In addition to looking HOT in a pair of jeans, shorts, or that sexy swimsuit in the back of your summer drawer, your glutes and thighs make up some of the larger muscles groups in your body. That means these muscles burn a ton of calories both during activity and at rest! Strong, flexible buttocks and leg muscles protect the back and knees from injury and can help rehabilitate existing injuries.
The subgluteal ridge, where your buttocks meet the back of your leg or hamstring muscle is an area many women struggle to keep toned and tight, especially with today’s sedentary lifestyles. Women are generally hardwired to store higher levels of body fat than men store. Our hormonal and genetic make-up make this adipose tissue (fat cells) stubborn and difficult to lose. By using the most recent scientific data to our advantage, we can dispel the myths of the weight loss world and get down to the business of burning fat faster!
In order to really sculpt and tone the lower body, a diversity of exercises must be performed. The following moves are some of my favorites for targeting this hard-to-tone area of the body—because they work! This routine MUST be combined with cardiovascular activity and proper diet in order to see the results you truly desire. Only then will you see the sculpted, lean muscle revealed in true form. Combine this lower-body routine along with 4-6 days per week of aerobic activity for best results. A minimum of 30-45 minutes of cardiovascular activity is necessary to achieve truly amazing results. This can be performed in any of our motivating, high-energy cardio classes, on our treadmills, elliptical, or bikes, or even outdoors. Be sure to up your post-workout burn (or EPOC – exercise post-oxygen consumption), by making 2 to 3 of those cardio sessions high intensity interval training (HIIT). One of my personal favorites is sprints on the treadmill followed by brisk walking intervals. Try alternating high and moderate intensity drills on any piece of cardio equipment, or hit the running track! Aim for a 1 to 2 ratio. For example, sprint for 1 minute, then walk briskly or jog lightly for 2 minutes.
I suggest performing the following routine 1 to 3 times per week on non-consecutive days. Hitting the muscles of the lower body from different angles with varied exercises will target the entire lower body and even your core. As always, check with your doctor before beginning any new fitness program.
Summer is right around the corner, so let’s get started!
1. Goblet Squat
This high-intensity lower body move can be performed with a kettlebell, dumbbell, or medicine ball held at chest level, close to your body. It works the adductors (inner thighs), glutes (buttocks), hamstrings (back of the thighs), and quadriceps (front of the thighs). You will also engage your outer thighs, calves, and core!
Dumbbells are easily accessible and the apparatus of choice for many. Hold one 8-15 lb. dumbbell in both hands with a firm grip, right in front of your chest. Do not let the weight stray more than an inch or two from your chest; keep it close to your body. This will prevent excess strain on your lower back and will help keep your spine in proper alignment. Beginners can use a 3 or 5 lb. weight, or simply place your hands on your hips and utilize your own body resistance.
Your feet should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and your toes pointing outward. This positioning will enhance overload or fatigue of your inner thighs as well as buttocks and the front and back of the thighs. Your back should be upright and straight and your hips tilted forward toward the mirror or wall in front of you. Unlike a traditional squat, you WILL NOT hinge forward at the hips. Remain upright throughout the entire set. While exhaling, bend at the knees and sink your hips toward the floor for a count of 2 seconds until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Pause briefly and raise your hips while you squeeze your buttocks muscles tightly while inhaling. Be sure not to lock your knees as you straighten your legs. Knees should remain slightly bent. As you lift your body, try to imagine that you are pushing through your heels for greater activation of the gluteus muscles. Your abdominal muscles should remain engaged throughout the entire movement. Imagine pulling the belly button toward your spine in order to help you master this. You can also just focus on “tightening” the abs.
Repeat this exercise for 15-25 repetitions and complete 3-4 sets. Beginners, do 8-12 repetitions, 1-2 sets. Break for about 30-90 seconds between each set. The shorter your rest or recovery periods, the higher your intensity and calorie burn. If you are able, make the rest periods brief, about 30 seconds.
2. Single-Leg Deadlifts
This exercise intensely works the back of the thighs and buttocks, the spinal erectors in the lower back, and the deeper core muscles of the back. Hold an 8-15 lb. dumbbell in your left hand while placing your right hand behind you on the small of your back. Beginners can choose a lighter weight.
Please note: the weight of the dumbbell actually helps to stabilize your body through the movement while adding intensity and resistance. Choose a size you are comfortable with.
With your left knee just slightly bent, lower your upper body toward the floor as you raise your right leg toward the ceiling. Be sure to bend from the hips and keep you back flat throughout the entire movement. As you raise your right leg, tighten the gluteus muscles. Really give them a squeeze! You will feel a stretch through the hamstring and glute area of the left leg as you do this. This is very important! The stretch will allow you to fully engage the muscles as you come back to start position.
Inhale as your upper body bends forward, and exhale as you elevate back to start. Again, you want to tighten your abdominals throughout the entire movement. You will feel a tightening in the buttocks, back of the thighs, abs, and lower back. This is a slow, controlled movement that can be done for counts of 2 down and up.
Repeat 15-25 repetitions before changing sides. Beginners can perform 8-12 repetitions. Once you have completed a full set on each side, recover for 30-90 seconds. Complete a total of 2-4 sets on each side. Go at your own pace. If you need to rest for a bit longer, that is fine, too. Working at an appropriate level is safe and effective!
3. Bench Step-ups
This move is no joke! If you need to start on a regular step, such as one used in our classes, please do so. The typical workout bench is about 14-16 inches high. You will be working your entire lower body very intensely, especially the glutes and quadriceps. This is also a very challenging cardiovascular exercise, so please go at your own pace.
There are a number of variations of this exercise. This version is one of my favorites! With one dumbbell in each hand, stand facing an exercise bench. Select dumbbells of 3, 5, or 8 lb. Remember, you will be using your own body weight as your primary form of resistance.
Begin by stepping onto the bench with your right foot, immediately followed by the left foot. Then step down with the right foot and immediately follow with the left foot. DO NOT CHANGE SIDES! Continue to step up with the right foot leading, followed by the left, for 8-25 repetitions, depending on your fitness level. Keep your back upright and your chest tall, and exhale as you step up. Be sure to place your heels firmly and purposefully on the bench as you squeeze your glutes. Contract your abdominals as you step up.
After you have finished all of your repetitions, switch sides. Now, begin stepping with your left foot, followed by the right. This is called unilateral training. By working one side at a time, you will overload the muscles very intensely. In addition, you will correct imbalances in strength and flexibility over time. You may want to pause for about 30 seconds before switching sides. Repeat the same number of repetitions on the opposite leg.
Recover for 30-90 seconds and then repeat the entire sequence 1 to 3 more times.
One of the most commonly asked questions among my new clients is, “How long will it take to see results?” It truly depends on genetics, lifestyle, health history, age, other exercise variables (such as amount of cardio performed), and diet—to name just a few influencing factors. Some women will see muscle definition in as little as 2 weeks; others will need to dedicate 4 to 6 weeks or more. There is no simple answer to that question. However, with summer just around the corner, it is imperative that you put 150% into your fitness routine starting NOW! Be sure to drink plenty of water—at least 8-11 cups per day—and be consistent and persistent. It isn’t easy, but with hard work and motivation, you WILL reach your goals!