Thursday, May 8, 2014

My favorite exercises (Lower Body)

In the past I have posted about exercises that I don't like. These exercises were mostly listed because they carry a high risk with very little reward (upright rows, dips etc.). I don't want people thinking that I'm all doom and gloom so I figured I should post about some of my favorite exercises as well.

If you have read many of my previous posts you are likely aware that I am a big proponent of the classic barbell lifts (squatting, deadlifting, pressing, pulling etc.) With this piece I want to focus on lifts that may not be as common in the average gym.

Front Loaded Barbell Reverse lunge:

Squatting and Deadlifting are great exercises but both have some pre-requisites to safely execute. Both require a certain degree of flexibility in the hips and symmetry between the strength of the left and right leg to avoid injury. Not all clients have that flexibility and symmetry but they still need heavy lower body training to stimulate increases in overall strength and muscular development.

For a client that has a difficult time maintaining neutral spine at the bottom of the squat or can't properly set up to pull a bar from the floor unilateral training can be extremely beneficial. Lunge variations are very effective for improving strength in the trunk and the legs, flexibility and balance.

The front loaded barbell reverse lunge is probably my favorite unilateral lift. I am a huge fan of front loading the barbell in the clean grip position. It helps with flexibility of the shoulders and allows for greater contribution of the anterior core muscles (the abs). When compared to other single leg training exercises (step ups, walking lunges, split squats) the reverse lunge is much less strenuous on the knees while providing greater stimulation of the posterior chain.


This is a great lift for athletes and personal training clients, as not a lot of weight room movements condition people to move well backwards. Many personal training clients usually struggle with this movement at first because they are only accustomed to moving straight ahead and this is a great way to incorporate functional movement in multiple planes without getting too silly with what should be strength work. 

Barbell Hip Thrust

The barbell hip thrust is a great exercise for several reasons.

1. The hip thrust isolates the glutes, unlike other exercises that also bring the hamstring and quads into play. Let's be clear that we want exercises that incorporate multiple muscles groups but it's good to have the ability to isolate in certain scenarios, particularly with commonly underactive muscles like the glutes

2. The barbell hip thrust is easy to learn. This lift can load the glutes to a large degree without the technique or mobility requirements of a squat.

3. The hip thrust trains the glutes with no load placed on the lower back. There is a time and a place for challenging the lower back to stabilize but the hip thrust is a very good change of pace movement. I like to program it for clients with a history of back pain or during de-load weeks of training when I want to maintain strength while not taxing the system quite as hard.

The hip thrust can be performed with no external load or with a barbell. If using the barbell variation I recommend using an airex pad or rolled up yoga mat to pad the front of your hips. You can even use the silly pad that people put on the bar when back squatting. Finally, we have a use for that thing!

DB squat to press

Front racking a barbell in the clean position is difficult. Repeatedly pressing that bar overhead and returning to the front squat position with each rep is even harder. I like the barbell squat to press because it involves multiple foundational patterns and teaches transference of force between the lower and upper extremities. However, multiple repetitions with the barbell often get sloppy (I'm looking at your crossfitter with poor shoulder mobility). For that reason I like the dumbbell squat to press. It allows the athlete to keep the torso upright while the neutral position of the shoulders is safer than the barbell grip.

Give these exercises a try during your next weightlifting session and let me know how it goes.

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