Foam Roller Leg Curls
Lie on your back, lift your hips up by squeezing your glutes (not arching your back), and take small steps in and out. Sets of 6-12 will light up those hamstrings.
Side Lunge/Cossack Squat
Sports, and life, take place in multiple directions, not just forward and backward. It just makes sense to train going side to side also.
Really 2 different exercises, but enough similarities to include together.
Normally, on rowing exercises, you want to keep your elbow close to your body (or tucked) – which is a more natural position that targets the bigger Lattisimus Dorsi muscles (lats).
But on these, you want to pull your elbow up away from your body. This works the smaller muscles of the shoulder and upper back, so you don’t need as much weight as you would normally use. These muscles respond well to higher volume, so I usually use reps in the 15-20 range.
Anterior Tibialis Raises
This is a really good use for otherwise useless 10 and 15lb kettlebells. The anterior tibialis is the muscle that runs along the front/outside portion of your lower leg. It’s main action is to pull your toes up towards your shin – opposite of the more well known “calf” muscles.
An imbalance between the stronger muscles in the back of your leg and the small ones in the front can be one reason people develop shin splints. Strengthen it with exercises like this. 2-3 sets of 15-20 should work.
Stability Ball Reactive Plank
Like I’ve said a million times in other posts (Ab Training Part 1), the abdominal musculature’s main function is stabilizing your spine. Often this needs to happen in a dynamic environment with other parts of your body moving around. That’s where exercises like rollouts, moving planks, crawls, etc., come in to play.
This takes that idea one step further. Hold a plank on a stability ball (an already unstable surface) and then a partner pushes the ball in different directions. This forces you to react to an outside stimulus in order to maintain your position – applicable to all kinds of activities.
I’ve posted about ab training before (Ab Training Part 1 & Ab Training Part 2). In those posts, I go in to greater detail about why it is important, what you can expect to get out of it, what it won’t do for you, and what people usually mess up when training their abs. To summarize:
- Having strong abs, or core, is the best way to prevent lower back injuries
- It will improve performance in just about every activity you can think of
- Ab training, by itself, WILL NOT produce visible ab muscles if there is fat covering them. A good diet will.
- Most ab exercises are performed incorrectly, using the hip flexor and lower back muscles instead
- A large portion of your ab training should be ANTI-movements, where you RESIST movement. This is more applicable to everyday life
- Ab exercises should not hurt your lower back! If they do, you are doing it wrong!
Before progressing to any of the harder ab exercises, you should master the “deadbug” position. Here are two excellent deadbug variations:
Remember, a plank should look like the picture on top (back flat, chin tucked), not like the middle or bottom picture (lower back arched, neck extended, hips sagging).
You must master this position before moving on to any of the following exercises.
Yes. You absolutely should include some flexion ab exercises in your routine and this is a really good one. Holding a roller with your legs will ensure you don’t swing your legs to gain momentum. Make sure your lower back does not arch at the bottom.
TRX Ab Combo
This is a great exercise because it incorporates a bunch of different aspects in one exercise (Anti-extension, Anti-rotation, rotation, and flexion).
So there it is..
8 ab exercises you probably have never done before. Remember though, if you really want to see those ab muscles you just worked, find a hill and start sprinting up it.
Nope. Thanks for reading
OK, fine. Here’s why…
These are actual claims I’ve copy and pasted from several different popular juice cleanse sites:
“a great way to reset your body and reposition yourself for a healthy lifestyle”
“Use it to boost energy, aid digestion, and relieve a case of the blahs.”
“an intense cleanse that triggers body digestion and detox and may help you manage your weight in the process.”
“We want to give the digestive tract a rest from having to break down solid food.”
“During a cleanse, the body is essentially detoxifying.”
It’s pretty much all nonsense (a case of the “blahs”?, and what does “body digestion” mean?, etc.) But I’m just going to focus on a few words that are used the most often, and have very little or absolutely no evidence to support them.
Restart, Reset, Restore, Reboot, Whatever…
The human body is by far the most complicated machine in existence. The smartest people in the world have not figured it out yet. And bad news, your high school friend pushing juice cleanses on Facebook is not one of the smartest people in the world.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, the human body does not have a “Reset” button. Sounds cool, but it’s simply not true.
Even if there was a “Reset” button, what exactly are you resetting? Is it a physical or chemical reset?
“I’ve been eating a lot lately. Mostly junk food. Going to do this cleanse to give my body a break”
Or is it psychological?
“I know I have to eat better. I’ll do this cleanse for a week and that will kick start my new, healthy eating habits.”
Let’s see what actual science says about that.
- The cell lining of the digestive tract is replaced about every 5 days
- Your digestive system is designed to, and capable of, working pretty much all the time
- A normal day already has a built-in rest period of 10-12 hours (while you sleep)
- You have probably heard “It takes 21 days to form a habit” Well, cleanses are a lot shorter than that, and some research shows it can take even longer than 21 days to form a habit
- Short term, highly restrictive diets have been shown to fail in the long run time and time again. You are better off implementing small changes over time.
Detox and Detoxify
Are you eating poison? Doing drugs?
If so, then you should probably detox. If not, it’s probably not necessary.
Here’s why: everything and anything, at a certain amount, can be toxic. Some people argue that too much sugar is toxic. Too much Vitamin C, toxic. Too much WATER can be toxic. Certain substances, at any amount, are technically toxic – alcohol being the most common.
At reasonable amounts, our own body is very good at handling these toxins. Maybe a better strategy would be to just limit the amount of bad things we eat and take the steps (some are listed below) to make sure our body is best able to process them.
If cleanses claim to “detoxify” you by drinking a bunch juices made from fruits and vegetables, THEN WHY WOULDN’T SIMPLY EATING FRUITS AND VEGETABLES DO THE SAME THING???
If you want to “detox” yourself, just add in some healthier foods to your diet. The added benefit of eating whole fruits and vegetables is they contain a lot of fiber – the absolute best “cleansing” substance you can eat. Fiber acts like a brush cleaning the walls of your digestive tract, taking it out completely doesn’t sound like the best way to “cleanse”.
How to Naturally “Detox”
- Eat whole fruits and vegetables
- Drink more water
- Exercise/sweat more
- Get more or better sleep
- Eat less junk
I’ve seen cleanses that cost anywhere between $100 and $300 dollars. Do you have any idea how much healthy food you could buy with that? A 3lb bag of broccoli from Costco costs about $7. You could eat over a pound of broccoli per day, for a month, for less than most cleanses.
Just about everyone knows a bunch of people who have tried a juice cleanse. My guess is you don’t know many people that lost, and kept off, any real weight. Often you’ll see temporary weight loss – from stored muscle glycogen, water weight, and maybe some undigested food in your gut. Once you go back to regular eating these all return to normal levels very quickly.
Don’t do it!
You’ve got to do some type of resistance training (ideally lifting weights) for your legs, there is no way around it. If you don’t, you are at risk of looking funny, being bad at sports, getting hurt, and not being awesome.
Sample Leg Workouts
In Part 1 I gave a sample workout you could do if you only wanted to do the bare minimum when it came to training legs. If you want to do a little more, here are two more examples – one that will cover all the bases, and another that’s pretty intense.
What should a solid leg training program include?
There are many different opinions when it comes to this. I think most would agree you should have one of each of the following:
Bilateral (meaning both legs) Strength Exercise like Squats, Front Squats, Goblet Squats, Deadlifts, Trap Bar Deadlifts, Leg Press or Hack Squat
Hip Hinge/Hip Extension Exercise like RDLs, 1 Leg RDLs, Goodmornings, Back Extensions, Glute-Ham Raise
Knee Flexion Exercise like Glute-Ham Raise, Natural Glute-Ham Raise, Leg Curls
Unilateral (meaning 1 leg at a time) Exercise like Lunges, Split Squats, Step Ups, 1 Leg RDLs
So, Workout #2
Pick one exercise from each of the above categories and do 3-4 sets of each. If you refuse to do squats, below is a workout that hits everything without them.
A1. Split Squat 4 x 8 (Unilateral)
A2. Glute-Ham Raise 4 x 8 (Knee flexion and hip extension)
B1. Leg Press 3 x 15 (Bilateral Strength)
B2. Barbell RDL 3 x 10 (Hip hinge)
There is an almost unlimited number of combinations you could come up with using that formula.
Lots and lots of reps in this one. I’ll usually use this as a break from heavier lifting, or when I’m doing 2 leg days per week do one heavy day and one higher volume like this. The quad giant set can be pretty awful,
A. Back Extension 4 x 25 (warmup)
B. Machine Leg Curl 5-6 x 6-8 (last set usually a drop set of 20-30 reps)
C. Heavy(ish) Split Squat or Step Up 5 x 5
D. Quad Giant Set or Drop Set (here is where things get hairy)
D1. Backwards Sled Drag 4 x 40 yards
D2. Walking Lunge 4 x 15 reps (each leg)
D1. Leg Press 4 x 20
D2. DB Reverse Lunge 4 x 10 (each leg)
E. Weighted Back Extension 3 x 15 – 20
“I hate squats”
“I don’t want to get sore”
“My (hip, knee, back, etc.) hurts when I do legs”
“I play basketball once a week, that’s enough work for my legs”
I get it. Very few people actually enjoy working out, let alone doing hard leg training.* Unfortunately, skipping out on leg day is a pretty bad idea for a number of reasons, some of which are pretty obvious and some maybe not so well known.
*By leg training, I mean resistance training. Lifting weights, certain bodyweight exercises, or dragging a weighted sled would apply. Going for a jog, spin class, or zumba-lates would not.
The Obvious (Hopefully) Reasons To Not Skip Leg Day
- You will end up looking ridiculous
- You will end up getting hurt. Knee and lower back injuries alone affect millions of people each year, and if you don’t think that smart, properly performed lower body training could prevent many of them, then I don’t know what to tell you….(you’re wrong!)
- You will get better at just about every single activity imaginable. Even the ones where you don’t think you need really strong legs. I mean look below, we’ve got golfers doing their squats and lunges now
The Not So Obvious Reasons
- You will get in great cardiovascular shape. If you don’t believe me, do a set of 20 rep squats. I’m willing to bet anything that will have you more winded than your usual jog around the neighborhood.
- You will lose body fat. Everywhere. Not just on your legs.
- You will get stronger. Everywhere. Not just your legs.
The reason for the last two is that hard lower body training (especially exercises like heavy squats and deadlifts) produce a massive, natural growth hormone and testosterone response. Both obviously have positive effects on body composition and strength.
So, when endless sit-ups and bench presses don’t give you the six pack and big chest you’re looking for, it might be time to mix in some deadlifts.
But I Still Hate Squats!
And I still don’t want to get sore! And my (insert body part here) still hurts!
Fine. You don’t have to squat, or deadlift, or do lunges. The fact is there are hundreds of different exercises that more or less do the same thing – they aren’t all as effective, but it’s better than nothing.
Below (or in Part 2) I’m going to give you three different leg workouts from the bare minimum you should be doing, to one that pretty much covers all your bases, to one that is probably a bit excessive, and awful, and awesome.
#1 The Minimum
Do 4-5 sets of each of these exercises at least once a week, both on the same day or spread them out. Doesn’t matter. Try to gradually increase the weight over time.
Trap Bar Deadlift
The benefits of a squat and a deadlift, easier to learn, and a fairly low risk of injury. You can’t go wrong with this exercise. (I’m using a band in this particular video. Nice for variety but not necessary)
Heavy Sled Push
Without a doubt, one of the most effective conditioning exercises I’ve ever used. Strong legs + Strong lungs = Badass
In Part 2 I’ll give you 2 more leg workouts, both of which are a little more intense than this one.
What is he doing back there? I never know what he’s doing
Here are a couple examples of what I’ve been doing with two of my clients. I’ll briefly explain each of their situations, including their goals, injury history, and why we did certain things the way we did. While these programs were designed specifically for each of these clients, I think most people would be able to do them with no problem. Keep in mind though, the workouts may not be in line with your goals.
Age: Mid 30s
Background: Former college lacrosse player. Tired of his usual exercise routine, looking to try some different workouts, get stronger and faster for adult league lacrosse, and prevent injury.
Injury History: Minimal
Frequency: 1 x week
Workout #1 (Weeks 1-3)
In the first few weeks, we focused on a lot of unilateral exercises to work on any side to side imbalances and simply bringing up work capacity. We increased the volume and/or added exercises to the workout week to week as his conditioning improved. Rest periods were kept at 60 seconds between exercises.
A1. FFE Split Squat 3-4 sets x 8 reps (per side)
A2. Cable Trap 3 Raise 3-4 sets x 8 – 12 (per side)
B1. Valslide Leg Curl 3 x 10
B2. 1/2 Kneeling 1 Arm Cable Row 3 x 12
B3. Incline DB Press 3 x 10 (added in week 2)
C1. Backward Sled Drag 4 x 40 yards
C2. Forward Sled Drag 4 x 40 yards
D1. Deadbugs 3 x 10
D2. Landmine Rotations 3 x 8 (added in week 2)
Workout #2 (Weeks 4-6)
After the first phase we introduced some jumps and throws, focusing more on strength and power.
A1. Box Squat 5 x 3 (focus on fast, explosive reps)
15 sec rest
A2. Sled Sprint 5 x 20 yards (also focusing on speed)
2 min rest
B1. Pullup 4 x 4-6 (slow eccentric, fast concentric)
15 sec rest
B2. MB Slam/OH Throw 4 x 4-6
2 min rest
C1. 1 Arm DB Bench Press 3 x 10
C2. RDL 3 x 10
D1. TRX Pull-in 3 x 15
Age: Early 40s
Background: Former college basketball player mainly trying to stay healthy and work around several injuries. Still plays basketball and tennis multiple times per week.
Injury History: Extensive (multiple knee surgeries, Achilles strain, recurring lower back pain)
Frequency: 1-2 x per week
We have worked together on and off for years, so I usually have a good idea of what exercises he’s able to do and which ones don’t work with his knees. But things happen, like in week 2 of this program he got tripped up in a tennis game and badly bruised a couple ribs. There is always a plan going in to the workout, but in cases like this we have to modify on the fly.
A1. RDL 4 x 6-8
A2. Incline BB Press 4 x 6-8 (skipped after week 2 bc ribs)
B1. DB Step Up 3 x 10-12
B2. 1 Arm BB Row 3 x 10-12
C1. Versaclimber 4 x 100ft
C2. Sled Rope Pull/Sled Push 4 x 20 yards each
D1. SB Rollouts 3 x 15
D2. Band Ankle Dorsiflexion 3 x 20
We made it through this one without any modifications. This client likes to move through things pretty fast and likes doing some type of interval/cardio circuit at the end of the workout, so I usually start off with corrective/prehab type exercises so he’s fresh while doing them.
A1. Valslide Reverse Lunge (Weight in 1 hand) 3 x 10 (each leg)
A2. Incline Superman 3 x 12
B1. 1 Leg Stability Ball Leg Curl 3 x 8
B2. 1 Arm Landmine Press 3 x 10
Circuit. No rest between exercises. 60s rest at the end. Repeat 3-4 times.
C1. Sandbag clean and press x 10
C2. Heavy Sled Push x 20 yards
C3. Inverted Row x 10
C4. Battle Ropes x 40 seconds
C5. Small Hurdle Side Shuffle x 20 seconds
If you are doing any of these things in the gym, then I’ve got two words for you…
1. Wearing Bad Shoes
Wearing the wrong pair of shoes for the activity will be less effective and can even get you hurt. So, a pair of shoes designed for distance running would not be your best option for lifting, just like a pair of Olympic lifting shoes would not be a smart choice for running.
Unless you want to buy 4-5 different pairs of shoes for all your different activities, your best bet is to just buy a good all around training shoe. Things to look for:
- A flat sole. This means minimal or no heel lift.
- Minimal cushioning. If you are going to lift in them, you don’t want the sole to compress under weight.
Angry Arnold Meter: Low
2. Squatting With Toes Pointed Out Excessively
Squat stance, style, and form will of course vary from person to person based on a number of factors, like anatomy, anthropometry, mobility, etc. Ignoring all of that (because that would be way too much to cover in just one post), there is a very good reason to avoid squatting with your toes pointed way out.
That reason is to avoid a very common error in the squat, which is falling forward (or less often, falling back). Again, this can also happen for a ton of reasons, but if you take a look at the picture below you’ll see why foot position can be one cause.
In the top picture, a more moderate toes out position, you can see the width of my base (front to back) is 11.5″. When I point my toes out, that decreases to 8″. A narrow base will make it more difficult to keep the weight centered over the middle of your foot, and more likely to let the weight drift forward – a position you are not nearly as strong in.
Angry Arnold Meter: Low
3. Overuse of “Balance” Exercises
Having good balance is great for injury prevention, sports performance, and just everyday life. The problem is that WAY too much emphasis is placed on doing “balance” exercises on stability balls, bosu balls, or balance boards.
Sports, and life, take place on the ground, a solid surface. Therefore, it makes sense to train your body to “balance” itself by applying force to a solid surface. There is very little evidence, if any, that shows training on unstable surfaces like a bosu ball improves your ability to balance on a stable surface. If anything, the evidence shows that you produce much less force, usually not enough to illicit strength gains.
Can it make an exercise harder? Sure. But remember, harder does not always equal better. If I were to punch you in the head during a set of squats, that would make the exercise harder. I doubt you would get any more benefit out of it though.
These exercises can be useful in some cases, especially when rehabbing injury, but they can not take the place of traditional ground based strength exercises – in athlete or general population training.
Angry Arnold Meter: Moderate to High
4. Bad Bench Press Liftoff/Handoff
This gets screwed up ALL THE TIME. And it makes Arnold very upset.
The bench press is the only exercise I can think of where people are paralyzed or die every year due to accidents. Seems like something that is kind of important and you probably want to do correctly.
Failure to set the bar BEFORE the descent can set the lifter up for missed reps and/or injury. What does setting the bar mean? It means that when you take the bar off the rack, you pause for a short time with arms straight and the bar over your chest. Then you start to lower the bar.
If you are getting a liftoff from a spotter this is even more important. You need a set point where they let go of the bar and you take it’s full weight. If you don’t do this, they are essentially dropping the bar on you with it over your face/neck. Take a look at the video to see what I mean.
Angry Arnold Meter: Very High
The sled is one of the very best pieces of equipment I have ever used, hands down. It is extremely versatile and effective, and with that in mind, it is relatively cheap compared to other pieces of equipment. If you are lucky enough to have access to one at your gym, use it.
If you don’t have one, buy one. They can be expensive, but if people can buy $100 bracelets that tell them they don’t exercise enough, they can afford a sled.
Below are 7 really good exercises you can do with a sled. But first…
What Makes It So Special?
- No eccentric phase – or the the lowering part of an exercise (think the going down part of a squat). Eccentric muscle actions cause the most muscle damage, and therefore, the most soreness. When you take that out you can train with a high amount of volume and frequency without getting sore. This makes sled training ideal for beginners, rehab, or conditioning workouts
- Versatility. You can really load it up with weight or have next to nothing on it. Using the squat as an example again, there will be situations where a person can not squat with just their bodyweight, let alone any weight. But I have never seen a situation where a person can’t drag a sled.
- Injury. It’s almost impossible to get hurt pushing or pulling a sled.
- It is Conan approved.
Lower Body Focused
Hits the quads unlike any other exercise. These are great for working around or preventing knee injuries.
Targets more of the posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, calves) than backward dragging. Leaning forward will also have more of a cardiovascular effect.
These can be done walking slow or sprinting, or anywhere in between. I like to do light forward drags as a warmup before squats or deadlifts.
People (athletes in particular) need to be able to move in a variety of directions, not just forward and backward, so I use these often. They are great for strengthening smaller muscles around the hips that don’t get as much work from forward or backward drags.
These can also be done walking or running.
Upper Body Focused
Most sled training, and conditioning in general, is very lower body focused. These next few incorporate more upper body work, making them great total-body exercises. These are all ass-kickers.
Sled Rope Pull
Sled Rows/1 Arm Rows
The Prowler is a type of sled with upright handles that you can push or pull on instead of attaching a strap like a standard sled. It can be used for any sled exercise, so if you could only buy one, this would be it.
Pushing a prowler is the very best sled exercise you can do, IMO. You will get stronger, leaner, in better shape, and maybe even have a religious experience or two when doing hard Prowler workouts.
It works. Really, really, really well. Do it.
You can run, walk, or crawl. Load it up with a ton of weight or keep it light. There are almost endless possibilities, but a few of my favorite prowler workouts are below (the weight used really depends on the surface you push on, some will be much harder than others).
10 sprints x 40 yards
Rest: 60s between
Weight: 140lbs (added to sled)
20 runs (75% of max speed) x 40 yards
Start a stopwatch on the first run. The next run starts at the top of each minute.
Weight: 50 -90lbs
8 trips (walking) x 20 yards
Rest: 1-2 minutes (or however long necessary)
Weight: As heavy as possible. Usually between 360-450lbs
Add Frozen Spinach to Shakes
Vegetables are gross, there’s no way around it, but this is a great way to get a bunch in without really tasting it. The key is that they are frozen when you put them in the shake. Otherwise you’ll definitely taste it and it won’t break up in the blender as well.
I’m guessing this also works well with other vegetables like kale, but I’ve only done it with spinach.
Skip The “Healthy” Juices
Just because juice is green doesn’t mean its really healthy for you. Many times these juices are LOADED with sugar. Like this one for example:
53 grams of sugar! Most people don’t need that in a day, let alone from one 15oz drink. Just eat whole fruits and vegetables. Even if you eat the same amount of sugar, you will at least be getting a ton of fiber along with it, and you will feel full for more than 5 minutes.
Use a Band To Fix a Common Plank Mistake
Arching your back and letting your hips sag are two very common mistakes on the plank exercise, or any variation (like pushups). Here is a very easy and quick fix to address that:
By keeping tension on the band, you are “turning on” your glute muscles – which in turn tuck your pelvis and flatten your lower back.
Negative Accentuated Leg Curls
Eccentric hamstring strength (the lowering part of this exercise) is crucial for knee health and preventing hamstring exercises. The problem with regular leg curls is that you are able to lift MUCH less than you are able to lower under control.
The solution? Use both legs to curl a light to moderate weight up, then take one foot away and lower the weight with only one leg. 5-6 reps per side should be plenty on these.
Traps are the new abs, everyone knows that. So you’ve got to do some shrugs. Here’s how to do them the right way.
- Chin tucked, head neutral
- Shoulders lift straight up toward your ears
- No rolling forward or backward. And definitely don’t shoot your head forward
Here are a bunch of really good exercises I use all the time. Some require equipment you may not have, but in most cases there are alternatives you’ll be able to do in just about any gym.
“Belt Squat” Marching
I don’t have a Belt Squat machine (and most gyms won’t), so this is one way I do this awesome exercise. Attach a dip belt to a weight somehow and just start marching. Timed sets (1-3 minutes) work well.
Warmup, Recovery, Finisher on lower body days
Medicine Ball Conditioning
Most conditioning methods are lower body focused, this is a good way to give your legs a break while you get some conditioning in. You have an almost unlimited number of combinations of different throws you can try, here is one of my favorite combinations.
This is another good way to incorporate more upper body work into your conditioning workouts. Plus, just about everyone could use more rowing in their routine to balance out all of the pressing we do and our poor posture.
Strength, General Conditioning
I’ve said it many times, most of your ab (or core) training should be bracing exercises – or exercises where you RESIST movement. But that does not mean you have to stand still or lay on the floor. Here is a great way to train anti-rotation while you are still moving.
Hanging Band Method
Instead the conventional way of adding weight to a barbell, try hanging weights from the ends of the bar with a pair of bands. Or, just hold the bands. This makes it much harder to stabilize the weight and forces secondary muscles to work harder than they normally would on the same exercise.
Strength, Prehab, Rehab, Deload/Recovery workouts
Bottom Up KB Pressing
Finally, a use for KBs under 50lbs! Similar to hanging bands, holding the bell upside down makes it much harder to stabilize. This is great for preventing and rehabbing shoulder injuries.
Strength, Prehab, Rehab, Deload/Recovery workouts
Yes, they look ridiculous. But they are one of the best things you can do to build strong glutes. And strong glutes = happy back, faster running, higher jumping, and more weight lifted on other exercises. So just do them.
1 very common mistake that I made for years is using a bench that is too high. A standard gym bench is around 18″, depending on your height you probably want to use something 12″ – 14″ high.
1 + 1/4 Split Squats
I won’t sugarcoat it, this exercise is miserable. But there are very few exercises better at developing your legs than Bulgarian Split Squats. Adding the quarter rep at the bottom increases the time under tension – one of the most important factors when it comes to muscle growth.
Strength, Hypertrophy, Masochism