance between the anterior and posterior chain of the leg muscles - namely between your quads versus the glutes & hamstrings. I rarely used to hit my glutes directly. I mean, that’s a girl’s thing, right? Having a big butt and stuff.
Luckily for me, I got over this misconception and start improving my glutes.
Here’s how my typical leg day workout looked like.
Squats were still the top exercise I would do during any given leg day.
I was doing front squats before, but I changed that to back squats so I would shift more weight to the back and activate the glutes a bit more.
I did 5 sets of 8-12 reps.
Right after the squats, I moved to the barbell hip thrusts.
This exercise was my main glutes builder. I could really feel the glutes being activated more than I could target that particular area with any other exercise.
I did felt some lower back activation as well, but the glutes definitely took the hardest hit.
It took me a while to get used to the movement and I used really light weights until I got to form right. But once everything was in check I was adding more weight to the bar every single time I was hitting my legs.
The reason I did hip thrusts as the second exercise in my leg routine was to still be quite fresh and have enough energy to put into it. Most of the times I was doing 4 to 5 sets of 8-10 reps each.
I did, however, experiment with different rep ranges and I had days where I would do as little as 4-6 reps, but use really heavy weights.
Right after the hip thrusts, I moved to the stiff-leg deadlifts. My glutes were already pretty zapped from the hip thrusts so I didn’t go really heavy with this one.
3 sets of 8-10 reps was the usual routine.
Leg press was one of my favorite exercises to do so I couldn’t just leave it out because of the hip thrust. So I continued to do 4 sets of leg press. I was using 4 plates on each side, doing 12-15 repetitions for 3 sets.
I couldn’t really feel that much glutes activation regardless of the feel placement though, but this was hitting my quads and hamstrings for sure.
Lastly but not least, to really finish off the legs I did just 2 sets of walking lunges using a 20 – 25 pounds dumbbells. I think it worked more like a cardio training to be honest because there wasn’t that much weight, but my legs muscles were so tired that I couldn’t really go any heavier.
So that’s what I did for almost 4 months, once every week.
Did I notice any changes?
I sure did.
I actually started feeling better after just 4 workouts or so. So after roughly one month, I could start to squat without feeling that much pain in my knees. I was not 100% back to hitting my PR, but I was definitely noticing an improvement.
The important thing that I think it helped here was me being patient and not increasing the weight that much, despite the fact that I really wanted to.
So I just kept using a moderate weight for the next couple of months until I couldn’t feel any pain at all and gradually added more weight. And it all went really smooth from there on.
My all-time PR was 315 pounds before I started to feel the pain in my knees. When I was following this “active recovery” type of routine, I was squatting 225 pounds. So I dropped the weight quite a bit and just been patient with everything.
So if you ever find yourself in the same situation, regardless if it is a knee injury or an elbow, shoulder or anything else for that matter, just take things slowly, be patient and smart with your approach and you will recover quite fast.
Use moderate weights for a while even after the pain goes away. Just give your body more time to recover and you’ll be back to 100% for sure.
Now, I don’t know if this has to do anything with the hip thrusts, but my lower back felt stronger than before. I was feeling more secure when I was squatting 315 again, my form was better and I just had better core stability.
I couldn’t really feel much of my lower back muscles getting activated when I did the hip thrusts, probably because I was focusing so much on squeezing the glutes, but it must have hit my lower back as well.
I mean, the only other exercise that I was doing that was hitting my lower back directly was the stiff-leg deadlift. But that was something that I did before, so I tend to believe that the hip thrusts really helped with the lower back as well.
And man I’m telling you - a stronger lower back combined with toned up glutes means you can get stronger and better at and much more complex movements such as the squat and deadlift.
You get better core stability, more balanced muscles and all that put together just allows you to use more weight with better form. And ultimately that means more muscle gains, a better looking, symmetric and more proportionate body.
I also found the glutes to play an important role in the first half of the squat movement. This meant that I could push up through my legs more explosively than before. And the same goes for the deadlifts.
Besides those two types of movements and doing the Cize thing, I don’t really do any other exercises r physical activities that require much explosiveness. But if you are looking to improve your vertical jump or if you are doing sprints, better explosiveness will probably help your performance.
For me, this was an obvious outcome. As a person who rarely focused on glutes development, there was no other way but up. So I gained quite a little bit of glutes strength fast.
After my 4-month test, I was able to hip thrust more weight than I could squat. Obviously, it was a gradual process, but with the right approach, you can gain glutes strength in a few months.
So I used the old progressive overload technique which works great for any other body part. My goal was to add more weight to the bar each time I trained my glutes, and that’s exactly what I did.
So instead of doing more reps as I got stronger, I simply kept my rep range within the 8 to 10 reps and increased the weight to the point where I couldn’t do more than 10 reps. As mentioned before I did do as little as 6 reps when I first increased the weight, but I rapidly worked my way up to 8 reps.
I’m not saying you should use the exact same rep ranges like I did, feel free to experiment, but that is what worked for me.
This wasn’t necessarily a goal of mine, and I actually didn’t want my butt to grow. To be honest I was actually afraid that I would end up looking awkward. I guess this is how most women feel about weight lifting – with being afraid of getting that bulked up look and all - nothing further from the truth.
So I actually ended up looking better. My legs looked more toned up, not bigger, and everything was just better proportioned than before.
Muscles are a very compact kind of tissue after all, and it takes so much time and effort to put on just a couple of pounds of pure muscles. But for some reason, I must have forgotten that. On top of that, I stayed pretty lean all this time, so there was no way I would’ve started to get that bulky butt look.
With all that being said, the bottom line is that if you neglect any body part, regardless if it is your glutes, your back, or another muscle group, you will start to notice muscle imbalances, pains or even injuries at some point.
For me personally, the glutes were my point of failure. And I am happy to say that they are now my strongest body part. Not only that, but other muscle groups improved and got stronger thanks to it.
So train each body part equally. And when it does happen to have some body parts that might be lagging behind (the question is not if it happens, but when it happens), start focusing on that particular muscle group for a few months. Get it up to speed with everything else.
Balance your body and constantly work on improving your weak parts. That’s the correct way of moving forward to achieving the physique of your dreams. The key thing here is to act early on. As soon as you notice that something is off. Don’t wait until you have pains in your joints or get injured.
Author Bio: Tyler