- the quadriceps (red) - powerful extensors of the knee joint;crucial in walking, running, jumping and squatting; strongest and leanest muscle in the human body
- the gluteus (yellow) - three muscles that make up the buttocks: the gluteus maximus muscle, gluteus medius muscle and gluteus minimus muscle;
- the hamstrings (blue) - comprises the semitendinosus, semimembranosus and the short and long head of the biceps femoris, of which the former extend the hip when the trunk is fixed, flex the knee and medially (inwardly) rotate the lower leg, when the knee is bent, while the latter extend the hip (e.g when we begin to walk), flex the knee and laterally (outwardly) rotate the lower leg when the knee is bent
|Image 1: The major muscle groups |
of your legs. Quadriceps, adductors,
abductors, gluteus, hamstrings,
gastrocnemius & soleus
- the adductors (cyan) & abductors (magenta) at the inside and outside of the tighs, and
- the gastromenicus (light green) & soleus (highlighter green), the major muscles of your calves
|Navigate the SuppVersity EMG Series - Click on the desired body part to see the optimal exercises.|
|Image 2: Turns out the hack squat is the |
most effective exercise. In that, going deep
(50° knee angle) is only slightly more taxing
on the quads than the standard
and much safer 90° knee angle.
- Hack squats, lying on machine, 50° knee angle
- Hack squats, lying on machine, 90° knee angle
- Squats, barbell, 70° knee angle
- 45° leg press, 90° knee angle
- Squats, barbell, 90° knee angle
- Squats, barbell, 40° knee angle
|Figure 1: Relative EMG activity of all four heads of the quadriceps during hack squat, leg press, squat and leg extension variations in comparison to barbell squatting to parallel (knee angle 75°); data adapted from Boeckh-Behrens & Buskies. 2000|
|Figure 2: Shear and compressive forces during squat exercise measured at different knee angles; expressed as percentage of the sum of body weight + load (data adapted from a compilation in Escamilla. 2000)|
|Image 3: 45° leg press with a hip angle of 85°; the |
smaller hip angle (compared to the hack squat)
translates into a -16% lower activity of the
quadriceps femoris (image everkinetic.com)
[the inner part of the quadriceps] is maximally activated via variants of the horizontal leg presses / hack squats - either deep [knee angle <70°] with less weight or not deep [knee angle >70°] with more weight - variations in weight and knee angle tend to be equivalent.So after all, even your "tear drops" benefits most if you just keep doing those exercises that hammer the quads, i.e. all four heads, as a whole. A slightly narrower stance, however, may be advantageous, while the positioning of the feet, i.e. parallel or with your feet pointing outward at a 30° angle seems to be negligible (+/- 0.25%).
|Figure 3: Relative EMG activity of the outer part of the quadriceps (m. vastus lateralis) during barbell squat and single legged squat variations in comparison to barbell squatting to 90° knee angle; data adapted from Boeckh-Behrens & Buskies. 2000|
|Image 4: Inner (vastus medialis), |
medial (vastus intermedius
& rectus femoris) and outer
(vastus lateralis) parts of
|Figure 4: Relative EMG activity of the medial part of the quadriceps (vastus intermedius & rectus femoris) during selected exercises in comparison to hack squats to a 50° knee angle; data adapted from Boeckh-Behrens & Buskies. 2000|
Speaking of girly exercises... while it certainly is manly to squat 500lbs, it is not advisable to do so on a daily base. Even the strongest men in the world regard their training sessions asexactly that, the "process of developing the bodily vigour and endurance by systematic diet and exercise, so as to fit for some athletic feat" (Oxford English Dictionary, "training"), or, in other words, as the means to an end. Remember: King-size egos rarely built king-size quads.
II. The Best Exercises for The Gluteus maximus
|Image 5: Atlantic Fitness' interpretation |
of what Boeckh-Behrens & Buskies
call a "hip pendulum"
|Figure 5: Relative EMG activity of the m. gluteus maximus during selected exercises in comparison to deadlifts using a weight that matches your own body weight; data adapted from Boeckh-Behrens & Buskies. 2000|
|Figure 6: Relative EMG activity of the muscles of the hamstrings during selected exercises in comparison to standard lying leg cursl; data adapted from Boeckh-Behrens & Buskies. 2000|
Did you know that doing partials and peak contractions is particularly effective eccentric exercises? On concentric exercises such as the squat, on the other hand, they increase your chance of getting injured and contribute little to the efficiacy of your training. Tip: If you are talking to your gym partner or, god-behold, your clients about these intensity techniques, you better not call them "X-reps "- otherwise you could be charged by some clever business men who know how to relable training techniques that have been around ever since the early days of physical culture in order to monetize on these "revolutionary new training techniques".
|Image 6: An adductor machine, |
as you probably know it from
your gym, as well.
IV. The Best Exercises for Adductors and Abductors
As you probably have expected, the adductor and abductor machines that are mostly operated by the female gym members, are the reference exercises to train the muscles on the inner and outer sides of your tighs. Unfortunately the build of these machines varies from one manufacturer to another, so that you can hardly be sure whether or not your adductor machine will produce the same muscular activation as the ones used in the study. The same holds true for the funky hip pendulum machine, the use of which as an adductor or abductor trainer is pretty tricky, anyways.
cable adduction (moving leg pulled in before the stabilizing leg) and, probably to the surprise of those among you who refrain from doing body weight exercises completely, the side bridge with hip abduction. When you are squatting, on the other hand, only the adductors are significantly involved in stabilizing the movement. To further increase their activity, you can do your hack squats with a wider stance and your toes facing slightly outward (30°), which will increase the load on your adductors and intensify the exercise by +3%. V. The Best Exercises for the Calves While chicken legs are no exception especially in many of the fitness oriented gyms, toothpick calves are becoming more and more the rule, especially among those trainees who love to do their endless cardio sessions on an elliptical. At the same time few people want to spend an adequate amount of time in training their calves. It is thus all the more important to know which exercises are effective and which are not.
|Figure 8: Relative EMG activity of the calf muscles during selected exercises in comparison to the standing calf raises; data adapted from Boeckh-Behrens & Buskies. 2000|
|Figure 9: Relative EMG activity of the m. gastrocnemius with different foot positions; data adapted from Boeckh-Behrens & Buskies. 2000|
A rule of thumb with regards to the activation of m. gastrocnemius vs. m. soleus is "maximize knee angle (as in standing calf raises or donkey calf raises) to maximize gastrocnemius, minimize knee angle (as in seated calf raises) to maximize soleus activity". Note: It is nonetheless imperative (especially if you are using higher loads) not to forcefully lockout your knees, in order to avoid injury.
|Image 7: "Real men" ain't ashamed of doing |
donkey calf-raises like Dave Draper and
Arnold used to do it ;o)
|Video 1: Arnold leg training compilation; |
only the strong will survive ;-)
Did you know that compound exercises such as squats and deadlifts have been found to increase the hormonal response to strength training? Well, I guess you did. What may however be news to you is that these temporary increments are hardly going to exhibit those steroid-like effects some trainees seem to be expecting. This does not mean that the value of these exercises is overrated (on the contrary!), but rather that the increase in GH or testosterone after an intense squatting workout is corollary to, not causative of the efficiacy of these exercises.The reason for that is quite simple: While a set of barbell squats may not activate your glutes like the strange hip pendulum, your quads like the Beckham-ish leg kicks and your adductors like the girly adductor machine, it will nevertheless build adequate power and mass in all three of these muscles, fortify your core, your calves, your upper back and even help with conditioning and fat loss. In other word, as gruelling as they may seem compared to some of the machine based isolation stuff, compound exercises will still give you the most bang, in this case muscle and strength gains, for your bucks, i.e. the time you spent and the energy you invest in the gym.
|Image 8: As long as you are injury free, |
there is noo way to get around squatting
- one way or another (image everkinetic)
If you cannot do squats
use leg press machines
As a beginner always have a
qualified trainer show you how to squat.
- Squats - to parallel (70°), 6-10 reps
- Hack squats - to 90°, 8-12 reps
- Leg curls - peak contract. or partials, 10-12 reps Superset:
- Donkey calf raise - peak contract., 12 reps
- Seated calf raise - partials, 12 reps Optional
- Adductor machine - 12-15 reps
- Abductor machine - 12-15 reps