Every woman out there who puts any effort into her training and nutrition wants to develop a nice, firm backside. Many women struggle to tighten up their lower bodies and tone the glutes and hamstrings. There are many effective approaches to training the lower body, and variety is always important to keep the body guessing and keep yourself interested in the workouts, but there are a few general tips that can improve your lower body training and get you closer to that coveted “apple ass.”
Weight Training for the Lower Body and the Importance of Cardio
For lower body and glute workouts, I recommend relying primarily on large and/or compound exercises. Try to create workouts that include 4 or 5 exercises with 3-4 sets each. I usually start with a compound exercise and do four sets, and then three sets of everything else in the workout.
Whether bulking or cutting, I don't change too much about the exercises themselves, just the amount of weight I use and the number of reps. For bulking, I prefer heavier weight that allows me to go about 8-10 reps on the lower body workouts. For cutting, I prefer lighter weight that allows me to go about 15-20 reps on the lower body workouts.
Remember that you can make lighter weight feel heavier by slowing down the movements, squeezing and holding at the top/bottom, and/or slow negatives. Never sacrifice your form for heavier weight - it is not worth it, and you risk injury. For those of you who do not want to grow too much in the lower body and want to focus more on toning, I would stick with weights that put you at least in the 12-15 rep range per set. You should be struggling and reaching failure towards the end of the sets, though - don't make it too easy for yourself.
Use your cardio to help develop your lower body, not just to burn calories! Modify what you do for cardio to focus more on your butt.
Try to split your cardio from your weight lifting if you can. I try to do my cardio in the morning and lift in the evenings. If this is not possible, try to do cardio after lifting so that you are strongest for the lifting. Nothing beats the stair climber for developing the glutes while doing cardio. Make it your new best friend. Love it, and it will love you back.
Sprints and track workouts are great, but I would avoid running long distances if you are trying to develop or add muscle mass to the lower body. You will notice that there are not many long distance runners out there with big quad sweeps or large legs. Long distance running burns size off your legs. Other than the occasional light jog, I have eliminated running from my workouts completely for this reason. I do sprints and track workout from time to time. You'll also notice that there aren't many sprinters out there without awesome leg/quad separation – sprints are great for this purpose. Walking is always an excellent choice for cardio, and you can do it anywhere. Try to find some hills and take a nice powerwalk!
These are my three “must-do” exercises for glute and lower body development.
- FREE SQUATS – The best lower body exercise in the world. No Smith Machine…just you and the weighted barbell on your shoulders. Keep your upper body upright when you squat (don't bend forward) and squat like you are going to sit down on a toilet, maybe a little deeper. Make sure your ass and knees stay comfortably behind your ankles when you squat. Feet forward, shoulder width apart is a "normal" stance. Feet pointed outward with a slightly wider stance will focus more on the inner thighs. To develop my quad sweep, I prefer to squat “ass to calves” with a relatively narrow stance, but I only recommend this approach for the advanced squatter. Work up to deep squats with light weight, perfect form, and lots of practice!
- STRAIGHT LEG DEADLIFTS – The second-best lower body exercise in the world. I prefer the weighted barbell, but dumbbells work too. Stand with your legs straight and slightly apart, in a "comfortable" position. Bend forward sliding the weight down your legs and keeping your back straight. You should be pivoting 100% at the hips and keeping the weight over your heels. Check your form in the mirror....do them with a mirror next to you so that you can watch how you bend.
- WALKING LUNGES – I prefer a barbell on my shoulders, but you can also do these with dumbbells in your hands. These are best when they are done walking, not lunging in one place. The lunges should be pretty deep, but make sure that the knee on the leg you are lunging with stays behind the ankle (don't hyper-extend). Lunge up and down the gym, hitting about 12-15 lunges for each leg per set. Use the track if your gym has one, but don't lunge around the corners. Take the barbell outside and lunch in the parking lot or down the street. Hills can be used for walking lunges too.
In addition to the three must-do exercises, I like to incorporate the following into my lower body workouts:
- Leg Extensions. Squeeze and hold at the top. Adjust foot positioning to vary the exercise.
- Butt Blaster/Donkey Kick machine
- Lying Hamstring Curls. I like to do these one leg at a time.
- Seated Hamstring Curls. This machine is great for working the Sartorius muscle, which is the longest muscle in the body.
- Leg Press. Good for the quads, and again you can adjust your foot position to focus on the outer/inner thigh.
- Calf Raise Machines. I use both the seated and standing machines, but if you have a Donkey Calf Raise machine, that is even better because it engages the glutes and hams too.
Again, there are many ways to construct good workouts for the lower body, and variety is always a good thing for your body and your mind. When I really want to focus on lower body development, I tend to work my lower body twice a week, with one workout more focused on the glutes/quads, and the other more focused on hams/calves.
DAY 1 - GLUTES/QUADS
DAY 2 - HAMS/CALVES
- Free Squats 4 sets
- Walking Lunges 3 sets
- Leg Press 3 sets
- Leg Extensions 3 sets
- Butt Blaster 3 sets
ANOTHER OPTION FOR ONCE/WEEK
- Walking Lunges 4 sets
- Straight Leg Deadlifts 3 sets
- Seated or Lying Hammy Curls 3 sets of one exercise, or two sets of each
- Standing Calf Raises 3 sets
- Seated Calf Raises 3 sets
If you are limited with time or only want to hit the lower body once per week, I would recommend making your workout consist of the three must-do exercises (squats, lunges, deadlifts), plus one calf exercise, plus one other machine of your choice (leg extensions, hamstring curls, etc.) and one calf exercise. For variety, change the machine of your choice weekly when you do the lower body workout.