In defense of leg day

Ensuring your total-body training plan emphasizes these muscles translates to a fitter physique, head to toe.

“Never skip leg day” is a long-standing inside joke among trainers. Image-search this meme and you will be bombarded with photos of large, muscularly developed upper bodies atop thin, spindly legs.

“Many people focus on the vanity muscles at the front and top of your body, the muscles you can see,” explains Justin Jacobs, Tier 4 manager at Equinox TriBeCa. And oftentimes this is achieved by dedicating entire sessions to one particular (vanity) muscle group. "Split routines—chest Mondays, back Tuesdays, and so on—were created for bodybuilders who spent one to two hours a day in the gym, five to six days a week," he says. "For most of us, this isn’t realistic, and so this routine may not be the best choice. Additionally, a true bodybuilding split would always include at least one leg day. Somehow this often gets lost in translation,” Jacobs explains.

Others tend to consider cardio their leg workout or skip it entirely for fear of “getting too big,” he says.

While the spin bike and the treadmill can increase your muscular endurance, in order to reach your full potential, and get an entirely different response (since cardio and strength don’t affect your body the same way), you have to do a variety of types of work using different planes of motion, muscle fibers, and energy systems, explains Jacobs.

Why is training your legs so important?

“To get a big response, you have to use big muscles, and your legs contain the largest muscles in your body,” says Jacobs. Using big muscle groups can create a big response from your endocrine system, which secretes hormones like human growth hormone and testosterone, among others. These hormones are critical to muscular development and metabolism.

That’s why Jacobs swears by total-body plans. If you work all of your muscles, you’ll challenge not only your entire body, but also your mind, changing everything from your shape to your mindset in a matter of months.

The problem is, total-body workouts may not be as all-encompassing as we believe. Click the slideshow to see Jacobs demonstrating some of his preferred leg-dominant moves. Incorporate a few of them into your existing total-body routine to tap into your body’s hidden resources, and reap the full breadth of benefits.

Photographed by Mike Rosenthal; Grooming by Marina Gravini; Art Direction + Styled by Ashley Martin