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Leg Day: A Lower-Body, Functional-Training Workout

Try this fitness circuit to pack your thighs with power and strength – with exercises that sculpt, firm, and define your quads, hamstrings, adductors, abductors, buttocks, and calves.

Don’t skip Leg Day! There are some common mistakes that people make when trying to improve their physique:

  • for Men, a common mistake is working out the upper body way more often than the lower body, either intentionally or unintentionally.
  • for Women, a common mistake is doing mostly isolation exercises for the lower body and forgetting to do enough compound movements.

Your lower body is the foundation of your physique. It needs to be strong and supple in order for the rest of you to be healthy.

It’s probable that compound movements stimulate your endocrine system in a positive way.

Compound movements are those exercises that use key joints and work more than one muscle group at a time. They are exercises that replicate primal movement patterns – our ancestors found it necessary to move often in these ways in order to survive and thrive.

Mature athlete with kettlebell doing lunges at the park on Leg Day.

Resistance training can dramatically elevate positive hormonal responses, particularly those multi-joint, high-volume compound exercises done with moderate-to-high intensity.

Hormones can increase protein synthesis and the body’s metabolic rate. These responses play a pivotal role in tissue healing, remodeling, and growth!

Do you want healthy, great-looking legs?

What follows is a complete lower body workout for you to try on your next Leg Day.

This workout is for both men and women.

  • Men can use weights as heavy as they can lift, as long as proper form is not compromised and the joints remain pain-free.
  • Women can use lighter weights and concentrate on range of motion and quality of contraction – this will help create firm tone and definition.

Circuit 1: the Warm-Up

Move through these exercises consecutively without a break. Once you’ve finished the circuit, take a brief rest before repeating the circuit two more times (for a total of three).

  • Beginning-level athletes take a 4 minute break.
  • Intermediates take 3.
  • Advanced athletes rest for 2 minutes only.

Use a timer on your watch or phone to make certain you’re gauging time correctly (left to our own mental devices, we tend to underestimate the amount of time we rest).

54-year old athlete trains abdominals outdoors to warm-up for leg day.

Decline Crunch

It’s a good idea to engage the abdominal muscles during your Leg Day warm-up. This will gradually raise your body temperature and – later – increase awareness and activation of your abdominals during key compound exercises (Trust the process – you’ll need the buy-in of your abs on these big movements in order to prevent injury to your lower back).

  • Set a bench at a slight decline. If your bench doesn’t have foot rollers, you can use dumbbells to help brace your feet.
  • Do a crunch – from the bottom to half way up.
  • Exhale as you crunch, maintaining length in the spine as you draw your navel in tightly.
  • 20 reps.
Man doing crunches with medicine ball.

Overhead Ball Crunch

  • Still on the decline bench, hold a weighted medicine ball over your chest with straight arms.
  • Start half way up and proceed to sit upright all the way.
  • Initiate the movement from the power of your abdominals (as opposed to your neck or arms).
  • 20 reps
54-year old man trains abdominals with medicine ball.

Decline Russian Twist

The trick to doing Russian Twists effectively is to initiate the twist in your torso from your spine and oblique muscles, not from your arms or shoulders. If you do this, you will engage the abdominal muscles along the sides of your waist.

40 reps (20 each side).

1- Minute Light Run

Remember, this circuit serves as a warm-up for what’s to come later.

The purpose of this light, one-minute run is to circulate warm blood and oxygen into the quads, hamstrings, and calves so that they’re limber enough for when it’s time to add resistance.

If you’re at the gym, the treadmill or rower is fine. If you’re outdoors, to the end of the block and back.

Lower Body Circuit 2

The body adapts to movement patterns quickly, and that means your legs eventually stop being as responsive to the same exercises done at the same tempo.

This Leg Day circuit should surprise your thighs into responding again!

Kettlebell Front Squat

Time to loosen stiff hips with this first squat. Hold the kettlebell at your upper chest. If your knees are tender and you don’t want to squat below knee level, use a bench or box below your buttocks.

This fundamental exercise will wake up your quads and prepare them for what’s to come.

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Keep your glutes and lower abdominals activated throughout the squat.

16 repetitions.

Side Step-Overs

Watch the video to see a visual explanation. You don’t need hurdles for this exercise, you can simply pretend they’re there.

Holding a kettlebell – step out, up, and over to the side, landing in a wide-stance squat.

Keep going in the same direction for 8 wide steps. Return, taking quicker side steps back to the starting position. Then, turn around and face the other direction – and repeat.

This movement sequence is highly effective for conditioning your abductor muscles – because a healthy, well-lived life requires outer thighs that are defined and athletic!

 

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Forward lunges with a kettlebell passing under the front leg with each repetition.

Pass-Under Forward Lunges

No Leg Day would be complete without lunges.

During these traveling lunges, you pass a kettlebell underneath your front thigh during each lunge.

This targets the quadriceps muscles in the front of your upper leg (For this particular type of lunge, you don’t step out very far).

Fit man jumping holding kettlebell during leg workout.

Feeling challenged? Remember, Leg Day is quite possibly your most important workout of the week.

The primal, compound movements during Leg Day stimulate the muscles of your entire body. It’s as if your body gets the message, “Oh, we’re going to be asked to carry heavy objects for long distances. Better get ahead of this and make some physiological improvements now.”

The remaining Leg Day exercises within this workout will also condition your heart muscle and lung tissue, engage your core muscles, burn high-than-average amounts of calories, help protect you from future lower-back pain, improve your sports performance (or, for that matter, performance in daily life), and shrink adipose tissue.

Plus, let’s face it, this workout is simply going to help you appear more attractive.

Stay-Low Forward Jumps

Holding a kettlebell securely to your upper chest, jump forward 10 times, staying low the entire time. The speed ladder (the hopscotch ground apparatus pictured above) is not necessary.

Male athlete prepares for dumbbell squats.

Dumbbell Squat

Holding the dumbbells at your side, squat down. Try to keep your back tall and chest up, but it’s also okay to bring your torso forward a bit, as long as you keep your lower abdominals and glutes activated the entire time. (However, if you have lower back tenderness, try foam-rolling your outer thighs first to loosen your hips – or, do a yoga pigeon pose beforehand.)

Since this is a squat, try to drop your butt down to knee level or just below – if your joints will allow for it, it’s okay to let your knees come forward in front of your toes.

10 reps.

This exercise combines dumbbell squat with a good morning exercise.

Dumbbell Deadlift

This time, you hold the dumbbells a bit in front of your shins. Since this is a deadlift, this time you want to prevent your knees from going in front of your toes. Imagine your shins pressing back.

Keep your scapula set (no hunching forward).

Feel the entire sole of your foot making contact the ground. Don’t use your lower back to lift. Instead, initiate the movement from your hamstrings.

10 reps.

The way to build muscle is to pick up heavy things and carry them.

Farmer’s Carry

The way to create muscle tone is to pick up heavy things and carry them.

Pick up two heavy dumbbells and walk them 30 paces, keeping your posture tall, your navel pulled in, and your knees slightly soft.

People underestimate the efficacy of this particular exercise. It brings results and should be done more often.

54 year-old athlete doing leg exercise drills at the park.

Knee-Ups

40 knee-ups while traveling.

No hurdles required for this exercise. Start out in a run, then switch to 20 very fast knee-ups. Turn around and run the other direction and, again, 20 knee-ups as quick as you can.

Mature athlete does leg workout outdoors.
From left to right: Iron Cross, 2-Forward 1-Back Jumps, and Sprint.

Iron Cross

Kick your straight leg up in front of you above waist level, as you reach down with the opposite arm and touch your toes. Travel forward as you do so. Great for your abs, obliques, hip flexors, quads, and overall mobility.

20 reps (10 reps each side).

2-Forward, 1-Back Jumps

Sometimes, life requires us to be spry.

Take a large jump forward and a small step quickly back.

10 reps.

Sprint

Pretend you’re The Flash and run as fast as you can for 40 yards.

As you sprint, keep your chin down a bit. You want to be aerodynamic as you cut through the air.

When you’re finished with your sprint, be certain to decelerate gradually so that you don’t trip over your own feet.

Leg Day Circuit 3

As you begin the third circuit, you should be feeling your leg muscles and your lungs.

Listen to the unique needs of your body. Are you knees and ankles in good shape? Is your head clear?

  • If you feel light-headed, dial down the intensity a bit.
  • If you feel easy-breezy and you’re not sweating, dial the intensity up a bit.
Male athlete does outdoor exercise to strengthen his glute muscles.

Prone Leg Lifts

Show gravity who’s boss – everyone deserves to have well-sculpted buttocks!

Face down on your hands and knees, lift one leg up above hip level as you contract your glute muscle of the lifting leg, moving the leg in slightly and out slightly with each rep.

  • Keep your neck a natural extension of your spine.
  • Keep your elbows slightly soft.
  • Keep your abdominals pulled up tightly.
  • Keep your hips facing down evenly.
  • You’ll be tempted to bend the lifting leg at the knee – don’t.
  • Exhale with each lift.

40 reps (20 each side).

Athlete does overhead squat exercise with weighted medicine ball.

Overhead Squat

Lift a medicine ball, dumbbell, kettlebell, or barbell over your head. Keep your arm straight and your scapula set (shoulder blades pulling back actively). Maintain that position as you squat 20 times.

To protect your lower back, keep your glute and abdominal muscles activated the entire time. To prevent your lower back from swaying, keep your top rib pressed down-and-in.

You might be tempted to hold your breath on this one, so remember to let the air move freely in and out of your lungs.

The overhead squat is another powerful movement that people don’t do often enough. It works absolutely everything – including upper body, quads, hamstrings, booty, and even your calves.

12 reps.

Mature male athlete doing hurdle speed drills at the park on Leg Day.

Leg-Overs

Keep those inner thighs muscles firm and strong!

See the video to get a firm understanding of this leg exercise. It’s a speed drill that will engage your adductor muscle as it develops your agility, balance, and sports performance.

40 reps (20 each leg).

Leap Frog

Nature’s perfect plyometric exercise is simply to jump as high and as far as you can, repeatedly. It’s also a lot of fun.

10 reps.

Speed ladder drills for developing leg muscles and sports performance.

The Leg Day Quick-Step

See the video. This one is a great finisher – it really burns the calories as it strengthens your heart and lungs. Plus, whatever juice you have left in your leg muscles will be squeezed-out after this!

Cooling Down

Upon completing this Leg Day circuit workout, take a few minutes to gently stretch. Then shoot me a message and let me know how it went!

Functional fitness training utilizes exercises that shift focus to more practical workouts that engage muscles similar to how your body would use them in everyday ancestral living.

Functional programming emphasizes mobility, balance, speed, agility, and strength – including heart and lung strength.

This Leg Day workout is aimed at not only packing your thighs with power, but also boosting your overall health and general well-being.

Do this workout once a week, and see if you don’t notice a visual improvement in your core, glutes, quads, hamstrings, abductors, adductors, and calves.

If you really want to see extra improvements – including definition in your abdominal muscles – combine this weekly workout with an anti-inflammatory diet!

As always, consult with your own medical doctor before beginning a new exercise program or making any significant changes to your lifestyle habits.

Additional Sources on Leg-Day Training:

Why You Should Almost Never Skip Leg Day – https://www.runtastic.com/blog/en/benefits-of-leg-workouts/

Hormones Respond to Compound Movements – https://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/hormoneResUNM.html

Benefits of Leg Day Compound Exercises – https://www.verywellfit.com/which-is-better-compound-or-isolation-exercises-3120718

Considerations of Functional Training on Leg Day – https://www.orbitfitness.com.au/blog/functional-training-definitive-guide

The post Leg Day: A Lower-Body, Functional-Training Workout appeared first on Over Fifty and Fit.

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