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What Needs To Be In Your Lower Body Training

In this blog, we will dive into rounding everything out and giving you that full balanced physique.

If you want to read about the upper body click HERE.

Training your entire body will help with your appearance, but it will also make you stronger and decrease common aches and pain, and even potentially lower your injury risk.

It’s far too common for people to skip over legs, men in particular.

If you dont care about growing your legs, that is one thing, and you can focus on mostly upper body, or vice versa.

However, its important to hit the basics for your legs. Again, not only for appearance but this will help with lowering your injury risk and can help with common aches and pains.

Some common issues I see someone make:

a.) only train upper body
b.) only train their quads and neglect things like their hamstrings and glutes
.

c.) think that one movement pattern (i.e. squats) is all you need for leg development.

You want to make sure at the very least you are hitting your basics when it comes to lower body training.

Dont be that guy or gal (albeit less common with females) walking around with massive arms and a massive chest and then you have bird legs. It is NOT a good look.

With the lower body there are 2 basic movement patterns that SHOULD be in every lower body program and then there are 2 patterns that would help with overall development, but aren’t necessary based on time.

Then there are 3 other movements that you can include based on time and goals.

Lets dive in.

Main Movements

The 2 main movements patterns are:

The goal is to pick at least 1-2 exercises from these 2 movement patterns and program them into your routine based on your goals and time.

Squat

The squat pattern is a knee dominant movement pattern that you have been doing for your entire life and will continue to do.

You do this every time you have to stand up.

Yet, it is commonly neglected when it comes to weight training. This is a big mistake.

Common exercises programmed for online clients:

Back squat (heel elevated is solid too)


Leg Press (feet lower on platform to hit the quads)
Hack squat

Pendulum Squat

Belt squat

There are many other variations of squats you can do, however, I find these to be the best for strength, muscle development, practicality, and translation to everyday activity.

The downside to squat patterns is that it does not effectively hit the rectus femoris and the hamstrings (Kubo et al., 2019, Zabaleta-Korta et al., 2021 ) . Because of that, we will need to make sure those muscle groups are hit. A squat pattern will hit the glutes somewhat.

They are a great lower body exercise, but for maximal muscle development they arent the only thing.

Hip Hinge:

This is the MOST neglected movement pattern in the gym and everywhere. Its probably the most unnatural one, therefore most people get it wrong so they end up not doing it.

The hip hinge is a hip-dominant movement pattern, not knee dominant.

This movement is super important because it loads the posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes, erector spinae, etc.).

If people spent time learning the hip hinge movement and progressively loading it, a LOT of low back pain would go away. Im not a physical therapist, chiropractor, or doctor, so that is just my opinion and I don’t have the education on pain like they do, but im sure a lot would agree with me.

For an optimal hinge:

-Feet straight forward, hip to shoulder width apart
-Knees slightly bent, never locked out
-Push hips back, lean forward, shift weight slightly to heels
-Shins should be relatively vertical (knees don’t move forward)
-Flat back from start to finish
-Will feel stretch in hamstrings if pelvis is in proper position
-Felt in lower back if in a bad position

A great coaching cue is thinking about shutting a door behind you with your glutes if you cant use your hands.

Common exercises programmed for online clients:

Dumbbell Romanian deadlift
Barbell Romanian deadlift
Stiff leg deadlift


Single leg assisted DB RDL.
Barbell good morning
Dumbbell good morning.

Another reason the hip hinge is important is that it will hit your glutes as well. Let’s be honest, a nice set of glutes are very aesthetically pleasing. Saggy/weak glutes can be a sign of a ton of imbalances and probably low back pain.

However, the hip hinge does not do a great job at hitting the short head of the biceps femoris. Because of that it might be a good idea to include some hamstring curls (more on this later).

Movement Patterns to Include Based on Time and Goals

Knee Extension

The common exercise here is leg extension, but you can also throw in things like a sissy squat.

This will hit the rectus femoris which does NOT get hit in your squat pattern. This will help with overall quad development. You can go without it, but its smart to include it in your programming.

Knee Flexion

Knee flexion would be something like a lying or seated leg curl. Again this can be a great way to further develop your hamstrings because as we found out earlier, hip hinges do not hit the short head of the bicep femoris.

So it would be smart to include some sort of leg curl. A study found that the seated leg curl was more effective at building muscle in the hamstrings than the lying leg curl (Maeo, 2021).

Lunge/Single Leg

Single leg strength is important since there will be many times you are in some sort of position that requires single-leg strength. Not to mention this will make your legs stronger overall.

Every time we walk, run, change direction, jump off 1 leg, or walk upstairs we perform variations of this movement.

Common exercises programmed for online clients:

Walking lunges
Weighted Walking lunges
Split squat
Weighted split squats

Just like with the hip hinge, doing single leg work can get you pretty sore with small amounts. So caution on the lower side of sets and weight when starting out.

The thing with single leg work is that you could make the arguemnt that it can be considered a squat pattern as well, so it can kill two birds with one stone.

I still would use this as a seperate movement.

Hip Extension (glute stuff)

Think of this as any glute dominant exercise. Working on building strength in your glutes can help with low back pain AND a nice pair of glutes are aesthetically pleasing.

Common glute exercises programmed for online clients:

Glute bridge
Single leg glute bridge
DB hip thrust
Barbell hip thrust

Glute kickbacks

Calf Isolation

If you want to improve your calves then it’s important you train them. I prefer a straight leg calf raise (where you are standing) as your main calf movement, but you can throw in some bent knee raises (think seated calf raise) for overall development if you arent happy with your calves by going just straight leg.

PROGRAMMING

These are the basic exercises of your leg training routine. If you are short on time, doing the 2 main movement patterns will be a GREAT foundation and will get you fantastic results.

Just to go over, there 2 movements patterns that must be in your leg trainig.

Lower:

Squat pattern
Hip Hinge

3-8 sets on each main movement pattern per week is a great starting point.

For example, you could do 6 sets of back squat and then 3 sets of hack squat. Then 3 sets of hip hinge for the week. I would do less for hip hinges because they tend to cause more damage and soreness.

From there you can do 3-6 sets for the other 4 movements based on your time and goals.

For example, if you have the time, youll want to add in knee flexion and knee extension.

If you want to also improve your glutes, then maybe youll throw in 3 sets of glute work on top of it.

I find that a 4 day split seems to be best for most people, but you can do anywhere from 3-6 per week.

I hope this helps you program for your upper body and lower body to give you a more balanced physique.

If you have any more questions on this topic send me a message on Instagram @Jeffh91_ .

If you are looking to change your physique or improve your gym performance download my free Ebook “Nutrition for Performance and Aesthetics” here.

If you are interested in learning more about my 1:1 online coaching service click HERE.

References:

Kubo, K., Ikebukuro, T., & Yata, H. (2019). Effects of squat training with different depths on lower limb muscle volumes. European journal of applied physiology, 119(9), 1933–1942. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-019-04181-y

Zabaleta-Korta, A., Fernández-Peña, E., Torres-Unda, J., Garbisu-Hualde, A., & Santos-Concejero, J. (2021). The role of exercise selection in regional Muscle Hypertrophy: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of sports sciences, 39(20), 2298–2304. https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2021.1929736

Maeo, S., Huang, M., Wu, Y., Sakurai, H., Kusagawa, Y., Sugiyama, T., Kanehisa, H., & Isaka, T. (2021). Greater Hamstrings Muscle Hypertrophy but Similar Damage Protection after Training at Long versus Short Muscle Lengths. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 53(4), 825–837. https://doi.org/10.1249/MSS.0000000000002523

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