Strong, balanced legs and a strong, balanced core will allow you to safely perform nearly any activity.
Muscular imbalances sneakily develop over time – sometimes because of a side dominance, because we are sitting for work for many hours, because we are training for a specific activity without enough cross training – any number of reasons.
Creating strength and stability in the gluteal muscles – especially with some of these isolated single leg movements – will really help protect your knee joints.
It’s super important to activate and be able to “fire” the muscles on both sides of your hips to really balance your gait and protect you through all of the movements that you do daily (check out my core and glute activation tutorial for more on this).
The reason isolated single leg movements are so effective and important for your core stability is because the bigger multi-joint moves like squats and deadlifts recruit many muscles at the same time and if the glutes are weak and not firing other muscles will take over and do the work.
These single leg moves really force your glutes to activate, and will help you really create lift and balance on the back of your body. The moves in this circuit target multiple leg, glute and core muscles for a complete lower body blast – and you can conveniently do this absolutely anywhere you are.
Legs and Glutes Circuit (no equipment)Click to expand and see all workout move descriptions.
Format: 1 minute each move (or split 30/30 each leg when doing a single leg move); repeat 4 times
Move 1: Standing Leg Raise to Fire Hydrant (30/30)
- This is a great move that will simultaneously challenge your intrinsic balancing muscles AND your abductors (muscles that move your legs away from your body – the ADDuctors bring your legs together – think inner thighs).
- Your abductors include your glute medius and maximus, and the TFL, the small very important muscle that sits at the top of your leg and feeds into your IT band, adding stability to your knee.
- This move also targets a really cool muscle that runs from the outside of your hip to the inside of your knee, called sartorius – which is involved in hip and knee stability.
- Stand on one foot, with your hand on a supportive surface (chair back, counter top, etc). Raise your leg straight, then add a kick. Repeat.
Move 2: Wide Leg Squats on Toes
- You can certainly do this move with your heels down if you feel more stable. When your heels are lifted, your knees will go over your toes slightly. This is normal and not bad.
- Focus on driving up from the squat with your glutes, and keeping your chest lifted. This will correctly position your center of gravity back over your heels, protecting your knees.
- Being up on your toes will activate your calves and hamstrings, and also get your lower back and core involved as you balance.
- Hold onto a chair or wall for support as needed – or if you’re advanced feel free to work on balancing without using your arms.
Move 3: Curtsy Squat to Kick (30/30)
- One of my favorite moves! This will get your heart rate up, and simultaneously work your core and different muscles through the standing and kicking legs.
- Set yourself up for a proper reverse lunge squat, so that your knee bends to 90 degrees and your weight is back in your heel.
- The leg that goes behind you will line up with the front leg, unlike a traditional reverse lunge where it is parallel. This engages your quads, glutes and deep calf muscle in the stationary leg, and targets your abdominals and quads in the kicking leg.
- Because you’re coming into a kick and will be balancing, keep a light contacting pressure on a chairback or wall for stability.
Move 4: Plank Hold with Alternating Leg Lifts
- An awesome move for the whole body, plank holds isometrically work your shoulders, chest and arms, and the addition of the single leg lift targets your lower back and glute max.
- Strengthening your lower back (as a compliment to your abdominal muscles) is such an important part of creating a strong foundation around your pelvis, allowing you to really balance your center of gravity and correct misalignment.
- Position yourself with your wrists stacked below your elbows, stacked in line with your shoulders.
- Engage through your core by imagining you have an invisible glass ceiling above you that you want to gently press your back into (don’t let it arch).
- Once you feel solid in this position, alternate lifting your straight left, then right leg.
- Initiate the movement with your glutes, squeezing each one as you raise the leg. Don’t allow your hips to rotate, keep them square to the floor.
Move 5: Single Leg Forward Reach (30/30)
- This is an awesome posterior chain strengthening exercise that I love working on my form with as a body weight move regularly.
- It’s very easy to transition this to a weighted single leg deadlift (I like holding kettle bells), but you need to make sure you have your form perfect on this with no weight before you add anything as it’s very unstable.
- This move is incredible for your glutes and will really force you to activate and isolate these muscles.
- To perform this correctly, you want to hinge from your hips and keep your head and chest forward and up.
- With no weight, reach your arms in front of you for balance, and allow your lifting leg to become an extension of your torso, lifting in line with your upper body.
- Press evenly through your standing foot. Keep a soft bend in your knee (don’t lock it out).
- What’s especially important here is to keep your hips very square – not allowing them to rotate to one side or the other.
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