Train smarter: The best lower body exercises

Dr. Adam Spindler
Adam Spindler

When you first walk into the gym on “LEG DAY” it can be a bit overwhelming. Just the term “LEG DAY” by itself is intimidating.

“Where do I begin? Glutes? Quadriceps? Hamstrings? Should I train my abs and core first? How many sets? How many reps? Should I do my cardio before or after my strength workout?”

These are just a few of the questions that patients and gym members ask me almost every day.

When it comes to training your lower body you need to figure out what’s the best routine for you. To do this you need to first determine your goals, training level (novice or seasoned athlete) and your purpose for training.

Are you training for size and strength? Strength and endurance? Or endurance only?

Are you training to sculpt your body?

Are you training for a specific sport?

Are you recovering from an injury?

Are you training in order to achieve a certain look for a special occasion?

Most people that I run into tell me they want to be more fit so that they can participate in the “Tahoe Lifestyle.” They also wouldn’t mind a shapely sculpted body with little extra muscle size.

For this article I will outline a basic routine for No. 6, achieving the “Tahoe Body” (lower body, intermediate to advanced fitness level).

Before trying this routine please refer to my article, “Training smarter, harder and without pain: Lower body” published on Jan. 11. This will help you to reduce your chances of injury.

I recommend that you receive and evaluation by a D.C. or M.D. with a sports medicine background (such as myself) prior to beginning a new training routine.

‘The Tahoe Body Workout’ — Lower body

Warm up. Start with 5-10 minutes on an elliptical trainer or standing on a spin cycle at a moderate heart rate. This will raise your core temperature by 1-2 degrees which will loosen up your entire body.

Squats (Free Standing or Smith Machine) 4-6 sets of 10-15 reps until failure. Failure means that you can no longer train in strict form. This concept applies to all exercises in this routine. If your lower back or shoulders won’t tolerate squats, you can replace squats with the Leg Press. Never flatten your sacrum, never allow your lower back or neck to flex forward, and never allow your knees to move beyond your toes. Train this exercise with a spotter.

Dead Lifts with Straight Bar, Dumbbell or my favorite… Hex Bar Dead Lifts. The Hex Bar positions the weight in a way that’s biomechanically safer for your spine. 4-6 sets of 10-15 reps until failure. Do not allow your lower back or neck to flex forward and never allow your knees to move beyond your toes.

Lunges. Barbell, Dumbbell, Farmer’s, Heavy Slam Ball, or Smith Machine. Stationary or walking. 4-6 sets of 15-20 reps until failure. Keep hips square, engage your core, never allow the knee to move forward beyond your toes and maintain good lower back and neck posture.

Stiff Leg Dead Lift. Barbell, Dumbbell, One Leg With Kettle Bell or Heavy Slam Ball. 4-6 sets of 12-15 reps until failure. Keep hips square, engage your core and maintain proper lower back and neck posture.

Lying or Seated Leg Curls. 4-6 sets of 15-20 reps until failure. Engage core and maintain normal lower back and neck curvature throughout the exercise.

One Leg Dumbbell Calf Raises. 3-4 sets of 15-20 reps. Caution! If you’re over 35 and have not been training your calves on a regular basis take 2-3 weeks to work with light weight and gradually increase your range of motion on this exercise or any calf exercise. Achilles tendon tears are one of the most common “weekend warrior” injuries!

Cool Down. A good way to end your routine is with 5 minutes or so of active motion stretching (no 30 to 60 second holds) and 10-15 minutes of abs and core.

If you have the time and energy you can also finish with 25 minutes of cardio at a moderate heart rate.

I’m usually more than sufficiently worn out by the end of this sort of routine. I’ll typically train cardio on upper body days and “off ” days.

In a future article I’ll outline a complete lower body routine featuring bodyweight and functional conditioning exercises. I generally recommend two weight-centered workouts and two functional/bodyweight-centered workouts per week. This will reduce your injuries, and keep your workouts fresh while your body continues to strengthen, shape and develop.

Please join me at 10 a.m., Saturday, Feb. 2 for a free strength and conditioning class. You will learn how to strengthen, shape and build your body while avoiding injury. I’ll be teaching this class in my SpineFit training studio located upstairs inside of FitRepublic at 2565 Lake Tahoe Blvd.

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