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Every body needs a strong foundation. That’s why it’s vital to prioritize lower-body workouts in your exercise routine, explains Cody Braun, Openfit fitness expert.
That said, knowing the importance of your lower body and working it the right way are two separate matters. Here, we’ll help bridge that gap so you can become a pro at training the muscles in your lower half.
How to Design the Best Lower-Body Workout
To create an effective lower-body workout routine, the first rule is to remember the big three lower-body movement patterns: the squat, the hip hinge, and the lunge. They focus on the biggest and strongest muscles of the lower body. These movement patterns also strengthen the body to perform day-to-day feats of strength, like making it up the stairs, running to catch a bus, and even standing up from a chair.
It can also be beneficial to work in additional lower-body accessory exercises that strengthen the hip abductors (outer hips), adductors (inner thighs), and calves. Doing so will help prevent muscular imbalances to keep your lower body healthy and injury-free.
How Often Should You Work Out Your Lower Body?
Variations of these three types of lower-body movements can be performed either together in a single workout or spread throughout the week, Braun says. “Depending on your individual goals, you want to do lower-body exercises a minimum of twice per week, or up to four times a week,” he says. “Typically, you will not target the same muscle group on back-to-back days.”
To allow each muscle group of the lower body to recover between workouts, he recommends split routines in which you work different muscle groups on different days. For example, you can train your lower body on one day, chest and triceps on the second day, lower body again on the third, and back and biceps on the fourth. If you rotate through these workouts so you perform five to six total workouts per week, you’re able to get in a lot of lower-body workouts!
However, if you don’t have a ton of time to devote to your workouts, performing two to three total-body workouts per week that combine both lower-body exercises and upper body ones can still ensure you’re working your lower body frequently enough to effectively strengthen the muscles. Just try to go no more than three days without training your lower body to some degree.
What Weights Should You Use for Lower-Body Exercises?
Whatever your lower-body workout frequency, though, it’s important to use a combination of heavy lifting with 4 to 5 sets of 3 to 6 reps and higher-volume training of 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 15 reps. Ideally, you should finish your last set of each exercise unable to perform any extra reps. Reaching this level of fatigue will help you build strength, muscle size, and endurance.
15 Exercises for Every Lower-Body Workout
Ready to get in your best lower-body workout ever? Mix and match the moves below and get started! Just make sure you do compound (multi-joint) and bilateral (working both sides of your body) exercises that hit your biggest muscles first, and then do single-joint and unilateral exercises that work your smaller muscles second. We’ve broken these exercises down by major movement pattern for extra ease of design!
- Stand with your feet hip to shoulder-width apart, holding a pair of dumbbells at arm’s length by your sides.
- Keeping your back flat and core braced, push your hips back, bend your knees, and lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
- Pause, then push yourself back up to the starting position.
- Grab a dumbbell and hold it vertically in front of your chest, cupping the top end in both hands. Set your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Keeping your back flat and elbows pointed down, push your hips back and lower your body until your thighs are at least parallel to the ground (your elbows should touch the insides of your knees).
- Pause, and then slowly push yourself back up to the starting position.
- Stand facing away from a bench, holding a pair of dumbbells at arm’s length by your sides. Place the toes of your left foot on the bench behind you.
- Keeping your torso upright and your core engaged, lower your body until your right thigh is parallel to the ground.
- Pause, and then push back up to the starting position. Do equal reps on both legs.
4. Side Squat
- Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart holding a pair of dumbbells at arm’s length by your sides, palms in.
- Keeping your right leg straight and right foot on the floor, push your hips back and take a big step to your left with your left leg. Lower the weights between your legs and your body until your left thigh is parallel to the floor.
- Pause, and then push yourself back up to the starting position.
5. Glute bridge
- Lie on your back, arms down by your sides. Bend your knees and plant your feet flat on the floor.
- Pull in through your navel to brace your core muscles and then squeeze your glutes to press your hips up so your body forms a straight line — no arching — from knees to shoulders.
- Keep your head on the floor and eyes focused on the ceiling.
- Hold the position for a beat, and then lift and lower and repeat.
- From a kneeling position, with your butt resting on your heels and the tops of your feet on the floor, hold a heavy dumbbell at your chest with both hands.
- Keeping your chest up, shoulders back, and core engaged, squeeze your glutes as you push your hips forward to full extension, shifting your weight onto your knees.
- Pushing your hips back, slowly lower your body back down onto your heels, and repeat for reps.
7. Single-leg hinge with loop
- Loop a resistance band around your left foot, and grip it with your right hand as you rise up to stand up straight with your feet hip-width apart and your knees slightly bent.
- Keeping your back flat, your core engaged, and your left knee slightly bent, raise your right leg off the floor a few inches and hinge forward at your hips until your torso is as close to parallel with the floor as possible. Your right hand should lower down as it holds the band, and your left arm can be out to the side for balance.
- Return to a single-leg standing position and repeat the move, completing all reps on your left leg before switching sides.
8. Forward lunge
- Stand tall holding a pair of dumbbells at arm’s length by your sides (palms in) with your feet hip-width apart.
- Keeping your chest up, shoulders back, core braced (imagine someone is about to hit you in the gut), and back flat, take a large step forward with your right foot. Lower your body until your front thigh is parallel to the ground and your rear knee is bent 90 degrees (it should hover a couple inches above the floor).
- Pause, and then reverse the movement to return to the starting position. Repeat, this time stepping forward with your left foot. Continue alternating legs with each rep.
9. Reverse lunge
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart holding a pair of medium-weight dumbbells at your sides.
- Keeping your chest up and your core engaged, take a large step backward with your right foot.
- Slowly lower your body until your left thigh is parallel with the floor and your right knee is bent 90 degrees, just above the floor.
- Pause and, pushing forcefully off your left foot, reverse the movement, taking a large step forward without touching your foot to the floor in between.
- Again lower your body with your right foot in front and repeat the entire sequence for reps, planting your foot only for each lunge. Then switch sides, performing equal reps on each.
10. Curtsy lunge
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, weight at your left shoulder.
- Keeping your back flat and your core engaged, step your left foot behind and outside your right foot, lowering your hips until your right thigh is parallel with the floor, lowering the weight as you step your left foot behind you. Your left knee should hover an inch or two above the floor.
- Reverse the movement to return to the starting position. Continue for reps, then switch sides and repeat.
- Lie on your right side with your feet and hips stacked, your knees bent 90 degrees, and your head resting on your right arm.
- Draw your knees in toward your body until your feet are in line with your butt. Place your left hand on your left hip to ensure it doesn’t tilt backward. This is your starting position.
- Keeping your abs engaged and your feet together, raise your left knee as far as you can without rotating your hip or lifting your right knee off the floor.
- Hold for 1 second, squeezing your glutes at the top of the move, before slowly lowering your left knee to the starting position.
12. Standing calf raise on elevated surface
- Holding a dumbbell in your left hand, stand with the ball of your left foot on an elevated surface, with your right heel hanging off.
- Keeping your core engaged, raise your left heel as high as possible.
- Slowly lower your heel down onto the raised surface until you feel a stretch in your calf.
- Repeat and do equal reps on both legs.
13. Seated calf raise
- Sit tall on a bench or chair with your feet flat on the ground holding two heavy dumbbells on top of your knees.
- Keeping your core engaged, lift your heels off the ground as high as possible.
- Slowly lower your heels back down to the ground, and repeat.
14. First position leg lifts
- Stand with your heels together, toes pointed out, and place your hands on your hips.
- Reach your right leg straight out in front of you, pointing your toes so they’re lightly resting on the floor.
- Keeping your core tight and your left leg engaged, lift your right leg up as high as possible, then lower it slowly back down to tap your toes on the ground.
- Repeat and do equal reps on both sides.
15. Abductor lift
- Wrap a resistance loop around your ankles and lie on your right side, propping yourself up on your right forearm.
- Keep your legs straight and stacked on top of each other and your toes pointed forward.
- Lift the top leg, lower, and repeat.
- Do equal reps on both sides.