There’s an old adage among male weightlifters: “curls for the girls.”
The curls in this usage are obviously bicep curls, and the phrase is meant to convey that they’re a mostly useless exercise since biceps aren’t particularly functional—people have little use for them in day-to-day activity, so their appeal is purely aesthetic (i.e., for the benefit of the “girls”).
A troubling number of men take this directive to heart and largely only work out their arms. The corrective to this attitude? Leg day. It’s the spiritual opposite of the curls-girls axiom, and it’s so important in the world of fitness that it has its own cult of followers online.
More impressive still, leg day (err, #legday) is the happy meme that exists on all social media platforms.
On Instagram, it’s photos of fitness-conscious men and women showing off the fruits of their devotion to leg day. For men, that usually means videos of them squatting and showing off striated quads that could be mistaken for gnarled tree trunks.
For women, it often results in photos of them showing off their hard-earned curves.
On YouTube, it’s a spoof video with nearly 6 million views that helps “curl-bros” figure out “How to Skip Leg Day” so as to get their arms and abs as swole as possible.
And on Reddit, it’s a collection of memes (so many memes) about the dangers of skipping leg day, and photos mocking the men who do — men who spend an inordinate amount of time at the gym but never dare enter a squat rack and have cartoonishly disproportionate physiques as a result.
The devotion to leg day is understandable given its myriad benefits. Lower-body exercises increase overall strength and burn calories more effectively than upper-body ones. They also boost testosterone levels and even have been shown to help increase lidido.
But the abundance of leg-day-related content shows an obverse truth: Most men don’t work out their legs at all. After all, in a world where men never skipped leg day, #legday posts would be unnecessary. Instead, though, many men interpret “curls for the girls” literally, and succumb to the idea that a barrel chest and thick triceps are the pinnacle of male health and attractiveness. These are the insufferable gym Chads who are ruthlessly mocked for their annoying gym behavior and resultant chicken legs.
Popular Weird Twitter user @EMINEMOBAMA recently brought attention to this phenomenon when he started tweeting out photos of handsome Persian men, many of whom have enormous, V-shaped torsos but who somehow seem to neglect leg day.
Given the aesthetic and health benefits, it’s strange that so many men still skip leg day. The likeliest explanation is that leg day sucks. Watching yourself perform controlled, steady bicep curls and tricep pull-downs in the mirror can be taxing. But a good leg-day workout will leave a person literally struggling to walk.
“A lot of guys skip leg day because it’s generally a pain,” says John Jannuzzi, editorial director at Bonobos, a purveyor of pants for husky adult sons. “Legs are a little harder to train mechanically. You have big compound movements such as deadlifts and squats that don’t come as naturally as push-ups, pull-ups or curls. Aside from that, leg gains aren’t the most immediately obvious — so many people opt for upper-body stuff because it’s recognizable.”
Jannuzzi adds, however, that having well-sculpted legs is a mark of esteem among weightlifters. Men who are seriously interested in health know that fitness extends below the abdominals and into the large, complex muscle groups responsible for our locomotion. “Leg day is respect day,” he says.
Besides, the idea that huge arms and a washboard stomach are the key to looking great to the opposite sex is just wrong. Women consistently rank the butt as one of the most attractive male body parts (although still behind forearms).
So maybe it should be “glutes for the girls.”