I’m sure you have already heard the phrase “never skip legday”, but there is more to this saying than you might think. This blogpost is all about your legs and, more specifically, the squat, as you can probably tell from the title. In the past, squatting was one of the most important exercises for training my legs. However, due to my triathlon training, I did not squat for over a year, which then became painfully noticeable at a specific event (more on this later). Because of that I will explain to you why, regardless of the type of sport you practice, you should integrate the squat into your workout routine!
If you are not familiar with the squat, I’ve covered this exercise in depth in my blogpost: #HowTo: Squat.
Why train your legs?
I would like to start with the most basic question: Why should you even train your legs at all? Above all, your legs are involved in a variety of exercises that do not even work your legs direclty. In addition, your legs naturally contribute to a balanced aesthetic appearance. However, in my opinion, there is a much more fundamental reason for training your legs regularly.
I want to start with a personal story to show the importance training your legs. Since I started training, I’ve always trained my legs. Heavy squats or lunges have always been the central part of my workout routine. When I started my triathlon training, however, that changed. Due to the high stress on my legs from running and cycling, I reduced the amount of exercises for my legs or even skipped legday completely. This was of advantage to my triathlon training and when I occasionally did heavy squats, I did not notice a significant drop in strength as well.
In 2019 I participated in Redbull 400, the steepest 400m hill sprint in the world. I already participated in this event in 2018 and achieved good results with little preparation time. I started training for this event much earlier in 2019 and had higher expectations.
However, even though I was still able to achieve good results, my performance was worse than in the previous year, despite the time I spent preparing for this event. My cardiovascular performance was not the cause, my legs were the weak point this time. While I continued to train my legs regularly in 2018, this was no longer the case in 2019. In my opinion that was also the reason why, despite my intense preparation, I had a worse result than last year.
As you can see, training your legs can have a far-reaching impact on your performance and your health.
Training your legs as as runner?
Many runners believe that a dedicated leg training is not necessary, because your legs are already trained when running. However, this is not the case! There are countless small muscles that take on various stabilizing functions, which are not sufficiently trained by running alone.
Perhaps you are a motivated runner yourself and, especially at the beginning of your running career, ran quite often motivated by your progress? Chances are that you’ve had various complaints after a few months, such as knee pain. The reason for that: You probably did not train your legs! A balanced leg training the strenghten the muscles that support you in the sport of your choice can be essential .
Here you can find various exercises on how you can train your legs as a runner: How Runners Can Easily Improve Their Foot Strength.
Regular leg training can also significantly increase your overall stamina and put you in the position to be slightly more power towards the end of a competition ! However, you have to invest a lot of time before you can feel the benefits of regular leg training while running, so patience is required .
Squats for every athlete!
Not only runners can benefit from squats, but also athletes in every other sport. Squats are among the top 3 exercises for general training, prehab and rehab and should therefore be part of the workout schedule of every athlete . The squat is an extremely versatile exercise that can train specific muscle groups in your legs to improve your performance but also assist rehabilitation .
Studies also show that strength gains in heavy squats can directly affect your explosive performance in sprints or vertical jumps. .
The squat is one of the best exercises to train the entire lower body. Due to the fact that many natural movements from everyday life are imitated by the squat, this exercise is also the best choice for general health and fitness training programs . For older people in particular, regular squats with their own body weight are important to make everyday activities easier . In addition, squats can help you build fat-free mass and prevent some age-related diseases .
What type of squat?
As noted in the last paragraph, the squat is very versatile and can work a lot of different muscle groups in your legs. Which type of squat is the best choice for you depends on your sport or your goals. If you want to know more about different versions of the squat, you should read my blog post #HowTo: Squat.
As described in the last paragraph, heavy squats (70-90% of your maximum weight for one rep) are a great way to increase your explosive power. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be heavy squats. Moderately heavy squats (40-55% of your 1RM) and a low volume (about 4-8 repetitions per set) can increase your athletic performance as well, if you move the weight fast during the excentric phase of the exercise (upwards motion) .
In general, deep squats (> 90 °) are the better choice for increasing general athletic performance . Parallel squats (90 °) can increase the performance when sprinting or for vertical jumps .
Other than that, you can check the following list if you want to know which variation of the squat trains which part of your legs best :
- The deeper the squat, the more stress is put on your butt
- The wider the stance, the more stress is put on butt
- Quadriceps (thighs):
- Since the quadriceps is is worked the most at about 80°-90 ° flexion in the knee, parallel squats are the best choice
- If the feet are positioned further forward and squats are performed against a wall, the quadriceps is also subjected to a very high load
- Vastus medialis muscle (inner thigh):
- Important to prevent knee injuries and to stabilize the position of the patella tendon (this is important for many sports in which quick changes of direction and start/stop or jump motions are important)
- Is trained best if the squat is performed not further than parallel to the floor
- Back of thigh:
- This part of the leg muscles has its eccentric phase (stretching) during the downward movement and the concentric phase (contracting) during the upward movement of the squat
- The back of the thigh is worked approximately equally in deep and parallel squats
- The best way to train the back of the thigh is in a hack squat machine with the feet positioned further forward and squatting against a wall
- The calves are subjected to greater strain with increasing knee flexion, with the maximum load occurring when the knee is bent at 60°-90°
Well, that was a lot of information! If you have no idea what type of squat is suitable for you and how you should integrate it into your workout routine, I will briefly introduce you to my approach.
Due to my intense triathlon training, I primarily train my legs with numerous small/light exercises. Nevertheless, I try to do 5 sets of 5-7 reps of heavy squats once a week. After warming up I always do this at the beginning of my training session. In addition, I do not bend further than 90° because this feels best for me and, in my opinion, also covers most of the important muscle groups in your legs!
How about you? Do you squat regularly? How do you integrate the squat your workout routine?
 Why Strength Training Is So Important for Runners
 Don’t Skip Leg Day: The Benefits of Working Out Legs
 Del Vecchio et al – The health and performance benefits of the squat, deadlift and benchpress
 Pareja-Blanco et al – Combined Squat and Light-Load Resisted Sprint Training for Improving Athletic Performance