With the amount of running, riding, swimming, and technical training many athletes undergo, the last thing many want to do is additional lower limb training.
Many of the staple leg exercises are among the toughest around, and no athlete looks forward to tackling a big set of stairs after a leg training session!
However, lower body training is essential for any athlete who wants to elicit the most strength and speed out of their bodies, all while protecting themselves against many of the common lower-body injuries that athletes sustain.
This article will explain the benefits of lower body training that you won’t want to miss, and some of the best leg exercises you can do!
Major Muscle Groups of the Lower Limb
You’re probably aware of the major muscle groups of the lower limb, those being the ‘glutes’, ‘quads’, ‘hamstrings’, and ‘calves’.
These are accompanied by many secondary muscles that synergize and support these prime movers, as well as performing many of the more subtle movements which align and protect the joints during movement.
Instead, in this article, we’ll break down the muscles of the legs by movement.
The three layers of the gluteal muscles are responsible for extending, abducting, and externally rotating the hips.
The quadriceps are a group of four muscles that help in hip flexion, and are the primary movers of knee extension.
The three hamstrings muscles flex the knee and extend the hip, and the two calves muscles are the plantar (downward) flexors of the ankle.
A couple of other lesser mentioned muscle groups in the leg are the adductor group, which bring the leg back toward the midline of the body, and the anterior compartment, which perform dorsi (upward) flexion and other fine control movements of the ankle.
Now we've covered the muscle groups involved in all your favorite running, cutting, and jumping movements, let’s look at why and how to train them!
The Effects of Lower Body Resistance Training on Performance
Lower body training infers many benefits for athletes. Firstly, leg strength has been shown to have a very large correlation with sprint performance.
Also, the strength and size gains of weight training allow the leg muscles to recruit greater neuromuscular activation in the muscle-tendon unit, which is converted into higher levels of dynamic strength and explosiveness.
Plyometric training, in combination with strength training, has been shown to enhance athletic performance in jumping, agility, and endurance.
This type of training can also improve pulmonary function, as using the large muscle groups of the lower limb with powerful and fast contractions trains the athlete’s forced expiratory volume.
Finally, a lower body training regimen should include neuromuscular training to improve balance and proprioception.
These exercises can help protect the athlete against some of the most common sports injuries to the knees and ankles by improving awareness and control of the lower limb. Reducing these injuries is an important issue for athletes and coaches, as treating them is costly and the risk of recurrence is high.
15 of the Best Lower Body Exercises
The following lower bodyweight training exercises can be done as straight sets as part of a strength, hypertrophy, or power program (for example, perform the five strength exercises in the order presented for three sets of six repetitions, with two to three minutes rest between sets).
Alternatively, they can be performed as a lower-body circuit training program. Choose two to three exercises from the strength, power, and injury prevention categories, and perform one set of each in that order, with minimal rest between exercises.
These are leg exercises for men and women athletes, and can be adjusted according to what’s comfortable for your hip width and limb length. Consult a coach or trainer if you need help improving your technique.
1. Back Squat
For a classic back squat with a barbell, stand with the bar across your upper back with your feet shoulder-width apart. To initiate the movement, shift your hips back and bend your knees as if you were going to sit down on a chair.
With a straight spine and your eyes forward, lower down until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Push through the heels and avoid letting your knees cave inward as you push back up to the starting position.
2. Front Squat
For this squat variation, weight the front of your shoulders and upper chest. Follow the same steps as the back squat, while working to keep your chest up by engaging your upper and lower back muscles.
With the barbell on the ground, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and your mid foot under the bar. Bend forward and grip the bar with your arms against the outside of your knees.
With your knees bent and shins against the bar, straighten your back and lift your chest. Drive through your heels as you lift the bar until standing with straight legs. Lower back to the floor and repeat.
4. Side Lunge
Holding two dumbbells at your sides, step one leg out to the side. Hold the dumbbells either side of the stepping knee as you shift your hips back into a squat-like position on the stepping leg while keeping the trailing leg straight.
Drive through the heel to step back to the starting position and repeat on the other side, or complete your reps on one side before performing a set on the other leg.
5. Calf Raise
Holding two dumbbells by your sides, stand on a step or raised surface with the balls of your feet, allowing your heels to hang down. Slowly push through the front of your feet to raise your heels as high as you can, then slowly lower back down and repeat.
6. Jump Squats
This plyometric move can be performed just with your bodyweight or holding weights by your sides.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Squat down as per the instructions for the Back Squat. Then explosively drive up and jump as high as you can, landing with control and keeping the ankles and knees aligned.
7. Jumping Lunges
Start with one foot stepped forward in a staggered stance. Lower your back knee to the ground. Drive through the front heel to jump up and switch your feet in mid-air. Land with control and repeat on the other side.
8. Depth Jump
This athletic exercise involves stepping off a box or step, landing on both feet, and immediately jumping as high as possible. After landing, step back up onto the box and complete the next rep.
9. Standing Long Jump
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. While squatting down, swing the arms back. As you drive the arms forward, jump forward as far as possible, landing with the feet in front and catching the weight in your heels to avoid falling forward.
10. Sled Runs
Hold the sled handles and lower yourself until your shoulders are in line with your hands. With straight arms, lean forward, keep your chest down, and drive through the legs to power the sled forward. Turn and repeat.
11. Single-Leg Stance
This balance exercise can be as simple as standing on one leg for time, or as advanced as standing on an uneven surface such as a wobble board while throwing a ball against a wall and catching it. Choose your level and aim for three sets of 30 seconds on each leg.
12. Lateral Step Up
Stand next to a box or step side on. Step the leg closest to the box up onto it. Step up until the feet are in line, focusing on keeping the hips level. Lower down with control and repeat.
13. Single-Leg Bridge
Lay on your back with your knees bent and feet hip-width apart on the floor. Straighten one leg so the thighs are in line. Drive through the grounded foot to lift the hips, creating a straight line from your shoulders to your knees.
Avoid letting the hips drop to one side as you lower back down to the starting position.
14. Crab Walks
This exercise can be done with our without resistance bands wrapped around the thighs and/or ankles. Lower into a wide squat stance with the feet wider than shoulder-width. Slowly step out to one side, trailing with the back leg.
Take ten steps in the same direction, before repeating back the other way to the starting position.
15. Walking Lunges
Start with the feet hip-width apart. Take a large step forward and lower into a lunge, brushing the floor with the back knee. Keeping the front knee over the ankle, drive up and forward to take the next big step and repeat.
Combine Your Lower Body Training with Breathing Training?
Exercising your bottom glutes muscles takes a lot of energy, mental and physical effort. During the workout, tension can easily build in your body. You'd want to work with your breathing, and not against it, to prevent the muscles cramping while holding the pose.
To counter the tension building, breathing training can help you to a more stable and energized workout. When your muscles are properly provided with a sufficient amount of oxygen, you won't risk the muscles giving in during a squat or lunges pose.
Combining your lower body workout with a breathing trainer helps you perform better in the gym. Like any other form of training respiratory training works like training any other muscle group making your muscles faster, stronger, and more sufficient through resistance. Read more on how breathing training can help you reach your athletic goals at Airofit.com.
We hope this article inspired you to include some more lower body workouts in your routine. Let us know your favorite leg weight exercise below!