Elements of a Great Workout: Lower Body Strength

Okay okay okay, it’s been a while since I touched base but I am alive and well and ready to talk about those legs!!!  Who’s a fan of the legs??? 

These powerhouse muscles that help us move every single day are amazing. And we know it especially after we did too many squats the day before.  We take them for granted because they are soooooo dependable. 

We know having strong legs will not only carry us today but for many years to come.   There are so many advantages to having a strong lower body.  Below are just some examples. 

Positives to Lower Body Strength Training:

  • Being able to hike up a hill/mountain
  • Walk or run for miles
  • Pick something off the floor by squatting (not bending over)
  • Day to day activities
  • Go from point A to point B
  • Walk to a gas station when you run out of gas (Oops)
  • Chasing a toddler around a table for hours (or so it seems) 😉
  • Stand for long periods of time
  • Burn more fuel/calories while resting because of the extra muscle**

**Side Note: I know I mentioned the point of “burning more fuel while resting” last time for positives of upper body strength training, but this is true for all types of strength training and all muscles.  Muscles take more fuel to stay alive, so by building them up with strength training you are also increasing your metabolism and fat burning power.  This isn’t to say that this is the only reason to workout because working out is so much more than that.  It is a way to relieve stress, gain confidence and take ownership of your “me” time.   So let’s not get caught up in the ‘losing weight game” because it is a fickle game.  Just keep in the back of your mind that building muscle ignites an internal fire that can help you on your journey. 

Alright moving on from my little rant…

What muscles do the lower body consist of and what exercises strengthen them?

Here are the different leg areas:

  • Upper legs and bum
  • Inner and outer thighs
  • Calves and shins

We have the top part of the legs and bum consisting of the quadriceps or front part (quads), hamstrings or back part (hammies) and the gluteals or bum (gluteus maximus, medius and minimus or altogether the “glutes” ).  We also have the adductor (inner thighs) and the abductor muscles (outer thighs).  Then the bottom part of the legs are the gastrocnemius and soleus or back part (calf muscles), and anterior tibialis or front part (shin muscles).  Of course this is not an exhaustive list of all the leg muscles because one, we don’t have all day and two, we want to focus our efforts on the major ones for the time being.

Next let’s look at opposing muscle groups and exercises we can perform to keep balanced.  

Some cool things about the legs are that a single exercise can work both opposing muscle groups.  For example the squat and forward lunge work both the quads and the opposing groups of the hammies and glutes (particularly the maximus). I love how we can get muscle engagement from a single move!  But, let’s move on quickly so you don’t notice my nerdy side. Next we have the inner and outer thighs which oppose each other.  Sumo squats and side lunges work the inner thighs while fire hydrants and clam shells work the outer thighs and glutes (particularly the medius).  Then we have the calves and shin muscles to contend with.  Heel or calf raises work… wait for it… the calves and flexing the foot or pointing toes toward your body with resistance of some sort works the shins (try resistance bands here).  I know it might sound silly to work your shins and I thought the same thing too.  We’ve all heard about calf raises and working those calves, but I haven’t heard a ton about working the opposing muscle.  Doesn’t that seem odd to you?  It does to me now that I think about it.  I’ve also read and looked up how strengthening the shin can help with shin splints.  I don’t frequently run so I don’t experience this, but it makes since that having an imbalance in muscle strengths could cause injury or pain/discomfort in the area of imbalance.  So let’s work on balancing our body. 

Here’s a recap with bullet points for my analytic peeps:

  • Squat & Forward Lunge (Quads)
  • Squat & Forward Lunge (Hammies & Glute Max)
  • Sumo Squat & Side Lunge (Adductors/Inner Thighs)
  • Fire Hydrant & Clam Shell (Glute Med & Abductors/Outer Thighs)
  • Calf Raise of any form (Calves)
  • Foot Flexing of any form (Shins)

Now that’s the calm version of pairing muscles to their exercise, but see below for the more involved version where I dive deeper into exercises that work more than one major muscle group.  Did I mention the legs are complex???

  • Quads, Hammies & Glutes:
    • Squat & Front Lunge – Glute Max, Hammies, Quads & Calves
  • Adductors/Inner Thighs:
    • Sumo Squat & Side Lunge – Glute Max, Hammies, Quads, Calves & Adductors
  • Abductors/Outer Thighs:
    • Fire Hydrant & Clam Shell – Glute Med, Glute Min & Abductors
  • Calves:
    • Calf Raise – mainly Calves
  • Shins:
    • Foot Flex – mainly Shins

So basically what we’ve learned is work the whole leg and not just certain parts.  The legs are very complex in the way they move, but if we break it down and think about working opposing muscles, it’s more manageable. 

What are YOUR favorite reasons to work the lower body?  I’d love to hear them in the comments.  Come on, don’t be shy!  We would love to hear them.

Next time, we are going to discuss the core and why its important to incorporate moves to strengthen them in your next workout.  Spoiler, you might already be doing this!!!

Elements of a Great Workout: Upper Body Strength

Alright, does anyone out there have something they avoid? 


Oh is it just me?  Oh well, in that case I’ll just be honest right now and say upper body strength training isn’t something I gravitate towards.  Some upper body exercises come easier than others, but for the most part my muscles (or brain) tend to tire out quickly.  Sure, I could concentrate more on those since I need more work, but it’s just not something I’m naturally good at and with that, I tend to not focus on it.  On the flip side, where you most struggle and avoid is an area of most potential and growth.  How crazy is that?  I wouldn’t have to put too much effort into it, just a little more than I currently am.  It’s just that first hurdle to get past – STARTING!!!!

Okay let’s dive in.

So what are so positives to working out the upper body?  We have to start with motivation, otherwise, WHAT’S THE POINT???? 

Positives to upper body strength training:

  • Lift heavier things (like growing kiddos or pets)
  • Carry all the groceries in one trip
  • More defined upper body (say arms, back, shoulders, chest or All Of Them!)
  • Sit up straighter (partly from upper body and partly from core)
  • Challenging partner in a push-up contest and win!! (okay I’m not here yet, but one day)
  • Help move a friend and lift the heavy things 😉
  • Burn more fuel/calories while resting because of the extra muscle (heck yes!!) **

**Side note:  It takes more fuel/calories to keep muscles strong than to keep fat around.  So if you have more muscle on your body, it is burning more fuel/calories even at rest = higher metabolism.  This right here is something that keeps me coming back to strength training.  The fact that if I have more muscle, my body will need more fuel to keep going than if I didn’t have as much muscle.  And who doesn’t like to eat? 

Okay back to the topic at hand!  So now that we’ve listed some pros to training our upper body, let’s discuss how to go about it in a smart way.

When wanting to workout any muscles, we want to do so in a way that keeps us balanced and doesn’t introduce more imbalance than what we might already have.  So what does that mean?  We want to work muscles in opposition so one muscle group doesn’t get too strong and the opposing muscle weaker.  This could cause discomfort, pain or injury and personally I’d like to avoid all of that.

To get to the meat of it, here are the major areas of the upper body:

  • Arms & Shoulders
  • Back & Chest

When planning a workout, I think about how can I incorporate some, if not all of the major areas.  Let’s start with arms.  Everyone knows about the biceps and that fateful bicep or hammer curl, but did you know that the triceps need strengthened too?  The triceps can be worked by doing an overhead extension or bench dip.  These two oppose each other and help keep the upper arm balanced. Next let’s take the chest or the pectoralis/pecs as some people refer to them. These muscles get worked from doing pushups or bench presses.  To balance that out we would need to focus on the upper back or more specifically the trapezius/traps and rhomboids with a reverse fly or horizontal row.  Now let’s move on to the shoulders or deltoids/delts which are the movers for the front or side raises.  To balance out, we can incorporate movements from the mid-back or the latissimus dorsi/lats with bent over rows or lat pull-downs. 

For those of you who enjoy bullet points (my kind of peeps!), here’s a sample list of exercises one could incorporate in a workout and hit the major upper body muscle groups:

  • Bicep & Hammer Curl (Biceps)
  • Overhead Extension & Bench Dip (Triceps)
  • Pushup & Bench Press (Pecs)
  • Reverse Fly & Horizontal Row (Traps & Rhomboids)
  • Front & Side Raise (Delts)
  • Bent-over Row & Lat Pull-down (Lats)

To muddy the waters just a bit, some of the exercises I mentioned don’t just work one major muscle, they incorporate multiple ones in one movement.   But I wanted to simplify it to make it manageable, so I listed each exercise with one major muscle.  Sometimes it’s good to simplify things or we wind up in a worm hole and never get out. 

Speaking of worm holes, for my fellow nerds who want to know more, see below on some moves that have more than one major muscle.  For those who don’t care as much, you may skip this next part. 

  • Bicep:
    • Bicep Curl & Hammer Curl – mainly the Bicep
  • Tricep:
    • Overhead Extension – mainly the Tricep
    • Bench Dip – Triceps, Pecs & Anterior Delts (Front of Shoulder)
  • Pecs:
    • Pushup & Bench Press- Pecs, Anterior Delts (Front of Shoulder) & Triceps
  • Traps & Rhomboids:
    • Reverse Fly – Traps, Rhomboids & Posterior Delts (Back of Shoulder)
    • Horizontal Row –  Traps, Rhomboids, Posterior Delts (Back of Shoulder) & Biceps
  • Delts:
    • Front Raises – Anterior Delts (Front of Shoulder) & Pecs
    • Side Raises – Medial Delts (Side of Shoulder) & Traps
  • Lats:
    • Bent-over Rows – Lats, Pecs, & Biceps
    • Lat Pull-down – Lats, Pecs, Rhomboids & Biceps

[Stepping out of the worm hole…]

How do you feel?  Like in a fog?  Me too.  So many details and so little time, but thanks for joining me on this journey.  Today we got stronger intellectually as well as physically! 

Tune in next week for another great element to your workout: Lower Body Strength!