Many yoga experts say that if your legs are strong your body will be strong. Your legs are your foundation and carry you everywhere so it’s important we don’t skip leg day. Yes the exercises aren’t as exciting but if you need anymore motivation: your trousers and shorts will look so much better if you hit those leg weights! We’ve chosen a selection of exercises that will hit all the major parts of the leg: the calves, the quads, the glutes and the hamstrings. So let’s get to it and feel the burn.
This exercise can be done with or without weight, the technique for the actual squat remains the same. If you are new to squatting you might want to start without weights until you’ve cracked the technique.
Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart, toes facing forward or slightly out. Remember to keep the weight in your heals as you squat (though feet should remain flat on the floor) and to keep your knees facing forward over your knees – don’t let them come in. Tighten your core and engage your glutes as you lower down into the squat, pushing your bum backwards before you bend your knees. Keep your chest and shoulders up and your back straight, eyes looking straight ahead.
Keep lowering until your hip joint is parallel with or lower than your knees – 90 degrees or less. If you aren’t able to get that low to start with then just go as you can and work towards reaching full depth.
To return to the start position, engage your glutes and core before driving through your heals, ensuring your knees stay out and don’t creep in as you stand up.
If using dumbells – hold the dumbells at shoulder height, with elbows tucked into your waist and palms facing out. Ensure that your weights don’t force your upper body downwards so really engage your upper back and shoulders.
If you have not used a bar for squatting before, start with an empty bar and build the weight up as you go.
Place your bar on a rack and position it behind your neck so it is resting on the meaty part, not your spine or neck. The closer you can get your hands to your head the more stable you will be but this is down to flexibility to ensure you feel comfortable. Engage your core and lift the weight, stepping back from the rack. Perform the squat just as outlined above, ensuring the movement is controlled and you keep your spine in a neutral position and eyes facing forward. This movement really engages your glutes so you will be able to squat most weight in this position. Ensure you fully engage your glutes especially at the top of the squat.
This squat will engage your quads as opposed to your glutes so you should choose a lighter weight than you used for your back squat. As we have said above, if this squat is new to you, start by using an empty bar until you feel comfortable with the technique.
This squat is performed in the same way as the others above but the bar is held in the front position, in line with your shoulders. Your hands should be underneath the bar, elbows pointing forward and palms facing upwards. This is a very tricky position to get into if you do not have the wrist flexibility so it may well take time for you o be able to achieve it. Keep working on it and always make sure your elbows are being pushed as far up as they can so you are not pulled out of position during the squat. The movement is performed as above, keeping it controlled.
All squat exercises should be completed for 3 sets, 10-12 reps in each set.
Lunges are a great exercise for working a number of muscles in your legs – the quads, hamstrings and glutes. You will also feel it in your inner thigh and hip so don’t worry if you have to reduce the number of reps you do when you start out – keep working on it! Just as with squats, lunges are an exercise that most people think they can do but are quite tricky to do properly. Doing squats incorrectly can make them less effective but can also lead to injury so make sure you are comfortable with the technique before adding any weight to the exercise.
Lunges can be done with or without weights. If using dumbells they can be held either at your side or in the ‘clean’ position (elbows bent and held into the waist with weights held in line with the shoulders). You can also use a barbell held in the clean position.
All lunge exercises should be completed for 3 sets, 20 reps per set.
Start with feet hip width apart, core engaged and take a large step forward with your right leg, heal first. Keeping your body upright and eyes forward, lower your body until your right thigh is parallel with the floor and your right shin is vertical. If you are able to, touch your left knee on the floor before returning to the starting position by pushing through the floor with your right heal. Repeat the exercise alternating legs.
You do not want your right knee to go beyond your toes (have a sneaky look down to check this) and your right foot must remain flat on the floor. Make sure that your foot steps straight forward – not inwards as this will make the exercise more difficult.
The technique is the same as for the basic lunge but this is a moving movement. Instead of returning your foot to the starting position after you have completed the lunge, put your weight into your front leg and bring your back leg to join the front. Make sure that you don’t lean forward as you bring your leg in – keep your core tight and your eyes looking straight ahead.
Deadlifts are great for working your back, glutes and legs but you must perform them properly to avoid injuring your back. Speaking from experience, it is very easy to lose your form when doing deadlifts and that can just as easily lead to an injury so make sure you have cracked the technique before cranking up the weight on this exercise.
Deadlifts are normally performed with a bar – even if you aren’t using a lot of weight try to use a large plate as this will mean the bar is at the right height when you go to pick it up. You can also use dumbells for this exercise but if you do, make sure you start the exercise with your dumbells mid-way up your thigh as any lower and you will risk curving your back too much.
Stand behind the bar with half of your feet underneath it. Bend down and grip the bar with arms shoulder width apart. Bend your knees, pushing your hips back – if your feet are in the right position your shins should touch the bar. Now, imagine you have a broom handle running along your spine ensuring your back is straight (it won’t be verticle as you are leaning forward at an angle, the important thing is that your spine does not curve at any point during the exercise).
As you lift the weight, keep your arms straight and the bar close to your body. Use your glutes and legs to lift the weight, not your back or arms. As your legs straighten push forward your hips, engaging your glutes, but do not arch your back. Once your legs are straight, hold the weight for a few seconds then lower the bar back to the floor, ensuring it stays close to your body and push your hips backwards to avoid curving your back as the bar returns to the floor.
Repeat this exercise for 3 sets, 12 reps each set.
Although very similar to the deadlift, this exercise targets even more your hamstrings which are a really important muscle for getting stronger legs – if you’re wanting to hit those really heavy squats you’re going to want to spend some extra time building up your hamstrings. Another good thing about the Romanian Deadlift is that you don’t need to pile on the weights for it to be an effective exercise so it isn’t as prone to causing injuries as the standard deadlift.
Unlike the standard deadlift, the Romanian Deadlift starts with you standing upright with your bar or dumbbells held in front of you with your arms straight. Slowly lower the weight bending your knees slightly and pushing your hips back as this will help to keep your weight close to your body and legs and your back straight. Keep lowering the weight until it is just past your knees – remember the aim of this exercise is to engage your hamstrings so you don’t need to be aiming to get the weight to the floor if this will compromise your form. To return to the start position, drive your hips forward and engage your hamstrings.
Repeat this exercise for 3 sets, 12 reps per set.