Navigating the various leg-strengthening machines and equipment at the gym can make you weak in the knees. Although certain pieces of equipment are better suited for seasoned lifters, there should be tools available for women of all fitness levels who want to work their legs. Don't be shy about asking a trainer at the gym to shed some light on the various weights and machines. Armed with this knowledge, you can choose the right weight-lifting equipment to get strong, shapely legs.
In regards to building strength, free weights take the cake in the eyes of many lifters because they call upon stabilizers to support movements. Just as their name suggests, stabilizer muscles and ligaments stabilize joints around the main muscle. For example, when training your hamstrings or quadriceps the ligaments around your knees stabilize larger muscle group movement. Since the American Council on Exercise states that stabilizer activation leads to strength and power development, free weights may be the ideal choice to build powerful leg strength. Free weights include dumbbells and barbells, and they challenge muscles by working against gravity during the lifting action. Examples of free weight leg exercises include the dumbbell single leg split squat, standard barbell squat and the barbell lunge.
While gyms may feature a myriad of machine types, plate-loaded machines are among the most common. Plate-loaded machines offer resistance by adding circular weight plates on the plate bar, which is typically found on the moving portion of the machine. As you execute a repetition, the machine guides you through the movement on a predetermined pathway. This directed movement is a double-edged sword, though. While it ensures proper lifting technique -- minimizing accidental injury from incorrect lifting -- the confined range of motion may not work for women who are extremely tall or short. Since plate-loaded machines offer assisted movement, however, they eliminate the need to use stabilizer muscles. Therefore, these machines may isolate specific leg muscles better for main muscle strengthening. Some of the most effective plate-loaded machine leg exercises include the lever lying leg press, lever leg extension and the lever 45-degree angle press.
In the same vein as plate-loaded machines, selectorized machines use plate weights for resistance. Instead of manually placing weight plates on a bar, selectorized machines feature weight racks with predetermined weight amounts. Resistance load is chosen by placing a pin underneath the desired weight amount. During the exercise, weight plates are lifted through a series of pulleys that attach to the lifting bar of that particular machine. The safety factor of selectorized machines makes them ideal for beginners. These machines not only guide movements, but the pulley system offers smooth and continuous tension. Therefore, the risk of injury due to momentum or jerking weights is reduced. Effective leg exercises on this machine type include the lever seated leg press, lever squat machines and the lever leg extension.
Cable machines offer resistance by lifting a set number of weight plates from the weight rack. In many ways, cable machines are similar to selectorized machines. However, cable machines aren’t as limited in their range of motion. A series of cables and pulleys lift weight plates, and its this function that many lifters find attractive. Due to its design, cable machines offer continual tension through the entire movement cycle. While one machine may be used for multiple exercises, not every exercise uses the standard hand-held handles. For example, the cable hip adduction exercise requires ankle straps, while the cable rear lunge uses the standard hand grips. For workout variety, add cable deadlifts or the cable standing leg extension to your lower body exercises.
- American Council on Exercise: Free Weights vs. Strength-Training Equipment
- Burt Chiropractic: Stabilizer Muscles’ Role on Injury Prevention
- American College of Sports Medicine: Selecting and Effectively Using Free Weights
- ExRx.net: Lever 45-Degree Leg Press (Plate Loaded)
- ExRx.net: Lever Leg Extension (Plate Loaded)
- DaveyWaveyFitness: Free Weights vs. Cables
- ExRx.net: Cable Rear Lunge
- BodyBuilding.com: Cable Hip Adduction
Jonathan McLelland has been a professional writer since 2005. He has worked as a story writer and editor for the international sitcom, “Completing Kaden,” as well as a proposal writer for various production companies. McLelland studied communication and theater at St. Louis Community College.