Simplified Lower Body Training

Many of the strength coaches and trainers that I follow mockingly refer to Monday as ‘Bench Press Day’.  Without doubt, many aesthetically driven men prioritize their prized pectoralis on Mondays, and flock to the bench press like moths to a flame.  Unfortunately, many of them end up looking like this.

Tomorrow is a national holiday, and many gyms around the country are closed or have limited hours.  What does that mean?  Sunday is the substitute for our bench press obsession.  After training a client this morning, I dedicated an hour to a lower body training session.  It was short, because I’m returning this afternoon to train my godfather and put him through a workout.  I spent most of my time foam rolling and doing movement prep, then did some single leg box jumps, trap bar deadlifts, overhead med ball slams, and TRX split squats from a deficit.  Simple and straight to the point, right?  Then why didn’t I see anybody else training their legs?!

For some reason, people abhor squats and deadlifts more than I abhor Zumba and Frosted Flakes.  Maybe they’re difficult to learn, or difficult to do, or it requires less effort to casually chat about your weekend while using a hamstring curl machine.  The most basic of movements, a squat and a hinge, are avoided by 80% of people, and most of the people that actually do them use incorrect form.  This leads to frustration, poor results, and reinforces peoples misuse and disuse of these great exercises.  Fortunately for you, they’re not that difficult!

I’m a fan of the Goblet Squat as the most basic squat exercise to teach people, but I’ve found that the population at the JCC has taken to the TRX Squat as an easier teaching tool, one that allows them to squat comfortably through a full range of motion.  It’s simple, but it really works:

If you don’t have access to a TRX, the Goblet squat is a great exercise to groove a proper squat pattern without loading up a barbell and potentially/eventually hurting yourself.  The front loading helps to active the abdominal wall, and allows you to achieve a deeper squat.  As an added bonus, you can use your elbows to spread your knees in the bottom position, helping to stretch your groin and activate your glutes.  If you want great glutes, you should be squatting deep, and Goblet Squats help with this.

The TRX Squat and Goblet Squat are great beginner squat patterns, and can help you learn a very beneficial movement.  While the variations on the squat can be infinite, the basics are always important.  When it comes to the hinge, I like the Deadlift and Pull Through, and a Butt-to-Wall Drill for feeling the hamstrings come alive.  The Hinge involves maximum hip flexion, with minimal knee bend.  You should feel a deep stretch in the hamstrings, and the glutes help to finish the movement.  (Your spinal erectors are along for the ride, but you shouldn’t be moving excessively in your lower back.)  A simple bodyweight movement to learn the pattern is this butt-to-wall drill:

Shifting your weight on to your heels, maintaining the natural curve of your lower back, and pushing your hips back to the wall allows you to engage your posterior chain and utilize some very strong, powerful muscles.  We live in a society that’s perpetually seated, leading to pancake-assed individuals with lower back pain.  Turning on your glutes and learning how to hinge can help reduce lower back issues, as well as helping you fill out those pants that just aren’t flattering on your backside.

A loaded version of that butt-to-wall drill is the cable pull through, which puts some emphasis on the glutes which complete the motion.  Straddle a low cable, and push the hips back until you feel a deep stretch in the hamstrings.  Reverse the motion, making sure to squeeze your glutes at the top.  As with practically every exercise known to man, keep a tall chest and tight abs through out the movement.

Even more than the pull through, I think that deadlift variations are invaluable for training, for performance, aesthetic, and health purposes.  (You can’t really have a goal that doesn’t fit into those categories, can you?!)  While there are many variations, my favorite is the trap bar deadlift because it tends to be simpler to learn, and offers a little more bang for your buck.  If you don’t have access to a trap bar, use a straight bar; just make sure you’ve got someone to check out your form.

When deadlifting, make sure to sit your hips back and push through the heels, just like you would with the pull through.  You’ll be able to engage your glutes and hamstrings, and keep your body healthy and happy.  Maintain a tight lower back and tall chest, and your deadlift is in business!

Most people miss out on lower body training, and it’s unfortunate.  It’s relatively simple, and dedicated training provides carry over to practically every other exercise you do.  Today I just covered the bilateral basics, and in an upcoming post I’ll go over some of the single leg essentials that I think you should learn.  You can bet you’ll see the Reverse Lunge in there!

(If you couldn’t tell, I’ve been trying to take more videos of my own efforts in the gym, both to help my clients refer to technique videos, and to provide some more content for the blog.  Stay tuned for more videos!)

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