Shape Your Lower Body with Weight Lifting
Guest post by Suzanne Digre.
When you talk about wanting to work on your lower body, what you’re really saying is that you want to re-proportion it. You want a more defined backside or shapelier calves. You want more muscle or less fat in specific areas.
While cardio and lean eating will help reduce body fat and reveal your muscles, we all know you can’t spot reduce. But weight lifting, unlike cardio, can shape your body and change it in very specific places. Making just a few technique tweaks and honing in on specific exercises can get you stellar results in the specific areas you want.
It’s common to see people doing exercises like back extensions without squeezing their gluteal muscles. In reality, when you don’t squeeze your glutes hard at the right time – the top, where you contract – you’re just not getting the best benefit from this exercise. Combine squeezing at the top with holding the contraction for two seconds, and you’ll feel a burn that is very significant. You won’t lift as much but you’ll feel it even more.
When it comes to exercises, it can be argued that nothing shapes glutes like squats. Squats are particularly effective if you can go low and squeeze your glutes at the top. However, as mentioned above, back extensions are super glute builders when you squeeze at the contraction and also hold a plate against your chest. Remember to pause at the top for a two-second hold.
Kettle bell swings are another way to shape your backside and again, but they’re only as effective as your form. You need to give your glutes a hard squeeze at the top, along with snapping your hips. Check out this video to see correct form.
Kettle Bell Swing from Suzanne Digre on Vimeo
Reverse lunges, step ups, hacksaw squats, hip extensions, and stiff-legged deadlifts are all also effective for developing your glutes.
The glute-hamstring tie-in is the area where your glutes and hamstrings meet and it’s the area that makes your backside look high instead of low. You’ll be glad to know that many of the glute/ham exercises also work this area. Therefore, the hamstrings can be worked with the glutes (and quads) in addition to some hamstring isolation exercises. These include the lying hamstring extension, one-legged cable kickback, and the standing hamstring curl. Focus on form instead of how heavy you can go. If you’re use momentum or the wrong muscles because the weight is too heavy, is that really getting you to your goal?
Leg extensions have a bad reputation for being hard on the knees, but if you perform them correctly they are can be safe for knees. Take the movement slow and hold for two seconds at the top. If you use this technique you’ll need to use less weight.
Squats are fantastic for your quads, as are leg presses. If you have strength imbalances in your legs, use the leg press machine single-legged to avoid letting the stronger leg take over. To emphasize your quads, keep the weight evenly distributed in your feet (press more from the heels to emphasize your glutes). Wall sits target the quads (and glutes and hamstrings) with precision – see how long you can last.
Your calves are working every time you do big compound movements such as squats and leg presses. It’s important not to overuse your calves by compensating for weak glutes. Consider them a small muscle group that gets trained less, but if you really want to hit them hard try drop sets or reverse pyramids. Don’t use these techniques more than once a week or you risk over-training them.
Standing calf raises and seated (donkey) raises are isolated movements that obviously target the calves, but try integrating calf raises into dumbbell snatches, squats, and leg presses. Just remember to stretch or foam roll your calves thoroughly after weight lifting, since they tend to be tight in most people.
Always integrate functional, full-body exercises into your workout as well as they are excellent for burning calories and saving time.
It really is possible to re-proportion your body using weight lifting. Target your lower body with these techniques and exercises and you’ll see specific changes – better than simply hoping what you’re doing works.
Photo by John Nyberg