A Women’s Must-Read for Healthy Legs

by on April 4, 2012

April 2012: A Women’s Must-Read for Healthy Legs

Squats, deadlifts, ham curls. All three of these lifts can become staples once they make their way into leg day on a typical program. The problem lies, not in the exercises themselves, however – but you.

One thing I’ve noticed training clients is that exercises aren’t contraindicated, but the people who do them are. Women, particularly, are at odds for some risky business if they don’t stay on the ball. I’ve amassed a few tricks of the trade I picked up in battle, ready to be put to use. But first, a brief science lesson.

The Q-Angle

The way in which men differ from women in the weight room aren’t through the “kind” of training they do, rather, the things they should give extra attention to. The main example would be the Q-angle. The Q-Angle refers to the widened state of the female hips making the attachment point of the femur (upper thigh bone) on the pelvis occur further apart than that of males. The angle the top of the thigh makes in comparison to the knee joint is much steeper (more slanted) as a result. Because women have this issue, it leaves certain muscles hanging out to dry. Naturally the Vastus Medalis Oblique, better known as the “teardrop” muscle just inside the knee, and also inner thigh musculature will be vulnerable to much less activation and ultimately, more weakness. Unfortunately, the demands of exercises like those listed at the outset will only fight half the battle when it comes to lighting up these stubborn muscles. The answer?

Split Stance Training!

One rule of thumb to remember is the VMO and inner thighs both act as stabilizers. Knowing this, studies have shown that many single leg exercise will train them well. Split squats, lunges, step ups, and uphill sprints are all gold standard choices for functional single leg training; The adductor/abductor machine just won’t do the trick to properly train these bad boys. Having said that, there are 3 more highly underrated movements that definitely will give you the most bang for your buck:

Rear Leg Elevated Split Squats – The rear leg elevated allows the trailing knee to achieve even more range of motion, meaning the VMO has to work twice as hard. This exercise also doubles as a wicked glute blaster. Be sure to keep pressure on the full foot on the lead leg, and not to step out too far. Keep an upright torso, and aim for performance before increasing the weight lifted. Take note of wobbling knees. When it gets easy, look to add range of motion (possibly by slightly elevating the front foot too, and aiming for the same depth of the knee to floor) before using heavier dumbbells.

Reverse Lunges from Defecit – Set up a low box no more than 12 inches (30cm) high. Holding light dumbbells, “drop-step” – lunge backwards off the box and make sure the knee makes it to the floor. Drive back up to the box using your lead leg. It’s okay to lean in slightly to keep your balance. Keep alternating legs. Again, range of motion is key!

Terminal Knee Extensions – Take a band and set it up around a post or machine at knee level. loop the other side of the band around the back of one knee. square your hips to face the band and stagger your foot stance so that the banded leg is forward. Let the band pull your knee forward over your toe, and pressing with the ball of the foot, drive the knee back against the band. Focus in on your teardrop muscle doing all the work.

A Quick Rule of Thumb

Remember that the quad musculature gets hit much more easily in 2 different ways: First, when the knee comes further and further over the toes (often what should naturally happen). Second, when the lifter pushes through the ball of the foot and neglects to press the heel down. If stubborn VMO’s are something we want to hit more effectively, we should apply one or both of these rules. **I’m not saying to go barbell squat on your toes, or telling lifters with two bum knees that they should start adding pressure to them by applying this all the time. Don’t be stupid.

The Problem with the Elliptical

The fitness industry was taken by storm when the first elliptical hit the markets. Finally a cure to the troubling impact treadmills and outdoor running would place on the knees and hips!

Here’s the hitch: The VMO responds very poorly to non-impact training. What’s worse is that the setup of most elliptical machines makes a woman truly become a prisoner of the Q-Angle’s weaknesses. If it’s a toss-up between running and elliptical, choose the run. If running hurts, focus on shorter distances, hill running, and hitting the weight room for exercises to stabilize your joints.

The Best Damn Women’s Leg Workout, Period

A)Terminal Knee Extensions – 3 x 20 reps per leg seen here:

B)Barbell Back Squats – 5×10 Rest as long as needed between sets

C)Rear Leg Elevated Split Squats – 4×10 per leg Rest 90 seconds between sets

D1) Romanian Deadlifts – 10 reps
D2) Reverse Lunges from Defecit – 8 steps per leg (alternating)

Perform 4 rounds of this superset, and rest 2 minutes between rounds.

Post workout cardio – Interval training – Hill sprints. 15 uphill sprints (walking down for recovery). Find a hill that’s about 50 metres long. If shorter, look for steepness to be slightly higher.

Train Hard, but Train Smart

What may feel like a great workout could create potential for injury. It’s important to make well informed decisions when designing a training program. Put these dirty tricks into practice and you’ll have a killer set of legs, and be pain free all the same. Now who wouldn’t want that?

Lee Boyce

Lee BoyceLee Boyce is based in Toronto, Canada, and works with strength training and preventive care clients. He is the owner of leeboycetraining.com and is a contributing author to many major publications including Musclemag, TNATION, Men’s Health, and Men’s Fitness. Check out his website www.leeboycetraining.com and be sure to follow him on twitter @coachleeboyce.