After spending the first week of February talking about upper body exercises and movements, I figured it was about time that we got into the real meat and potatoes of any workout routine. It is time to learn about about our lovely legs and how we can train them.
You've got two options
When we train our legs we are either knee dominant or hip dominant. How we get into the knee and hip dominant movements depends on where we are hinging, and where the weight is with respect to our joints. Your main knee dominant movement is the squat and your main hip dominant movement is the deadlift. Knowing how to work both of these movement patterns effectively will give you incredibly strong, and well balanced legs. Perfecting these exercises will also help you sit down and stand up well (squatting), and pick things up off the floor and put them back down safely (deadlifting).
Knee dominant movement
In the images above, the red circle is the load, the blue lines are the body, and the faint lines are very simply showing the biomechanics of these movements. Biomechanics was one of those subjects in school that really opened my eyes to how incredible the body is. One slight change in foot position or where you place the weight can change the whole feel of the exercises. In this picture you can even see how a slightly more leaned-over position completely changes which joint is the main fulcrum for the movement.
To achieve a knee dominant exercises, the knee needs to be a greater degree of flexion than the hips. You also want to take a look at the thickish red line (in the first picture it goes from the hip to the thin red line). This helps us see our moment arm. Moment arm is a fancy physics term that I won't get into too much in this post. What you need to know, is the greater the moment arm, the greater the demands on that joint. In the squat, or knee dominant movement, the moment arm from the knee to the thin line, which shows the line of force from the load, is slightly larger than the one coming from the hips. This means that the knee is under greater stress in this movement than the hip joint.
What moves the knee joint? You quads are your main extensors of the knee, meaning they help you straighten out the leg and therefore help you to stand up out of a squat. This is why knee dominant exercises can also be called quad dominant exercises.
hip dominant movement
So if creating a larger moment arm from the knee is what makes an exercise knee dominant, then creating a large moment arm from the hip must be how we achieve hip dominant exercises.
One to add here is that it is the moment arm from the flexed joint. This is why training your back to be very strong and maintain a neutral position is crucial before attempting the deadlift. If there is any flexion in the vertebrae, then there will be stress on back. Although there are some large muscles in the back, the intervertebral muscles - the muscles between the vertebrae - are tiny. Look at the multifidus, interspinalis, and lateral intertransverseri muscles on the image below and think about using those tiny muscles to move your deadlift load, instead of your glutes and hamstrings. Might I remind you that your gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in your body? Seems a bit silly that people think deadlift is a back exercise.
look forward to leg day
Your legs are incredibly powerful and, when trained effectively, can move some impressive weights. Just this past week I was able to pull 205lbs in a deadlift for 2 reps and I weighed 141lbs on that day. That is over 60lbs more than my own weight!
As with all exercises, it is really important to ensure you have proper technique so I strongly suggest getting a friend, or personal trainer with good knowledge in proper squat and deadlift technique to coach you through the squat and deadlift before you attempt to do it on your own.
Go out there and crush leg day!
Do something good for your body today
Riri's Discoveries blog documents Riri's most recent research, her travel adventures, and her personal fitness journey.