Athletic Shorts, capri leggings and shorter skirts… yes, warmer months are on the way! To get your legs out of winter mode and ready for the warmer days ahead, try these 10 essential moves to strengthen and sculpt.
1) Romanian Dead Lift
The Romanian deadlift is amazing for your hamstrings, glutes and lower back. Start standing straight up with dumbbells or a barbell close to your legs. To begin, hinge at your hips and lower your chest while keeping your back flat. It’s very important to keep your knees slightly bent and keep the weight close to your body. This exercise should be performed with low weight at around 15 reps until form is perfected. Once you feel confident doing the exercise, work towards a heavier weight and between 10 and 15 reps.
2) Pulsing Squats
Pulsing squats are a great exercise to burn out your leg muscles. Start standing straight up and push your hips back, keeping your weight in your heels. Engage your core and work towards a 90-degree angle at the bottom of your squat. Without standing completely straight, come back up to a 145-degree angle and repeat. Pulse for 30 to 60 reps.
3) Jumping Lunges
Jumping lunges are awesome for building your quadriceps and glutes, while keeping your heart rate up. It’s also important to keep your core engaged. This exercise may be advanced for you so keep in mind you can always start with a stepping lunge until you’re ready to jump. Start this exercise standing straight up and then lunge back, bringing your back knee as close to the ground as possible. Jump in the air and switch legs so that your front foot is now behind you and in a position to switch back to the front. Try to get at least 3 to 6 inches off the floor and work with a high rep range—around 25 to 50 reps total.
4) Speed Skaters
Speed skaters are not only considered a plyometric exercise, but they also work areas of the legs that other exercises can’t. Begin by standing in a curtsey lunge. Jump laterally and lift both legs off the floor, switch legs and land in the opposite curtsey lunge. If you need a modification, begin by stepping side-to-side and progress to a jump. The most challenging way to perform this exercise is to jump laterally in each curtsey, keeping your back foot completely off the floor. This will ensure gluteus medius contraction and increase your heart rate!
5) Calf Raises
Although this exercise might seem traditional, it’s the best way to ensure quality calf growth. Having strong calves will help prevent injury in your hamstrings, knees and even shin splints. Stand straight up and then put your weight onto your toes, focusing on flexing your calves at the top. Do your best to go up as high as possible and repeat with a high rep range of 20 to 40 reps.
6) Goblet Squats
Goblet squats will take your average squat to the next level. This exercise must be done in a wide stance in order to achieve full benefits. Your quads, glutes and core should be engaged. Start with feet just wider than hips and toes pointed slightly outward. Your weight should be held at the chest to ensure core activation. While keeping your chest up, press through your heels and squat as low as you can. Once you feel your chest drop, stand back up. The more practice you have, the deeper you will be able to go. Begin with lower weight and a rep range of 15 to 25. Once you’re ready to progress, work towards a heavier weight and an 8 to 10 rep range.
7) Reverse Lunge to Kick
Reverse lunges to a front kick are great to ensure quad, glute and core activation, while increasing your heart rate. This exercise is more advanced but can be performed at any fitness level. Start in a standing position, step one foot back into a reverse lunge and then bring that same foot forward for a front kick. It is important to lean slightly back while kicking forward. This will help to activate your core and increase your range of motion. Focus on repeating this exercise on one leg with 10 to 15 reps, then repeat on the other side.
8) Kettle Bell Swings
Kettle bell swings are one of the best exercises to build your hamstrings and glutes, and strengthen your lower back. This exercise will not only increase your heart rate, but will work fast-twitch muscle fibers in your legs, leading to more muscle growth. This exercise will put stress on your lower back, so it’s very important to perfect your form before increasing your weight. Try the Romanian deadlift before working into a kettle bell swing. Once you’re comfortable with the correct form of a deadlift, the kettle bell swing will come easy. Start in a tripod pose—with the kettle bell about 2 feet in front of your body—with your feet slightly wider than your hips. Begin with hands on the kettle bell, back flat and pull the kettle bell towards your hips to begin the swinging motion. Let the kettle bell swing between your legs and only bring it 90-degrees up while contracting your glutes. Perform a high rep range of between 15 and 25 reps.
9) Jump Squats
Jump squats will take your muscular endurance to another level. Start standing straight up, with or without weight. Hinge at your hips while pushing your glutes back and put your weight on your heels. Keep at least a 90-degree angle between your hips, knees and feet. Engage your core and work to get a full range of motion jumping up and landing softly back into your squat. Always work with 20 to 50 reps for this exercise.
10) Plank Leg Lift
Planks are one of the best exercises for your core. While this exercise can be difficult enough, adding a leg lift can kick it up a notch. Start this exercise in a high plank position. Your hands should be directly under your shoulders and feet hip distance apart. While keeping your body straight, raise one leg up until you feel tightness in your glutes and hamstrings and then bring it back to the floor. Switch legs for a minimum of 20 to 30 reps.
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