Do you even lift bro?
There are 3 things guaranteed in life – death, taxes and bro’s skipping leg day. A typical leg day for most body building enthusiasts will have tortuous sets of squats, Romanian deadlifts, leg extensions, leg curls and maybe some calf raises. The goal more often than not is to struggle to walk properly for the next week and have a tough time sitting on the toilet. While this may be beneficial for gym bro’s and body builders it is very inefficient and counter-productive for athletes.
Most athletes (especially running/field based) need to use their leg to play their sport. Whether it’s to kicking a ball further, run faster, stop on a dime, or dunk a ball, the legs a going to play a massive role. Strength and conditioning training for the legs if done properly can be a literal game changer for athletes, get it wrong though and you could be watching from the sidelines.
A better leg day
Leg training for athletes is not body building, athletes don’t necessarily need big legs. If you do want to focus on building leg size (because you think it will help with your athletic performance) than any gains in muscle mass shouldn’t impact speed and power if anything it should improve it. Athletes need their legs to train and play their sport so they already get used a lot, however, this doesn’t mean they shouldn’t train legs.
Unfortunately, most sports just use legs as a means to an end and don’t necessarily build strength, speed, and power in the legs (sprinting would be an exception). Of course, an athlete’s legs would be stronger than a couch potato, but they may not be strong enough to play at high intensities for long periods of time.
Balance is the key, not training legs means you are running the risk of not reaching your full athletic potential and injuries. When you do train your legs, you want it to improve, not hinder, your athletic performance. A good program should make your legs feel worked but not trashed (this is true for all S&C training).
Training for strength, power, speed, endurance
A good leg strength and conditioning program should aim to improve the main qualities needed in a given sport. Most sports need a mix of qualities such as strength, power, speed, and endurance.
Strength training builds the foundation for producing powerful and resilient legs. This may include exercises like squat variations, deadlifts, hip thrusts, adductor planks, Nordic hamstring curls and calf raises.
Powerful legs allow you to get to contest quicker, break out of tackles, jump higher and change direction quicker. Power training is about moving loads fast! Great exercises include – loaded jumping, power cleans, kettlebell swings, med ball tosses, sled sprinting, resisted sprinting and depth jumps.
Speed training allows your legs to move at a faster rate helping you move your whole body quicker. Speed training can also be a great injury preventer, as most injuries occur at high speed (e.g., hamstring strains). Having the ability to tolerate high velocities for multiple efforts is so critical to injury prevention. Keep it simple by sprinting for different distances (5-10-20-30-40-60 meters) and in different directions (agility grids, mirror drill).
Putting miles on your legs is a term often used in long distance running circles, but it does hold some truth, endurance training is just as important when training legs. Endurance training can help you last longer in games but can also build resilience in the legs providing great protect from injuries. This is often done through conditioning exercises such as running, cycling, sleds, slide board and high rep strength exercises.
What a leg program should look like
Leg training in the gym should differ depending on what phase of training you are in – offseason vs preseason vs in season. In the off-season phase where you are playing no sport the legs can be train up to 3 times in a week, if you pull up sore it doesn’t matter as much. In the pre-season phase where sports specific training is introduced 2 times a week is enough without over doing it and ideally should be done on non-sport training days. In-season you should continue to train legs relatively hard at least once per week with a possible second day focusing on speed and power.
Off-season 3 x week (only showing leg exercises, you would include upper body and core)
Squat Jumps 3 x 5
Trapbar Deadlift 5 x 5
Slider Hamstring Curl 3 x 8
Hip Thrust 3 x 8
Sled Push 3 x 10m
Lateral Bound 3 x 5/side
Split Squat 3 x 5/side
Romanian Deadlift 3 x 8
Pre-season 2 x week
Dumbbell Squat jump 3 x 5
Banded Trapbar Deadlift 3 x 5
S/L Slider Hamstring Curl 3 x 5/side
S/L Broad Jump 3 x 5/side
Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat 3 x 5/side
Split Stance Romanian Deadlift 3 x 8/side
In-season 1 x week
Depth Jump 3 x 5
Split Stance Trapbar Deadlift 3 x 5/side
Nordic curls 3 x 3-5
Leg training doesn’t have to be an all-out assault to try and cripple yourself and it certainly should never be skipped. Properly done, leg training could be one of the best things an athlete can do for their performance.