With summer approaching, many people are excited about the prospect of shedding layers of cold-weather clothing and donning lighter fare. This often means exposing more skin, especially if you enjoy wearing shorts. With that in mind we decided to give you two very basic and functional leg strengthen exercises – the squat and the lunge. These exercises are great choices for targeting the muscles that contribute to toned, strong and fit legs, hips and glutes. Add them two to three times per week to your program that also includes a balanced diet and you will move better and feel stronger.
Squat – the squat is hard to beat since it essentially mimics the movement we perform every time we sit down or stand up.
To get the most out of the squat, focus on squatting hips to knee level. If you don’t have joint pain, feel free to squat lower but maintain good form. Form is essential. Make sure to keep your spine in a neutral position (avoid rounding forward or arching backward), avoid letting the knees cave inward and keep the whole foot flat on the floor. Weight should be evenly distributed between the balls of the feet and your heels.
Starting with just your body weight, perform 15 to 20 repetitions. Repeat for two to three sets. The squat can be progressed by adding dumbbells, or stepping up and squatting off a bench.
Lunge – the lunge is another great lower-body exercise. It targets the hips and thighs and requires you to focus on balance, which calls upon more work from the stabilizer muscles of the hips. It is also a very functional movement if you consider, for example, that a forward lunge is an extreme version of walking.
Similar to the squat, focus on bending the knees as much as you comfortably can, without pain, while maintaining good form. Start standing with the feet hip-width apart. Step forward with one leg, landing with the heel first and then allowing the rest of the foot to plant firmly into the ground. The trick is to step far enough forward so that your front knee tracks over the toes. In the deepest part of the lunge, both knees should be flexed and the torso should remain upright. To return to the starting position, push off through the front heel and bring the foot back so that you’re standing again with the feet hip-width apart. Repeat with the other leg.
Starting with just your body weight, perform 10 to 16 repetitions. Repeat for two to three sets. Like the squats, lunges can be progressed by adding dumbbells or different movement patterns. Some different movement patterns might include stepping backwards (rear lunge) or to the side (lateral lunge).
As mentioned earlier, these are very basic moves and there are a variety of ways to increase your work load. For advanced progressions please ask us to show you – that’s what we’re here for!