Strength Training 101: Work Your Lower Body

Strength training can be a bit of an exercise conundrum, especially compared to cardiovascular exercises. There are machines to use, equipment to choose from, and a whole plethora of fitness classes out there promising strength training results. So where are you supposed to start? And is strength training really that important?

Simply put, yes it is. Building muscle through strength training improves bone density, posture, and makes everyday activities (like carrying grocery bags, taking the stairs, or even lifting babies off the ground) easier to perform. And the good news is that putting together a simple, effective strength training workout doesn’t require a lot of equipment, a personal training certificate, or even a gym membership. In this first post, we will dive into exercises for your lower body, specifically your core (abdominals and lower back), legs, and glutes. These are some of the biggest muscle groups in your body, which are crucial for mobility, balance, and coordination.

Using ACSM’s General Recommendations for Resistance Training, you should be training each major muscle group 2 to 3 days a week. Here are some standard guidelines:

Aim for 2 to 4 sets of about 8-20 repetitions per exercise. The following repetitions are suggested recommendations that you can modify based on your specific goals:

– 8-12 reps of heavier weight = increased strength and power
– 10-15 reps of moderate weight = improved strength in older populations or newcomers to exercise
– 15-20 repetitions with lighter weight = improved muscular endurance
– When using dumbbells, start with a weight that is mildly challenging but still doable. Your last one to two reps should be hard to complete, but doesn’t compromise your form.

Pay attention to your form and breath throughout each exercise.

– Avoid swinging or fast motions that use momentum rather than controlled strength.
– As you exercise, keep your stomach tight, your shoulder blades rolled down your back, and leave a slight bend in all joints to avoid locking them out, specifically your elbows and knees. Avoid arching your lower back too much or forcefully pushing your chin into your chest as this may not only compensate your form, but also leave you more prone to injury.
– Breathe! Often, we focus on the movement and forget to use our breath, which can affect the efficiency of our movements. The general standard is to inhale on the easier part of the exercise and exhale when you’re exerting more effort in the movement. (Ex. In a bodyweight squat, you would inhale as you lower down and exhale as you press through your heels to rise back to standing.)

Stretch after your workout, focusing on the major muscles that you worked.

Be sure to provide at least 48 hours in between sessions that work the same muscles to allow time for healing and rest.

Gentle yoga and foam rolling are terrific activities to supplement your workouts to keep the muscles loose and provide some relief from any soreness that may have developed. And being sore is actually a good thing! It is your body signaling to you that growth and change is happening in your muscles.

For a complete lower body workout, we recommend choosing one or two exercises per muscle group below:

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Core

(Rectus Abdominis, Obliques, Transverse Abdominis, Erector Spinae)

 

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Bodyweight Exercises

Standard Plank
*To modify your plank, set your knees down on the ground. Another option is to have your arms straight instead of staying on your forearms.

Side Plank- standard version; modified version 

Crunches- standard crunch, reverse crunch, bicycle crunches

Vertical Toe Touches

Resistance Band Exercises

Various exercises using band

Stretches

Cobra Stretch

Child’s Pose

Spinal Twists

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Legs (Quads, Hamstrings, Calves)

 

5legs

Bodyweight Exercises

Squat; Single Leg Squat; Squat Jumps

Forward Lunge

Side Lunge

Resistance Band Exercises

Various leg exercises with bands

Dumbbell Exercises

Step Ups
*Use any step in your house!

Front Squat with Dumbbells

Stretches

Child’s Pose

Hip Flexor Stretch

Kneeling Thigh Stretch

Seated Butterfly Stretch

Seated Forward Fold

Downward Dog

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Glutes (Butt)

 

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Bodyweight Exercises

Squats
*All the versions listed for legs above work your glutes as well!

Curtsy Lunges

Glute Bridges; Single Leg Glute Bridges

“Dirty” Dog

Bird Dog

Step Ups or Box Jumps

Dumbbell Exercises

Single Arm Deadlift

Donkey Kicks (Hip Extension)

Stretches

Leg Crossover Stretch

Hip Rotator Stretch

Thomas Stretch
*Can be done on a table or on the edge of your bed

 


Melissa is a Digital Health Coach who currently resides in Rochester Hills, MI. She holds a Master’s Degree in Kinesiology, a Bachelor’s Degree in Movement Science, and is a certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), Group Fitness Instructor (AFAA), and Registered Yoga Instructor (RYT-200). In her spare time, she enjoys teaching fitness classes, training for running events, and traveling around the states to visit friends and see new places.