Strengthening your lower body is more complex than doing a few Squats. You must train all of your lower-body muscles, including your quads, glutes and hamstrings, along with the smaller muscles that help move and stabilize your legs in every direction.
To work each of these muscles, you need several exercises in your arsenal—those that train for max strength, single-leg strength, stability and even mobility. This approach will make you a more well-rounded athlete and you’ll be less susceptible to injury.
Mike Boyle, co-founder of Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning (Woburn, Massachusetts), recommends the following seven lower-body strength exercises. Integrate them into your program to make your lower-body workouts more effective than ever. Check out the video player above for a demonstration of each exercise.
1. Trap Bar Deadlift
The Trap Bar Deadlift is Boyle’s favorite bilateral (i.e., two-legged) exercise). He likes it even more than the Squat and traditional Deadlift. That’s because it combines the benefits of those two exercises in one move. He says, “You get Squat mechanics with Deadlift benefits. You’ll strengthen your hips and legs, and also build upper-back, lower-back and grip strength. If you want a strong back and thick upper body, then look no further.”
2. Single-Leg Deadlift
This is the single-leg version of the Trap Bar Deadlift, but it’s not designed for lifting heavy weight. It improves single-leg strength and stability. It’s a great variation for anyone who has back pain or difficulty performing a heavy Deadlift. Boyle says, “I can put them in this position for just 10 reps of body weight or with five pounds in each hand and it’s going to fry their legs.”
3. Rear-Foot-Elevated Split Squat
Often referred to as the Bulgarian Split-Squat, this is one of the few single-leg exercises Boyle recommends loading with heavy weight. Because you work one leg at a time, you may actually be able to lift more weight than you could using two legs. Boyle has athletes who can hold two 120-pound dumbbells on this exercise for a total of 240 pounds per leg, but they would have difficulty performing a 400-pound traditional Squat.
RELATED: Dumbbell Split-Squat 101: A How To Guide with Video and Pictures
4. Single-Leg, Straight-Leg Deadlift
This exercise complements the Rear-Foot-Elevated Split-Squat. It’s a hip-dominant move instead of a knee-dominant move, so it focuses more on glute and hamstring development. Again, you can load up the weight, and it’s great for improving core control and balance.
5. Slideboard Lunge
“If I could only do one exercise, this might be the one I’d do,” says Boyle. “Because you’re pulling yourself forward, there’s much more glute and hamstring involvement.” If you don’t have access to a slideboard, you can place your foot on anything that can slide, like a towel on a slick surface or a paper plate on turf.
6. Single-Leg Squat
Sometimes the strongest athletes have difficulty performing this move with just their body weight. Mobility and stability—not a lack of strength—are the culprits. If you add this move to your workout, you’ll be able to better control and stabilize your lower body, which is especially important for preventing ACL injuries.
7. Goblet Squat
The Goblet Squat seems to be everywhere—and for good reason. It’s one of the best ways to teach someone how to Squat. If you can perform this exercise correctly, keeping the dumbbell in contact with your chest and touching your elbows to your thighs, odds are you have decent Squat technique. Boyle provides three progressions of the move, which he says can teach someone proper Squat technique in a single workout. Even for those of you who are experts at Squat variations, this is a good routine to reinforce your technique.
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