Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Focusing on legs

Most women I have trained in the last 18 years have identified legs as one of their major problem areas. The cause for their concern is either lack of tone or too much body fat. One question that often comes up is, “How do I lose size around my hips and thighs?” There are three main factors to consider when your goal is toning and reshaping the legs. Firstly, what are you starting with? Secondly, what training programme is best suited towards your desired results? Thirdly, Are you looking for functional or cosmetic results?

What are you starting with? You need to get some base measurements. Use a trained professional to determine your body fat, girth (circumference) and muscle mass measurements. With these results you can determine the focus of your training. A high body fat measurement would indicate a need to decrease body fat by nutrition and training. A low muscle mass to girth ratio would indicate a need to increase muscle mass by resistance training. A high muscle mass and body fat measurement would indicate the need to decrease body fat by nutrition and exercise, but to stay away from resistance training that would increase muscle mass. Be careful when trying to change the natural shape of your hips and thighs. Every individual has their own symmetry, changing the natural balance of the body’s muscles and tendons can sometimes lead to injury. Always have a qualified instructor or personal trainer design or scrutinize your programme.

What training programme is best suited towards your desired results? Once you have worked out your specific training goals you can start training to reach the end result. If you need to lose body fat, without increasing muscle mass, I would recommend staying away from bodybuilding rep ranges (8 to 12 reps to complete exhaustion). This only increases muscle mass and unless your nutrition and cardio exercise is properly monitored you can increase the size of your legs. Use compound exercises (light loads) at 15 to 20 reps this will increase the caloric (energy) demands of the exercise without increasing muscle mass. If your muscle mass is low you should concentrate on using rep ranges and loads which best increase muscle mass. This will protect your metabolism, which is directly related to the amount of lean muscle mass that you have. If you are scared of bulking up monitor your body fat and adjust your nutrition and cardio exercise accordingly.

Are you looking for functional or cosmetic results? Functional exercises are designed to copy every day movement patterns and loads that are put on the body. Cosmetic training, which includes bodybuilding, is purely focused on results that change body symmetry without taking into account the biomechanics. If sport is a part of your life, whether amateur or professional, you should always focus on functional training. Cosmetic training can lead to muscle imbalances that can cause injury. If jumping high or running fast means nothing to you, but shapely toned legs are everything, I would still recommend a majority of functional training with some cosmetic training according to your needs.

I recommend spending some time with a qualified instructor or personal trainer. Begin by taking base measurements to determine your starting point. The next step is to plan the best way to reach that goal and finally be prepared to try new approaches, as sometimes methodologies don’t always work first time.
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Lower limb resistance programme

Before commencing this programme seek clearance from a medical practitioner. A six-week conditioning programme designed by a qualified instructor should be completed before commencing this programme.

The following programme is an example of a lower limb (leg) resistance programme. The programme is best suited toward an individual who is looking for muscle tone without muscle mass gain. All exercises in this programme are compound (more than one joint used) and functional in their design. I’ve used exercises that would produce a high caloric demand by using a large amount of muscle at one time. This programme is only one example of many that work the legs. Different individuals require specific exercises to reach desired goals. If you are unsure about your requirements seek help from a qualified instructor or personal trainer. The programme should be followed for no more than 4 weeks. After completion, seek help for a change in programme.

The leg resistance programme should only be used in conjunction with a balanced full body resistance programme designed by an exercise professional. The programme should be completed 1-2 times per week with at least a 2-day rest between leg workouts. A warm-up of 5-10 min cardio should be completed at the start of the workout. A warm down and full body stretch session should be completed at the end.

Lower limb resistance programme

Walking Lunges 3-4 10-20 metres 1sec up 1 sec down 60s
Step-ups with calf raises 3-4 15-20 1sec up 1 sec down 60s
Adductor Lunges 3-4 10-15 per side 1sec each side 60s
S/ball Leg curls 3-4 12-15 1sec up 1 sec down 60s


Walking lunges with a knee raise

Walking lunges are great for toning while remaining functional. They give an athletic shape without too much muscular size. Functionally they resemble an over exaggerated gait (walking motion); they are often used as a dynamic stretching drill by sprinters and runners. The knee lift is added to the exercise to produce greater work for the stabilizing muscles of the hips.

Step 1. Starting position

Start with feet shoulder width apart. Keep feet parallel and hips facing forward throughout the entire movement. Raise your right knee to your chest while maintaining a neutral spine and head posture. Slowly lower your right leg into lunge position.

Step 2. Finishing position

Once in a lunge position step through with your left leg and bring your left knee towards your chest. Maintain a neutral spine and head posture; keep chest up and hips facing forward throughout entire movement. Repeat steps 1 and 2 using the right leg.


Step ups with a calf raise

Step-ups are a very functional exercise. Stepping up is a part of life because we use stairs you just can’t avoid them. Adding a calf raise saves time and should help improve balance.

Step1. Starting position

Place right foot on step or bench (height will affect intensity). Keep feet parallel and hips facing forward throughout the entire movement. Maintain a neutral spine and head posture.

Step 2. Finishing position

Lift your left knee up towards your chest while maintaining correct posture. As your knee reaches the top of the movement raise up on your right toes to produce a calf raise. Complete rep range on this side then swap sides.

Adductor lunge

Adductor lunges target the inside thigh and gluteals. They are more functional than the adductor machines and are very beneficial to sports requiring lateral movement such as tennis, soccer and squash.

Step 1. Starting position.

Lunge out using your right leg at a 45-degree angle. Keep knees inline with your toes without letting the knee pass over them. Keep hips forward and chest up throughout entire exercise.

Step 2. Finishing position

Pivot from your right side to your left while keeping your body position low. Remember not to let your knees travel past your toes. Keep your head and chest up throughout the entire movement. To increase intensity of exercise, use a medicine ball or dumbbell.

Swiss ball hamstring curl

If you are looking for an alternative to the leg curl machine try Swiss ball hamstring curls. Swiss ball curls not only target the hamstrings they also help increase core stability and stabilize the hips

Step 1. Stating position

While lying face up on the floor place your feet on a Swiss ball. Move arms horizontally out, palms up or underneath your body to give support. Lift hips up to produce a neutral body position. Keep your core strong to maintain position.

Step 2. Finishing position

Roll Swiss ball towards your body using your legs. Maintain correct body position throughout movement do not let hips drop. Repeat steps 1 and 2 until rep range is reached.

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