If you're looking to have a better looking bottom half, keep reading. WebMD's Fitness Series can help you with everything from what and when to eat to exercise photographs with step-by-step instructions.
The trick to getting nicely sculpted thighs and glutes is specifically targeting these muscle groups -- the quadriceps (front of the thighs), hamstrings (back of the thighs), and gluteals (butt).
Building these muscles will increase stamina in most everything you do, including climbing stairs, getting out of a chair, squatting to pick up a baby off the floor, or walking the grocery aisles.
Some of the largest in the body, the upper leg muscles, are made up of quadriceps, hamstrings, abductors (outer thighs), and adductors (inner thighs) and it is important that they be worked with some balance, says exercise physiologist and personal trainer Nicole Gunning.
"You want to develop these muscles in a balanced way for optimal function," says Gunning. "Otherwise you end up with things like improper gait, problems with balance, and trouble with normal daily living activities."
Weak, tight, or imbalanced muscles are going to manifest in more than just reduced performance. Over time, these imbalances cause bigger problems.
"Over-attention to any muscle group is going to cause a compromise in another," says Gunning.
When one part of the leg is more developed than the other, it can pull the hips and pelvis out of alignment, which challenges stability and eventually leads to back, hip, knee, and ankle pain, she says. The next thing you know, people are treating back or knee pain, when what they really want to be doing is balancing muscle development.
Gunning sees many clients with tight hamstrings, for instance, runners.
"Using these muscles over and over on hills and different terrain," she says, "and repetitively contracting the muscle and not stretching can reduce the range of motion."
Stretching is a huge part of the equation, says Gunning.
"A lot of people that have injuries, I believe a big part is that they don't make a conscious effort to stretch. They'll do two minutes of stretching after 50 minutes of working out."
That is wrong, says Gunning. Stretching should be incorporated into any weight training and cardiovascular program, just the way a healthful, nutritious diet should. You can't expect to work out but eat Twinkies all day and look good. By the same token, you shouldn't expect to prevent injury by constantly contracting a muscle group and never extending it.
Following are a few exercises for the thighs and gluteals. This is by no means an exhaustive list, just a few options to develop the muscles of the lower body. Gunning does warn however, that there is no such thing as spot reduction.
"It's a combination of working the muscle and changing the diet," she says. "Sometimes a person can lose weight and train properly and do everything right and some areas are harder to change."
Gravity, connective tissue, age, and genetics all play into the shape of our butt and legs, she says. But don't let that be a roadblock, either.
"You're still going to tone muscles and feel better and look better."
Beginners should strive to complete one set of 10-15 and work toward completing two to three sets.
MUSCLE GROUP: FRONT OF THIGHS (QUADRICEPS)
Tip: Gunning says when performing each exercise, put your mind into the muscle(s) you're working and complete a full range of motion with slow, controlled, and deliberate movement.
MUSCLE GROUP: BUTT (GLUTEALS), QUADRICEPS, AND HAMSTRINGS
Variation: For more of a challenge, from the top of the bridge, lower the spine halfway down, then squeeze the butt to lift back up.
MUSCLE GROUP: INNER THIGH
- Lie on your side with your hips stacked one on top of the other, head resting on your arm or propped up on your hand.
- Take legs about 45 degrees in front of you for balance.
- Lift the top leg off the bottom leg about an inch. Hold it parallel and flex the foot (toes pointed forward, not up.)
- Slowly raise and lower the top leg without touching the other leg between repetitions.
- Do 10-15 repetitions, being careful not to rock forward or back off your stacked hip position. Alternate legs and repeat.
MUSCLE GROUP: INNER THIGH
- Lie on your side and bring your top leg in front of the bottom leg. Bring the front foot up towards your thigh and rest your foot on the floor just above your knee -- toes pointing forward.
- Raise your bottom foot about 1 inch off the floor.
- Slowly raise your bottom foot up as much as comfortable, keeping a slight bend in your leg.
- Hold for 2-4 counts and slowly lower back to starting position. Complete 10-15 repetitions.
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