The general population is spending more and more time in sedentary jobs/positions, sitting down hunched over a computer/desk for hours on end. This is leading to poor posture, structural imbalances, compromised movement patterns and eventually pain. The hamstrings and glute’s are body’s primary movers, in addition to giving great aesthetics. Therefore, this article will focus on the posterior chain -opening the front of the body whilst strengthening the back of the body. Weight training can be such an efficient and versatile training modality – you can use it to increase strength, build lean muscle, enhance the power to weight ratio, activate key stabilizers and improve dynamic mobility. This article will demonstrate 4 fundamental lower body exercises.
The Romanian Deadlift as demonstrated here by is an excellent posterior chain exercise instrumental in promoting the hinge pattern of the hips (check out here for a good hip hinge cue). The Romanian Deadlift engages the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back muscles (Frounfelter, 2000 ; Mayer et al., 2008 ; Piper, 2001 ; Sheppard, 2003).
While performing this exercise, you are using weight to eccentrically lengthen the hamstrings on the way down, then open the front of the hips into full extension to return to the starting position and complete the movement.
1. Set your feet hip distance apart, with your hips, knees, and 2nd and 3rd toes in alignment and the weight held in
2. Brace through the spine and draw the bellybutton in to help support the lower back.
3. Soften the knees to about a 135 degree angle and send the hips backwards, as if you were going to touch a wall behind you (you can also use a wall as a tactile cue). Keep the weight distributed through the whole foot. The shoulders should be pinned back the whole time so as not to round the upper back.
4. Drive the heels through the floor and “snap” the hips forward to return to the starting position.
5. Squeeze the glutes hard at the top to ensure that you are not hyperextending the lower back.
Note – If you struggle with setting the shoulders, you can practice by holding a towel between your upper arm and your ribcage throughout the movement. This is 1 of 4 Fundamental Lower Body Exercises.
It’s really important to include exercises in your training that address all the planes of movement. We spend so much time traveling in a straight line forwards and backwards (sagittal plane), that we forget how important a change of direction is. A lateral lunge as demonstrated by is an excellent single-leg, frontal plane movement (moving side to side), that strengthens the glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings, all while lengthening the adductors (inner thighs) of the straight or stationary leg. The gluteus medius has been shown to be a key muscle in controlling the frontal plane motion of the pelvis/hip complex. The glute med stabilizes the hip during unilateral stance to prevent the pelvis from dropping and has also been proven to control femur internal rotation during closed chain activities. Weakness of this muscle has been associated with lower back pain, patellofemoral pain syndrome, and Iliotibial band syndrome. Demonstrated here is the 2nd of 4 Fundamental Lower Body Exercises.
1. Start with your feet together.
2. Take a large step to the side turning the foot out slightly and pushing the hips back as if you were to perform a single leg squat.
3. Make sure the weight is in the heels and the hip, knee, and 2nd and 3rd toes are in alignment. Stay as upright as you can throughout.
4. Push off your heel to return to the starting position and alternate legs.
5. You can do this exercise with your own bodyweight or with a loading progression of a front loaded kettlebell, dumbbells, back loaded barbell, front loaded barbell.
Note – Take this movement easy at first. It is easy to pull the deep hamstrings if they are excessively tight. Range of motion is far more important than load here, therefore use your lunge depth as a tool to progress before implementing a weight.
The Hip Thrust is the premier glute-building movement. The gluteus maximus is a strong and big muscle important in pelvic and spinal stabilization. This muscle allows us to maintain upright as needed for bipedalism (1). However, the glute muscles gradually lose tone during our chain-laden lifestyle. The term “gluteal amnesia” and “sleeping giant” refer to the inhibition and delayed activation of the gluteal muscles which lead to weakness here and is a root cause of many injuries and chronic pain. (2) Here is a way to prevent weakness in the glutes with an added bonus of the hip flexors to be stretched and end range of the thrust.
1. From a seated position on the floor, set your upper back on the bench with the weight through your shoulder blades.
2. Bend the hips and knees and position the feet so that they are directly underneath the knees.
3. Drive through the heels and raise the hips into full extension, keeping the knees aligned with the 2nd and 3rd toes.
4. Make sure that the spine is braced throughout meaning that there is no hyperextension through either the upper spine when lowering to the ground or the lower back when raising the hips up.
5. The neck should remain in line with the spine throughout.
6. This movement can be done with your own bodyweight or loaded with a weight plate or barbell across the front of the hips.
7. For extra glute engagement, turn your feet slightly out and/or place a resistance band around the knees.
When the barbell hip thrust was compared to the back squat on an estimated 10 RM, it was shown to have greater Gluteus Maximus (both upper and lower fibers) and Biceps Femoris EMG activity, however no significant difference in Vastus Lateralis EMG activity. (3)
Bulgarian Split Squat
Bulgarian Split squat is the last Fundamental Lower Body Exercises, this exercise is great for developing single leg strength and stability. At the bottom position of this movement, you are strengthening the glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps of the front leg while lengthening the hip flexors and quads in the back leg.
1. Set yourself up so that your hips are level and pointing straight forward.
2. One foot is set up in the forward position directly under the knee, with the other foot resting on the bench behind you with the weight across the shoelaces.
3. Bend the front leg so that the back knee drops down to lightly touch the ground, keeping the weight on the front heel and maintaining hip, knee, and 2nd and 3rd toe alignment throughout.
4. Drive up through the front heel back to the starting position.
5. Keep a slight forward lean throughout to emphasize the engagement of the glutes while avoiding hyperextension in the lower back.
6. You can do this exercise with just your own bodyweight. The loading progression would be dumbbells, barbell across back, and front loaded. You can also progress it by elevating the front foot thereby increasing the range of motion demands.
Note – If you want to emphasize the stretching aspect of the back leg, stay more upright and focus on really driving the pelvis forward and underneath you. For additional length, you can hold a weight plate overhead. There has been shown to be more Gluteus Medius and hamstring activation in unilateral squats as opposed to a more active quadriceps during bilateral squats. Hope you enjoyed these 4 Fundamental Lower Body Exercises!
1. Marzke Et al. : Gluteus maximus muscle function and the origin of hominid bipedality.
2. Sahrmann, Diagnosis and treatment of movement impairment syndromes, Mosby, 2002.
3. A Comparison of Gluteus Maximus, Biceps Femoris, and Vastus Lateralis Electromyographic Activity in the Back Squat and Barbell Hip Thrust Exercises by: Contreras at al.
4. Distefano LJ, Blackburn JT, Marshall SW, et al. Gluteal muscle activation during common therapeutic exercises. J Orthop Sports Phys There. 2009; 39: 532–540.
5. Ekstrom R, Donatelli R, Carp K. Electromyographic analysis of core trunk, hip, and thigh muscles during 9 rehabilitation exercises. J Orthop Sports Phys Therapy. 2007; 37: 754.
6. McCurdy K, O’Kelley E, Kutz M, Langford G, et al. Comparison of lower extremity EMG between the 2-leg squat and modified single-leg squat in female athletes. J Sport Rehabil. 2010; 19: 57–70.