Lower Body Practice

Build strength and burn calories...Screen shot 2011-06-03 at 6.26.20 PM

The lower body includes some of the largest muscles in the body, muscles that are involved in almost every movement we make, from standing and walking to running and squatting. Working these muscles means you'll not only build strength and lean-muscle tissue, but you'll also burn more calories. Strong legs will also make daily activities easier and help protect you from injury. Those who practice regular lower body strength training will see improvements in muscle strength, balance and functionality. Strength training for your lower body will help you develop strong bones and control your weight. Additionally strong muscles will help protect your joints from injury and contribute to better balance. This practice will help you setup a regular lower body routine that fits your lifestyle while increasing your strength, flexibility and confidence.

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You can expect: increased strength, increase calorie burn

Level of Effort: Moderate

Time Involved: 20 minutes (or more)


Getting Started:

  1. Define any specific goals you may have for toning
  2. Determine your Program Parameters
  3. Determine your Practice Schedule
  4. Learn the muscles of the lower body and how to work them
  5. Lower body strength training routine and exercise examples
  6. Warm up and Cool down with each workout
  7. Write in your activity journal


What to Consider:


1. Define any specific goals you may have for toning

Define any specific goals you may have for toning, such as upper arms, abs, etc. That way you can add in more exercises that focus on those areas. Like your cardio, set up your strength workout to meet your goals and focus on that during the workout. For example, if you're working on fitness and weight loss, you may want to start with a total body routine 2-3 days a week with a couple of exercises per muscle group. If you're trying to build muscle, you may choose a split routine to give each muscle the attention it needs.


2. Determine your program parameters

Sets - A set is a group of successive repetitions performed without resting. A repetition (rep) is the number of times you repeat the move in each set. Therefore, if your instructions were to do 3 sets of 12 (3 x 12) bicep curls, you would curl the weight 12 times in a row to complete the first set. Then you'd put the weight down, rest a moment and do 12 more in a row to complete the second set, and so on until you've finished the prescribed number of sets for that exercise.

Speed - A reasonable training pace is 1-2 seconds for the lifting (concentric) portion of the exercise and 3-4 seconds for the lowering (eccentric) portion of the move. Fast, jerky movements should be avoided. They place undue stress on the muscle and connective tissue at the beginning of the movement, substantially increasing the likelihood of an injury. Fast lifting also cheats you out of some of the strength benefits. When lifting at a fast pace, momentum (not the muscle) is doing a good deal of the work.

Repetitions - The number of repetitions chosen for each exercise depends on the amount of resistance (weight) you're using. A safe and productive training recommendation would be 8-12 repetitions using 70% to 80% of maximum resistance.

  • Maximum resistance is the most weight you can lift one time with proper form.
  • In general, most people can complete:
    • 6 repetitions with 85% of their maximum resistance (training beyond this increases injury)
    • 8 repetitions with 80% of maximum resistance
    • 10 repetitions with 75% of maximum resistance
    • 12 repetitions with 70% of maximum resistance
    • 14 repetitions with 65% of maximum resistance (training with less than this decreases strength gains)

How many reps and sets you do will depend on your goals:

  • For building muscle = it's usually 3 or more sets of 6-10 reps
  • For muscle toning and defining = 2 or more sets of 8-12 reps
  • For strength and endurance = 2 or more sets of 12-16 reps


Weight - the amount of weight a person considers light will vary. Essentially you will want to determine the scale for yourself but can use the following guidelines to assist you:

  • Light - usually between 5-8 pounds; amount that you can lift with relative ease and complete many sets of an exercise.
  • Medium - around 10 pounds
  • Heavy - 15+ pounds; amount that is difficult to lift and you can only complete about 8-10 repetitions with good form
  • If a weight is so heavy that you have to jerk, bounce or swing to get it to the top of the movement, it's too heavy.

As your muscles adapt to a given exercise, you will need to gradually increase the resistance or the repetitions to promote further gains. This is known as progressive resistance. You should start out with a weight that allows you to do at least 8 repetitions of a particular exercise. Once you can complete 12 repetitions with that weight (or the number required for your particular strength program), you increase the weight by about 5 percent. Now, you're doing 8 repetitions with the slightly heavier weight. Once you've worked up to 12 repetitions with the heavier weight, you increase it by another 5 percent (or no more than 10%) and go back to doing 8 repetitions. The idea is to keep alternately increasing repetitions and resistance, so that you continue to see results.

Types of equipment that could be used in lower body strength training:

  • Weight machines
  • Dumbbells
  • Resistance Band
  • Body Weight (no equipment)

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3. Determine your Practice Schedule

Frequency and Duration - When it comes to strength training, the general rule is to work all your muscle groups at least twice a week for basic strength and health gains. But, beyond that, how you set up your program will depend on your goals and fitness level

  • Determine how many times per week you will perform your upper body exercises
  • Determine how long each training session will be

Strength training sessions should be scheduled no more frequently than every other day, because the muscle recovery process takes at least 48 hours. Increases in muscle size and strength don't occur while you're training, they occur during the rest period between workouts. This is when your muscles recover and rebuild, gradually becoming bigger and stronger. You can perform lower-body exercises up to three nonconsecutive days a week. If you're lifting heavy weights (enough that you can only complete six to eight repetitions), you'll need two or more days of rest before you perform the exercise again. For this reason, you might only work your lower body once or twice a week. If your goal is endurance and strength, stick with 1 to 3 sets of 12 to 16 repetitions and at least one day of rest before you perform the exercises again.


Schedule it  - now that the elements are determined, schedule your workout. If you set aside the days and times you will perform your practice you are more likely to stick to it. Remember the idea is to make it a habit, so schedule at least 2 weeks of sessions and don't miss or change them and you are on your way.


4. Muscles of the Lower Body

The lower body includes the following muscle groups:

  • Calves (Lower leg)
  • Hamstrings (Back of upper leg/thigh)
  • Quadriceps (Front of upper leg / thigh)
  • Inner and Outer Thigh
  • Gluteus (Butt)

The lower body is made up of a variety of muscles, including the largest or the gluteus maximus (Butt). The gluteus maximus is the most visible gluteal muscle, but there are two smaller muscles underneath it: the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus. The glutes are responsible for hip movements, such as extension, rotation and abduction (moving the thigh away from the body).

Below the glutes and on the back of the thighs are the hamstrings, which include three different muscles: The biceps femoris, the semitendinosus and the semimembranosus. The hamstrings work to bring the heel toward the butt (knee flexion) and to move the leg backward (hip extensions).

The quadriceps make up the front of the thighs and include the rectus femoris, which is a larger muscle in the middle of the thigh, and the vastus lateralis, intermedius and medialis, which lie under the rectus femoris. These powerful muscles are involved in a variety of activities (walking, running, jumping, squatting, etc.) and work to extend the knee as well as flex the hip.


5. Lower Body Strength Training Routine and Exercise Examples

Sequence - When doing a series of exercises, you'll generally want to start with the larger muscle groups and compound movements and work toward the smaller muscle groups and isolation movements. This allows you to do the most demanding moves when you're the least fatigued. For example, you'll use better form on your push-ups if you do them before fatiguing the triceps with presses or kick-backs.


Routine Examples

The following lower body workouts are from the Signature Daily Body Practice and include basic, easy-to-learn exercises that target the legs and butt. One routine requires dumbbells but the other routine does not require any equipment.


Lower Body Routine with Weights (35 minutes)

Printer Friendly Version Detailed Instructions


Lower Body Routine with NO Equipment (25 minutes)

Printer Friendly Version Detailed Instructions

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Exercise Examples

Butt - (Gluteals) Common exercises are the squat and the leg press machine. The glutes also come into play during lunges, tall box step ups, and plyometric jumps.


  1. Stand with feet hip- or shoulder-width apart.
  2. Hold arms straight out in front of you or hold medium to heavy dumbbells in each hand with arms bent above the shoulders.
  3. Bend the knees and lower into a squat. Stop when your knees are at 90-degree angles OR before you lose the natural arch of your back.
  4. Contract the glutes and legs while stabilizing your body with a strong torso.
  5. Slowly stand back up without locking the knees and repeat for 2 sets of 12 repetitions.
  6. Always keep the knees in line with the toes!


Front of Thigh - (Quadriceps) Exercises include squats, lunges, leg extension machine, and leg press machine.

Forward Lunge:

  1. Stand with feet about 6 inches apart, toes pointed forward.
  2. Take a controlled step forward with your left leg. Lower hips toward the floor and bend both knees (almost at 90-degree angles). The back knee is pointing down toward the floor with your heel lifted; your knee should never touch the ground. Keep the front heel down and your front knee should be directly over the ankle (or center of foot) and never beyond this point.
  3. Keep the torso straight and abs in as you push through the front heel and back to starting position.
  4. Perform 12 reps then repeat exercise on opposite side by stepping forward with your right leg.


Back of Thigh - (Hamstrings) Exercises include squats, lunges, leg press machine, and leg curls

Lying Leg Curls:

  1. Lie facedown with legs extended.
  2. Place a towel/pillow under hips or use palms to cushion hipbones. Keep hips on ground.
  3. Exhale and bend knees and curl heels toward butt. Hold for 1-2 counts.
  4. Inhale and release slowly and with control to start position.
  5. Complete 2 sets of 12 reps
  6. Keep feet flexed through entire movement, leading with the heels.


Inner and Outer Thigh - (Hip abductors and adductors) These muscles can be worked with a variety of side-lying leg lifts, standing cable pulls, and multi-hip machines.

Outer Leg Lifts: Lying abductors (works outer thigh and hips):

  1. Lie on left side, legs straight, and knees together, resting head on right hand or extended arm.
  2. Place right hand flat on the ground in front of you for balance.
  3. Exhale and squeeze the right thigh to raise right leg until it forms a 45-degree angle with the ground. Hold for 2 seconds.
  4. Inhale and return to start.
  5. Complete 12 reps and then switch sides and repeat.
  6. Keep foot flexed through entire movement, toes facing forward (not up).

Inner Leg Lifts: Lying adductors (works inner thigh):

  1. Lie on right side, with right leg straight on ground, left leg bent with foot flat on the ground either in front or behind right leg.
  2. Rest your head on right hand or extended arm.
  3. Place left hand flat on the ground in front of torso for balance.
  4. Exhale and keeping toes pointed forward and foot flexed, lift right leg off the floor toward the ceiling as high as you can (only a few inches).
  5. Hold here for a count of 2.
  6. Then inhale and slowly lower toward ground without letting it touch.
  7. Repeat 12 reps and then switch sides and repeat.


Back of lower leg - (Calf)

Standing calf raises:

  1. Stand on the floor or on a step with your heels hanging off the edge (hold onto a bar or wall if needed for balance).
  2. Lift up onto your toes as high as you can, squeezing the calves.
  3. Lower and repeat for 2 sets of 12 reps


6. Warm up and Cool down with each workout

  • Warm Up with a few minutes of cardio and stretching before each session: Learn more…


7. Write in your activity journal

Track your activity, duration, intensity and how you felt before and after the activity. Learn More...


Leg press

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Purchasing equipment for your home

There are many options available for how to work out, whether you belong to a gym or just want to workout at home. Take an inventory of the equipment available to you. Consider buying your own equipment. Purchasing equipment for your home, such as free weights and resistance bands can be a great investment. Learn more about setting up a home Gym at About.com - http://exercise.about.com/od/strengthtraininggear/tp/homegym.htm


Strength Training at the Gym

A gym offers a plethora of strength training resources. Learn More...


Muscle definition requires fat burning

To bring out muscle tone, keep body fat in check. So include cardio along with your strength training to see more defined muscles. Definition is usually the result of burning fat. Strive for 20 to 30 minutes of cardio on alternate days of the week from resistance training days. Monitoring your heart rate after a couple weeks at the same level of intensity. If you're working hard enough, you'll see your heart rate decrease.

Using Compound Movements

One time saving tip is to perform compound movements, which target multiple muscle groups at the same time. This can speed up your workout while also hitting smaller muscle groups in conjunction with the larger muscle groups. Compound movements often target multiple muscles groups that are adjacent to one another, for example a set of compound squats hit all the major muscles of the legs. Alternately, you can perform compound movements that target both upper body and lower body muscles in conjunction, like performing bicep curls while doing lunges. You want to be sure your routine balances your muscle groups. If you exercise your biceps, also be sure to exercise your triceps. If you exercise your chest, also exercise your back. Making sure you balance opposing muscle groups (pushing muscles vs. pulling muscles and flexing muscles vs. extending muscles) helps prevent injury and keeps your overall look balanced and aesthetically pleasing. If you are unsure about your form when performing a strength exercise, ask an expert such as a trainer. Not only can using improper form lead to injury, but it may also reduce the effectiveness of the exercise.


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