Category Archives: Working Out Your Legs

Step-Ups to Work your Legs and Butt

Step UpIt’s a stereotype because it’s true–too many guys in the gym just want to work their upper body. Alas, there is more to strength training than bench presses and curls. In order to be truly fit, your entire body must be fit–and able to function as one unit. The step-up is a great example of an exercise that trains your body to do just that.

While it is primarily a lower body exercise, the step-up works your core and, if done with heavy enough weights, your arms too. After squats, deadlifts and lunges, step-ups are next on my list of favorite leg exercises.

What’s the Difference Between a Step-up and Simply Going Up Stairs?

Running stairs can be a great cardio workout, but it’s not going to make your legs a whole lot stronger. When you do a step-up, you need your step to be higher than the stairs on a staircase. Doing a step-up onto a 6-inch step is like doing a squat and only going down 6 inches–it’s not going to do much other than make you look like a newbie. In order to really effect change in your muscles, you should use a step that puts your knee at a 90-degree angle when you plant your foot down on it.

How to Incorporate Step-ups into Your Workout

You should add resistance to your step-ups by holding weights in your hands, or by resting a barbell across your back. You’ll want to perform sets of 6-15 reps per leg, with enough weight to leave your legs quivering by the end of the set. You can perform step-ups by alternating legs, or by repeating the same leg for a set and then switching legs. I’ve found that in the context of conditioning workouts, alternating can sometimes be beneficial, whereas going one leg at a time is generally better for building strength.

Step ups can be performed laterally as well. (Stepping onto the step from the side). This works more of your inner thighs and hips as well as your glutes, hamstrings, and quads.


Trainer Tips

When performing a basic step-up, try to think about pushing through the heel of your foot, as opposed to having all the weight on your toes. Also be mindful of engaging your abdominal muscles on the way up in order to stay stable.

And ladies, don’t be afraid to test your limits with how much weight you can use on these. They are not going to make your legs huge–just firm and toned!

Cross Training for Runners (and Everyone!)

Cycling can be used as cross training for runners.

Cycling can be used as cross training for runners.

I hurt my foot the other day and didn’t feel up to running; even walking was causing me some discomfort. I knew that it would be foolish to try to run, but I really didn’t want to blow off my training altogether. Figuring that the impact of my foot hitting the ground while walking was the main cause for the discomfort that I was feeling, I decided to do some impact-free cross training. Starting off on the elliptical trainer, I figured I would just take it from there. Once I got into it, I started feeling pretty good!


However, after fifteen minutes on the elliptical trainer, I started to lose my patience (I’m not a big fan of cardio machines!), but instead of stopping my workout, I switched it up and got on a bike for fifteen minutes. My foot felt fine on the bike as well. Finally, feeling a bit frustrated that I wasn’t able to keep my heart rate as high as I wanted on the bike, I made another switch, this time to the stair stepper. Without even really planning for it, I completed a pretty decent cross training workout by the time I was done!

Cross training is basically just a fancy sounding way of saying “doing different stuff.” Mixing up different types of cardio helps to keep your workout from getting monotonous–and it’s better for your body, too. Your body is capable of many different movement patterns, and they all effect your muscles in slightly different ways. If you are a runner, cycling can be a great alternative on those days when you don’t feel up to running for whatever reason. Conversely, if you are more of a cyclist, then you can use running as cross training. As always, you are encouraged to experiment and find what feels best for you.

Cardio machines like the elliptical trainer and exercise bike might be nice alternatives to running, especially for people with injuries or ailments, because they can potentially cause less stress to your joints and connective tissues. But don’t feel confined to the gym! Get out in the real world and use your body. The gym is only practice for the real thing–life itself.

Plyo Pistols

Fire that pistol!

Fire that pistol!

I am always seeking out new physical challenges and the pistol squat is one of my favorite exercises. So when I came across this video of Steve Cotter doing jumping pistol squats onto a ridiculously high step, I decided that was a skill I wanted in my arsenal.

Of course there’s only one way to make that happen–practice!

The box that I am jumping onto isn’t nearly as high as Steve’s, but I am just starting out! Gotta keep practicing–It’s always a work in progress!

Keep in mind that doing this sort of thing at all is still a very advanced technique. The more difficult the physical challenges get, the more careful you need to be of the risks involved. You should probably first get comfortable with plyometrics and pistol squats on their own before combining the two.

Check out the video below for more!
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zg8Wkj9rZMo

Squats and Deadlifts

Squats are probably the single most common exercise that I see people needing help with in the gym.

People often think they know how to do a proper squat, but sometimes the truth is that they don’t know squat!

The main thing to know about squatting with proper form is that you go all the way down until the top of your thigh is parallel to the ground. That might be lower than you think. You should ask someone to watch you to be sure.

Also keep in mind that your heels should not come off the ground at any point during the lift; third, the movement should be initiated from the hips, not the knees. What I’m saying is, stick your butt out!

A deadlift, to put it simply, involves picking up a weight that’s on the ground in front of you. I’m sure you’ve heard the advice to lift heavy objects with your legs and not your back–that advice is talking about the deadlift! It is a great functional exercise for this reason.

Another way to look at deadlifts is that they are just like squats except that you hold the weight in front of you. The two most common types of deadlifts are the Romanian deadlift and the more traditional Olympic deadlift. The Romanian deadlift involves less knee flexion than the Olympic deadlift.

Romanian deadlifts involve less knee flexion.

Squats and deadlifts are amazing postural exercises but you must really focus on good posture while you do them in order to get those benefits. Keep your chest held high and pull your shoulder blades together!

Deadlifts work your grip strength and lower back but they also work your hamstrings and glutes. So ladies, you want to make sure you’re getting deadlifts into your workouts!

Make sure you don’t use your back too much on these and that most of your range of motion is at your hamstrings. That means just like squats, stick your butt out when you do a deadlift.

Sometimes I refer to squats, deadlifts, and lunges as “the big three.” They are my three favorite leg exercises!

Check out this video segment on how to do squats:
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CN6UrdCbp3s

Lunges!

Hey Ladies, listen up–this one is for you!

Lunges are one of the best exercises for toning and strengthening your legs and butt.

Fellas, don’t think this means you don’t have to bother with them, though–lunges should be a staple of anyone and everyone’s fitness regimen.

Lunges, along with squats and deadlifts, are a crucial part of what I like to call “the big 3″ leg exercises. They hit all the major parts of your lower body, they get your heart pumping,
and they are great for revving up your metabolism.

Lunges can be performed by stepping forward and then lowering yourself down until your back knee is just above the ground. Typically, one might alternate legs, continuing forward with each step (often called a “walking lunge”).

Lunges with a twist!

Lunges with a twist!

Lunges can also be done by stepping backwards (“back lunge”), side ways (you guessed it–“side lunge”), or any other way you can think to do them. A stationary lunge is sometimes called a “split squat.”

When doing lunges, stay mindful of keeping your front foot totally flat and not letting the heel up (the heel of your back foot ought to be up, however). Also make sure to keep your posture and don’t allow your front knee to cross in front of your toes.

For added resistance you can perform lunges while holding dumbbells, resting a barbell on your back, using a kettlebell, or any other way that you see fit to. Get creative!

Watch the video below for more:

Pistol Squat with 40 lb. Kettlebell

pistol w kettleI love to challenge myself by attempting various feats of strength. I also love the pistol squat–it’s one of my favorite exercises and I’m always looking for different ways to make it challenging.

In this video segement, I attempt a pistol squat with a 40 lb. kettlebell–and manage to get off two reps! I guess next time I gotta go heavier!!!

Click the link for more info on one-legged squats. You might want to start practicing without the kettlebell first.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iy0J5Z4LWgE

Doing A One Legged Squat (Pistol Squat)

Editors Note: Make sure to check out this more recent pistol squat tutorial.

The one legged squat is a lot like a regular two legged squat except that you are standing on only one leg. I’m sure that seems pretty obvious, but my point in stating that fact is to remind you that the same elements that make for good form during a regular squat must still be considered. Maintaining good posture, initiating the movement from your hips and achieving parallel depth (or lower) are all essential components of any safe, effective squat–regardless of if you’re using one or both legs.

Before you are going to begin working towards doing single leg squats, there are a few prerequisites that you ought to have out of the way to ensure a solid foundation. You should be able to perform a proper two legged squat with resistance that is equal to your body weight (ladies this goes for you too!), or if you aren’t into going for one rep maxes, you should be comfortable squatting at least 65% of your body weight for multiple reps. Additionally, you should ensure that your form while doing these is safe by having a qualified supervisor watch you and look for any red flags. For example, if your heels come off the ground while you do your squats then you are probably not ready to try a single leg squat yet.

Now that we’ve gotten that taken care of, there are a few ways to approach training your body to do a one-legger. One method is to start from the bottom up. While sitting down on a bench, lift one foot off the ground. Lean forward and use the heel of your other foot to push into the floor while squeezing your abs tight, puffing your chest out, and reaching your arms out in front. Once you get to the top, try to lower yourself slowly and repeat. You will likely lose control during the lowering phase and wind up plopping down onto the bench at the bottom. That’s fine for now. In time your control will improve to the point where you no longer need to sit on the bench.

Another method to employ while practicing towards doing a one legged squat is to practice from the top down. Stand on a bench, a bit off to the side with one foot hanging off the edge. Squat down so that one leg drops below the level of the bench. Make sure you stick out your hips and butt, and lean forward a bit–otherwise your balance will be off. If you are having a hard time balancing with this, hold onto something to guide you. A resista-band that is securely in place or a cable machine balanced with a full weight stack are great options. A broom handle works well too if you are doing these at home. If you have a training partner, have them assist you by either holding your hand or standing right by you so that you can grab them if you lose your balance. This is an exercise that I will literally hold my client’s hand through the first time they try it!

In time you can progress to doing them on your own. Then you can try coming down off the bench. When you’re standing on the ground, you’ll reach your other leg farther out in the air and hold it as close to parallel with the ground as you can. This is commonly referred to as a pistol squat. A lot of people find holding the other leg out to be the real challenge of performing a solid pistol.

Another variation is to perform them with your secondary leg crossed over the squatting leg. This gives extra stability and is sometimes easier for beginners. However, for those of us with tight hips, this position adds a flexibility challenge that isn’t a concern with the pistol squat. Each variation will be a unique experience on your journey, and a unique challenge to you as an individual. As always, experiment with as many variations as you can. And of course, don’t just sit there reading this–get out there and live it!