Legs, Legs, Legs…..
When it’s cold, wet and dark outside, it makes sense to focus your workout routine indoors. Muscle conditioning is a great activity to prioritize in the winter months. One, because you can do it anywhere regardless of the weather and secondly, it will develop some good overall strength and base conditioning that will help the integrity of your joints and connective tissue when you launch your spring and summer activities.
Today, we’re going to focus on the lower body. The best program for strengthening and sculpting any area is to incorporate a variety of exercises that challenge the muscles in a number of different ways. In addition, you’ll need to regularly advance and modify these exercises every 4-8 weeks to ensure regular progress.
For the lower body, you should incorporate exercises like lunges, squats, step ups, bridging etc. And there are a ton of variations within each of these exercises so the key is to mix it up!
Squats, lunges and step ups are really great choices because they challenge all the major muscle groups in the lower body so they are efficient and effective. So if you have time for only one exercise, pick a variation of either of these. If you can’t do deep lunges or squats, start with just small bends at the knees or ‘mini-squats’ or ‘mini-lunges’ and progress as you get stronger.
Here are the specific technique tips for 4 of my favorite lower body exercises. Complete 1 set of 8-20 reps with a 1 minute rest or core conditioning exercise in between each leg exercise. Complete two times per week on non-consecutive days and build to 2-3 sets of each exercise.
Start with one leg positioned in front of the other leg. Keep the front knee over top of the ankle or forefoot. Keep the back knee underneath or slightly behind your hips. Slowly lower the back knee towards the ground keeping the front knee over top the ankle/foot the entire time. Only lower as low as you feel comfortable. Keep your body weight positioned over the front leg – this is your working leg. Maintain proper posture and keep your abdominals contracted. Complete 8-20 reps to fatigue for each leg. Hold hand weights to advance this exercise.
Keep your knee caps facing forward and your feet about shoulder width apart. Slowly squat down and back until your upper thighs are parallel to the ground or to a comfortable position and then slowly return to the starting position. You will notice your upper body will come forward to compensate for your hips sinking backwards – just be sure to maintain a long spine. Perform 8-20 repetitions. You can hold heavy hand-weights or a barbell to intensify this exercise.
Position yourself in front of a bench with one foot on the bench. Chose a height that challenges you without straining to complete. Ideally, you can advance to where the bench height is positioned so that your knee is at about 90 degrees. Keep your kneecap facing forward and your weight distributed on all four corners of your foot. Now slowly step up extending the supporting knee into a fully upright, balanced position. Now slowly lower yourself down to the starting position. Perform one set of 8-20 reps to fatigue for each leg. Keep the height shorter if this bothers your knees at all. Hold hand weights to advance this exercise.
Lay on your back with your legs bent and your feet positioned on the floor. With your arms at your side, slowly lift your hips and buttocks up towards the ceiling while contracting your glutes (buttocks) and hamstrings (back of thigh) until your body weight is resting comfortably on your shoulder blades. Throughout the entire exercise, be sure to keep your hips square to the ceiling and your abdominals contracted. Slowly lift up and down 8-20x. As you develop strength in your legs, you can do this exercise on just one leg – just be sure not to tilt to one side while doing these 1-leg lifts. Or try with your legs on a stability ball.
Sherri McMillan, M.Sc. has been inspiring the world to adopt a fitness lifestyle for over 25 years and has received numerous industry awards including International Personal Trainer and Fitness Presenter of the Year. She is the author of five books including “Go For Fit – the Winning Way to Fat Loss” and “Fit over Forty” and is the featured presenter in various fitness DVDs. She is the owner of Northwest Personal Training in downtown Vancouver and can be seen running, hiking or cycling with her two children, Brianna and Jackson. She can be reached at www.nwPersonalTraining.com or www.ShapeupwithSherri.com
Note: As an avid Columbian reader, you can redeem a 2 week pass at her world-class training studio to help get you started. Contact 360.574.7292 for more details.