This article is probably geared more to men, but you or somebody you know can probably relate to this. We want the showoff muscles…the biceps, the abs, the chest, and to a lesser degree, the upper back (Even though it should be just as big of a priority as your chest, but that’s a totally different topic.). We figure that cardio exercises are good enough for our legs, and what female really cares about our legs anyways? How many people do you see walking around the gym with a jacked upper body and CHICKEN LEGS that look like they belong to a 12 year old?
Have you ever experienced tightness in your hamstrings, or worse, lower back pain? If not, you may soon. 80% of Americans experience lower back pain in their lives. I had it for two years before I was 100%. People were baffled. How could a guy who was in shape, in his mid 20’s, and did not experience serious trauma to his back be in so much pain?
It’s an easy answer now…besides the obvious that my work conditions sucked…standing all day at one job, sitting in a crappy chair with bad posture at my other job, continuing my regular lifting routine, ignoring the pain, until one day in June 2011, I crawled to my car and drove to the doctor. I was in so much pain…I even had tears in my eyes…not so much from the pain at the time, but I kept wondering would I get through this, and would I lose everything I worked hard for?
I SKIPPED LEG DAY! Why is that significant and why do I believe that was the biggest reason for my back pain? My glute muscles were really weak. I never squatted because I believed the myths I read on the Internet and from certain “bros” in the gym that squats caused knee pain. I may have done an occasional exercise on the Leg Extension machine, which only isolates the quads.
So, when I had to stand for eight hours a day, my back would get extremely tight. Your glutes are supposed to absorb the shock and be able to support your body. Mine did not. So, other areas of my body had to compensate for my lack of glute strength. This compensation unfortunately being largely my lower back and my hamstrings, which helped cause tight hip flexors, (along with sitting for another eight hours a day sometimes), which pulled on my lumbar spine, creating an anterior pelvic tilt. I guess I really liked the abs sticking out more than they should have. In all seriousness though, those reasons were huge in creating my back pain. I specifically had sacroiliac joint problems on my right side, and physically I was a big mess. Unfortunately, it was a tough road to recovery and I could not do the most beneficial leg exercise with a back injury, and that would be a squat.
However, after doing my research, reading lots of material from chiropractors and highly respected people in the fitness industry, I became very proactive in not only getting my lower back health on track, but I wanted to see what leg exercises I could do. I started out doing one leg floor bridges, which were difficult at first, but they are a low impact exercise that does not put pressure on your lower back. I eventually was able to do lunges. In fact, lunges helped relieve some of my back pain because for the condition I had, lunges kept my back mobile, and were aiding in my quest to get rid of my muscular imbalances. I became an advocate for foam rolling my tight hip flexors and upper back as well. I stretched my hip flexors and hamstrings at least three times a day. I started doing planks on a regular basis. I eventually got into step ups, then that day came when I could do a bodyweight squat without pain. I knew I needed to get to that level, and I had just started studying to become a personal trainer at the time, so what good would I have been if I could not show my future clients how to properly do a squat? I admit, I almost cried again when I started doing squats with weight…this time it was tears of joy. Two years before that, I was down, out, and depressed.
Now, in addition to the preventative measures I take with my lower back, I have seen other benefits of training legs. I’m never sore after a long hike. I can jump higher and run faster than I ever have before. My core has gained a lot of strength from doing squats…in fact way more than most of these ab exercises could give me. I even am not ashamed to wear shorts anymore. I had that sense of accomplishment seeing quad muscles forming like I did when I first started seeing triceps develop. I feel stronger all over. I mentally have a different attitude about legs. I love training upper body, but I know to be at my peak at all times, the lower body workouts are non-negotiable. I changed from being pretty much anti-leg workouts to being a huge advocate for them. You may have heard the phrase, “Friends don’t let friends skip leg day”. I make sure my clients and my friends who exercise are all doing leg exercises.
One of my current clients just did his first bodyweight squat comfortably with proper form a few days ago. In fact, he did 20 of them. That was a far cry from the squat he showed me for his overhead squat assessment just a month before. His initial goals were mainly upper body based, but I continued to stress the importance of lower body training, and he was really happy at that accomplishment. I was very happy for him as well.
I hope this article reaches and influences more people to actually use the squat racks for what they are meant to be used for…SQUATS, instead of another area to work your biceps. If you cannot do squats yet, I will also post a lot of exercises that you can do to build your glutes, quads, and hamstrings up to where you can perform them perfectly.