Understanding Knee vs. Hip Dominant Exercises Can Unlock Your Leg Day Gains

Understanding Knee vs. Hip Dominant Exercises Can Unlock Your Leg Day Gains

This is Your Quick Training Tip, a chance to learn how to work smarter in just a few moments so you can get right to your workout.

Everyone wants chiseled pecs, six-pack abs, sleeve-busting arms, and a V-shaped back, but there’s a reason why “leg day” is a thing and “chest day” largely isn’t. Some of your largest muscle groups are located below your waist, after all, and even if you don’t give each of them their own dedicated day in your weekly routine, emphasizing those lower body muscles in your workouts can help you pack on more lean mass and burn more fat—not to mention boost total-body power and athleticism. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about your leg-focused workout splits.

The wrong way is to give the muscles you can see in the mirror preferential attention. Trainers refer to these muscles collectively as the “anterior chain” since they run along the front of your body. Moves that target the biggest muscles below your waist (i.e., your quads) are called “knee-dominant exercises,” because that’s the primary joint they flex. The squat, lunge, and step-up all fall into this category.

On the flip side are the muscles of the posterior chain. The glutes and hamstrings are both members of this group, and since one of their primary functions is to flex the hips, moves that work these muscles are known as “hip-dominant exercises.” Examples include the deadlift, good morning, and hip thrust.

If you’re looking to build balanced musculature and strength in your lower body, it’s important to not give these rear-focused exercises short shrift in your workouts just because they’re not facing the front.

Your move: Include an equal number of knee-dominant and hip-dominant exercises in your training program. Skewing the balance one way or the other can result in muscle imbalances that can not only affect your performance in and out of the gym, but also increase your risk of injury.

For most guys, hip-dominant moves are what’s lacking. You can that around with 12 of the best exercises for working your glutes and hamstrings.

Trevor Thieme is a Los Angeles-based writer and strength coach, and a former fitness editor at Men’s Health.

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