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Why it is critical that you exercise your leg muscles

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You would think this is a no-brainer question, right? Our legs carry us everywhere. They help us lift items. They help us when we need to get down to a child’s level. They help you when the car breaks down and your cell phone is out of juice and you need to start walking to the nearest point of civilization. If you cannot get up from a seated position (from a chair or sofa) without hanging onto something or pushing something to propel you up, then you probably are not getting enough exercise that works your major muscle groups or you are carrying too much weight. Your range of motion, not to mention your endurance, can be severely limited when your leg muscles do not get enough exercise.

What are those muscles, many of which come with funny names?

1. GLUTES: While not officially part of the leg, most of us think the glutes are part of the leg, and for that reason they are listed here. The glutes, short for the gluteus maximus muscles, make up most of our hip. Without a strong gluteus maximus, you have problems getting up and lifting heavy things. Having problems getting up stairs? You might have weak glutes. Can't even touch your toes when seated on the floor? Weak glutes could be the problem. Exercises to strengthen these muscles include lunges, squats, and stair climbing.

2. ADDUCTORS: Your inner thigh muscles are the adductors, and actually include seven muscles. You probably know them by their more common label, the hamstrings. Want to test how strong yours are? Just squeeze a pencil between your knees to feel these muscles at work. Want to see just how flexible yours are, too? Just reach down to touch your toes, keeping your legs straight. Can’t do that? Various weight machines help keep these muscles in good working condition. Check with your gym’s trainer on the proper use of such equipment. Stretching them at the end of a workout is important, too. Stretching includes a static lunge.

3. QUADS: The quadriceps are pretty well known, and these are the muscles at the front of your thigh. Whenever you walk or stretch, you are using these muscles to extend your knees. If these muscles are weak, you will have a hard time getting up from a seated position or even just plain walking. Obesity can prevent you from getting up in one motion, too. You can be sure that athletes who have lost a leg and are using a prosthesis have well-developed quads.

4. GASTROCNEMIUS & SOLEUS: Your upper calf contains two muscles, the gastrocnemius and the soleus. They also help when it comes to getting up without getting a boost from something else. Keeping these muscles in shape can also help with reducing leg cramps.

BOTTOM LINE: If you don’t go to a gym or you are stretched for time, the easiest way to work your leg muscles is to WALK. Start slowly for a warm-up and slow down for the cool down. If you sit all day, take a short break and raise your legs while seated in a repetitive movement. It is important to keep these muscles in good shape through walking and exercise. Doing so allows them to take in fluids to re-hydrate your body.

Drinking water is not enough—you have to prepare the connective tissue to take in fluids and hydrate if you plan to have any quality of life. You can do this with exercise and old-fashioned walking. Long-term lack of exercise could result in your having to use a cane or walker to get around. So, take care of those muscles!

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