In part I, we discussed WHY it is important to train your two biggest muscle groups: Back and Legs.  In part II, we’ll discuss WHAT you should be doing and how to do it.  Before we get to the nitty gritty, let’s recap on part I, shall we?

  • Injury Reduction
  • If these two muscle groups are the biggest then why not protect them?
  • Improved Performance
  • Your legs and back are like your wheels and anchor. When they work well you DO well.
  • Healthier Body Perception
  • Who doesn’t want a backside, pair of legs, and a nice back to show off?
  • Healthier Body Fat Percentage
  • Bigger muscle groups that work hard need bigger calories to make big things happen, thus more energy used, which equals more calories burned.
  • Confidence Booster
  • Who doesn’t want to FEEL better, LOOK better, and PERFORM better?!

Alright, let’s get down to brass tax. We know the benefits, so what should we be doing to achieve these wonderfully teen trainingstimulating results? Well, I have 5 exercises that will not only give you these results, but they’ll also give you more bang for your buck. In other words, we won’t be spending two hours in the gym everyday slaving over hundreds of different exercises. Instead, we’ll do what strong and intelligent people do; we’ll get the most for our time.  Let’s get to work – here are the top 5 leg and back exercises to accomplish awesomeness.

  • Squat

Ah, the Squat. The most important exercise in your exercise repertoire. Why you ask?  The Squat not only works all of your major muscle groups of the lower body, but it also forces your upper body to work hard as well. The Squat focuses on the Quadriceps, Hamstrings, and Glutes as well as the Calves, Lower, Middle, and Upper Back, Abdominals, and the Obliques. That’s a lot of muscles working at the same time and lots of muscles working at the same time equates to good things for your knees and hips as well.

  • Deadlift

Don’t let the name scare you. This exercise works similar muscles as the Squat, but it also hits the arm muscles as well. Honestly, Squats and Deadlifts are interchangeable and can both be seen as number one but semantics are for the OCD, so we’ll keep Deadlifts at number two to make this list complete. Aside from the muscles built during this exercise, you will learn how to pick up heavy objects properly and bulletproof your lower back to withstand what any injury throws at you.

  • Single-Leg Exercises (Lunges, Step-ups, Split-Squats)

Number three is more of a category than a number, but any of the above three will suffice. These exercises build up each leg muscle group individually to correct strength imbalances, which generally lead to injuries, which results in wearing a groove in your couch cushions while accomplishing a whole lot of nothing. The glute, hamstring, and quadriceps muscles work hard to not only build up strength, but also work on balance as well.  

  • Rows/Chin-ups/Pull-ups/Pulldowns

As with number three, number four is more of a category than a number and focuses on the middle and upper back muscles, which stabilize and strengthen the shoulder joints.  In other words, building this part of your back is similar to building up the lower back muscles as they anchor your body and allow for not just improved strength, but also better posture. Rows can be done with barbells, dumbbells, body weight, or with cables.  Chin-ups and pull-ups should be done with different grips and hand widths (overhand, underhand, neutral grip, wide grip, narrow grip, and shoulder-width grip). Pull downs can also be done the same as chin-ups and pull-ups by using different attachments. Pull-ups/Chin-ups can be used with or without weight.

  • Back Extensions and Back Raises

Back extensions are done while the body is in a prone or horizontal position. Back raises are done at a 45-degree position. Both are effective at hitting the lower back, hamstrings, and glutes and both can be done with or without weight.

So now that we know what to do, what’s next? I’m glad you asked! Squats and deadlifts can be used to overload your leg and back muscles with heavier weights and lower reps, AND can be used to build muscle with moderate weights and moderate reps. Heavier weight combined with lower reps builds up the bones, joints, ligaments, and tendons in conjunction with the muscles. Moderate weight combined with more reps means the muscles are under tension for longer periods of time, which causes muscle growth to occur.

Rows and pull downs should be done for muscle building; single-leg exercises as well. Back extensions and back raises can be done with higher reps and pull-ups/chin-ups are generally pretty difficult and should be done for as many reps as possible until you can perform multiple sets of 10 reps. Below is an example of the sets and reps in a nutshell:

Squats and Deadlifts:

For Strength (heavier weight): 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps

For Muscle (moderate weight): 3-5 sets of 5-10 reps

Single-Leg Exercises: 3-5 sets of 6 reps per leg

Rows/Pulldowns: 3-5 sets of 5-10 reps

Back Extensions/Back Raises: 3-5 sets of 10-20 reps (weighted or un-weighted)

Pull-ups/Chin-ups: 3-5 sets of as many reps as you can

Written by James Buss, Personal Trainer YMCA of Rock River Valley yblog