Every Monday, in commercial gyms across the country, enthusiastic lifters gather to bench press. Bench Press Monday is an unofficial national holiday, an ode to our pec-centric nature. In an act of civil disobedience, I’ve almost always gone out of my way to not bench on Mondays. It actually makes getting around the gym easier; John Romaniello recommended this in a podcast interview once, and it was one of those “Oh duh!” moments of making your life easier. Assuming you followed the norm of Bench Press Mondays, let’s think of something you likely did not do yesterday. How are your legs feeling?
The question “Why don’t you train your lower body?” is a lesson in psychology, and sometimes I feel like a therapist trying to wade through the rationalizations that people make for not training their lower body. Frequently, they include something about running being good training for their legs, or that squatting and deadlifting are dangerous, or that they don’t really have a need for it. Well friend, I’ve got news for you:
I love me some squats and deadlifts, and if I could squat every day, I probably would. (I might be experimenting with some high-frequency training next month.) Given that most guys squat once a week, and it’s on their “Shoulder and Legs” day, their half-assing it at best. Whether your goal is about health, strength, or size, or all three, you should be training your lower body.
How much? It varies, but unless you’re an Oly lifter, you can probably train more frequently. I find that for most folks, twice or thrice weekly lower body training works well, as long as loads, volume, and intensity are balanced. Currently, I’m including loaded lower body training three times a week, and will include body weight squat and lunge patterns on other training days and rest days to stay flexible. There are plenty of variations of both squats and deadlifts that you can employ to reach your goals, including single leg variations.
If I had to choose ‘favorites’, I’d go with the trap bar deadlift and the reverse lunge; I feel they offer the best bang for your leg in terms of balancing posterior/anterior chain work. You’ll feel both in your glutes and hamstrings, but your quads are working hard as well. I’ve written about simplified lower body training, as well as my love for the reverse lunge.
It’s important to include a variety of lower body training exercises, but it’s also important to make sure that your training reinforces natural movement. Too many people squat like Adam Scott:
When post people squat, they hunch forward, their knees cave in, their feet collapse; everything Adam is doing here. I find that the two best ways to counteract this is to squat to a box and use anterior load placement. Here’s an example:
In this video, I’m front squatting to a pretty low box, to keep myself honest with depth. The front squat position is a reminder to keep my chest up, and I find it easier to sit back into the squat in that position. The user-friendliness of the exercise makes it perfect for guys that need to learn how to squat appropriately, but are too caught up to set aside the time to practice. I’ve found the anterior loaded squat to a box is a perfect blend between creating a training effect, without someone feeling like they’re spending all of their time struggling with something.
I’ve used this strategy with clients to allow them to train and reinforce good movement patterns, and when it comes to depth, I make sure they reach the box for each rep. Rather than load someone heavier with a high squat, we’ll increase the difficulty by making sure they’re comfortable below parallel, then load the movement heavier. This process is easier when you have an adjustable box squat box, or you can make use of aerobics steps. Here’s a video from Nia Shanks, where she uses a step and risers; depth is easily changed by adding or removing risers:
After yesterday’s Bench Press extravaganza, I’m sure you’d like to try a new lower body exercise. Try to anterior loaded squat, use a box to hit depth, and let me know how you feel when you’re done. I’m betting your lower body will be on fire.