Strong, Stunning Legs
We’re deep into summer, but there’s still plenty of time for hiking, biking, swimming, softball, and all varieties of fun in the sun. Like many women, however, there’s a good chance you find yourself sitting on the sidelines more than you’d like because you feel self conscious about your body. Or maybe you feel awkward. Feeling uncoordinated can be another big game ender, says Leigh Crews, a spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise: “Nobody likes to feel clumsy in front of others.”
Or maybe, like millions of Americans, you feel a little unattractive and awkward. Well, time to leave the lawn chair and join the fun! This month we provide four super-sculpting moves that target your major lower body movers, including all the key stability muscles in your legs and core. You’ll improve your strength and balance and feel fit to take on any outdoor opportunity that comes your way—and you’ll look fabulous to boot!
Every Little Muscle Counts
First, rest assured that if you’re a little softer in the thighs and less sure on your feet than you once were, you’re not alone. Somewhere around age 40, everyone starts losing muscle--a loss that, if you do nothing to stem it, accelerates as you age and picks up considerable steam in your later years.
You already know that losing lean muscle, especially in your legs, means you look less trim and toned in skirts and shorts. And obviously, less muscle leaves you weaker and less energetic. What you may not realize is that muscle loss can throw you off balance--literally--so it’s harder to feel on your game when you do want to play. “Balance requires that you have strength and stability from the core down, and that includes all the little muscles that support your hips, knees, and ankles,” says Crews.
Here’s some good news: Your Curves workout hits the major and minor muscle groups in your hips, legs, and glutes from every angle. Using the Glute Machine, Hip Abductor/Adductor, Leg Extension/Leg Curl, Leg Press, and Squat machines effectively strengthens and firms your inner and outer thighs, glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and hip flexors. The Ab/Back, Lateral Lift, and Oblique machines on the Circuit strengthen your core muscles.
To raise your active outdoor fitness to an even higher level, however, try adding a few special moves that engage every last lower-body muscle, especially your stabilizers, even more. The following moves work the supporting muscles around your lower-body joints, especially the hips, knees, and ankles. Each exercise also adds a balance challenge to increase stability and zones in on your core to provide a rock-solid foundation.
If you want to give your balance an extra boost, add the following four moves to your next walk (or do them as a separate workout, if you prefer). Perform 2 or 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps of each exercise 3 days a week, perhaps at home on days when you can’t get to Curves—of course, it’s also fine to do them on Circuit days.
Targets: Glutes and quadriceps
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, and hands on hips. Shift weight onto your right leg, bending it about 45 degrees while sweeping your left leg diagonally behind you. In one smooth motion, step onto your left leg, bending it about 45 degrees while sweeping your right leg diagonally behind you. For more of a challenge, sweep your left leg to the left and jump from your right foot to the left, immediately bending into a half squat with your left leg as you sweep your right leg behind you. That’s 1 rep. Continue alternating legs to complete the set.
Targets: Glutes and shins
Walk on your heels (toes off the ground), taking short, quick steps, while extending your arms and swinging them in opposition to your legs. Keep your body weight centered on the middle of your heel as you push off your heel with each step. Step first with your right foot, then your left, for 1 rep.
Targets: Glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings
Place your right foot on the edge of a curb or step, allowing your left leg to hang in the air. Pull your navel toward your spine and, keeping your chest lifted, bend your right hip and knee toward the curb or step, lower your left foot, and gently tap your left heel on the ground or floor. Keeping your right heel firmly planted, return to the starting position. Repeat for half of the prescribed repetitions, then switch legs to complete the set.
Targets: Glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and core
Stand with your feet together and arms raised in front of you at shoulder height, palms facing down. Imagine you are standing on a clock, facing 12. Step your right foot (toes pointed forward) to the 2 o’clock position and bend your knees, pressing your hips back until your right knee is aligned over your right toes. Your left heel should lift off the ground. As you lunge, rotate your torso toward the right. Push off with your right foot, return to start, and repeat to the left. That’s 1 rep.