Today I start the „Tighten the Lower Body“ Series!
I have received a couple of requests to share my best Tips on training and shaping the Lower Body.
In my own workouts, I put a focus on building muscle and strength in the lower body and core, as that helps me stay pain-free. With scoliosis and muscle imbalances, it is important to have strong muscles protecting your joints and ligaments.
If you are in pain right now, I definitely recommend starting strength training (after talking to your doctor first). It will change you physically and also mentally. I was told I have to “stop complaining” and live with the pain, but I didn’t listen to them!
Aside from that, especially women tend to store more fat in the Lower Body. Thus, I hope you will find the following tips and exercises useful and incorporate them into your workouts.
If you have trouble activating the right muscles during your workouts, I have written a Series on that too.
Tighten the Lower Body
1. Glute Activation Exercises
This one is the first and most important of all tips.
A 5 Minute Cardio warm up is not sufficient to prepare your body ready for heavy weight training. It may be a different matter with bodyweight workouts or Cardio-only but if you want to build muscles in the lower body, you need to pump blood to those areas before you lift the weights.
When lifting, you tear muscle fibers. After that the body recovers from that by building more muscle fibers and storing more glycogen in the muscles. Thus, if we want to build muscle, we need to tear as much muscle fibers as possible (to an extend). To reach that goal, the neural connection between the brain and our muscles is crucial.
By doing light isolation exercises before lifting heavy weights, your muscles get warm and your brain notices that you want to work those muscles and more muscle fibers are activated. This is called pre exhaustion.
I like to do 10-15 Minutes of the following exercises before each workout.
(Click to see a YouTube video demonstrating the exercises)
Also, I do 1 set of 20 Squats and 20 Deadlifts with emphasis on the glutes.
Building glute muscles is not only for aesthetic purposes. It is crucial to decrease back pain and for proper posture. If you can activate those muscles during your workout, they will be in daily life too and protect your back.
2. High Volume
Building muscle costs a lot of energy. However, the human body tries to burn the least amount of energy as possible. Thus, we need to give a proper impulse to leave the body no other way as to build more muscle.
You can achieve High Volume in several ways:
Training the Legs/ Glutes more than twice per week.
I train them 3-4 times per week but with different styles of training. You can incorporate HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), Pure Strength Training, Pilates and a mix of all of them.
My split might look like this:
- HIIT + Glute Isolation Exercises only
- optional, if I’m sore I skip this: Glute Isolation exercises only, or short Strength circuit
HIIT is essential for fat loss but also for muscle-building, as it is an anaerobic type of exercise. It has a similar stimulus for muscle growth as strength training. A combination of both is a great way to build shapely legs fast.
Doing a lower body workout 3-4 per week is only for advanced exercisers. You will be very sore the first few weeks, so allow your body the rest it needs. After a while, you can increase your workouts to 3x/week and then again wait until your body adapts to that.
If you are new to training, check out my Guide on a training schedule to progress safely.
Number of sets per exercise.
Instead of doing always 2 sets of each exercise, try doing 3 or even 4. You will notice the different stimulus by your sore muscles on the next day.
Increase the repetitions per exercise
Try to switch your training style frequently. Instead of always doing 10 repetitions per exercise, try to increase that by using the same weight. This will not only increase the burn but also make you stronger.
Increasing Time under Tension
The longer a muscle is under tension, the better it gets activates, as the stimulus grows. The brain notices that more muscle fibers need to be activated, thus the neural pathways get stronger. Try to do each repetition slow and even pause at the point with the peak contraction.
For example, when doing a Glute Bridge (see above), try to hold the contraction at the top for 2 to 5 seconds and then lower your hips to the ground.
This is one of my favorite ways to lift more weight safely. I start with a lighter weight and 12-15 repetitions, then increase the weight each set until I reach 6-8 repetitions.
3. Single-Legged Exercises
Especially if you have muscle imbalances, single-legged exercises have a lot of benefits.
The human body is asymmetric in its nature, so everyone has a stronger side.
By doing proper training, one can decrease those imbalances and the chance of injury. When doing single-legged exercises, the body has to use the muscles of that leg and cannot rely on the other stronger leg. This can be applied to the Upper Body muscles as well.
My favorite Single Leg Exercises
- One legged Squat:
It builds immense strength and size in the glutes and hamstrings. This is a very advanced move. You can practice by sitting down on a chair and then try to stand up on one leg, only using that leg. Make sure to contract your core and keep your back flat. Also, you can hold onto a chair when performing this exercise.
- Bulgarian Split Squat:
This is basically a Lunge with the rear foot elevated. The elevation of the foot increases range of motion. I recommend you to do my Glute Activation routine before doing these exercises. Otherwise, you might feel them more on the front of the thighs, the quadriceps.
If you can properly activate all muscles during this exercise, you should feel it on the back of your leg (hamstrings) and glutes, your core and lastly in your quadriceps.
This exercise is great for anyone struggling with One-legged Squats, as the rear foot provides more assistance.
- Lunges, Single legged Deadlifts, Single legged Glute Bridges are great choices as well. It is important to incorporate these into your workouts and not only do bilateral exercises.
You might struggle with this exercise at first but don’t give up. Even if you are a beginner, I highly recommend you practise the single-legged version of the Deadlift before using too much weight. The single-legged Deadlift activates your entire abdominal area (no need for crunches!), your glutes, outer and inner thighs and hamstrings. You don’t need any weight to turn this exercise into a fat burning, muscle building workout.
If you have severe imbalances, you might benefit from doing single-legged exercises only for a while.
Also, these exercises burn more calories. They engage every muscle in your body and are great if you are also looking for fat loss.
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Wish you all a wonderful day!