Don’t you just love leg day? That burning feeling in your quads as you complete the your last set of jumping lunges, or the aching in your calves as you reach the top of your last stair run. How good is the feeling the next day when every muscle in your legs groans as you bend down to pick up the morning paper…. Call me weird but I love this feeling. Sore is the new sexy….. right?
Post exercise soreness, or DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) is your muscles response to unaccustomed strenuous exercise. Like anything our bodies are programmable.. do the same workout everyday very quickly your brain and muscles will learn how to cope and surprise surprise it becomes easier. That’s why the fitness world is constantly calling for us to shock our body, do something new, progressively overload your workouts etc etc. Now this is all well and good BUT proceed with caution, it’s usually when we decide to shake things up that injuries start to happen.
When it comes to our ‘lower limb chain’ its GREAT that you can squat double your body weight or that you can deadlift 150kg BUT are you including enough of the basic stability exercises to complement this ‘lets get massive quads workout’?
In my opinion there are a few stock standard exercises that should be regulars in your legs program to keep your biomechanics in check. These exercises if performed at least a few times a week will help injury proof your legs.
- FOAM ROLLER: Fact: tired, overworked muscles get tight and sore. I most certainly can’t afford to indulge in a massage on a daily basis, so whats the next best thing? A foam roller… 5 minutes a day is all it takes. Get stuck into your ITB’s (fascia on the outside of the thigh), quads, calves, hamstrings, glutes. Simple, effective and efficient.
- CRAB WALK or CLAMS: this exercise is tareted specifically towards a little muscle that sits deep in your buttocks. Its responsibility is to stabilise the pelvis during pretty much every weight bearing activity. If this muscles is weak or ‘lazy’ you will begin to overload other muscles around the pelvis which can lead to development of hip and knee problems. You will need a theraband or resistance band for this exercise (found in most gyms in the stretching area).** Clam: Lie on your side, knees slightly bent and on top of one another. Tie the band around your knees. Keeping the feet together lift your top knee towards the ceiling against the resistance of the band then slowly lower it back to the starting point. Do 50 each side. You should begin to feel a burn deep in the buttock region after about 15-20.**Crab walk: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and the band tied around your lower shins: Maintaining tension on the band move towards the right, one leg at a time for 15-20 steps, then go back the other way. Do this 3-4 times.
- CALF RAISES: Best done of the edge of a step and body weight is usually sufficient. The goal is 3 sets of 15 on each calf, but if you haven’t don’t this exercise before I strongly suggest you start doing both sides together. Place the balls of the your feet on the edge of the step, rise up onto your toes at normal speed then slowly lower your heels down past the level of the step (the lowering should take 3-4 seconds) from here rise up onto your toes again.
- GLUTE/HAMSTRING BRIDGE: A seriously underrated exercise in my opinion. The glute/hamstring strength relationship is so important and one I feel is often overlooked in our workout planning. This exercise can be done from the ground initially and then progressed to use benches and swiss ball depending on the difficulty you are going for.
- CORE STABILITY: Including a few exercises to target your core strength is ESSENTIAL if you want any sort of longevity in your training. The options are endless. If I had to pick a ‘go to’ exercise, purely for convenience I would say planks and side planks. You can mix it up with single leg variations to challenge yourself. In the gym I’m a massive advocate of exercises done on the bosu ball (half swiss ball); think squats, single leg dead lifts or even just basic single lag balance training throwing a ball up against the wall.
Obviously not all injuries are avoidable BUT many are preventable. Incorporate a combination of these exercises weekly to help maintain and restore ‘balance’ in the lower limb.
Be robust or go bust.