Lower Body Exercises for the Workout Novice

August 29, 2019

"These are some of the largest and longest muscles in the body, which means that they will burn more calories even after you’re done working out."

Today’s show is another fun and informative segment in Dr. Nancy’s exercise series, this time focusing on the power center — our lower half. The lower body features the biggest muscles in the body including the quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. Watch Dr. Nancy Lin, PhD, demonstrate her Top 5 Lower Body Strength Movements. These effective exercises are for beginners on up, and all of them can be done at home. 

Video Highlights

  • 03:54: Quick Recap of Strength Training
  • 06:25: Endurance and Power
  • 11:13: Lower Body Muscle Groups
  • 13:09: Strength Training With or Without Weights
  • 16:30: Classic Lunges
  • 23:53: Squats
  • 31:45: Glute Bridge
  • 41:26: Wrap-up and Stretches

Today’s episode is for those of you who are new to working out, or maybe you haven’t worked out in a really long time and you want to get back into it, or maybe you’re even recovering from an injury. As always, please check with your primary care physician before embarking on a new workout routine. You want to make sure you get the all-clear! 

As with Dr. Nancy’s upper body episode, we’ll explain what muscles you’re targeting when you do a lower body workout, and some options for you if you don’t have any equipment. Finally, Dr. Nancy will demo her Top 5 favorite lower body moves for any level. 

Quick Recap of Strength Training

  • Doing a strength training workout twice a week is great for posture, balance, heart health, and for increasing bone density and joint flexibility.
  • Strength training can also increase muscle mass, which can help reduce your chances of obesity and help you maintain a healthy weight. 
  • Lifting weights can also help give your mood a boost. As a matter of fact, did you know that strength training can actually help alleviate symptoms associated with anxiety and depression? One study found that people suffering from depression saw a reduction in symptoms over those people who don’t lift weights. 
  • And to help with recovery, soreness and joints remember to take your Smarter Curcumin each day, to reduce the inflammation associated with a hard workout.

Strength training’s ability to alleviate symptoms of depression also works to reduce the risk of cardiovascular-related deaths, since coronary heart disease, heart attack, and other cardiovascular diseases are the leading causes of death in those dealing with depressive disorders. 

Endurance and Power

Strength training will also help improve endurance and power. Lifting weights for any length of time is guaranteed to make you stronger, but being able to lift weights over a longer period of time will help build endurance. Endurance is important because it will help move you through the tasks associated with your daily life like bringing in the groceries or the trash cans, carrying something heavy from one room to the next, or being able to carry a child. Endurance helps you tap into your strength reserves when you’re tired and gives you what you need to push through. 

As we age, we lose strength, but did you know that you lose even more power? In fact, you lose at a faster rate than you lose strength.

What do we mean by power?

Here’s a good analogy to illustrate what we mean. When you’re faced with having to cross four lanes of traffic, it’s strength that gives you the ability to complete the task. 

Power gives you the ability to cross that street before the light changes. 

This is especially true when you’re working your lower half because it features some of the biggest muscles in the entire body. 

Lower Body Muscle Groups

The major muscles that constitute “the lower body” are:

  • Quadriceps
  • Calves
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes

These four are actually muscle groups, and within those groups are a number of other, smaller muscles. In addition to being some of the largest muscles within the body, the muscles of the lower half are also some of the longest, meaning they can stretch a lot. These muscles are our movers, but they also help keep you stabilized and balanced. 

Did you know that the glutes are considered the strongest muscle in the entire body? 

Strength Training With or Without Weights

The great thing about the exercises we’re going to show you today is that weights are optional. On their own, especially as a beginner, you don’t need to use any weights at all. If you start doing the exercises and they feel too easy for you, grab a weight. 

Keep in mind, because we’re working with some of the larger muscles of the body, chances are good you’ll be able to handle some heavier weight. Opt for a resistance load that feels like an effort to complete every rep but not impossible. You want to feel like you couldn’t possibly do one more by the time you’re done. 

If you don’t have weights or aren’t sure you’re ready to make the commitment and go out and buy some, that’s perfectly okay. Here are a few household options you can use:

  • A bag of oranges, onions, or apples is equivalent to a 3-pound weight
  • You could use a 4-pound bag of pet food or a medium-sized pumpkin to replicate a 4 pound weight
  • A large bag of rice can be used in place of 5-pound weights
  • A gallon bottle of water can substitute an 8-pound weight, 
  • For 10 pounds, either double up on the bags of rice or grab for a large bottle of laundry detergent. 

Top 5 Lower Body Movements

Lunges

Lunges are one of the best ways to tone your legs and glutes. Plus, they challenge your balance a bit. 

  • Standing nice and tall with the tailbone tucked and the core engaged, step your right foot forward about three feet in front of you if you can. 
  • Keep both feet pointing straight ahead – try not to let your toes wing out or pigeon-toe in. 
  • You can place your hands on your hips or down at your sides or even clasp them in front of you – whatever’s comfortable. 
  • Draw your shoulder blades together slightly and keep the crown of the head lifting toward the ceiling. 
  • Lower your back knee as far as you can – your goal is to one day get it about an inch off the ground. Don’t worry if today is not that day!
  • Come back up and repeat that 8 to 10 times. Repeat on the other side with the left foot forward and the right foot back (or alternate as you go).

If you have knee pain, or some kind of discomfort that prevents you from completing a lunge, there are a couple of things you can do. 

  • Try starting with your hand against a wall or chair for balance. 
  • Start with your legs already split, one leg forward and the other back, and lower yourself into the lunge instead of stepping forward, then lift yourself back up.
  • If moving in and out of the lunge is too difficult, lower yourself into the lunge and hold that position. Repeat on the other side.
  • Make sure to keep your knee in line with your ankle, and don’t let it protrude over your foot.
  • If holding the position feels good, try bouncing slightly for a few pulses.

Another way to do this position is by stepping backward into the lunge instead of forward. This is a Reverse lunge.

  • Start with both feet together, and then step one foot back, keeping your weight on the front leg.
  • Pause at the top as you switch legs, and then step back on the other side.

Once you’ve worked your way up to the classic lunge and feel good about it, move on to walking lunges. 

  • Use the same movements as the classic lunge, but instead of stepping backward and repeating on the other side, move immediately forward with your other leg so that you’re essentially walking forward, with each step as a lunge.
  • You can lunge walk around the room or down the block and back this way.
  • Remember to keep your shoulders back and your back straight.

Once walking lunges feel good, add another layer by holding weights (or laundry detergent) as you do them. So you are constantly building on your foundation as your strength increases.

Keep going until you can’t do anymore… and then do one more!

Squats

Another classic lower body move, squats are the number one exercise people use for lower body strength. Do these in front of a mirror so you can check your alignment and posture.

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes slightly turned out. 
  • Bend your knees and sink your hips, almost as if you’re sitting in a chair. 
  • Try to keep weight more in your heels and your back straight – like you’re sliding down an imaginary wall. 
  • Come back up and repeat, doing 12 reps.
  • You can stay down and do small pulses if you like 

If that seems too easy, you do have the option to turn this into what’s called a Goblet Squat. For that, you would just hold one weight either chest high or down in front of you and do your squats. If you’re holding a weight, it’s really important to keep the shoulders back and the arms plugged into their sockets.  

Lateral Lunges 

For these, we do recommend you grab a weight in each hand. They don’t have to be heavy – anywhere from 3 to 8 pounds. 

  • Standing up nice and tall with the core engaged, shoulders back, feet apart just as when you were doing squats, and you’re going to take a big side-step to the right. As soon as your right foot touches down, hinge forward at the hips – keeping the back nice and straight – and push your booty back.
  • Bend your right knee, lowering into this side lunge position.
  • The weights should frame that right foot. 
  • Come back up to start and do 8 to 12 reps before repeating on the left side. 

When that feels good, do the same thing, but starting with your feet together instead of in the squat position. Do this 12 times on each side and switch the other side, or alternate from side to side.

When that becomes easy, that’s when you add weights. Try to also increase the depth and range of motion. 

But if you feel pain in your knee, or pain that’s sharp or beyond what would be considered normal for exercising, don’t push it too far. Pause, and modify if necessary. Try just doing shallower lunges from side to side.

Glute Bridge 

The glute bridge looks very similar to Bridge Pose in yoga, and is an excellent pose for working the hamstrings, inner thighs, and glutes.

  • Come down onto your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor. You want your feet to be hip-width apart – no wider, no narrower. 
  • Place your arms down at your sides and stare straight up at the ceiling – try not to move your head side to side once you come up, you can hurt your neck. Only lift as high as you can… don’t strain your body.
  • Using your heels, lift the hips, squeezing the glutes as you come up. Hold at the top for a second or two and lower down, one vertebra at a time until your seat is the last to touch down. 
  • Repeat 8 to 12 more times.

If this is easy, modify by lifting one leg straight up. Hold for a second, then lower and switch to the other side. 

Lateral Walk

You can do this with or without a resistance band. If you use a resistance band, place it around your thighs or shins.

  • Place your feet hip-width apart.
  • Get a slight bend going in your knees, hinging forward slightly in the hips. You don’t want to be in a full squat here, just a baby squat. 
  • What I want you to do, is take two or three step to the right, trying to keep your feet hip distance apart the whole time, and then take two or three steps to the left. You’ll really start to feel this in your outer thighs. 
  • Think you can do this for 30 seconds? I know you can. Ready? Go!
  • If you have one of the larger loops, place it under the balls of the feet, criss-cross it above the arches and take hold, making sure you feel tension. Then you want to maintain that tension as you take your steps right and left.
  • If that’s hard, hold onto a chair, maintain the baby squat, and do little pulses up and down.

Don't Forget to Stretch

Okay, we need to stretch that lower half before I wrap things up for today. 

Take your right foot in your right hand, bending at the knee to stretch out the quads. If your balance is a little wonky, use a wall or a chair for support, or you can grab onto your left ear. It’s sounds a little wacky but it works! Switch sides. 

Move into a forward fold by tucking the chin and rolling slowly down as far as you can – don’t worry if you can’t reach the floor. Hold onto your shins for support. You want to feel this in the low back and the hamstrings, especially. 

Wrap-Up

Today’s show was all about your lower half — your power center which includes the glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves. These are some of the largest and longest muscles in the body, which means that they will burn more calories even after you’re done working out. 

The muscles we worked today are also the ones responsible for stability and motion. 

You should aim to integrate a strength-training routine into your overall workout routine about two times a week, and when you do, you’ll reap benefits like:

In addition to feel better and stronger, I talked about the importance of building endurance and power because power, especially, is something that decreases at a much faster rate than strength does. And remember, working out is essential for your health, but so is ensuring you have the proper vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to recover from your workouts — So remember to take your Smarter Nutrition Multivitamin every day. Smarter Nutrition is the only supplier on the market that source their essential minerals and most of their vitamins from real food sources, in their most bioavailable and effective form. 

Endurance provides you with the ability to do a certain task for a longer amount of time, while power gives you the ability to perform that task at a quicker rate. 

The bottom line is: strength training is amazing for your overall health!

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