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!!!