Sculpt knockout legs in five simple moves.
BY ANNA McMANAMEY | PHOTOGRAPHY BY DALLAS OLSEN
Gone are the days where thigh gaps and pancake butts are all the rage. Skinny is out, strong is in, and the new goal for modern female lifters is rounder, tighter glutes and defined, statuesque legs to go with them. Easier said than done, right? Wrong.
Developing a strong, shapely lower body doesn’t have to be complicated. In my experience, some of the best exercises are among the most basic.
Take the squat, for example. Despite its simplicity, this movement activates a large number of muscle fibres, including the quads, hamstrings, glutes, lower back, abdominals, adductors, abductors and, to a lesser extent, the calves. Even one-legged motions such as lunges will recruit smaller, stabilising muscles that will improve your balance and performance of day-to-day activities.
By focusing on compound movements such as these, you will not only achieve better muscle growth, but also burn more calories, putting you well on track to building those lean, athletic legs you yearn for.
These three workout plans, consisting of five basic moves, will hit your entire lower body: quads, hammies, glutes and, although you’re not going to directly train them, your calves will get a lot of indirect action too. Incorporating a variety of weights and rep ranges up to three times per week will provide you with enough stimulus to transform your lower body from tush to toe.
Dumbbell squat with heels elevated
Set-up: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes slightly turned out and your heels elevated on two weight plates. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing inward.
Action: Keeping your back straight and abs braced, squat until your hips are parallel to the floor. To stand back up, press through your heels and push your knees out so they do not cave inward.
Tip: Raising the heels increases the depth of the squat, allowing for better glute and hamstring activation. This is a great alternative for those who cannot perform standard squats due to poor hip flexibility.
Lunge with static bicep curl
Set-up: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand by your sides (palms face inward). Step forward into a lunge, keeping the torso upright, until your back knee hovers just above the floor.
Action: Holding the lunge position, bend at the elbows and lift the dumbbells to your shoulders, palms facing inward. Push up by distributing your weight evenly between the heel of your front foot and toes of your back foot, holding the dumbbells at your shoulders. Lower back into the lunge and repeat for reps on both legs.
Tip: Ensure your front knee stays in line with your middle two toes and maintains a 90-degree angle. Do not push your front knee forward.
Set-up: Holding a dumbbell in each hand, palms inward, place your right foot on to a bench, keeping the left foot planted firmly on the ground.
Action: Step up on to the bench, driving through the right heel. Bring your left leg up so that your toe taps the bench, but do not rest tension on the left foot. Return to starting position, keeping your right foot on the bench. Repeat for reps on both legs.
Tip: Focus on using mostly the working leg during the movement, and avoid providing too much assistance or ‘bounce’ from the non-working leg.
Barbell hack squat
Set-up: Hold a barbell just behind your legs, shoulder-width apart, with an overhand grip (palms facing backward). Position your feet shoulder-width apart.
Action: Keeping your back straight and abs braced, squat until your hips are parallel to the floor. Press through your heels and squeeze your thighs to stand back up.
Tip: Like the dumbbell squat, this exercise can also be performed with the heels slightly elevated. This is a good option for beginners and those who lack flexibility.
Set-up: Begin by standing in a narrow stance (feet hip-width) with your toes pointed straight ahead. Position the bar so it is centred over your feet.
Action: Bend at the hip and grip the bar at shoulder-width. A double overhand grip or mixed grip can be used if going heavy. Keeping your chest up and spine neutral, drive through your heels and raise the barbell, making sure the bar skims your body throughout the entire movement. Rise to full extension, stand tall and squeeze your glutes to push your hips forward to lockout. Lower the bar by sitting back, maintaining a neutral spine and keeping the bar close to your body.
Tip: Your lower back will want to round and your hips tilt rearward — don’t let this happen! Lower the weight if you must and focus on maintaining perfect form to avoid injury.