Thinking of skipping leg day? Think again

By Katie Martin / For The Pitt News

In the fitness community, there is a running joke: If you have skinny legs, you’ve definitely been skipping out on leg day. In fact, many gym goers seem to avoid it like the plague. People, (mostly men), run around the gym with enormous upper body muscles, yet they have legs like Spongebob Squarepants. Often called chicken legs, you’ll find them anywhere there’s a gym. 

Why are they skipping out on leg day? 

Dom Mazzetti, YouTube celebrity and broscience master, puts it best: “Leg day is the worst. It’s hard, it’s painful and it’s not arms, or chest, or shoulders or even back. You’re probably still sore from your last leg workout, which was your first leg workout … And your last leg workout.” 

Don’t let this happen to you.

Out of the hundreds of muscles in the human body, the legs, which include the gluteus maximus, quadriceps and hamstring muscle groups, are some of the strongest. They make up the power-generating center for running, jumping, walking, Olympic lifting, power lifting and virtually any activity you perform in everyday life.

If you were to try and pick up one end of a couch or table using only your arms and back, the possibility of injury is high because those muscles aren’t as strong. But by engaging your hamstrings and the rest of the posterior chain, you can lift that couch and not have to hobble around like you’re 81. Your gluteus maximus, more commonly known as your butt, is the largest muscle in the body. Along with your hamstrings, your glutes are primarily responsible for holding the rest of your massive frame upright and erect. 

Erica Dobos, Olympic Lifting coach at CrossFit Shadyside, says that without proper leg strength, attempting either of the two Olympic lifts — either a “snatch” or a “clean and jerk” — can be a disaster. 

“What I’ve noticed in people who don’t have good lower-back or leg strength is that they collapse forward on a lot of their lifts. You need strong legs to properly perform a front squat to return to standing position. Let’s say you’re able to make the clean but don’t have the leg strength to lift the load out of the bottom of the squat — you will fail that lift,” she said. 

So if this is the case, shouldn’t every day be leg day? If you can bench press 205 pounds for countless reps but can’t lift one end of a sofa, it doesn’t seem like your fitness is very functional. 

Perhaps the aversion to leg day is because of aesthetics. If you take a look at trending male celebrities like Liam Hemsworth or Ryan Reynolds, they all seem to have several things in common: rock hard abs and the chiseled pecs of a god. Jacob Hughes, a 2012 Pitt graduate, said that people like to work harder on the parts of their bodies that people see. 

“I feel like a lot of it comes down to the fact that not many people see your legs in the course of the day, and working your upper body allows you to show off that work. I also think that people correlate big biceps with being strong, which can be the case, but I personally have friends with bigger chests and arms than I do, who I can still out-lift because I have stronger legs.” 

But it’s not only the men who miss out on leg day. Women do, too. 

“Girls skip it because they most likely don’t know what exercises to do, or because they don’t want to have bulky legs,” says Dobos. 

But that seems to be changing. There’s a movement in the women’s health and fitness community driven by the mantra “Strong is the New Skinny,” which is determined to change the stereotype that women must be thin to be attractive. 

Hailing from Iron Sport Gym in Glenolden, Pa., Dana Rygwelski is ranked 6th in the nation in her class of female lifters in the squat. In her opinion, what people don’t understand is that the benefits of lower body exercises, especially squatting, extend beyond your butt, quads, and hamstrings. 

“Your legs are your foundation and your ass is the engine for everything. But what they don’t know is that by squatting, you will also add muscle and definition to your back and arms,” she said in an email. 

In fact, the squat, one of the most fundamental movements in life (think about how you sit into a chair), should be the first addition to any leg workout. Done often enough, this movement can dramatically increase your leg strength. So, make this week count: Squat heavy, squat often and squat properly. Grab a buddy and head up to the Pete. After all, friends don’t let friends skip leg day.