Whenever someone tells me it was leg day but they only worked their glutes that day I always cringe a little because I wonder what happened to the rest of the muscles in their legs. Don’t those ones need a workout too?
Sure enough, a quick google search is enough to discover people’s obsession with glutes. Tons and tons of articles about how to work your glutes. Squat after squat after squat, with maybe a lunge here and there. Yes, glutes are the ones that make your butt look good and they should definitely be worked on, but there are other muscles in the leg that need a workout too! In this article we will explore the other muscles in the leg, their purpose, and learn a few exercises to work them.
I’m starting with the glutes not only because they’re everyone’s favorite muscles but also because “glutes” are more than just one muscle. There are actually 3 glute muscles and they all serve different primary purposes.
The gluteus maximus attaches at the hip and its main purpose is to perform hip extension. The gluteus maximus is a big muscle and will burn off a lot of calories when worked. And yes, it’s also the muscle that makes your butt big and firm. As you might expect, you know most of the exercises to work this muscle. Here’s a few that are guaranteed to give a large calorie burn:
Gluteus medius/Gluteus minimus
Together, the glute med and glute min are called the “abductors”. Perhaps you’ve heard of the abductors before, but let’s explain the action that these muscles do nonetheless. If you are standing and you lift one leg off to the side, that’s called “abduction” and that’s what these muscles to. The abductors are super important as they work as stabilizer muscles and by now you surely know how I feel about stabilizer muscles: you absolutely need to train them!
The awesome part about the abductors is that training them can be incorporated into core work for example and that’s how I train them. Here’s one of my favorite core exercises that also works the abductors. You can hold this pose for time, or lift the leg up and down
When you first start working these muscles, they will burn like hell and your rep number will be pretty pathetic. But that tells you something! These muscles tend to be very weak on people which makes them a great candidate for strengthening!
Luckily, when you squat there are other muscles that, unbeknownst to most people, also get worked. The quads are one such example. Your quadriceps are a group of four muscles that work together in blissful harmony to do knee extension. Here are their names:
- Vastus lateralis
- Vastus medialis
- Vastus intermedialis
- Rectus femoris
My favorite part about the quads is how the 4th muscle has a completely different name than the other 3!
Similar to the glute max, the quads are beautifully large muscles which burn a lot of calories! Here’s a couple of exercises that target them! Now remember, depending on your training strategy (endurance, hypertrophy or strength) you always want to pick the right weight that makes the last 3 reps hard!
When I first started targeting and training my hamstrings I was shocked and also disappointed. My hamstrings were so weak I couldn’t believe it. They also burned ferociously when I exercised them and I barely needed any weight to feel the burn. I was also shocked because I didn’t think there could be such a weak muscle in my body 2 years into working out. For me, that was a huge eye opener and yes, a bit of a blow to my ego as well, but such is life!
I discovered the hamstring burn while doing bridge lifts on the stability ball so that remains one of my favorite hamstring exercises. The traditional hamstring curl is also a good one, as is the deadlift.
The adductors are the muscles in your inner thighs. They are comprised of a group of muscles, like the quads, but they don’t ask us to learn their names in personal training school so there’s no reason to look them up. Kidding. I looked them up for you because that’s just how awesome of a trainer I am, and here they are:
- Adductor brevis
- Adductor longus
- Adductor magnus
- Adductor minimus (Often considered to be a part of Adductor Magnus)
I love it when people work their adductors because they look hilariously funny when they do it. But all jokes aside, the adductors deserve a bit of attention too. They are important stabilizer muscles in your legs, along with the abductors (don’t tell me you already forgot about them!). Here are a few exercises for the adductors that don’t involve using that funny looking machine.
Collectively, people know these as the calf muscles. And actually quite a few people work on them so good on you if you’re on of those people. These muscles attach at the ankle and they do a movement called ankle plantir flexion (or, in English, “pointing your toes”). For us ladies, they also give us sexy legs when we wear heels. Hehe. So bonus for us!
“I want sexy legs when wearing heels, so how do I work these?” you say. Well, apart from calf raises which everyone knows how to do, you also work this muscle when you squat and lunge, because there is movement at the ankle with each of these moves. So hurray for squats and lunges for being so awesome at working so many different muscles.
If there’s one thing I’d like you to take away from this article, it’s that there’s more to a leg workout than just your butt. Squats continue to be an awesome way to work a lot of different muscles at the same time and get a large calorie burn. As you get more accustomed to working out I strongly encourage you to start exploring other exercises and see what they can do for your legs. Similar to me discovering that my hamstrings were weak, who knows what areas of weakness you may uncover?
After being skinny unfit for the majority of my life, I discovered fitness by accident after having my daughter. A couple of years later, I started Tone Every Zone out of an overwhelming desire to help other busy individuals juggle a hectic lifestyle while staying active. My mission is to teach people about fitness and work with them as a team to make long lasting lifestyle changes. My personal values include being professional, honest and transparent in all of my doings but also being funny and silly because that’s what makes life (and your training sessions) fun! To learn about how I can help you reach your fitness goals, don’t hesitate to get in touch.