4 Great Lower Body Exercises
- Oct 23, 2020
If you’re already an avid workout warrior, what comes to mind when you think of Legs Day? For most folks, the immediate reaction is probably something like “Ugh!” and the feeling of sore muscles the next day. A search for #LegsDay delivers some great (and hilarious) memes that many of us can relate to. But, while we can all laugh at the sentiment, it’s funny because it rings true. Most people don’t enjoy working out their lower body, which is why you may see some top-heavy weightlifters at your local gym.
But like an apple a day, eating your brussels sprouts, or even just drinking enough water, making sure you include lower body exercises in your routine is important for overall health, good fitness, and keeping a level of symmetry in your weightlifting and workout progress. You may not like to take your medicine, but you know it’s good for you.
With that in mind, here are five great lower body exercises to include in your legs day routines.
The squat is literally the foundational exercise for your entire workout routine. The exercise can engage your entire lower body, along with your core. There are tons of variations on the traditional squat (front squats, goblet squats, Bulgarian split squats, etc.), but for this article, we’re staying old school. Whether you perform it with a barbell, dumbbells or even just with bodyweight a lower body workout is incomplete without some type of squat. The key to getting the most out of this (or any exercise really) is making sure you perform it properly.
It’s a good idea to watch a few videos on the proper form if you’re just getting into working out. But here are some basics. For a standard squat, you want your foot stance at something around shoulder width, but basically, a stance that feels natural. Keep your toes pointed forward or with just a slight angle outward. Then begin to sit back into the exercise. A key to remember is this isn’t about your knees, it’s more focused on your quads and glutes. Keep your knees in line with your toes and also keep your core engaged. Some people tend to lean forward as they come down in a squat, bringing your back into the exercise, which isn’t the right form and can lead to injury.
You should feel the work throughout your legs, but especially in your quads and glutes. If you find yourself losing form, leaning, or trying to engage other muscles to help, then lower your weight and try again, working to maintain good form.
After the good old squat, lunges are another gold standard leg exercise that people love to hate. There is nothing like feeling your quads burning as you execute a rep, knowing you still have 5 more to go. Also like squats, there are plenty of flavors when it comes to lunges, but a favorite is the walking lunge, where you will move forward across the gym (or your living room) either carrying weights or simply using body weight. Executed properly, even bodyweight lunges can have your legs turning to jelly no matter what kind of shape you are already in.
Lunges engage your entire lower body and core, making them another absolutely foundational exercise. Walking lunges add a bit of difficulty to standard, static lunges, because the element of balance becomes even more important, making your core play a big role in completing the exercise.
It may not seem like you need much instruction on form when it comes to walking lunges. I mean, we’re talking about walking here. But, there are still some things to keep in mind to get the most out of the exercise and also reduce the risk of injury. Starting with your feet about hip-distance apart, stand tall, and take a wide step forward. As you take that step, slowly bend both your front and bag knees until your back knee almost touches the ground. From that position continue the step forward, bringing up your back knee and stepping forward onto it in the same way you started with the other foot. Bend both knees as before and repeat the process as you lunge walk across the room.
Keep your upper body straight and try not to go from side to side as you walk. You may note this is also a good cardio exercise as your heart rate may rise quite a bit while you’re executing the exercise.
The leg press is an exercise that is largely only available with some good gym equipment. It also gets a bad rap as an exercise that isn’t as functional as a squat and locks your body into a specific movement plane while you’re performing the exercise. This is all true, however, it also isolates your quads and glutes extremely well, making it a great exercise for focusing on those muscle groups.
Form is still important, so make sure you start with a very manageable weight and get the movement down pat before going up in weight. You can choose your ‘stance’ similar to a squat, but a standard shoulder-width approach is a good place to start. Slowly lower the weight down toward you (in a typical seated leg press machine), bending your knees and sink into it until your legs are roughly at a seated position angle. Some people like to go further. Personally, having had some knee issues I tend to stop a bit short of the seated position. If you do modify it a bit, try not to be the person at the gym who barely flexes their legs on the leg press, moving the weight no more than an inch and thinking that is a rep.
We had to add at least one functional exercise in here. This is another one where you may need a gym unless you happen to have some kind of cart at home that can handle a lot of weight. The sled is typically a variation on the old football blocking sled some of us remember from high school football practice, but it has wheels, a tension adjustment, and sometimes the ability to add weights to it. The idea is that it forces you to lead down/forward a bit and push the sled forward across the gym or basketball court.
As you add tension and/or weight, you’ll quickly find this exercise becomes a total body workout all by itself. But, the main muscles being engaged should be your legs as you take step after step (that may look a bit like a lunge) to move the sled forward. The sled push is not only a great exercise for legs day, but it can be a great one to add to a more full-body HIT workout.
You’ll want to add more exercises to your legs day routine, but you can’t go wrong when considering each of these four options.