***If you’re new to squatting, we recommend you ask a personal trainer or a gym buddy to check that you’re performing the exercise correctly.***
One of the most efficient exercises for lower body weight training, the squats should be in every leg routine. It’s also an excellent lower body strength training exercise for runners who need extra endurance.
Main muscles worked: The glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps
How to perform squats:
Stand with your feet slightly wider or the same width apart as your hips, tighten your core muscles, glutes and legs and move your body down until your upper legs are roughly parallel to the floor - making sure your torso is leaning forward and your back is straight.
If you've never squatted, it's a good idea to just start with the bar so you can work on your technique.
Should you squat to below parallel?
One of the biggest debates in bodybuilding is how low you should squat. While many people suggest you should go to ‘below parallel’ (beyond the point at which your upper legs are parallel to the floor), others suggest simply going to parallel or even slightly above parallel. As long as you can feel your upper legs and glutes being worked as you move up to your starting position, you are performing the exercise properly.
***If you’ve never deadlifted before, we recommend you get a personal trainer or a gym buddy to check your form to make sure you’re performing the exercise correctly.***
Another top exercise for lower body weight training, deadlifts are arguably the most physically demanding movement because of the amount of weight lifted. Most bodybuilders will lift significantly more weight on deadlifts than squats (sometimes 25% more), as long as they have enough grip strength.
Main muscles worked:
The deadlift mainly works your glutes, hamstrings, traps, rhomboids and lower back.
How to perform deadlifts:
Load the bar to an appropriate weight (or just use the bar if you prefer), stand up straight, then lower your legs and move your torso forward, keeping your back and arms straight. Grab the bar and lift the weight, making sure you keep your back straight (avoid arching) and keep your core tight.
Over time, as your strength goes up, you may find it easier to use what’s known as a mixed grip (when you grip the bar with your palm facing away from you with one hand and palm facing towards you with the other). Many people can lift significantly more weight with this grip compared with a normal grip, while others use wrist straps to improve their grip.
One issue many people often experience with deadlifts is calluses, which typically develop at the top of the palm of your hand. These can be removed with a pumice stone.
Main muscles worked: Hamstrings
How to perform leg curls:
Find a leg curl machine and set it to an appropriate height and weight. Perform a full range of motion, and gradually increase the weight as your strength increases over time.
Main muscles worked: Quads
How to perform leg extensions:
Find a leg extension machine and set it to an appropriate height and weight. This is a good exercise to do at the end of your workout and is relatively safe thanks to the stabilising effect of the machine.
Main muscles worked: Quads, glutes and hamstrings
The leg press machine works the same muscles as the squat but is often regarded as a safer alternative for lower body training, especially for beginners or people recovering from injuries.
How to perform leg presses:
Set the leg press machine to an appropriate height and weight, and make sure you perform a full range of motion (as you would with the squat).
Main muscles worked: One of the best compound movements for your lower body, lunges work your glutes, hips, hamstrings, quads and calves.
They can done as a bodyweight exercise, although you can also hold a dumbbell in each hand to increase the intensity.
How to perform lunges:
Keep your chin up and relax your shoulders. Make sure your front knee is just above your ankle and that your other knee touches the ground. Engage your core throughout the movement - and avoid bending your back. Move forward with one leg and lower your hips so that both knees bend at 90 degrees. Return to the starting position and repeat - you should begin to feel the tension in your legs and glutes.
Main muscle worked: calves
This exercise is the secret to big calves! Unfortunately, many people forget to include calf raises in their lower body weight training. Although there is a genetic component to big calves (yes, some people are just born with them!), incorporating calf raises into your workouts is the key to growing this often-neglected muscle.
How to perform calf raises:
The only part of your body you should be moving is your feet. If you’re performing these on the ground, simply raise the back of your feet to about 45 degrees from the ground. You should feel significant pressure on your calf muscles after several reps (depending on whether you’re using your bodyweight or extra weight with dumbbells or plates).