The legs and glutes are huge muscle groups however they are often misunderstood in how to target them effectively and maximize your results. It is not always about lifting heavy. You need to understand angles and activation points to help get your legs looking great and your glutes filling out your clothes in the way you want. Here are 7 exercises that will help you achieve effective results and a look you are happy with especially coming into Spring.
1. Bulgarian Split Squats
The Bulgarian split squat is a single-leg strength exercise that targets all the major muscle groups being the quads, glutes, and hamstrings. Performing the exercise with dumbbells ensures muscular balance on both sides of the body as well as being able to challenge yourself more as you progress.
Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms fully extended at your sides and your palms facing each other. Have your feet hip-width apart and then place the instep of one foot on a bench. Your feet should be approximately three feet apart.
Lower your hips toward the floor so that your rear knee comes close to the floor. Pause and drive through your front heel to return to the starting position. Do ten for each leg and three sets. Rest for only 90 seconds between sets to really challenge yourself.
2. Weighted Walking Lunges
Begin standing with your feet shoulder width apart and a barbell across your upper back. Choose a weight that is manageable but will be challenging to you.
Step forward with one leg with a slight lateral step, flexing the knees to drop your hips. Descend until your rear knee nearly touches the ground. Your posture should remain upright, and your front knee should stay above the front foot. Ensure that you control the contraction with your quad and squeeze your glute at the bottom of the motion which will be a second pause.
Drive through the heel of your lead foot and extend both knees to raise yourself back up. Step forward with your rear foot, repeating the lunge on the opposite leg. Do 15 steps on each leg for each set for 3 sets. Rest for only 90 seconds between sets to really challenge yourself.
3. Leg Press
Using a leg press machine, sit down on the machine and place your legs on the platform directly in front of you at a shoulder width foot stance. The medium foot stance targets overall development.
Release the safety bars holding the weighted platform in place and press the platform all the way up until your legs are fully extended in front of you. Make sure that you do not lock your knees. You want to keep your legs under constant tension. Keep your butt firmly against the back of the seat, your torso and the legs should make a perfect 90-degree angle. This is your starting position.
Slowly lower the platform until your upper and lower legs make a 90-degree angle. Pushing mainly with the heels of your feet and using the quadriceps go back to the starting position as you exhale.
Do 15 – 20 repetitions, controlling both ranges of motion. It will start to burn during the last 5 repetitions however that is when you are making the most progress. Ensure to lock the safety pins properly once you are done.
4. Leg Extensions
Using the leg extension machine, choose a weight that you can control and squeeze at the top of the motion. Sit on the machine with your legs under the pad, feet pointed forward and hands holding the side bars. Adjust the pad so that it falls on top of your lower leg just above your feet. Also, make sure that your legs form a 90-degree angle between the lower and upper leg. If the angle is less than 90-degrees then that means the knee is over the toes which in turn creates undue stress at the knee joint.
Using your quadriceps, extend your legs to the maximum as you exhale. Ensure that the rest of the body remains stationary on the seat. Pause a second on the contracted position and squeeze the quadricep hard.
Slowly lower the weight back to the original position as you inhale, ensuring that you do not go past the 90-degree angle limit. You should not be feeling pressure through your knees. You need to check your body positioning or reduce the weight if you are. Do 15 controlled reps for 4 sets.
5. Lying Leg Curls
Lie face down on the leg curl machine with the pad of the lever on the back of your legs is just a few inches under your calves).
I like to have people raise their torso up to activate the hamstrings more during the range of motion. Ensure your legs are fully stretched and grab the side handles of the machine. Position your toes facing straight down.
Curl your legs up as far as possible without lifting the upper legs from the pad. Try and keep your hips against the bench as much as possible during the motion. Once you hit the fully contracted position, hold it for a second and squeeze your hamstrings and glutes.
Bring the legs back to the initial position controlling the weight on the way back down and do not lock out the legs at the bottom. Do 12 – 15 repetitions for 4 sets
6. Standing Calf Raises
Place your shoulders under the pads provided and position your toes facing forward. The balls of your feet should be secured on top of the calf block with the heels extending off it. Push the lever up by extending your hips and knees until your torso is standing erect. The knees should be kept with a slight bend and never locked. Toes should be facing forward and as you progress and advance you can change them to face outwards or inwards as well.
Raise your heels out by extending your ankles as high as possible and flexing your calf. You can have a very slight bend in the knee during the exercise but they should not be used in the range of motion. Hold the contracted position for 2 seconds and squeeze before you start to go back down.
Return slowly to the starting position by lowering your heels as you bend the ankles until calves are stretched. Do 12- 15 controlled repetitions for 4 sets and do not bounce your caves during the exercise.
7. TheraBand Lateral Side Steps
Side steps are a fantastic workout for strengthening and stabilizing your hip abductors and strengthening your glutes. A resistance band can be used for this exercise.
Loop the resistance tubing just above your knees. Bend your knees slightly with your feet hip-width apart.
Step to the side until the tubing provides significant resistance to the point you can reasonably go. You may be surprised how weak this motion is at the beginning because most rarely train in a lateral direction. Slide your pivot foot over to re-create your original stance. Now repeat this sidestepping movement for 12–15 steps in one direction, and then reverse direction.
Do 4 sets and you will definitely feel the fatigue in your glutes and hips. It is a wonderful strengthening exercise that also provides great toning.