Lower Body Exercise Progressions

Lower Body Exercise Progressions

This article will take you through a linear progression very similar to how I approach lower extremity injuries in the clinic. It is imperative to master the fundamentals before working on highly skilled or sports like movements. This progression is inspired by the ‘Powers Program’ which is an evidenced-based exercise progression developed by Dr. Chris Powers, PT, PHD from the University of Southern California. This program will begin with non-weight bearing isometric holds, don’t let these exercises fool you they can still be challenging! We then progress to static double leg weight-bearing exercises then guide you into single leg exercises; we end this lower body exercise program with double leg dynamic strengthening movements. ย Part two of this article will progress you into single leg strengthening, plyometrics, agility movements, then returning to your desired sport!

Start With Isometrics

Why isometrics? It will help with increasing both corticomotor excitability (mind-muscle connection) in addition to increasing the representational area in the primary motor cortex! This is just a fancy word for the area of the brain that is responsible for activating muscles. Inherently the real estate in the motor cortex that is responsible for the glute is poorly represented- demonstrated via Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation-TMS.

Clams, Sidelying Hip Adduction, Fire Hydrant

Begin this lower body exercise program with 3 non-weight-bearing exercises to improve Glute excitability.

Clams: Focus on bringing the knee out and back. Avoid rotating the trunk, I bias the chest towards the floor to avoid cheating here. I push into the bottom arm to activate my core and stabilize my pelvis, which helps with isolating this motion to my hip to better recruit the glute muscles.
Side-lying Hip Abduction: keep my bottom leg slightly hip flexed so I can bias my hip extensors in addition to hip abductors. This will get Glutes over TFL. Focus on bringing the top leg both up and back.
Fire Hydrant: Drive your knee out to the side and back. Avoid rotating at the trunk or bending your elbows. Focus on pulling with the glut muscles.

Hold each of these for 2×30 seconds for each exercise per side, eventually work to progressing yourself to 2×60 second holds. You will feel the burn! This is a great way to start someone on a Lower Extremity Strengthening program prior to standing someone up in a closed chain position.

Looking for this entire program with exercise descriptions and parameters included? Check out this full lower body exercise program HERE!

 

Full Plank With Alternating Leg Lifts

The goal of the plank is to work on your core stability. Adding in the alternating leg lifts further challenges your core stability. ย The intent of this exercise is to move the limbs as the core is engaged. Although the legs are moving, this exercise is still under isometrics because the emphasis here is on the isometric contraction of the core musculature.

Sidelying Hip Adductor Isometrics

For this exercise begin on your side. Squeeze your thigh and knee first, in particular, the inside part of your thigh. While maintaining the squeeze, slowly lift up your leg. You should feel the muscles on the inside part of your thigh working. Do not let your hips/core move. Keep them tight the entire time!

 

Double Leg Static

Once you master the non-weight bearing isometrics, you have the option of performing these exercises in an isotonic manner, however, I like to get people weight-bearing as quick as possible. This phase loads the system more and will begin to activate the quadriceps. We still want to focus on getting great gluteal activation with a ratio of glutes to quads activation of 2:1. If you are still having difficulty finding this ration, you may need to prime your glutes with isometrics prior to performing these exercises. Often times in these earlier stages I will implement blood flow restriction cuff, allowing me to augment my results. Below are a few exercises to help improve your muscle function in this double leg static phase.

Chair Squat Isometrics

This exercise will help to strengthen your leg muscles, back muscles, and promote trunk stability. Get set-up on the edge of a chair or surface that you feel comfortable with standing up from without having to use your arms for assistance. Lean forward and lift your butt off the surface, you should now be in a low squat position. Hold this position for 3-5s followed by slowly shifting your weight back towards the starting position and have a seat on the surface. This should feel like a leg workout. Your butt and thigh muscles should be working hard to maintain the chair squat hold position. Your back and stomach muscles will also be working to maintain optimal trunk position. Follow the video for other cues and tips.

Split Stance Lunge Isometrics

Sample PrehabX Video

HOW: Begin in a split stance by placing the non-affected leg backward with the heel off the ground. Be sure to place 70-80% of your weight in your front leg and 20-30% in your back leg. Slowly lower yourself down, and then hold this position

FEEL: You should feel all of the thigh muscles and butt muscles working, primarily in the forward leg.

COMPENSATION: Avoiding having an over-arched or rounded back โ€“ keep a neutral spine with core engaged. Donโ€™t let the knee cave in or bow out. Keep equal weight distribution in the entire foot of the forward leg.

 

Lateral Lunge Isometric Hold

Begin this exercise with your feet spread apart. Lunge into the desired leg to exercise, lower yourself as far as you feel comfortable and hold this position. Avoid placing the weight excessively on your forefoot or your heel, keep most of the weight in the middle of your foot. The leg that you are lunging on will be working, from the calves up to the thigh and hips. You may feel a stretch in the groin on the hip of the leg that is straight.ย Avoid letting the knee going forward past your toes. Also, avoid your knee caving inward, make sure to keep your ankle, knee, and hip in alignment.

Split Squat Pallof Press

Get a band or cable anchored somewhere between waist and shoulder height. While standing perpendicular to the anchor and holding the handle with both hands, get set-up in a split squat position. While holding this position, press your arms forward away from your chest until your elbows are fully straight. Hold that position for a moment while keeping your hips and shoulders square facing forward, then bring your arms in and repeat.

Supine Bridge With Adduction

Place a firm object like a ball between your legs and squeeze. Maintain this contraction the entire time while performing a bridge. You should feel the muscles on the insides of your thighs and glutes working. Do not arch the back. Use your hips to lift you up, not your back. Check this article out if you are looking for more information on groin prehab.

 

Single Leg Static

Once double leg static activation and strengthening have been mastered, it is time to progress into single leg static activation. This will essentially double the load on your lower extremity and may add a challenge to your balance system! The progression is not as black and white as I am showcasing in this article. You can perform the exercises in the previous phase isotonically while you transition into the single leg static phase. Below are a few lower body exercises you can perform in this phase.

Captain Morgan

With your knee closest to the wall elevate and push your knee into the wall so that your hip is NOT touching the wall. AVOID leaning over towards your stance limb, this is tricky because at the same time you want to AVOID allowing your shoulder to touch the wall. Basically, allow your trunk to remain in the neutral position you would be in if you were to stand. The further you walk out your stance leg the more difficult this exercise will get. Although you are strengthening the leg that is pushing up against the wall, the stance limb is the one that should fatigue first! Go ahead and try this out, it is much more difficult than it looks!

Single Leg Firehydrant Isometrics With Band

The quadruped fire hydrant is one of my all-time favorite exercises for glute and core activation. But once your client has mastered the quadruped position, it’s time to be upright in a more functional position. The glute max is a TRI-PLANAR muscle. It performs EXTENSION, EXTERNAL ROTATION, and ABDUCTION. So with your fire hydrant, make sure you are performing ALL of those actions! You should be essentially moving your KNEE BACK and OUT to the side in a 45-degree angle. As you push your knee out, make sure that your stance leg DOES NOT MOVE AT ALL. This exercise requires BOTH HIPS to be active. “Screw your leg into the ground” and get in a good athletic single leg stance before pushing out on the band. The core needs to stay braced and solid as well. “Clamp your ribs into your pelvis”. The only thing move should be the HIP performing the ๐Ÿ”ฅ hydrant!

 

Double Leg Dynamic

The previous phases often time takes anywhere from 3-6 weeks to master for most of my patients and clients. After we have mastered the double to single leg activation phase it is time to focus on strength! How do we get strong? By using heavy resistance! There is no other way to get these neural adaptations. Avoid rushing into this phase, if you don’t build a solid foundation with the previous phases you are doing yourself a disservice. If you strengthen your poor movement, you are only strengthening your dysfunction! Below are examples of exercises to help improve double leg dynamic strength. These exercises depend on what activity or sport you are looking to get back to.

Barbell Back Squat

Place the barbell on your back in either a high bar or low bar position (choose whatever is most comfortable to you). Keeping your back relatively neutral/straight, descend in the squat to your desired depth, and then return to your starting position. Keep your core engaged and braced the entire time, remember to breathe! This is a foundational strength piece that should be apart of everyone’s lower body exercise program.

Looking for this entire program with exercise descriptions and parameters included? Check out this full lower body exercise program HERE!

Romanian Barbell Deadlift

Find your โ€œpower stanceโ€, or the stance you would set up in if you were told to jump as high as you can. This is your starting position. Drive your feet into the ground and โ€œspread the groundโ€. Pull the slack out of the bar and then lift the barbell using your legs.

Single Leg Lower body exercise – 4 Direction Lunge

This exercise is now beginning to transition into single leg dynamic strengthening. This will be where part two of this article will begin, stay tuned!

Sample PrehabX Video

HOW: While standing on one leg, you are going to reach the other leg in 4 different directions as you perform a single leg mini squat to draw the full letter โ€˜Yโ€™

FEEL: You should feel the thigh muscles and butt muscles working in the leg that you are standing on.

COMPENSATION: Maintain equal weight distribution on the foot of the standing leg the entire time. Key here is to maintain proper alignment of the standing leg throughout each movement. Donโ€™t let the knee collapse in or bow out.

 

Conclusion On Lower Body Exercise Progressions

This article showcased lower body exercise progression taking you from non-weight bearing isometric holds -> double leg static hold -> single leg static hold-> double leg strengthening! Here are all the exercises included in this program with exercise descriptions and parameters included!

For some individuals, this is where the progression of exercises end, and we continue to improve double leg strengthening. However, for many of the clients and patients that are looking to get back to higher level activities or sports, this is only the beginning. Let us know if you are interested in having us create a follow-up article discussing lower body exercise progressions. This will include single leg strengthening, plyometrics, agility movements, and specific movements to get you prepared for your specific sport! Comment below and let us know what activity or sport you want us to gear part 2 of this article towards!

 

prehabX

2 Comments
  • Sean Mc
    Posted at 19:03h, 13 August Reply

    Iโ€™d love to see more about single leg, Plyo, and agility. Iโ€™m a fencer and martial artist. Had IT band and patella femoral problems a few years ago that flared up again last summer when doing some heavier than usual training. Physical therapy helped But I Want to get my confidence back in my explosive lunges and jump kicks. Lots of torque of my knees.

    • Michael Lau
      Posted at 07:40h, 14 August Reply

      Hey Sean,
      If youre looking for more single leg, plyometric, and agility drills then check out our exercise library! https://theprehabguys.com/video-library/

      Try the tags: single leg and jump under position and movement pattern respectively

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