We may be biased, but there’s nothing more satisfying than making gains below the belt. Your legs house the largest muscles in your body, demanding truckloads of calories and more effort than most other groups – those quads and hammies, they’ll get you to ‘high burn’ faster than a NutriBullet blending blade.
Leg day translates as pain day, as most of us struggle through the first few hours on our feet or off, pushing past a wall of lactic acid and micro tears announcing our progress from the night before. There are different regimes and customised schedules you can follow – weighted squats, leg presses, Olympic lifts and kettle cardio – building stronger legs can be as easy or complicated as you’d like it to be. While we love the feeling of a bar shadowing our shoulders, we’re bringing this countdown back to basics.
The Good News: Anybody can do a squat.
The Bad News: Anybody can do a squat.
There’s no way (save injury) you’re getting out of this golden oldie; the squat has been a weapon of choice in many bootcamps, PT sessions and exercise videos for one reason…it works. It doesn’t look like much and you may feel a little silly standing in the middle of the gym, letting your butt fall and poke out whilst you maintain perfect form, but exercise isn’t supposed to be sexy.
1. Stand up straight and proud, position your feet hip width apart and make sure you remember to let your arms relax at your sides. Tension is not always your friend.
2. Push your hips backward as you lower your body, bending at the knees and letting your heels bear the brunt of your weight. Your arms will want to help you balance, so let them rise as you sink.
3. Keep your core engaged – the squat should be a full-body deal and a neutral spine will only strengthen your contact with your core muscles.
4. Make sure your chest stays straight and lifted, rounding it out will lead to injuries and a less effective squat. At the bottom of the movement, pause and reverse, controlling your progress as you return to the starting position.
The Good News: Full body exercise central.
The Bad News: Full body exercise central.
The deadlift has been hanging around the gym floor for decades, rising to popularity slowly but surely, popping up in Crossfit classes and PT strength sessions. Do you lift? No? You will. If you’re just starting out, make sure you have a weight buddy to check your form and be there to spot you in case of any difficulties. Start small, don’t forget to breathe and get the technique right!
1. Position yourself mid-foot beneath the bar and grasp it with purpose; check your stance at this point and make sure your hands are shoulder-width apart. Your arms should be straight and just outside your knees.
2. Bend those knees! Your shins should be grazing the bar; lift your chest, keep your back straight and lift by pulling the bar as you squeeze your butt and keep your core engaged.
3. While you’re half way through the lift and the bar is against your legs, don’t slouch or squeeze your shoulder blades – you should be straight and neutral.
4. Lower the weight by pushing your hips back and bending when the bar reaches your knees. Your hips should always be first, otherwise you’ll cop a bar to the knee and that’s always unpleasant.
3. Hamstring Curls
The Good News: Minimal equipment.
The Bad News: Minimal equipment.
Before you sling your sweat towel over one shoulder and head towards the weight machines, redirect your path and check out a yoga mat and a basic dumbbell instead. You’re probably familiar with the burn of the machine version of this exercise, but we’re going back to basics, remember? Trust us, it will feel good!
Hamstring Curl Guide:
1. Roll out your yoga or padded mat and make sure the area around you is clear of activity. If you’re having trouble finding a quiet space, try for a corner or a section against a wall.
2. Set up the dumbbell so you can grasp it with your feet – placement is essential, so take your time getting this part right.
3. Lie on your stomach and position your head on your forearms – don’t go to sleep, keep your body switched on and your muscles engaged.
4. Grasp the dumbbell you put between your feet and bring it towards your butt, bending your knees and engaging the hamstrings.
5. Retain a neutral straight position; if the weight is pulling against your spine or changing your position, it’s too heavy. Start light and go for higher reps until you can get a heavier weight between your feet.
6. Do not let the dumbbell touch the ground.
4. Calf Raises
The Good News: Do it everywhere
The Bad News: Do it everywhere
Don’t you love exercises you can do absolutely anywhere and everywhere? The standing calf raise will soon be one of your favourites – you can do a set at work, at home, on the way to the park, at the shopping centre…all you need is a single stair and you’re fully equipped. On the flipside, feel free to grab an aerobics step and complete a few of these at the gym. You’ll get a pointer or two and perfect your technique with experienced fitness professionals nearby.
Calf Raise Guide:
1. If you’re using a step, there’s nothing for you to do at this stage. Aerobic platform peeps will need to setup their makeshift steps with two sets of risers to get the right height.
2. Take position on the edge of the step. Your heels and back should be facing forward.
3. Let your heels hang over the lip, engage the abdominals and keep the balls of your feet squarely fixed on the step.
4. Raise your heels a few inches until you’ve risen to the tips of your toes. Not quite there yet? Balance against a wall and try to progress by centimetres every time you attempt the movement.
5. Hold the stance for a second and then let your heels drop below the platform. You should be stretching out the calf muscle.
That wasn’t so bad, was it? Make sure you’re not pushing yourself to lift, curl or raise more than you can handle right out of the gate. While we appreciate your enthusiasm, technique will always win over brawn and health trumps injury anytime. Be kind to yourself and remain honest about your progress. Need help to step it up a notch? Just ask one of our experienced PTs…
This article was proudly provided by the Australian Institute of Personal Trainers, who support Genesis Fitness and help our members achieve their fitness goals. If you are interested in starting a career in Personal Training, click here for more info.