When it comes to a lower body workout, you may consistently head for the ever-popular leg press machine at the gym and call it a day. While leg presses are among our top two must-do exercises for your quads, sticking with them (or any one exercise, for that matter) as the way you work out your lower half can limit how challenged your muscles are and, thus, how strong and lean they become (and remain).
Keep your lower body moving in new ways—and your workout interesting—by shaking things up. Consider these moves, which target your lower back, gluteal muscles, hips and legs. Choose three to focus on during your next lower body workout, and then mix up the combination next time and the time after that (there are 84 unique trios to pick from). And don’t forget that your cardio routine—walking, cycling, running, fitness classes—along with proper nutrition and a healthy caloric intake can contribute to your lower body workout goals, too. So, keep it up!
What It Does: Strengthens your lower back, hips, gluteal muscles, hamstrings and contracts the muscles of your pelvic floor
How to Do It: Lie on your back, hands down at your sides and your feet hip distance apart. Press down into your feet to lift your hips off the floor, keeping your thighs parallel. Once you reach the top of your bridge, slowly lower back down. Perform two to three sets of 15 repetitions.
Be careful not to…lift your hips too high, which can hyperextend your back and lead to pain. When your hips are lifted, aim to create a long line from your knees up to your shoulders.
What It Does: Isolates the gluteal muscles
How to Do It: Start on your hands and knees with your hands placed under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Imagine a long line from the crown of your head extending out through your tail bone. Lift one leg off the floor, bend your knee and flex your foot toward the ceiling. Press up through the heel and lift your thigh until you feel a contraction just under your gluteal fold. Perform two to three sets of 15 repetitions on each side.
Be careful not to…move your pelvis or spine throughout the exercise. Keep your abdominals engaged to help you remain stable.
What It Does: Strengthens your abdominals and gluteal muscles
How to Do It: Lie on your side with your hips at the back of your mat. Come all the way down onto your side, resting your head in your hand or lying completely on your arm. Stack your hips and feet, and angle your legs so your feet are at the front of your mat. Place your free hand on the mat in front of your body to support you. You’re now in position to complete the three parts of this exercise series:
Lift your top leg to hip height, flex your foot and stretch your leg forward (in front of your bottom leg) for two counts and then back (behind your bottom leg) for two counts. Repeat 10 times.
Next, flex your top foot and lift your leg straight up for two counts and then lower down for two counts, never placing your leg all the way down on top of the bottom leg. Repeat 10 times.
Finally, flex your top foot and move your leg in small circles five times before switching direction for another five reps. Once all three variations are completed, switch to the other side.
Be careful not to...shift your hips. Keeping them stacked and grounded on your mat allows your abs, glutes and legs to do the work.
Side Leg Lift
What It Does: Targets your gluteal muscles, hips, quads and hamstrings
How to Do It: You’ll need a small step; the bottom of a staircase, a step stool or a bench will do. Standing with the step to your right side, place your right foot up onto it and press down into that foot, simultaneously lifting your left leg up and out to the side. Then lower back to your starting position. Perform two to three sets of 15 repetitions on each side.
Be careful not to…move the knee of the leg that’s on the step. Keeping your knee pointed forward gives you control of the entire movement and helps you avoid injury.
What It Does: Targets your adductors, hips and gluteal muscles
How to Do It: Stand with your feet facing forward, hip distance apart. Shifting your weight into your heels, step your right leg out to the side and place it on the floor. Bend your right knee into a lunge, keeping your left leg as straight as you can and your hips back. Keep your hands wherever they feel most comfortable—you may want to extend them out straight in front of you or touch your fingertips together at chest level. Push off your right foot to return to your starting position. Alternate legs and perform 10 repetitions on each side. Complete two to three sets.
Be careful not to…step too far to the side. When your legs are too far apart, the knee bends toward the inside of your foot as you lunge, causing pain.
What It Does: Strengthens your gluteal muscles
How to Do It: You’ll need a small step for this exercise, just like the Side Leg Lift. The higher the step, the harder the exercise will be. With one foot, step up onto the step (which should be in front of you), placing your weight in that heel, and lift your other leg so that its foot is suspended above the step and your knee is hip height. Slowly lower your suspended foot back down to the floor, and then step your other foot down. Alternate your feet as you step up and balance. Perform 15 repetitions on each foot.
Be careful not to…land too quickly. As you lower your foot back to the ground from your balanced position, control the movement to work your gluteal muscles during the entire exercise.
What It Does: Strengthens your gluteal muscles, lower back, quads and hamstrings
How to Do It: Start with your feet a little wider than hip distance apart, making sure both feet are parallel and your knees are pointing forward. Place your hands on your hips. Bend your knees and sink your way back into your hips and heels so you feel your weight in the heels of your feet. Press down into the whole foot to rise. Perform two to three sets of 15 repetitions.
Be careful not to…put your weight over your toes, which can strain your knee joints. Make sure your heels are grounded and your shin bones and spine are parallel as you squat.
What It Does: Targets your gluteal muscles and quads
How to Do It: Standing on your mat, hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms down at your sides. Widen your stance so that one foot is forward and the other is behind you, keeping your shoulders in line with your hips and your torso erect. Drop down by bending your back knee toward the floor. As you come up, pull your naval toward your spine and squeeze your glutes. Perform two to three sets of 12 repetitions on each side.
Be careful not to…drop your knee all the way to the floor. The perfect lunge happens when both knees are at a 90-degree angle.
Done working out your lower half? Try our Mix-and-Match Upper Body Workout next.