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Why Do So Many People Skip Leg Day? Here’s What The Data Says

Tonal’s State of Strength report reveals members are neglecting lower-body training. Here’s why that’s a big mistake.

State of Strength: Skipping Leg Day

Skipping leg day is so prevalent that it’s become a meme. You’ve probably seen one of the images featuring a typical gym-going guy with a muscular chest and bulging arms but without the lower body to match. 

There are lots of reasons for skipping leg day. One of the main excuses? Lower-body lifting can be hard—really, really hard, according to Troy Taylor, Senior Director of Performance at Tonal. For most people, Taylor explains, large, compound lower-body exercises involve lifting more resistance than any other movements. And for many lifters, particularly men, developing strong leg muscles simply isn’t a top aesthetic priority. 

Despite the proliferation of memes and evidence backing up the benefits of lower-body lifting,  some lifters are still neglecting leg day in their weekly routines, as seen in Tonal’s State of Strength report, a sweeping analysis of the lifting habits of more than 175,000 unique members over the course of a year. Bulgarian split squats might not be your idea of a good time, but incorporating more lower-body moves into your workout can have all-around benefits. 

Fifty-two percent of Tonal members surveyed said lower-body workouts were their least favorite type of strength session while only 8 percent said lower-body workouts were their most favorite.

Tonal Member's Least Favorite Workout Types
Tonal Member’s Least Favorite Workout Types

But no matter your goals, lower-body work should be a regular part of your routine. Squats, deadlifts, and lunges build the foundation for a stronger lower body and increase your overall calorie burn by developing the large, lean muscle groups of the lower body, says Tonal Coach Joe Rodonis. 

“Leg exercises are among the most functional,” adds Taylor, explaining that these exercises are essential for performing everyday movements. Deadlifts mimic the motion of picking up a heavy object from the floor, while lunges prep you to walk long distances carrying heavy bags.

Here are five insights from the State of Strength report that explain how lower-body gains are lagging behind, plus tips on how to incorporate leg day even if you’re a chronic skipper:

1. Exclusion Excuses

Only 39 percent of members reported that they love leg day and nothing is stopping them from doing a dedicated lower-body workout. For those who’ve avoided leg day, here are the top reasons why:

Top reasons why Tonal members skip leg day:
1. I already do a lower-body cardio-based exercise.
2. I want to avoid lower-body soreness.
3. I have pain or an injury in my lower body.

While members cited these factors as why they skip leg day, they’re actually excellent reasons to add leg day to your routine. Runners and cyclists can improve their sport-specific skills by building lower-body strength, while certain exercises can help relieve knee or hip pain

2. Upper Body All Day

Of the top 10 most popular moves performed by members, only two were lower-body exercises: the neutral grip deadlift and goblet squat rank 6th and 9th respectively. That means the chest, back, and arms are getting a lot more attention with the number one most popular move being the bench press

The resisted lateral lunge, barbell front squat, and Bulgarian split squat rounded out the top five most popular lower-body lifts on Tonal after the neutral grip deadlift and goblet squat.

Most popular moves on Tonal:
1. Bench Press
2. Single-Arm Bent Over Row
3. Biceps Curl
4. Triceps Extension
5. Barbell Bench Press

3. Mind the Gap 

For both men and women, median upper-body strength was higher than median lower-body strength. The gap was significantly smaller for women though (just 8 percent compared to a whopping 34 percent for men), hinting that women have been balancing their training time better.

4. Programs Get a Leg Up 

When left to their own devices, members were less likely to include lower-body moves in their workouts. That’s where Tonal’s programs fit in. Expertly designed and led by world-class coaches, these multi-week programs ensure you’ll hit all your muscle groups evenly. In fact, 36 percent of all reps done in programs were lower body versus 13 percent of all reps done in Free Lift. In other words, 66 percent of program workouts contained a lower-body move versus 25 percent of Free Lift workouts.

5. Go Low and Slow

Lower-body exercises are important and form matters. When looking at form feedback data on Tonal’s most popular lower-body moves (including squats, deadlifts, and lunges), here are two of the most common mistakes among members:

  1. Lowering too fast: Focus on the eccentric contraction, or lowering portion of the exercise, in these moves to maximize strength and muscle-building. Research shows that loading this portion of the exercise, such as with Tonal’s Eccentric mode, can help improve power, strength, and hypertrophy.
  2. Limiting range of motion: Increasing your range of motion—sitting deeper into your squats or having your back knee tap the ground in a lunge—can go a long way in building lower-body strength.

How to Make Leg Day Stick

If you’re among the 52 percent of members who dislike leg day, try one of these tips from Taylor on how to incorporate more lower-body work into your routine:

1. Do Legs First

When you’re doing a Free Lift or Custom Workout, get your leg exercises out of the way early in your session. “There are less excuses when you’re fresh,” says Taylor. “And if you have to pause your workout and come back later, it’s always nice to come back to biceps curls instead of squats or deadlifts.” 

2. Don’t Be Afraid to Rest

When you’re prioritizing building strength or muscle mass, there’s no need to shortchange your rest periods. Adding some rest time is especially important when you’re training lower body because working these large muscle groups can create more localized and systemic fatigue, according to Taylor.  “Press the pause button, take some extra time,” he says. “It’ll be well worth it.” 

3. Fuel Up

Eating an adequate amount of protein and carbohydrates is essential for keeping your energy up during leg day and ensuring your muscles can repair and build afterward. “These are big, compound movements, so if you’re under-fueled, it makes it that much harder,” says Taylor.

The Bottom Line on Skipping Leg Day

Whatever your excuse is for avoiding lower-body exercises, it’s time to let it go and embrace the benefits of training your body’s largest muscles. Tonal member Ted Friedl admits he avoided leg day before getting his Tonal, but found that once he actually included lower-body work in his routine, he got relief from his chronic knee pain. “As I did more workouts, I felt my glutes and leg muscles developing and my knee pain improving,” he said. “I no longer have knee pain when I’m walking around or when I’m doing squats.”