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A wobble squat
Continuing Education1 Credit

Leg Exercises and Lower Body Exercise Progressions

Leg strength training exercises - best progressions for barbell squats, step-ups, and lunges. Leg movements for endurance, stability, hypertrophy, and strength, and a sample routine targeting the glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings.

Course Summary: Leg Exercises and Lower Body Exercise Progressions

This course discusses variations, progressions, and regressions of leg exercises for increasing lower body strength. More sophisticated leg workouts and leg day routines can be created with multiple variations of squats, split squats, lateral lunges, single leg exercises, bodyweight leg exercises, etc. Note, bridge progressions for glutes, deadlifts for hips, and reactive drills for foot placement, are covered in separate courses. This course features more functional movement patterns for improving leg strength than the leg presses, hack squats, leg curls (seated leg curls and prone hamstring curls), leg extensions (knee extensions), and/or other machines found in a gym setting that claim to "target" the glutes, hips muscles, or calf muscles. Further, this course includes detailed cueing, including foot placement during a squat (e.g. hips or feet shoulder width), how to tell the correct distance between the right and left foot during a reverse lunge, what to do with the left leg when doing a right leg single leg deadlift touchdown, or the optimal starting position for the hips during a dumbbell front squat. This course will provide a variety of ideas and concepts to use on leg day, during the leg workout portion of your routine, or during leg day home workouts.

Additionally, this course covers the functional anatomy of leg exercises for lower body strength, including the contribution of the hip muscles (e.g. glutes a.k.a. gluteus maximus and gluteus medius), knee muscles (e.g. quadriceps), ankle muscles (e.g. gastrocnemius and soleus), and core muscles (e.g. erector spinae, obliques, hip flexors, etc.). More advanced anatomical considerations include the contribution of core subsystems (e.g. deep longitudinal subsystem ), the use of lower body strength exercises during neuromuscular re-education (a.k.a. integration exercises), and the potential of over-active hip flexors or calf muscles to restrict motion and decrease performance. Further, this course is built from a systematic research review, it is pre-approved for credits toward the Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) Certification, and pre-approved for continuing education credits for movement professionals (personal trainers, fitness instructors, physical therapists, athletic trainers, massage therapists, chiropractors, occupational therapists, etc.).

We hope this course inspires the inclusion of leg exercises for all goals in fitness, performance, and physical rehabilitation. For example, workouts for increasing glute and hamstring hypertrophy for physique athletes, routines to increase single-leg strength for powerlifters and field sport athletes, and the creation of home exercise programs for maintaining mobility, core strength, and reconditioning after lower extremity injury in a clinical setting.

Additional Progression Courses:

Strength Progressions

Core Progressions

Power Progressions

Lower Extremity Stability Progression:

Squat Progressions

  1. Ball Wall Squat
  2. Body Weight Squat
  3. Body Weight Squat Unstable
  4. Back Squat
  5. Front Squat
  6. Wobble Squat

Step-Up Progressions

Generally, unstable surfaces are not recommended for step-ups, and great care should be taken with back loaded resistance. Although the height of a step-up may seem relatively low, falling in the direction of the stance leg with or without load can be hazardous.

  1. Alternating Step-up
  2. Single-Leg Step-up
    • Sagittal
    • Frontal
    • Transverse
  3. Step-Up to Balance
    • Sagittal
    • Frontal
    • Transverse

Lunge Progressions

Load Progressions:

  1. Holding a weight at the sides
  2. Front-loaded
  3. Unstable load (weights suspended from a barbell with bands, or using liquid-filled tubes)

Motion Progressions:

  1. Static lunge
    • Frontal plane
  2. Static lunge unstable
    • Frontal plane
  3. Dynamic lunge
    • Reverse
    • Forward
    • Frontal plane
    • Transverse plane
  4. Dynamic lunge to single-leg balance
    • Reverse
    • Forward
    • Frontal plane
    • Transverse plane
  5. Dynamic lunge to single leg balance unstable
    • Reverse
    • Forward
    • Frontal plane
    • Transverse plane

Sample Program

Routine 1 (Month 1)

Goal: Lower Body Hypertrophy (Strength/Stability Supersets)

Acute Variables:

  • Load: Moderate (75-90% 1-RM)/Light (60-75% 1-RM)
  • Reps/set: 6-12/6-12
  • Sets/exercise (or circuits): 1-5 circuits
  • Rest between exercises: 60 seconds
  • Rest between Circuits: 1-3 minutes (alternatively, can be performed in a circuit)
  • Training time: 20 – 60 minutes (excluding warm-up).

Strength/Stability Super-sets Routine:

Routine 2 (Month 2)

Acute Variables:

  • Goal: Lower Body Max Strength/Power (Post-activation Potentiation Circuits)
  • Load: (Heavy > 85% of 1-RM) (Light < 30% of 1-RM
  • Reps/set: (1-5)(3-10)
  • Sets/exercise (circuits): 2-6 circuits
  • Rest between exercises: 1-2 minutes (note, exercise performed in circuit)
  • Training Time: 20 – 45 minutes (excluding warm-up).

Post-activation Potentiation (PAP) Circuit Routine:

Study Guide: Leg Exercises and Lower Body Exercise Progressions


Research Corner

Form, Progressions, and Sample Program

Squat Stability Videos and Progression

Step-Up Stability Videos and Progressions

Lunge Stability Progressions


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