Leg Day Cardio

Get It In Without Jeopardizing Progress

Think about the last time you felt stressed out. What did you do to fix it? Get a massage? Do some yoga? Take the day off?

You know that if you don’t do something about it, nothing will get better. You must allow yourself time to take a deep breath and relax in order to chill out and move on and forward.

So, why should our bodies be any different? Did you know that when you exercise you are causing trauma to your body? Our bodies don’t know that we need to be in a bikini in a few weeks, or that we need to run a marathon in a couple of months. All it knows is that we’re running out of oxygen during sprints and that squats are loading a heck of a lot more weight on our joints than normal and it needs to save us from this trauma.

Leg Day Cardio

A Well-Rounded Fitness Regimen

I am a fan of the well-rounded fitness regimen. I think it’s great if you can get ready for a fitness competition without doing any cardio whatsoever, but that’s not very balanced. There’s not much to be proud of when you can squat 185lbs but are panting walking up a hill.

When it comes to squeezing in weights AND cardio throughout the week, it can be hard with our busy schedules. To keep the stress on your body under control, you really need to make them separate sessions. But, I know you’re going to do whatever you need to do to get it all done.

The easy and most time-efficient solution is to do your weight training and cardio in the same workout, right? If this is your only option, I will give you my tips on how to make sure you don’t cause too much stress on your body and end up reversing all of the wonderful progress you’ve been making in the gym.

Separating Cardio & Weights Is Ideal

The reason keeping your weight training a separate gym session from your cardio is best is due to the cell growth and protein synthesis that starts immediately after weight training. Actually, it even starts during your weight session! When you head straight for a cardio machine after weights, your protein synthesis (muscle gains) shuts off.

It would be easy to say, then, that the fix would be doing your cardio before you weight train. Not exactly. If you jog on a treadmill for 20-30 minutes before your leg workout, you will decrease your strength and power in the weight room since the action of jogging doesn’t match up to the same type of movements and hip flexion that you will need during your leg exercises. Jogging demands more of the knees, hips and ankles making it not ideal for doing right before a leg workout.

Jogging is a fantastic form of exercise separate from a leg workout, but we should avoid our legs and joints being compromised before a demanding workout like legs. To grow those beautiful quad sweeps, we need those joints rested and ready to rock when we need them most!

Better Pre Workout Cardio

What type of leg-dominant cardio can we do before a leg workout? Think about exercises that require more hip flexion and multi-joint activation (i.e., plyometric box squats or pop squats – anything that mimics the same movements you’ll be doing on leg day). Most of the leg exercises you’ll perform (squats, deadlifts, leg press, etc.) will require hip flexion and multi-joint activation, so your cardio should match that. Plyometrics, cycling and/or the Stepmill are all excellent multi-joint and hip flexion movements that activate fast twitch muscle fibers – the same muscle fibers you’ll activate during your weight training.

If you want to avoid compromising your legs whatsoever on leg day but still need to get in some cardio before your workout, think of opposing muscle group cardio exercises. Great examples of opposing muscle group exercises to leg day would be battle rope slams, sled pulls, bag work (boxing), rope climbing machine (your gym rocks if you have this) or swimming. Just be careful to not do any of them too long or intensely. You want to reserve energy and strength for the weight room, and the longer your cardio session is before weights, the more you jeopardize your strength, power and hypertrophy.

Check out the leg workout and warm-up below for ideas!

Stepmill – moderate level
5 minutes

Head over to the squat rack and get set up

Pop Squats
3 sets x 20 reps

Jump Squats
3 sets x 12 reps

Bulgarian Jump Squats (video)
3 sets x 12 reps (each leg)

Squats (in the rack)
4 warm-up sets x 10 reps
3 working sets x 10 reps

Romanian Deadlift
3 working sets x 10 reps

Narrow Stance Hack Squat (video)
4 sets of 12-15 reps

Smith Machine Static Lunge
4 sets of 24 steps

Weighted Step-Up
3 sets of 15 reps per leg

Jessie Hilgenberg

Jessie is an IFBB Figure Pro, Team NLA for Her & Bodybuilding.com Athlete, registered yoga instructor, health & fitness coach, bootcamp director and fitness model. Her goal is to inspire others and illustrate that a healthy lifestyle of training with intensity, staying consistent and eating clean can truly change your life!

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