Do you want to develop great legs and a delightful derriere sure to please you and your significant other? Over the years, I have developed the perfect combination of moves to develop my legs and butt, and the best part is that ANYONE can do it. All you have to do is adapt each exercise to your skill level and use an appropriate weight load. This workout is one that I have modified to work with personal training clients of all different levels.
My lower body workout consists of twelve exercises that I do on two nonconsecutive days. Since some of the exercises are harder compound moves (using two or more joints at the same time), I like to put a few easy moves and a few compound moves into each workout so I can evenly divide the workload!
Generally, I do 5 to 8 sets of each exercise, and I do more sets for my weaker areas in an attempt to balance out my legs, both in terms of strength and aesthetic appeal. Take a good look in the mirror from all angles and determine what parts of your lower body need extra work. This was a humbling experience for me, but acknowledging our weaknesses as wells as our strengths is part of the game. Always play to win. Always train your weakest link.
This week I will give you half of my leg routine, and stay tuned next time for Part 2!
1. BARBELL SQUATS: Depending on your fitness level, choose a barbell with which you can successfully complete 6 to 10 repetitions max. I generally like to select a weight with which I can do no more than eight reps. When I can do more than eight I increase the load. I never squat lower than a 90-degree angle at the knee because I can blow out my knees when I do so. At my age, I tend to be careful and not get too crazy. TIP: Squat slowly, and when you are in your full squat, pause for about 5 seconds, and push through the heels of your feet as you press up to a standing position. Always keep your weight in your hind foot for a squat.
2. LEG PRESS (single leg): Load the leg press with enough weight so that you can successfully complete 6 to 10 perfect repetitions using one leg. I like to feel like the last two or three reps are just killers. Be honest with yourself and train hard. I know I have had a good set when my eyes are tearing by the time I finish. TIP: To be safe, your tailbone SHOULD NOT come up off the seat at all. If this is the case, you are letting your working leg come too close to your chest and this will stress your knees and your back. Also, as with the squat, press through the heels of the feet. Go SLOWLY and really feel every second of both the concentric (positive) and eccentric (negative) phases of the contraction. Never waste even one second of a repetition. Everything counts.
3. LUNGES: Start standing atop either a wooden block or better yet, a REEBOK step. I am 5’5”, so if I add 2 blocks under each side of the platform, it is the perfect height for me to do a lunge. At the lowest point of my lunge, I like my knee to be bent no more than 90 degrees. There are many ways to do lunges, and I certainly suggest changing what you do regularly so your body is always in a state of adapting to new movement patterns. This is a particular favorite of mine: start by standing with both feet centered on your step. Hold a dumbbell of the same weight in each hand, always shooting for a weight that will allow for 6 to 10 reps per set. Begin with either leg by stepping back; lunge down to 90 degrees; press up through the heel; lunge down again; finish by pressing up to your original position, ending with both feet on the step. In other words, it goes like this: step back, go down, up, down and press up onto the step. Then switch legs and repeat. Keep lunging with alternating legs until you can no longer perform a lunge with perfect form. TIP: It is important that you keep your back straight with your head centered over your shoulders and your shoulders back and relaxed. Common mistakes are shifting the head forward, tensing the shoulders, and leaning forward with your whole body to cheat your way up. Be strict about keeping your back straight and press through the heel of your foot as you press your body weight upward.
4. HAMSTRING CURLS: I love training my hamstrings because well-developed hamstrings give a very balanced shape to the leg. I generally train my hamstrings lying prone and work each leg separately. This is an especially good idea if you notice that one of your legs is not quite as developed as the other, as if you train both legs simultaneously, your stronger leg can help your weaker leg. TIP: As you begin your hamstring curl, make sure that your hips stay down and in contact with the surface on which you are lying. Also, squeeze your glutes as you flex your knee. This will not only force you to keep your hips down, but also it makes it almost impossible to cheat. Flex your foot, and your gastrocnemius will be recruited. Select a level of resistance with which you can do 6 to 10 reps per set. I always do more hamstring work than I do quad work, as my quads are stronger than my hamstrings (quads are used more in everyday living than are the hamstrings).
5. BACK EXTENSION: When done with a straight back, back extensions work the extensors of the back, which are the glutes and the hamstrings. All the muscles that support a straight back are statically contracting as well, so this is an exercise that really packs a punch. This is one of my favorites for enhancing my “assets,” so to speak. TIP: When selecting a height for the back extension apparatus, do so based on your height. You should be able to bend at the hips, not the waist. Make sure that you have the front pad low enough so that you can move freely and bend at the hip joints. I like to hold a 40-pound dumbbell in both hands (right against my chest), and lower and raise myself as slowly as I can. Squeeze your glutes as you bring your body up and keep your heels down at all times. The feet should be firmly planted in your hind foot and your movements should be slow and deliberate. The more you squeeze your glutes, the more you will get out of the exercise. Swinging your body up and down with no regard for form is not only a waste of time, but it is flirting with disaster in terms of your lower back. If that is how you plan to workout, call your chiropractor in advance and book an appointment because you could end up with a slipped disc or worse. Select a dumbbell, plate, or medicine ball of a size with which you can to do 6 to 10 perfect reps max.
6. HIP EXTENSION: You will use a cable and an ankle strap for this exercise. To make the exercise more effective, use a wooden block to raise yourself off the ground a few inches. By doing so, you can move your working leg more freely and concentrate on your form. Strap the ankle strap around either ankle to begin. Stabilize your upper body by holding onto the cable apparatus. Contract your abdominals and keep your pelvis isolated. Slowly extend the working leg (keeping it relatively straight) until the glute is fully contracted, and do not arch your back. To focus the work in your glutes, you have to stabilize the pelvis. Hold the contraction for a few seconds as tightly as possible. When lowering your leg to its starting position, do so slowly. TIP: This is one of those exercises where less is more. Less extraneous movement in your upper body and pelvis will mean more isolation of your glutes and hamstrings and a better quality contraction.
Try these and let me know how you do. I will be back next time with Part 2 and the final six exercises!
Live with Simplicity,