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The legs and glutes contain the largest muscles in the body. In addition to the core, improving strength and muscle mass in the lower body creates a stronger and sturdier base for the body. Which is important since we use our legs and glutes to perform every single movement during the day — standing up, sitting down, bending over, walking, even getting out of bed.
Lower-body strength helps us move faster in our cardio activities or recreational sports, improves agility and balance (less trips and falls!), and even makes our everyday movements easier and more efficient.
This is also the time of year that many people are starting to think about short and skirt weather — and wanting to tone up their gams, which will soon be on display. The workout plan that I’ve devised does both: builds a strong base for our everyday movement and tones the legs and glutes.
Generally when we think of the lower-body muscles, we think about the calves, quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes. But there are also smaller muscles, like the ones around the hip, that work in unison with the larger muscles to help you move more effectively. For example, the side of the glute and hip is just as important for strength and stability as is the larger part of the glute in the back of the butt. The most effective way to target all of these muscles is to work them from different angles. And this routine does just that.
30-day lower-body strength training routine
This routine targets the glutes from the sides and the back, and the lower leg muscles are also strengthened by our movements forward, sideways and backward.
This month’s routine is divided into two different series. The first lower-body circuit is done standing, while the second is done on hands and knees. On rest days from training your lower body, I encourage you to get out for a walk or do another cardio exercise of your choice. Not only will this help you burn calories and shed extra weight, if that’s your goal, but moving the legs and glutes will help your body recover and reduce muscle soreness.
Lower body circuit #1
Around the world lunges
Perform a forward lunge with a forward leg lift, followed by a side lunge with a side leg lift, and finally a backward lunge with a backward leg lift. This is one repetition. Perform all reps on the right side first and then switch to the left. We will gradually increase repetitions as the weeks go on.
Week 1: Repeat the circuit 3 times.
Week 2: Repeat the circuit 6 times.
Weeks 3 and 4: Repeat the circuit 8 times.
Here are step-by-step instructions for performing each piece of the move:
Forward lunge with forward leg lift
Starting with your feet as wide as your hips, step your right foot forward into a lunge. Bend your front knee so it’s over your front ankle and keep both knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Then press down through your right foot to come back to center. From here, extend your right leg forward, pointing the toe, and lift the leg up almost as high as the hip while engaging the right quad. Come back to center. This is one rep. Then move on to the next lunge.
- Modification: 2 forward leg lifts. Eliminate the lunge and just do the forward leg lift in place of the lunge. So you’ll be doing 2 forward leg lifts before moving on to the next move.
Side lunge with side leg lift
Starting with your feet as wide as your hips, step your right foot to the right. Bend the right knee and reach the right glute back, sitting into a side lunge. Keep the left leg straight. Press down through the right heel to come back to center, and then extend the right leg out to the side with a straight leg. Lift the leg up almost as high as the hip and then lower it down. This is one rep. Then move on to the next lunge.
- Modification: 2 side leg lifts. Eliminate the side lunge and do the side leg lift in place of the side lunge. So you’ll be doing 2 side leg lifts and then moving on.
Backward lunge with backward leg lift
Standing with your feet as wide as your hips, step your right foot back into a reverse lunge. Lower the right knee down toward the floor and bend the left knee over the left ankle. Press down through the left heel to bring the right leg back to center. Then extend the right leg behind you, squeezing the glute, and lower it down. This is one rep. Then begin again with your next round of around the world lunges.
- Modification: 2 backward leg lifts. Eliminate the backward lunge and do the backward leg lift instead. You’ll be doing 2 leg lifts and then repeat from the top with the forward leg lifts.
Wide leg open toe squat with calf raise
Standing with your feet as wide or wider than your shoulders, turn your toes out. Pull your abs in and bend your knees out to the sides as you lower down into a squat. Keep your back straight and your tailbone reaching down. At the bottom, come up onto your tip toes and balance for one second. Then press the heels back down into the ground and drive up to standing position. Perform 10 reps.
- Modification: 2 wide leg open toe calf raises. Start in the position described above with open toes, open knees and open hips. Instead of doing the squat, simply come up onto the tip toes, then lower down. Do it a second time.
Curtsy lunge with knee raise
Standing with your feet as wide as your shoulders, step your right foot back behind and to the left of your left foot. Bend both knees as you lower down into a lunge in this curtsy position. Then press down through your left heel to bring your right leg back to center. From here, lift your right knee up as high as your hip, and lower it down. This is one rep. Perform 10 reps and then switch sides.
- Modification: 2 knee raises. Standing with your feet as wide as your hips, balance on your left foot as you bring the right knee up toward your waist in front of you. Lower the foot down. Repeat a second time.
Lower body circuit #2
All of these exercises will be performed from your hands and knees. Make sure your shoulders are over your wrists and your hips are over your knees. Pull your naval in toward your spine.
Backward leg lift
Reach your right leg behind you and straighten it. Point the toes. Then lift the leg up as high as your hip, squeezing your right glute, and lower it down. Repeat 10 times and then switch sides.
Side leg lift
Reach your right leg out to the right in line with your hip. Point the toes. Then lift the right leg up as high as your hip, squeezing the side of your right glute, and lower it down. Repeat 10 times and then switch sides.
Backward leg lift into side leg lift
Perform the backward leg lift. After you tap the toes down on the ground, lift the leg up and around to the right so that the leg goes out to the side of the right hip. Perform a side. leg lift and then lift the leg up and back to the backward leg lift position and tap the toes onto the ground. Repeat 10 times and then switch sides.
Lift your right leg until your thigh is parallel with the ground, keeping your knee at a 90-degree angle. Keep your foot flexed and squeeze the glute to reach the foot up as if you’re trying to kick the ceiling with the bottom of your foot. Lower the knee down to the starting position and repeat 10 times.
Keep your knees bent. Lift your right bent leg off of the ground and open it to the right until your knee is hip height. Think about trying to touch something to the right of you with your right knee. Then bring it back to center. Repeat 10 times before switching to your other leg.
Donkey kick into fire hydrant
Perform the donkey kick, reaching the right leg up toward the ceiling. Then once you come back to center, immediately open the right knee up into the fire hydrant. Repeat this 10 times before switching sides.