Exercises to strengthen your lower body

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When making your way through a long run, preparing for a triathlon or simply improving the dynamic ability of your lower legs, strength training should be an intricate part of your weekly regimen. Using these leg exercises will help you run faster, feel stronger and be able to compete at levels you never thought possible. As you start bringing these moves into your workout plans, be sure to keep a watchful eye on how your body responds. Give yourself a few days rest between strength workouts to allow your muscles the necessary time to heal. Remember, rest is just as important as strength exercises in enhancing your muscles.

Choose to do some of these exercises using bodyweight, bands or free weights. If you are new to strength training, use only bodyweight. Proper form is key in making these exercises work for you. Perform the moves only until you feel your form start to falter, then rest.

Planks

This exercise works your core, shoulders, glutes and balance. Prop yourself up on your elbows and toes, while keeping your body in a straight line. Keep both your elbows and feet about hip’s width apart from each other. Be sure that you are tightening your stomach muscles – imagine you are pulling your belly button up to your spine. Pay close attention to your shoulders, hovering them directly over your elbows and keeping them down and back. Hold for upwards of 45 seconds, incrementally lengthening by 15 seconds each week.

Squats

This exercise is essential for working all muscles in your legs and hip flexors. The squat will not only strengthen these muscles, but the constant working of this area will allow your body to build up more glycogen storage in your system, which is necessary for endurance exercise.

The squat form is often more difficult to master than expected. Every day we perform this move when standing from a chair. Unfortunately, our habits typically breed bad form.

Start this move by standing with your feet slightly more than shoulder’s width apart, toes pointed out slightly. Start moving down into the squat by first moving your hips out, keeping an upright torso. Continue to bend at the hips and knees until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Your torso and shins should be at the same angle to the floor (mostly upright with a slight forward tilt). Stand back up and repeat. To add difficulty to this move you can hold a weight between your hands, add a shoulder press as you stand from your squat, or even perform it one leg at a time.

Lunge

Start a lunge standing. Pick a point on the floor in front of you to watch, this will help with your balance. Place your hands on your hips, or hold dumbbells at your sides. Step one leg forward. Keeping your torso upright, lower your body until the rear knee touches the floor (do not rest your knee on the floor, it is best to hover). Lift your body again to standing. You can also lunge stepping to the side or backwards for a change.

Hip extension

The hip extension works muscles that are often ignored in lower body weight training exercises. You can perform this move as a holding bridge, or as a repetitive lift. Start on the ground, face up, with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Lift from the hips until your weight shifts to your shoulders, keeping your entire body between shoulders and feet off of the floor. Hold this position for 30 seconds to a minute, or add a light weight across your hips and lift and lower for 12 reps before resting.

For a fun workout, perform each of these moves in sequence (as a circuit) and repeat after a two minute break. For those who are looking for a little tougher challenge, alternate each strength move with a cardio move like burpees or running during the circuit. This will keep your heart rate elevated for the entirety of the workout.

You may feel sore after you begin strength training. Stretch and massage your muscles to release the lactic acid, and speed along their recovery.

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