August 2022 Challenge: Lower Body – (Day 1/Early Week Exercises)

Lower Body Exercises – Day 1 (early week) – Hips, Glutes and Legs

This month, “lower body” will refer to all muscle groups below the lower abdominals including the pelvis, glutes, thighs, knees, calves and feet. When we develop lower body strength, we simultaneously boost stability and power in every section of our body, including our core and upper body!

Stiff Leg Deadlift (barbell or dumbbells): The Deadlift targets all of the muscles responsible for good posture and power when we are running. Keeping our back straight through this exercise is imperative! With any deadlift and especially the stiff leg deadlift, be careful not to use too much weight to protect your lower back but don’t go too light either. This exercise focuses mainly on our lower back, glutes and hamstrings. Be sure to keep these areas straight and long. Avoid letting the barbell/dumbbell swing doing this movement. Keep the weight centered and avoid rounding your back as you lower the weight.

  1. Stand tall with your barbell or dumbbells held directly in front of your thighs.
  2. Bend forward at the hips.Keep both legs straight and bring the weight to your shins
  3. Squeeze your glutes and extend your back as you pull back up into standing
  4. Repeat for 3 sets of 10 with a one minute rest in between sets
Stiff Leg Deadlift

Dumbbell Swings: The dumbbell swing targets the glutes, thighs, and core muscles helping you improve your stability and lower body strength. Since this exercise works several muscle groups simultaneously it gives you a great cardio boost and helps you burn more calories in a short period of time.

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, your toes pointed slightly outward, and hold a dumbbell with both hands.
  2. Squat and bring the dumbbell between your legs.
  3. Stand up and swing the dumbbell up to about chest height.
  4. Return to the squat position and repeat for the duration of the set.

Open your chest, roll your shoulders back and keep your spine aligned. Engage your core, inhale as you squat, and breathe out as you squeeze your glutes and stand back up.

Sumo Deadlift: The sumo deadlift is a variation that uses a broader foot stance, similar to how a sumo wrestler sets up before a match. This version of a deadlift is often less demanding on the lower back and spine while still providing challenges for the important muscle groups runners need to target.

Sumo deadlifts build strength in our posterior chain, which includes the back, glutes, and hamstrings, while also activating the quadriceps and adductor muscles.

Begin by standing in front of a loaded barbell in a wide stance with your toes pointed slightly outward. Your stance should be broad enough for your arms to be inside of your knees. Your elbows should be just inside your knees with your hands on the bar inside of your feet. Your shins should remain perpendicular to the floor while your shoulders should be above the bar, and your back should be flat.

Your knees should be wide and pushed out, with your outer hip muscles feeling strong and activated. Your torso should be a bit more upright than how you would set up for a traditional deadlift.

  1. Brace your core and bring your hips toward the bar. Engage your lower back, legs, and glutes so you feel as if your whole body is turned on and your muscles are activated. 
  2. Turn your quads so your femurs rotate open in your hip sockets, lining up your knees with your feet and toes.
  3. Grasp the bar with an overhand or mixed grip and slide your shoulder blades back and down, locking them into place.
  4. Pull up on the bar until it comes into contact with the top of the inner circle of the weight plate while simultaneously pressing your legs into the floor. Do not lift the bar off the floor yet.
  5. Inhale and drive your legs into the ground while pulling the bar up. Keep your chest high and your hips down.
  6. Pull the bar along your legs as close to your body as you can and press through your heels as you push through your legs to raise up.
  7. Squeeze your glutes and fully lock out your knees and hips at the top position.
  8. Reverse the movement slowly and mindfully, keeping the bar close to your body to avoid injury to your lower back.

This is a new exercise for many of us so I am including a video below so you can see how it’s done.

Weighted Step Ups: Step-up target the quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteal muscles. This is a great lower body strength , balance and conditioning exercise. When you are performing this exercise, be careful to use your “working leg” (the one doing the step up) as opposed to pushing off the leg standing on the ground. Start with no weight for your first set then start to gradually add weight. The heavier the weight, the slower you should go. More weight adds more strength in your posterior chain!

Protect the knee of your active leg by not pushing it past your toes when you step up. Pushing the knee far forward changes the muscles used and places more stress on the knee joint.

Common Mistakes with the Weighted Step Up:

  • Knee Out of Alignment – The knee on your active leg should track over your second and third toes. Avoid letting it collapse in or out.
  • Pushing Up With Lower Leg – The work should come from the leading leg, bringing the trailing leg up as dead weight. Pushing up with the lower leg reduces the load on the leading leg.
  • Rounding the Back – You may need to lean forward slightly to avoid stressing your knee joint. As you do, hold your torso as straight and upright as possible, keeping your chest up rather than rounding your back.

Bulgarian Split Squats: Benefits of the Bulgarian split squat abound. As a lower body exercise, it strengthens the muscles of the legs, including the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. Also, as a single-leg exercise, your core is forced to work in overdrive to maintain your balance. A traditional squat puts a sizable load on your lower back, potentially causing injury, but the Bulgarian split squat largely removes the lower back from the equation, putting the emphasis on the legs.

  1. Start by standing about 2 feet in front of a knee-level bench or step.
  2. Lift your right leg up behind you and place the top of your foot on the bench. Your feet should still be about shoulder-width apart and your right foot should be far enough in front of the bench where you can comfortably lunge/hop around a bit so you can find the right spot. If a closer foot position works, just ensure that when you lower down, your left knee doesn’t fall over the line of your toes. 
  3. While engaging your core, roll your shoulders back and lean slightly forward at the waist, beginning to lower down on your left leg, bending the knee. 
  4. Since we want to target the glutes over the quads, stop when your left thigh is parallel to the ground. 
  5. Push up through your left foot, using the power from your quads and hamstrings to return to standing. 
  6. Repeat 3 sets of 10 or if you are new to this exercise and find it challenging, start with 3 sets of 6-8 reps.
  7. If you find this exercise too easy, add weights with dumbbells in each hand
  8. Complete 3 sets on one leg first (with rest) then do the same on the other side