Lessons to get perfect legs

Knowing muscle groups and the exercises that target them is crucial

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The one body part that women love to train and men hate is always legs. The legs are the engine room of the body, a big muscle group that needs to be worked as part of any training programme.

For women, the goal is generally to have them looking fantastic in a pair of heels, something that the right exercises will make a big difference to.

Heavy strength exercises will generally lead to blocky, short looking muscle groups that will actually make the leg look shorter and rounder and while you may be able to squat more, most women aren't interested in that.

In saying that, strength training isn't my own style of training with my clients; if a prospective client wants to improve their power or strength I will recommend some other trainers who specialise in weight lifting.

The female clients that I meet want to be firmer, more toned and leaner. With the right exercises the muscles will look longer and leaner by giving them shape and tone, especially when in a pair of heels.

Men on the other hand generally focus upon the upper body workouts, building their arms and chest, leaving the legs alone. This creates unbalanced proportions.

Not only that but because the legs are such a big muscle group, training them will help to fire up the metabolism, promote lean body mass and improve your ability to burn fat too. Adding even just one leg exercise into your routine will make all the difference.

Let's take a look at the muscle groups of the leg first and then I will show you some of my favourite exercises and how to do them:

The quads

These are the muscles at the front of the leg and are a big muscle group. You can vary the part of the quad you work by varying the position of the feet.

Shoulder width apart works pretty much all over the muscle, by placing your feet closer together you target the outside of the leg and by placing the feet wide apart you work the inside of the leg.

The Glutes

These are the muscles of the bum. With exercise you can tone them, shape them and even lift them if they begin to sag. They will react super fast to training and you will see a big difference really quickly.

The Hamstrings

These are the muscles at the back of the leg, if they are tight they will cause lower back pain so its essential to keep them loose and limber.

Stretching as part of yoga, Pilates and tai chi will make all the difference here as will exercises such as deadlifts.

The calves

These are the muscles below the knee at the back of the leg.

Most people don't work them but in men they are essential for proportion and in women you can help to avoid the "cankle" look by training them.

By creating shape in the calves, especially at the outside of the leg you can make a big visual difference.

Now that you know the main muscle groups of the leg, its time to take a look at some of the best exercises for the legs.

Squats

The squat works almost every muscle group in the lower body.

Start with your feet shoulder-width apart, your back straight and your hands crossed at eye level in front of you. This helps to keep your back straight.

From there bend your knees as far down as you feel comfortable.

Different people will have different ranges of movement, some will be able to get their bum to the floor and some will have far less range of motion. Return to the starting position.

Lunges

These work pretty much every part of the lower body. Start with your feet together, your back straight.

Simply step forward with the right leg and bend the left knee towards the floor. Be careful not to let the right knee bend over the right foot, you should always be able to see your toes.

Wide foot squats

This exercise works the inside of the legs. Start with your feet wide apart, your feet pointing slightly away from the body.

Lower the bum towards the floor, keeping the back straight and hold. Now simply pulse the bum about three inches towards the floor and back to the holding position.

Side leg raises

Start by lying on your side, with all your joints in one line: your shoulders, your hips, your knees and your ankles.

While keeping your top leg straight, move your top leg forward so that the hip joint is engaged. This engages the bum and forces it to work.

Keeping the leg where it is, raise the leg up and down as much as your flexibility will allow.

If you are adding these into your routine aim for 20 reps and build up to three sets over the course of time.

Remember you can't just spot reduce one area so you should build these into an overall body programme that works all the muscle groups equally.

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