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JONES: Lower body: Doing a split or a leg break?

Today we continue with part two of my three-column answer for Billy M’s question: “When I don’t feel like doing a full body workout, how should I split up the muscles?”

Last time, I covered the upper body: Push muscles, and why it is important to work muscles that work together, together. Next time, I will delve into their antagonistic counterparts, the muscles of upper body: Pull.

Today, we’re going to jump into the topic of lower body musculature. Welcome to legs. Because we’re jumping in with both feet, we need to dive in headfirst. In other words, it’s brain before body today. You’re going to need to concentrate for a few minutes. You’ve got this though; no sweat.

While the upper body can essentially be split into “halves” (push and pull) and, thereby, divided between separate workouts, with the lower body, it’s usually best to go all in. Even though training your entire lower body in one workout can be tough, splitting up the muscles of your lower body between workouts is even tougher, albeit nearly impossible.

Your legs generally always work together. The left and right go forward and backward, up and down, and side to side. Also, while there are definitely distinct push and pull movements for the lower body, more often than not, both of these motions are ordered by the actions of the exact same muscle, often at the same time.

Trying to isolate and split up the “push” and “pull” movements for legs during a workout is an exercise in frustration. Just look at some of the biomechanical complexities going afoot during lower body training:

The gastrocnemius (main calf muscle) — both straighten the feet (push) and bend the knees (pull).

The hamstrings (back of the thigh) — both bend the knees (pull) and extend the hips (push).

The quadriceps (front of the thigh) — both straighten the knees (push) and flex the hips (pull).

Your legs also have muscles that both abduct (push away) and adduct (pull together). Rotations of the legs, both internally (towards pigeon-toed) and externally (toward duck-footed), come into play, too, even if contractions are used only for static stabilization. And, don’t forget about the cornucopia of cardio, when muscles mix myriad movements.

Within the lower body, muscles and motions go hand in hand. Movements that push also involve muscles that pull. Similarly, and inversely, muscles that push also perform movements that pull. In a nutshell, working out legs, in any direction, works both sets of lower body motion movers — push and pull.

Because it’s all for one and one for all while working out your lower body muscles, it should be even more so when resting up your lower body muscles.

Your leg muscles are the biggest in your entire body. Regardless of your condition, your gluteus maximus, quadriceps and hamstrings are huge, at least relative to the rest of your body’s musculature. Foundationally, they demand a lot more effort and intensity during workouts; equally, they deserve a little more rest and recovery after workouts.

Furthermore, applying the principles of Eccentrics (actively lengthening muscle by slowly lowering weight) to lower body strength training unquestionably requires that you give your legs a break. And, in my experience, it is best to break both legs, totally and together.

In other words, after you exercise your legs, take some time to fully recover; don’t do any other lower body exercise for at least a day. After you exercise Eccentrics, take some extra time to fully recover; don’t do any other lower body exercise for at least a few days.

However, stamina training is different than training for strength, and to each their own. Stamina, or any cardio-type exercise, is, within reason, usually fine to continue on a regular, if not almost daily, basis. Rest is sometimes rational, but not always required. Strength training for legs, on the other hand, demands relaxation. If there was ever a time to focus on recreation after exercise, trust me, this is it.

Ideally, try to work all of the muscles of the lower body in the same workout session with a variety of exercises, such as squats/lunges, leg extensions, leg curls, adduction/abduction, frog squats and calf raises.

Long story short — don’t do a split routine for your lower body. Do it all at once. Still, even if you only do a few lower body exercises in any given workout, you should still rest all of your lower body muscles afterward.


Doug Jones earned his Master’s Degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Maryland and has served professionals and personalities as a concierge fitness trainer for decades. As a resident of Kaua‘i and Connecticut, he has helped millions of people learn the secrets of fitness and fat loss, both online and in person. To submit your questions, or for more information, call (808) 652-6453 or visit
Source: The Garden Island

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