Leg strength is essential to many sports and recreational activities, such as soccer, martial arts and weightlifting. Although there are various methods to increase the size and strength of your legs, the best ways to build them up would depend on your goals, fitness condition and what you play.
One at a Time
The isolation technique often focuses on one muscle group and one joint at a time rather than moving several of them together. Sample exercises include the leg extension, leg curls and calf raises. By isolating these muscle groups -- usually with a machine -- with minimal movement in other body parts, you can apply more resistance upon the muscle you're training. This can stimulate more muscle growth than multi-joint exercises, such as squats and lunges. Although isolation exercises don't translate well with sports skills and multi-joint movements, they are ideal for those who want to increase specific muscle size, such as bodybuilders and fitness models.
Go Full Body
A larger muscle doesn't always mean that it's stronger or faster. Isolation leg exercises don't train your body to move to specific sports and activity skills and may hinder your performance. This is based on the SAID principle, which stands for specific adaptation to impose demands. For example, sitting on a machine and doing leg curls doesn't coordinate your hamstrings to work with the rest of your body when you kick a soccer ball. To improve your performance and skill, you must perform the specific skill itself or an exercise that closely mimics the skill. Compound exercises, such as deadlifts, squats, step-ups and lunges, coordinate your leg muscles to work together. These exercises often mimic the foot positions and movement patterns that are common in most daily activities and sports.
During resistance training, your muscles contract concentrically and eccentrically, which refers to the shortening and lengthening of muscle fibers under tension, respectively. Whether you use the isolation or compound method, emphasize on the eccentric contraction because the amount of force that lengthens the muscle is greater than concentric contractions, according to exercise physiologist Len Kravitz, Ph.D. This stimulates a greater increase of muscle growth. For example, lift the resistance at a rate of one to two seconds and lower at a rate of three to six seconds.
Recovery and Timing
Proper nutrition and timing optimize your ability to increase muscle size and performance. Dr. Kravitz recommends that you consume a meal consisting of proteins and carbohydrates within 45 minutes after your workout. This replenishes your carbohydrate stores into your muscles and helps repair damaged muscle fibers immediately. The ratio of proteins to carbs should be a one-to-three ratio. Within the next one to three hours, consume another protein and carbohydrate meal at a five-to-one ratio. Consult with a sports dietitian to help you personalize your meals to obtain the optimum amount of nutrients you need to achieve the results you want.
- IDEA Fitness Journal: Creative Total-Body Exercises
- University of New Mexico: Eccentric Exercise: A Comprehensive Review of a Distinctive Training Method
- University of New Mexico: Nutrient Timing: The New Frontier in Fitness Performance
- Fitness-Science.org: Isolation Versus Compound Exercises: Benefits and Drawbacks
- Better Movement: The SAID Principle