Whether you're working towards your first 5K or your third marathon, it's important to remember that it takes more than cardio to train your body for a race. One of the areas of the body you should spend some time strengthening and stretching are your legs. A powerful lower body is crucial to performance, and you'll need an excellent routine to build three-dimensional muscle in your legs.
A lot of times, men forget to do lower body workouts. There's so much focus on abs and arm muscles in the media and within society that it's easy to forget that legs need some action, too. And when men do remember their legs, they often think immediately of squats and deadlifts. Those exercises are important, but they’re only the beginning.
At SportMe, we know that running takes a lot of time, dedication, and passion. A lot of runners get incredibly focused on running that extra mile or shaving off that extra minute. But we've put together a leg routine that will ensure you're ready to do your best time at any race.
Leg Day may not be your favorite gym routine, but it's crucial to dedicate some time to your legs for significant gains and more balanced health benefits. Your muscular balance will be off if you only focus on your upper body, and you may even start noticing that you're aesthetically uneven.
Skipping leg day also makes you more prone to injury due to a lack of balanced muscles. When you have some muscles that seriously out-strength the others, you are more likely to overcompensate during exercise, causing injuries.
When you incorporate a balanced lower body workout into your gym routine, you will become more robust overall. You will find that you're able to move a lot better, even outside of the gym. Think about how much you use your legs: walking upstairs, lifting boxes, running in races, walking and standing at work, etc.
Dedicating time to lower body muscles helps your body work in unity. You won't just improve your strength and power; your stability will increase too. That reduces the chance of ankle strains and other muscle issues you face in real life outside of the gym. You'll have more strength and speed when it comes to your next marathon, too.
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Building muscle helps to speed up your metabolism. In turn, this enables you to burn more fat. A recent study showed how resistance training and endurance training could combine to create a more efficient metabolism due to a higher basal metabolic rate.
An increase in muscle mass is what will increase your BMR. The muscles in your legs and buttocks are the biggest in your body, so if you're ignoring these, you aren't going to burn calories efficiently. Thus, you'll reduce the effectiveness of long-term fat loss.
No matter your goal, you should never skip Leg Day. It's the key to an improved BMR and reduced overall body fat, as well as increased physical performance.
Working your lower body reduces back pain, increases stamina, and helps you lose weight. The following lower body exercises are super important, whether you're looking to become healthier, build muscles, or break a personal record in your next marathon. Remember: proper form is key to not only getting the most out of these exercises, but also avoiding injury.
So, let's get into it.
A basic squat is a compound, full-body exercise that focuses on your thighs, hips, buttocks, quads, and hamstrings. Squats have a variety of benefits, including building up your overall strength. They help improve both your upper and lower body strength, creating an anabolic environment that promotes body-wide muscle building. You will experience increased balance, mobility, and flexibility. You'll also tone your backside and abs.
Squats are simple overall, but you must remember to keep a very proper form if you want the benefits. Make sure your feet are a little bit wider than your shoulders. Controlling your arms is not the point of this movement, as the focus should be on your legs. You can leave your arms hanging down in front of you, dead weight, or you can hold them out in front of you, parallel to the ground.
When you lower yourself, make sure you're in a sitting position, forming a right angle. Your arms will shoot up naturally. That's what you want. Don't force the weight up through your shoulders. Drop your glutes and shoot them down to that right-angle position again, allowing your arms to swing up to start a dynamic interior squat.
You are going to want to vary the types of squats you do to ensure you're building up your entire lower body and keeping the workout a bit interesting. After the basic interior and anterior squats, you're going to want to lunge in-place. Lunges increase muscle mass to build up strength and tone your body, especially your core, butt, and legs. They also help your posture and range of motion.
Remembering your form, start with your chin and chest up. Take a big step forward and then drop straight down like a horse on a carousel. It's crucial that after you take that big step, you lower straight down because you don't want that front knee protruding past the toes. When you drop straight down, remember to exhale. Then push yourself back up to the starting position.
Abdominal crunches tone the core muscles of the body by design. The most noticeable benefit is, of course, abs. But you'll also notice a strengthening in the core muscles, improvement in posture, and increased mobility and flexibility. That is important when you're aiming to improve your overall health and body.
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To do an upper abdominal crunch, make sure your legs are elevated at a right angle so that your body recruits more of the stabilizing muscles in your core. Make sure your head is down, and your chin is up. You'll be looking at the ceiling the entire time if you're using proper form. Avoid using your hands to push your head or push your neck, forcing your chin down.
Exhale and contract the upper abdominal muscles and then follow through. Don't use your hands, elbows, or shoulders to push up off the ground. Instead, focus on your inner core and allow it to lift you upward.
When it comes to squats, you'll often notice your inner thighs don't feel the burn. Well, say hello to lateral squats. They mainly target your gluteus medius, the part of your buttocks that makes this side-to-side movement possible. They also benefit your quads, and hip adductors (also called the inner thighs). These squats strengthen your entire lower body while keeping your body sculpted.
To do a proper lateral squat, start with your feet wider than your hips and your knees and toes pointing forward. That is the same form you should have had in the previous squats. Then, shift your weight into your right heel, push your hips back, bend that knee while leaving your left leg straight. Bring your thigh parallel to the floor.
Drive through your right foot to reverse the movement. When you've centered again, squeeze your glutes and stretch the front of your hip forward. Repeat the same motion on the other side.
Remember those in-place lunges from earlier? It's time to do the same but reverse. These will activate your core, glutes, and hamstrings. They also put less pressure on your joints. You'll notice you have more stability in your front leg, too. The reverse lunge is a leg workout you'll want to utilize if you have knee problems or difficulty balancing.
To start, stand upright with your hands at your hips. Then take a big step backward with your left foot. Lower your hips so that your right thigh - the one in front - becomes parallel to the floor. Your right knee should be positioned directly over your ankle, and your left knee should be bent at a 90-degree angle, pointing toward the floor.
Return to standing by pressing your right heel into the floor and then bringing your left leg forward to complete one rep. Alternate legs by stepping back with the right leg and repeating.
These types of crunches will strengthen your core, utilizing your lower body as resistance to challenge your lower abdominal muscles. The lower abs are an often-neglected area in workouts, so it's a great idea to add it to your lower body routine.
Begin by lying down with your face up. Your legs should be straight up in the air, arms flat at your sides. Your body should be in an "L" shape. Engage your lower abs by lifting your hips straight up, then slowly lower them back down.
Remember your form: don't let your legs swing toward you. Instead, think about the bottom of your feet pressing into the ceiling. Once you get the hang of this basic Lower Reverse Crunch, other variations help utilize your lower body even more, including the Alternating Corkscrew Reverse Crunch. Don't worry; you'll get there.
Also known as a side lunge, this is a great exercise to work the sides of the glutes. That is an important area to focus on when you're looking to stabilize the muscles for the hip joint, which are often not given proper attention. According to Shape, mastering this exercise will help you build strength and stability in each leg individually as well as improve your balance.
Stand with your feet together and your hands clasped in front of your chest. Then, take a big step out to the right, lowering into a lunge immediately. Sink your hips back and bend your right knee to track directly in line with your right foot. Meanwhile, make sure your left leg is straight but not locked. Push off the right foot to straighten the right leg again, then step your right foot next to the left before returning to a standing position. Repeat on the other side.
Remember to keep a proper form, sinking into the hip of the lunging leg, activating the glute to stand. Don't drop your chest too far forward, and don't allow the knee to push forward over your toes. As you get better at these workouts, you can modify many of them with weights and dumbbells.
Planks have a lot of known benefits, making them the perfect addition to any workout routine. Planks strengthen your core, increase muscle definition, heighten metabolism, and reduce back pain. Planks are also useful for better posture, improved balance, joint health, and even stress relief.
To do a proper plank, begin at the top of a push-up. That means you should have your elbows directly under your shoulders and your legs extended with your toes planted into the ground.
Engage your abdominal muscles by squeezing your belly button up towards your spine while maintaining a flat back. Firm your legs by contracting your quadriceps and gluteal muscles. Start by holding this position for a minute and then slowly work your way up as you build up a tolerance.
Ready to up the ante? A Romanian Deadlift is a powerful strength exercise that utilizes your legs in a significant way. The Romanian deadlift has the potential to increase hamstring, glute, and lower back muscle mass while minimizing potential injury due to often lighter loads utilized. This move also enhances your hip, hamstring, and lower back performance, making it quite well-liked even if you're not looking to be a bodybuilder.
First, step to the bar. Your ankle should just be touching the barbell. Your legs should be shoulder-width apart when you grab the bar with an overhand grip slightly outside the legs. Bend down to pick the bar up and put it in a deadlift position first. That's your start.
Then push your hips backward with knees slightly bent in a stationary position. As you do that, get a full stretch of the hamstrings gliding the bar along the legs. Once you reach your maximum stretch, pull it up by pushing the hips forward. At the top position, squeeze. Then lower the bar while keeping your lower back straight and your chest up.
Remember, these are just ideas to get you started. Over time, you'll begin to realize which exercises benefit you the most in your lower body workout. But there's no question that this routine on Leg Day will strengthen your entire body, getting you stronger, faster, and healthier before your next race.
Are you looking for more support for an upcoming marathon? Contact SportMe to find out how our app can help you train for your next marathon with the help of a certified running coach.
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