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What do most strength coaches and athletes think are the best exercises to build leg strength? You guessed it—the Squat and the Lunge. Both are effective, but for some athletes they may do more harm than good. I'm here to tell you that you don't need equipment or heavy weights strapped to your back to strengthen your lower body.
Performing Squats and Lunges loaded with weight when you can't even handle your own bodyweight, or you lack the mobility needed to perform them properly, is not only impractical but also potentially dangerous. You need to build a solid foundation before you begin adding weight.
The first step in building your foundation is to learn your limits by performing active range of motion tests on your ankles and hips. You should not surpass these limits with Squats and Lunges until you increase strength and body control.
Ankle Range of Motion Test
Flex your feet toward your shins (dorsiflexion) and see if you have a mobility difference in the joints by judging how far your toes are from your shins. To see the real difference, do it barefoot. Your ankles should not surpass this position during the Squat.
Hip Range of Motion Test
Lower into a Bodyweight Squat until your form breaks, you lose balance or you lose control. Do not surpass this position when performing the Squat. You should be able to stop the movement at any point and maintain control.
Beginner Lower Body Foundational Strength Workout
You can increase the intensity of an exercise by adding weight to the movement, but this is not the only way to challenge your body. Below is an effective and risk-free way to build your lower-body foundation in preparation for weight-bearing exercises.
Controlled Bodyweight Squat
Assume athletic stance and squat to the point determined by your Hip Range of Motion Test. A coach or partner can help you by monitoring your range and stopping you when you get to that point. This may seem simple, but you will see that gravity wants to take over and force you into a lower range, where you lose control.
Hold the squat position for 10 seconds—use a stopwatch or have someone count so you don't cheat. Explode out of the Squat as quickly as possible and repeat for specified reps.
Sets/Reps: 1x3-4; rest one to two minutes
Deceleration Bodyweight Squat
Assume athletic stance and drop as quickly as possible into the squat position. Hold for one second, then explode out as quickly as possible. Immediately repeat for specified time. Rest for specified time and perform exercise in a staggered stance, with your right foot forward. Rest and then perform in a staggered stance with your left foot forward.
Sets/Time: 3x60 seconds each position, resting 30-60 seconds between sets
This is the first step to building a strong lower-body foundation. Stay tuned for more workouts that will help you make progressive strength gains and achieve your athletic goals. For more information and training tips, please visit bmeyertraining.com, my YouTube channel and my Vimeo page.
Bryan Meyer is a leading expert in athletic performance coaching and the founder of B Meyer Training in Orlando. In 2005, he became Dwight Howard’s sole performance coach. Other top clients include pro athletes DeAndre Jordan, Kim Glass and Brian Dawkins. Meyer and his training methods have been featured in ESPN, Sports Illustrated and Men’s Health. On a more personal note, through the D-12 Foundation, Meyer makes a personal commitment to influence the lives of children by stressing the importance of education, fitness and health.