Below the Waist

In This Chapter

V Determining nice Calvins

► Two great free weight exercises to build your legs Seven leg machine exercises for buffer gams

Okay, anatomy fans. What's the largest group of muscles in your body? Back? Wrong. Chest? Nope. Abdominals? Sorry. In fact, the largest muscles you have are located below the waist. Most people when they think of their legs, think of the muscles in two major groups: upper and lower or thighs and calves. There is, of course, a lot more going on in those sturdy legs of yours. So that you know what we're talking about when we recommend the exercises that follow, here's a quick tour of Leg World.

One of these muscle groups is the gluteus maximus, or glutes, a wide band of muscle that covers your entire butt area. If you've ridden a horse too long or cycled for hours at a time, these are the muscles that doth protest too much. They are also the muscles that are featured in all of those salacious Calvin Klein jean ads. ("Nice Calvin's" is another way of saying, "Nice gluteus maximus!") The glutes, of course, can do more than sell pants. Their primary function is to extend your legs from your hips when your leg is bent. In other words, when you're running for the bus.

Located opposite your glutes are your hip flexors. Although there are several muscles that contribute to the act of hip flexion, the largest is called the iliopsoas. These muscles don't receive much attention. In fact, in all of our years of going to the gym we've never heard someone say, "Hey, nice iliopsoas." (We think this is a shame, but there's not much we can do about it.)

The iliopsoas is a strong muscle that doesn't need much concentrated work because it receives quite a bit of work on a daily basis with walking, running, and climbing stairs. In fact, since we tend to sit so much it is the muscle that is often too tight. As a result, this muscle is usually better served by being stretched than by being strengthened. If it becomes too tight, this tricky muscle that runs from the lumbar spine to the inside of the uppermost part of the long bone in the thigh (femur), can pull your pelvis forward and put stress on your lumbar spine. The result? Serious lower back pain.

On the sides of your hips are the hip abductors, the main one being the gluteus medius. This muscle works to move your leg away from your body—while pushing off during inline skating, for example. Their companions, located on the inner part of the thigh, are the adductors, which draw your leg toward your body.

The big boys in the band are the quadriceps, or quads. These are the muscles that span the entire front part of your leg. If you're an NFL running back or a professional cyclist, odds are that your quads are like large loaves of bread. The quads are comprised of four muscles (hence the name quadriceps) that work to straighten your lower leg from a bent position. One of them, the rectus femoris, crosses the hip joint and works to bend as well as flex the hip.

Opposite the quadriceps are your hamstrings, or hams, which cover the entire posterior aspect of your upper leg. The hamstrings are actually three muscles that work in concert to perform two actions: to extend your leg from the hip when your leg is straight, and to bend your lower leg from the straight position.

Finally, there are your calves, the muscles located near the bottom of the legs. One of them is the gastrocnemius (or gastroc). This diamond-shaped muscle works to push you up on your toes. The other muscle, the soleus, is deeper and comes into play when your knees are bent and you need to lift your heel. The third muscle, located on your shin in the front of your leg, is called the tibialis anterior. This is the muscle that rears its ugly head when you come down with a case of shin splints. It functions to lift your toes from the floor. Think back when you've been speeding down the highway and seen flashing lights in your rearview mirror. The muscle that pulls that lead foot off the gas pedal is the tibialis anterior. In fact, the next time you're stopped by a cop for speeding, tell the officer that you have chronically tight tibialis anteriors. If that doesn't work, hope that you have a pregnant woman in the car.

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