our leg workout should be more than just heavy loaded structural barbell moves. As good as they are at building muscle and strength, back squats and deadlifts alone won’t cut it if you’re looking to develop a truly balanced body. You cant just smash your glutes and quads all the time—you need to include accessory exercises, too.
Trainer Charlee Atkins, C.S.C.S. knows that, and that her busy clients are much more likely to be able to take on circuit workouts that only require one piece of equipment and some space to move around. She designed this lower body blaster to focus on the overlooked muscles (think hamstrings, adductors and abductors, and general stability and balance) by adding a twist to some of those commonly performed leg moves: deadlifts, squats, and lunges.
“If you’re looking to add some accessory exercises to your daily workouts that target different parts of the leg, here you go,” says Atkins. “In these exercises, all we are doing is adding minor deviations and different angles of a load to a few core exercises (squats, lunges, deadlifts).”
You can add this circuit to a larger leg workout with one of those heavy loaded barbell moves, or try it as a standalone routine. All you need is a dumbbell or kettlebell for a load. Check out this adjustable dumbbell set if you need one to do this at home.
Perform 8 to 10 reps of each exercise, with little to no rest between moves
Lateral Squat – Good for promoting flexibility in the adductors and movement for athletes who are always in the sagittal plane.
Sumo Squat – Another exercise promoting adductor flexibility with an emphasis on the outer hips.
Single-Leg Deadlift – The best exercise for the posterior chain: glutes, hamstrings, adductors). By focusing on one leg over the other, we’re able to get a very hip dominant exercise (less quad, more glute/hams), challenge balance, and encourage stability through the hip, knee, and ankle joints.
Curtsy Lunge – Opposite of the sumo squat, but also challenges balance, adductor strength, and abductor stability.
Add the circuit to your workouts by performing 3 sets all the way through. Want to learn more moves from Atkins? Check out our series full of her workout tips, Try Her Move.
Whether you’re taking a group fitness class or following an exercise DVD at home, it’s a sure bet that you’ll be doing planks at some point during the workout—and there’s a good reason. Planks are the ultimate test of total-body strength—not just your core. That’s why they’re the groundwork for many bodyweight exercises, like push-ups and burpees.
“The plank is one of those jack-of-all-trades exercises you can carry in your back pocket to strengthen not only your core, but also your chest, arms, back, legs, and booty,” explains, Nicole Blades, as NASM-certified trainer at BodyRoc FitLab in Connecticut. “A plank with proper form can help improve your posture, too. The best part is, this dynamic move doesn’t require any equipment. It’s a total bodyweight exercise.”
So what muscles do planks work, exactly?
Whether you’re in a low or high plank, you’re balancing weight on your arms and toes. This targets a wide range of muscles, especially the rectus and transverse abdominis, Blades says. The rectus abdominis are the front muscles in the abdomen that support the muscles of the spine and help keep organs in the abdomen area in place. They’re known as the “six-pack muscles” because they give your abs shape and definition. On the other hand, the transverse abdominis (TVA) muscles are as known as the “corseting muscles” because they cinch the waist and act as core stabilizers that support the low back. In fact, a weak TVA is often the culprit of low-back pain.
“Planks also target the trapezius and rhomboid muscles (upper-back muscles) in your back, as well as the pectorals (chest) and serratus anterior (the serrated-shaped muscles that wrap around your the side of your chest and shoulder),” Blades says.
When you engage your upper-body muscles, you’re putting less pressure on your core and are able to hold a plank longer. You can further engage your shoulders and back muscles in a plank when you grip the floor more with your fingers and hands. Keeping a neutral spine will also help relieve pressure on your neck and make holding a plank less uncomfortable. But that’s just the upper body! Here’s how a plank works your lower-body, too.
Your core includes your hips and low back
When people think of their core, their tend to think only about their abs, but the powerhouse includes your hips and low back, too. “A solid plank works the quads (front of the thighs), glutes, and calf muscles in your lower half,” Blades says. In fact, your hips play a big role in making your planks stronger. Your hips are connected to your lower abs, aka the lower part of your rectus abdominis, so engaging these muscles will help you hold the position longer with proper form. When you squeeze your hips, you’re also able to brace your core more and keep your low back lifted—something that many fitness newbies tend to overlook.
How to do a proper plank
That said, there are many different ways to achieve the perfect plank, but here’s a step-by-step breakdown on how to do a high plank.
Get into a tabletop position with your shoulders directly over your wrists and hips in line with your knees.
Engaging your abs, shoulders, back, and glutes, extend your legs back to straighten into a plank and hold.
If you can, do the exercise in front of a mirror, to check that your butt isn’t raised. (A common mistake, but your body should be flat as opposed to an upside down-V shape.)
For a modified plank Blades suggests dropping to your knees instead of holding yourself up on your toes. “Get on all fours and walk your hands forward so your body forms a slanted line from your head to knees, like you would in a modified push-up,” Blades ays. To recruit the glutes and hamstrings, keep your feet lifted toward your butt. Once you master this variation, you can work your way up to a forearm plank by placing your forearms on the ground.
So what’s the best way to hold a plank longer? “Practice, practice, practice,” Blades says. “The more you do the exercise, the more strength and endurance you will build and the longer you will be able to hold it.”
Aim to hold a plank for 15 seconds, then work your way up to 30, 45, 60 seconds, and so on. Instead of watching the clock, Blades suggests setting a timer. This way you’re not painstakingly watching the seconds go by. Don’t forget to also use your breath, deeply inhaling and exhaling. By focusing on your breath, you’ll be able to help set your mind at ease throughout the uncomfortableness. Sometimes you have to practice a little mind over matter. As Blades puts it, “If you feel like you’re about to quit, push yourself to stay in plank a few seconds more. You can do it!”
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is one of the most efficient ways to improve your fitness. Trainer Farouk Houssein (pictured) created this plan to target your entire body in only 12 minutes!(Photo: The Fhitting Room)
When life has you down or stress seems overwhelming, sometimes there’s only one thing you can do: Sweat it out.
The body benefits of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) are well-known: You reap the results of your plan (whether it be cardio, strength, or a combination of both) in a super-short workout. The mental benefits, however, shouldn’t be underestimated: After a HIIT session, you’ll feel refocused, proud of yourself, and powerful. The workouts are so short that even the most crazy-busy person can fit one in.
That’s why we reached out to the HIIT specialists — The Fhitting Room studio in New York City — for a quick, full-body workout that’s also a heck of a lot of fun. The routine below, created and demonstrated by Fhitting Room trainer Farouk Houssein, delivers results in only 12 minutes!
“This workout is efficient and to the point. Anyone who is pressed for time or limited on equipment can do this,” Houssein tells Yahoo Health. “These dynamic exercises combined with the high-intensity design of the workout will build lean muscle and blast fat long after your workout is complete.”
How to do it: The workout has two parts: a 2-minute interval session and an 8-minute circuit challenge. Rest 2 minutes after the intervals before going on to part two of the workout.
PART 1: 4-Minute Tabata Burn
Tabata is a method of interval training that combines all-out bouts of exercise with very short rest periods. For this workout, you’ll do 20 seconds of max effort followed by 10 seconds of rest, and repeat this eight times (4 minutes total). Alternate between the two exercises below each round.
Start on the ground, balancing yourself on only your butt and hugging your knees.
This will be your start and end position.
Then, simultaneously extend the legs and arms out.
Bring your knees and arms in to return to the starting position. That’s one rep.
Begin standing with feet shoulder-width apart. Bend at the knees and hips to lower your body into a squat, then place your hands on the floor in front of your body.
Then, kick your feet back so that you are in pushup position. Lower your chest to the floor.
Then reverse the movement: Press up to finish the pushup, kick your feet into a squat, and stand up. Complete the move by jumping into the air with arms overhead. All of that is one rep.
PART 2: Full-Body Challenge
For the second part of this workout, set a timer for 8 minutes. Do eight reps of each exercise below, in order. That’s one round. Complete as many rounds as you can before the timer buzzes. (Rest as needed.) Record how many rounds you finish so that you can try to beat your number the next time you do this workout.
1. Dumbbell Thrusters
Perform this exercise as one continuous movement.
To begin, hold a pair of dumbbells at your shoulders with palms in and elbows facing forward.
Then, bend at your hips and knees to lower your body into a squat.
Now rapidly stand up while pressing the dumbbells overhead. (It’s OK to use the momentum of your body to help press the dumbbells.)
Return the weights to your shoulders, and repeat the steps.
2. Renegade Row with Pushup
Grasp a set of dumbbells, palms in. Set up in a plank position: dumbbells and your toes on the floor, arms straight, with your body forming a straight line from head to toe.
Keeping your body in a straight line, pull one dumbbell up to your chest, squeezing your upper back at the top of the movement.
Return to the plank position.
Row the dumbbell on your other side, then perform a pushup. All of that is one rep.
3. Jumping Alternating Lunges
Begin standing with feet shoulder-width apart. Take a big step forward and lower the body until the back knee gently touches the ground. Keep your shin vertical, and don’t let the front knee pass your toes.
Jump both feet off the ground simultaneously and switch leading legs in the air.
Land in the same position, but with the other leg in front. That’s one rep.
Add a little spice to your boring squats. (GIFs: Demand Media)
Without a doubt, squats are the best exercise to build lower-body strength and establish functional movement patterns. When done properly, they target your glutes, hamstrings and quads and incorporate core stability. And there’s no exercise that will make you look as good from behind as squats will. But squats – just like any other exercise – can get repetitive, and if you don’t vary the way you’re doing them by adding weight, changing your leg position, adding additional movements, etc., your body will adapt to that movement pattern and you’ll stop seeing results.
To prevent that, here are six essential squat variations you can incorporate into your strength-training routine. Master proper form on the basic body-weight squat first, then move on to more challenging variations as you build your strength. Your quads and glutes might be burning by the end (not to mention the potential soreness the next day), but your posterior will thank you.
1. Pistol Squat As one of the most advanced squat variations, you’ll need to make sure you’ve built up enough single-leg strength and core stability to master the pistol squat. It’s even more advanced than the single-leg squat, since you’ll bend deeper as you hold one leg out in front of you. Start with the single-leg squat and build up to the pistol squat.
HOW TO DO THEM: Start standing with feet hip-width apart. Slowly shift your weight to your right leg as you extend your left leg out in front of you. Raise your arms in front of you at chest level to help you balance. Engage your core and hinge from your hips to squat down, maintaining your balance on your right leg. Go as low as you can without touching the floor. Then drive through your heel to stand back up.
2. Plie Squats
Channel your inner ballet dancer for a more challenging squat. This variation changes your footing and widens your stance to target more of the muscles along your inner and outer thighs while still recruiting glutes, quads and hamstrings.
HOW TO DO THEM: Stand with your feet several inches wider than hip distance and your toes pointed out at a 45-degree angle. You can either place your hands on your hips, raise and lower your arms like a standard squat or hold your hands in a fist in the middle of your chest. Bend your knees and your hips to lower toward the floor. This time your back will stay perpendicular to the floor instead of bending slightly forward. Drive through your feet to return to standing.
3. Jump Squats
A 2012 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that squatting can improve your jump height. So why not take that a step further and incorporate jumping into your squat routine? This plyometric variation is a bit more advanced, so make sure you’ve completely mastered basic squats and have healthy knees before attempting.
HOW TO DO THEM: Assume the same stance as a regular squat – feet slightly wider than hip distance and feet turned slightly out. Squat back and down from your hips and bring your arms back behind you for momentum. Really drive through your feet and jump straight up into the air from the bottom of your squat, arms swinging up overhead as you do. Land with knees bent to absorb the shock and go straight into your next squat jump.
4. Split Squat
A split squat may look more like a lunge than a squat, but the principles of the squat still apply here. For an added stability challenge and more single-leg work, you can elevate your back foot on a box or a bench as you go through the range of motion.
HOW TO DO THEM: Begin holding a barbell across the back of your shoulders and your feet several feet apart, one in front of the other. Keeping the barbell in place and your back straight, bend both knees and lower down until your back knee almost touches the ground. Both knees should be at 90 degrees and your front knee shouldn’t extend over your front toes. Hold for a moment before returning to standing. Complete your reps on one leg before switching legs.
5. Dumbbell Sumo Squat
The trick here is to recruit abdominal and back muscles to keep your chest from being pulled forward by your dumbbells. HOW TO DO THEM: Start standing with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart and your feet turned out at 45 degrees. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, let your arms hang directly in front of you between your legs. Bend both of your knees and lower yourself down so that the weights almost touch the floor (without bending your chest forward). You’ll look (and probably feel) a bit like a sumo wrestler. Drive through your heels and return to standing.
6. Single-Leg Squat
Single-leg work can be very challenging for most people, but it’s also very beneficial because it can correct any imbalances you might have. For example, if your right leg is stronger than your left leg, your right leg might compensate for the left in a traditional squat. But in a single-leg squat, you’re balancing on only one leg at a time, so that leg must do all the work.
HOW TO DO THEM: Start standing with your feet hip-width apart and your toes pointed forward. Slowly shift your weight to your right foot until your left foot is completely off the ground. You can let your left foot hover there or extend your left leg slightly out in front of you. Hinge at your hips and bend your knees to squat down, keeping all your weight in your right leg. Keep your arms in front of you for balance. Press through your right foot and return to standing. Make sure you do the same number of reps on both sides.
“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”
~ Maya Angelou, American Author/Poet
Nine-Four-Nine, that is the number reflecting my continued cult-like diligence to logging into the calorie and exercise app – MyFitnessPal. Although that may seem impressive compared to some, that number is still very much in it’s infancy.
Nine-Four-Nine is not simply my number of consecutive days of logging, it also marks a milestone – my two-year weight loss maintenance anniversary. It was indeed 2 years ago when I reached my goal weight and have maintained 100% what I have lost. A feat which statistics had adamantly testified was out of reach for most. An impossible ordeal to obtain. And like a card player at the Blackjack table in Vegas, the odds were very much stacked against me but here I stand, 2 years-in, giving the statistics the proverbial finger.
The Key: The secret to my success? On the verge of sounding like Neo in “The Matrix” … “There is no spoon.” I wish I had an easy answer neatly topped off with a bright shiny bow, but alas, I do not. What I can offer are bits of self observations that will hopefully help ‘flip the switch’ for whoever maybe reading this post. Just be mindful that everyone is different and this is just what has worked for me.
From the Start: My initial goal had never been solely about losing X lbs in X time for X event. Losing weight was certainly a factor to measure progress but my ‘big picture’ goal was always to become as healthy as I can & as far away from developing diabetes as humanly possible. The luxury of time took a tremendous amount of pressure off.
Be the Tortoise Not the Hare: Having tried multiple times, with all the standard array of weight loss methods and ultimately failing was oddly good for me. It was good because based on all my past failures I learned that in order for the results to stick, whatever change(s) I was going to incorporate into my life to not only reach healthy but to stay healthy, had to be sustainable … as in ‘rest-of-my-life’ level of sustainability (a tall order). Unlike previous attempts I didn’t dive head first plunging into a totally new eating plan and go to the gym 5-days a week to only give up 3 weeks later because I didn’t see any results or was just burnt out. Nope! This time I had wisened up that I needed to make small incremental changes in order to banish my old habits for the rest of my life. For example, the amount of sugar I use in my tea. Over a period of a year I went from 4 TBSP → 2 → 1 → ½ TBSP → 1 TSP → all the way to what I am using now which is 1 Dash. I continue making small incremental changes even now in maintenance. I am always looking to make this lifestyle easier by maximizing efficiency. Like continuously swapping out nutritious poorer foods with more nutritious rich foods. Or an exercise which works more muscle groups at once rather one at a time. I call this the ‘most bang for the buck’ approach. For example, I only do compound exercises. If I am on the elliptical I set it to high resistance and vary my stance in varying degree of the squat position. This not only gets my cardio in, but the resistance & varying positions builds muscles. Kill two birds with one stone … so to speak.
Example of small incremental changes: 4 TBSP → 2 → 1 → ½ TBSP → 1 TSP → 4 Dash → 3 Dash → 2 Dash → to current 1 Dash
Where Everyone Knows My Name: To finally understand and accept that there were really no finish line, that reaching goal was just a stepping stone to the bigger, grander scheme of things … aka maintenance was utterly daunting. Perhaps the oddest phenomena of losing weight was the loss of support from my existing social circle. The initial banter of support somehow evolved to an aire of backhanded compliments and insinuation of an eating disorder. As my social circle shrank my feeling of isolation grew. I became disheartened with the monumental task before me. What I needed was to build a network of support. A network of those who collectively had given the statistics the same proverbial finger. RAWR! 🙂 I began to actively procure fellow maintainers as MFP friends & this was one of the two pivotal turning point in my maint journey. Having MFP Friends, although it was mostly virtual, tamed the soulless bewildering beast that maintenance can be. Maintenance became a soft little purring kitten quietly curled up on my lap. It provided an outlet to share my frustrations, to ask questions, and the simple camaraderie gave me a sense of that I am a part of something special. ❤
Drop a House on That Bitch: Two numbers was the other pivotal turning point in maintenance for me. 80/20 (Rule). To say that I was hyper-vigilant in my losing weight phase was putting it mildly. OCD came in handy to adhering to a set daily caloric number. hahaha The same approach which helped me reach goal was actually quite counterproductive in maintenance. I was incredibly disappointed that I was unable to stay 100% compliant 100% of the time … for the rest of my life. I realize that sounds rather ludicrous but the strict adherence is what helped me reach goal so naturally in order to stay there I just had to continue no? I constantly struggled with snacking after dinner and I have had my fair share of occasions where I said ‘fuck it I’m having some cookies n cream ice cream’ followed by cookies, then sweets. Just as I licked the last bit of chocolate off my fingers, a tremendous sense of guilt and failure would ensue. And of course this feeling of self disgust at the total collapse of my ‘willpower’ or perhaps it was just a genuine detrimental character flaw resurrects the super hyper vigilant sadistic controlling bitch (aka me) to be even more boisterous. It was a cycle which became evident that what I was doing was no longer working and the internal tug-of-war was a miserable existence. Then in researching nutrition for a blog post I came across an article referencing the 80/20 Rule. If this was a television sitcom exalted angels would be singing in the background complete with a beacon of light shining gently upon my little head. It was brilliantly simple. To maintain, all I needed was to eat on plan 80% of the time and then 20% of the time, if I so chose, I could indulge within reason (portion controlled). The minute I gave myself permission to eat what I wanted was the minute that I stopped craving it – it’s just human nature I suppose.
Jedi Mind Tricks: We all can borrow a page from Stuart Smalley. His daily self affirmation is “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And doggone it, people like me.” As corny as that may seem Stuart is on the right track.
There is a genuine disconnect period after weight loss where the brain hasn’t quite caught up with the new physique. I’m not sure what the science behind it is is but it’s fairly common that the fatty mentality lingers on well after the weight is gone. For example, it took me about 2 years to wear leggings because my mentality was ‘oh I can’t pull that off.’ SO the odd thing that I have done and continue to do is partake an activity of the youth … I-take-selfies! Yes I can hear the eyes rolling but hear me out. We see ourselves everyday and it’s easy to take things for granted. By taking snapshots of myself I am visually reinforcing that I have indeed changed. Every now & again when I just don’t ‘feel’ like I’m making any fitness progress I go take a selfie. When I see my bicep getting more defined or my bat wings less wing like, I get excited, I get pumped, and I’m super-charged to continue to do what I am doing. Self-affirmation and re-motivation is an important part of sticking with it. Another quirk I’ve developed is that I carry a photo of fat me around on my phone. It’s not very different from a child with a new toy. In the beginning they are all about it but after awhile they get tired of it and want something new. I think it’s very typical of human nature in general, not just children. Every now & again, I do get use to being the new size and grow callous to all the time & effort that I’ve invested to reach the new size. My brain would start to think, ‘hmmm, maybe it’s time to take a break from the exercise or the eating.’ This is when I pull up the fat me photo then look at the healthy me photo and on the verge of sounding self-absorbed I let myself marvel at the transformation. This visual helps remind me where I was and that what I’m doing every day does indeed matter. Because at the end of the day, we have to be our own best advocate. SO yea go on, be a bit more like Stuart, take some selfies, and allow yourself to bask in your accomplishment!