Most women want a toned, well-sculpted lower half with a shapely butt and strong legs that are lean but not bulky. To sculpt your body this way, you’ll have to perform targeted resistance exercises for all the lower-body muscles. Since, they’re a lot of muscle groups in this area, many women have a hard time choosing the best exercises. Before I fully delve into the specifics, here’s a little ‘Lower-Body Weight Training 101’.
The Lower-Body Muscle Groups
The lower body is comprised of three primary areas: gluteals (glutes), thighs, and legs. The glutes are a collection of several muscles that attach to the hip joint. These muscles are the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. The gluteus maximus is the largest of the glutes and this is what we call the ‘butt’. Women of childbearing age have a natural tendency to carry excess weight around this area.
Now, the thighs include multiple muscles that attach to both the hip and knee joints. The muscles on the front of the thighs are collectively called the quadriceps (quads) while the muscles on the back of the thighs are called the hamstrings (hams). Finally, the muscles of the legs, include the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles, which we collectively called the calves. These muscles are located on the back of the legs.
Choosing Lower-Body Exercises
As I mentioned before, training the lower-body muscles requires the use of resistance. Resistance can include free-weights (barbell, dumbbells or kettlebells), isotonic variable-resistance equipment (Hoist, Cyber or other machine brands typically housed in gyms), cable pulley machines, resistance tubing or even your own body weight.
When training with resistance, I recommend starting with compound exercises that work the lower body at all joints (hip, knees, and ankles). Such exercises include squats, lunges, and step-ups. Once you’ve performed these compound exercises, if time permits, you can then ‘spot’ train your butt, thighs, and legs separately with isolated exercises.
It’s all about maximizing your workout time.
That being said, to effectively and efficiently build strong, lean legs and a shapely butt, you should perform each of the following lower-body resistance exercises at least twice a week.
When it comes to sculpting the glutes and quads, squats are the toughest yet most rewarding exercise you can do. Squats are also great for building core strength and can be performed using free-weights, resistance tubing or your own body weight.
If you have access to a gym, the leg press machine is a good alternative to squats, although not as effective. But, by changing the positioning of your feet during this exercise, you can switch the emphasis to the glutes, quads, hams or calves.
Lunges are the first cousin to squats. While lunges primarily work the glutes, they’re also great for sculpting the quads and hams. Similar to squats, you can perform lunges using free-weights, resistance tubing or your own body weight.
Stiff-leg deadlifts are a MUST for sculpting the perfect lower body. This exercise works the hams and develops the lower-back muscles and glutes for that ‘tabletop’ look. I recommend performing deadlifts with free-weights but rubber tubing will also suffice.
Step-ups are a highly effective exercise for firming up the lower-body muscles, especially the glutes and quads. Since step-ups mimic the act of walking up stairs, they also make for a killer cardio workout. Step-ups can be performed with free weights or your own body weight. All you need is a bench or another stable stepping surface.
Now, once you’ve knocked out all the exercises above, you can then spot train your lower-body muscles in isolation using machines or rubber tubing. I recommend leg extensions and leg curls.
Leg extensions are one of the best exercises for isolating the quads. You can maximize the overall effectiveness of leg extensions by performing them using a machine, in a seated position, one leg at a time. In opposition to leg extensions, leg curls work the hams and, to a lesser extent, the calves. This exercise can be performed in either a seated or lying position.
The Best Way to Work the Lower Body
To fully sculpt your lower body, I recommend performing 3-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions for each resistance exercise. You WILL NOT bulk up by training this way. Start with weights that fatigue your muscles between 10 and 15 repetitions (Tip: 10 should feel like you are not going to make it to 12 but light enough for you to get there). Depending on your fitness level, you may have to start with your own body weight.
For each exercise, use a light-to-heavy progression. In other words, increase the amount of weight you lift during each exercise set with a goal of fatiguing your muscles within the allotted number of repetitions. You should also perform all the lower-body exercises back-to-back with minimal rest between sets (no more than 30-45 seconds).
And there you have it! Highly effective and efficient ways to build strong, lean legs and a shapely but. By implementing the strategies I’ve laid out here, you’ll notice significant improvements in as little as a few weeks!