I may be in the minority, but I am one of those who LOVES leg day! Insert obligatory “day after leg day” meme here.
As you may know, I refuse to have a gym membership. For me, it’s a waste of money as I always find an excuse not to get in the car. Having my own home gym forces me “own it” and not make excuses. I always listen to my body and if I don’t have the energy for an intense weight-lifting session, I choose not to do so to avoid an injury.
Last weekend I fiiiiiinally got a treadmill! Granted, it’s a few years old and it only cost me $50, but it WORKS! I have been walking for 20-30 minutes at an incline in the 4% to 7% grade range at about 3mph as a warm-up before every training session. As an endomorph, I must do cardio in order to reach my fitness goals and walking is one of the least intense forms of cardio out there. Yay walking!
Over the past ten months I’ve learned how to do new exercises, even some that seemed daunting until I actually tried them. Here’s a list of a few of my favorite moves.
The Best Lower Body Exercises for Home Workouts
1. Resistance-Band Glute Bridges
Targets: glutes, hamstrings..
I recently learned about glute activation and how important it for muscle balance and proper form in weight-lifting. Ever since I’ve done glute activation exercises, weight-lifting has changed for the better. Resistance band fire hydrants, resistance band squats and resistance band crab walks work not only lauded as great standalone booty workouts, but they are also phenomenal as warm-ups for leg day and glute activation.
While this is technically considered a glutes activation exercise and can be used as a warm-up, I find doing these also serve as a mid-workout ‘reminder’ to the glutes.
Start by placing the mini resistance band above your knees. Then lie down on your back, bend your knees, and place your feet hip-width apart. Push up through your heels, as if trying to make a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Squeeze your glutes and hold at the top. Concentrate on feeling your glutes work. Don’t just go through the motions. Actually think about the muscles that should be working! Make sure that your knees aren’t caving in or falling open.
To make this more challenging, you can elevate your feet on a bench for extra burn.
2. Barbell Sumo Squats
Targets: quadriceps, abs, glutes, calves and hamstrings.
This exercise never fails to make me feel like an Olympian champion after I complete my sets. I practically feel the ichor flowing through my veins. The barbell sumo squat targets the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes.
This one is pretty self-explanatory. The key with this exercise is to:
- stand with your feet far apart
- point your toes out
- use a barbell pad to protect your shoulders
- make sure your knees do not go past your toes
- squat down so your thighs are parallel to the floor
I’ll admit I can only go so heavy with this exercise because I do not have a squat rack. For those who don’t know, a squat rack is designed so you can lay the barbell at shoulder height, add the necessary bar plates, and safely place the barbell across your back without having to raise it over your head. I can safely lift 68lbs over my head, but any heavier would require the help of my husband or a squat rack.
3. Barbell Hip Thrust
Targets: glutes, calves and hamstrings.
If there is one exercise that you MUST do to grow the peach, this is it. Considered the holy grail of glute exercises, done correctly you will be sore the next day. Unfortunately, this move is one of the most embarrassing exercises you can do at the gym and many women report getting strange looks, but since it hits all of the three gluteal muscles don’t let this deter you!
Load your barbell with weights heavy enough for you (trial and error will determine this). Sit in front of a bench with your shoulders touching the edge of the bench. Roll the barbell over your knees until it is right above your lap. Make sure you use a barbell pad!
Holding onto the barbell, and using your elbows to help you, push through your heels enough to raise your torso so that the bottom edge of your shoulder blades are resting on the edge of the bench. Your knees should be bent at a 90 degree angle, and your heels firmly planted on the floor.
Hinge your hips to raise them towards the ceiling while keeping your spin in a neutral position. Keep looking straight ahead despite your torso facing upright, so that your chin is tucked under. There should be no movement in your neck.
Once your hips reach the top, squeeze your glutes and hold for a second. Release, and lower your hips back to the starting position. This is one rep.
4. Bulgarian Split Squats
Targets: quadriceps, calves, glutes and hamstrings.
These. Are. Killer.
I’m not sure how these were labeled Bulgarian Split Squats. Maybe the Bulgarians have killer legs ;) My quads and glutes definitely feel the burn with this one!
Start by standing in front of a bench or plyo box with your legs hip-width apart. “Split” your stance by placing your right foot in front and your back left foot elevated on the bench.
While keeping your torso upright, lower your back knee while keeping your front heel on the ground. Make sure to transfer your weight onto your right heel and not your right knee to avoid injury.
Once your back (left) knee reaches close to the floor, straighten your front knee and hips by pushing through your right heel back to starting position. This is one rep. Finish your reps for your right side. Repeat with the opposite side.
5. Barbell Deadlifts
Targets: hamstrings, calves, glutes, and lower back.
This move right here primarily targets your hammies, or the hamstrings. Those are the nice rounded muscles on the back of your thighs right below the glutes. Many women report seeing a reduction of cellulite on the back of their thighs, so definitely don’t be afraid of building muscle mass back there!
You can use a barbell or dumbbells for this move. I alternate between the two, but I find that my hands aren’t as tired when the weight is more evenly distributed along a barbell. No matter which route you go, start with the barbell or dumbbells an inch away from your shins and brace your core to maintain a neutral spine.
Hinge your hips backward until you are able to grab the barbell.
Push through your heels as you extend your hips until your torso is upright and the barbell is resting on your thigh.
Keep your knees slightly bent as you extend your hips backward to lower the barbell to the ground.
Once you reach the point where you can no longer keep a neutral spine, return to the starting upright position. That is one rep.
6. Dumbbell Step-Ups
Targets: quadriceps, calves, glutes, hamstrings,.
Last, but not least, are the dumbbell step-ups. Like most of the previous exercises in this list, you must take care in pushing through your heels to prevent injury.
Grab your weights and stand 3-6″ in front of a bench or plyo box. Shift your weight into your left leg in order to place your right foot on the bench.
Keeping your torso upright, shift your weight into your right heel as you push your entire body up on the bench and plant your left foot on the bench. Return back to starting position by reversing the steps back to the ground.
There you have ’em! These moves will definitely be felt the next day, so be sure to stretch afterwards (and the following day, too!). Also be sure to check out the Special K Protein Bites on your next trip to the store. I like these little morsels of protein because, not only do they help me keep up on leg day, but they are also delicious!
These resealable packages are perfect to throw in your gym bag (if you travel to a gym), and with 9g of protein per serving, it is the perfect snack on the go. I like to stock my pantry with these for whenever I feel a snack attack coming on. It’s an easy way to steer away from unhealthy junk food while still getting in some protein.
How do you own it?