Most of the exercises you do at home aren't as focused as the ones you can perform in the gym. The equipment there isolates specific leg muscle groups and lets you add resistance as your strength increases. You can plan a varied workout, moving from one machine or weight station to another to work different muscles and keep your development balanced. And simply getting out of the house and going to the gym can be enough to boost your motivation to work hard.
One often-posed question is: Should runners stick to light weights in order to avoid bulked-up muscles, which might slow them down? The question has been debated for years, but many coaches now advise that using heavier weights with fewer repetitions is best for strengthening muscles and ligaments. For any given exercise, you should choose a resistance that makes you fatigued after 12-15 reps. Plan to do two or three sets before moving on [source: Hanc].
Resistance machines are a good place to start in the gym. They isolate particular muscle groups for strengthening and make it easier to maintain good form and to move through the entire range of motion with close to uniform resistance. Quadriceps extensions, hamstring curls and leg presses are the three basic ways to work your legs on these machines. In general, you should keep movements slow and controlled, and, once again, avoid locking your knees by stopping just before they're entirely straight.
While machines are good for working specific muscles, free-weight workouts are good for building leg muscles overall and for improving the balance and alignment you need to run well. Here are three beneficial leg exercises that you can do in the gym.
- Lunge: Holding a dumbbell in each hand (either at your sides or over your head), stride forward with your right leg and lower yourself down until your right knee reaches a 90-degree angle. Keep your torso straight. Step back to your original position and repeat using the other leg. Or you can do walking lunges by moving the trailing leg forward and then stepping forward.
- Wall squat: Place an inflated exercise ball between you and the wall. Lean your back against it and move your feet slightly forward. Lower until your knees are bent 90 degrees. Return to standing. Don't allow your knees to move in front of your toes.
- Hip strengtheners: You can use either ankle weights or weights hanging from your ankle by a strap. Lie on your left side on a bench with the weight attached to your right ankle. Raise your right leg, keeping it straight. Slowly lower it back down. Perform the same movement on your left side, then do a similar lift lying on your back.
Some of the exercises you did at home, like the calf raise and the one-legged squat, can also be done in the gym using weights. You can take advantage of the gym's treadmill to build strength. Raising the angle of the platform will provide the equivalent of hill running.
These basic exercises should get you started. Read on for more tips about leg workouts.