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After today’s post, we just have a treadmill workout and plank workout remaining in the beginner series. I’m going to create a whole page dedicated to workout resources where they’ll all live along with all future posts geared towards my rockstar newbies. Today it’s all about the butt and legs!
Beginner Series: Low-Body Workout
Equipment I Used:
- Chair or bench
- Ankle weights (optional)
- Interval timer (I use Gymboss but you can also just download an app on your phone)
Back Lunge to Knee Raise (right)
Start standing with feet hip width apart, left hand lightly holding onto a chair, rail or other elevated surface. Step your left foot back behind you as you bend the right knee, sinking into a lunge. Get as low as you can, trying to bring the right knee to a 90-degree bend. Weight should be in your right heel. From here, keeping your weight in the right base foot, swing the left knee forward and up, engaging your abs to bring it in towards your chest as you straighten the right leg and stand. That’s one rep. Bring the left knee down smoothly, stepping the foot back into your next lunge (in other words, once you start the exercise, you should never be standing on both feet: it’s back lunge to one-leg knee raise continuously).
MAKE IT HARDER
- Don’t use a chair for support. Challenge your balance!
- Add a hop. As you do the knee raise, hop straight upward on your base leg, landing softly and lowering into your next back lunge.
MAKE IT EASIER
- Eliminate the knee raise. Lunge back and then step the left leg forward to stand besides the right.
Back Lunge to Knee Raise (left)
Same move, other side. Make sure to turn around to move the chair so that it’s now to your right.
Squat (to seat) with Leg Raise (right)
Start standing a few inches away from the seat of a chair or bench. Squat down, bending your knees as you slide your hips back and down over the chair. Weight should be in your heels and knees do not jut forward of the toes. Once you’re seated, kick your right leg up straight, hinging at the knee, and then lift your entire straight leg up a couple inches using your lower abdomen to help (this is more challenging than you’d think!). Lower the leg back down so that both feet are on the floor and rise back up to standing. Try to use a chair without arms so that you can’t use your hands for assistance when standing back up.
That’s how I want you to do it if you’re a true beginner or working with injuries/other limitations. If you’re able, I want to do the first bullet point advancement below …
MAKE IT HARDER
- Raise your leg WHILE lowering into the chair. Instead of breaking it into distinct movements–squat, kick, lift–I want you to lift the right foot off the ground as you squat so that it straightens at the same time your bum is hitting the seat. This is the first step in working towards a pistol squat (single leg squat). Once your seated, lower the foot to the floor so that you still stand up using both legs. The left leg will only be isolated for the last few inches of your squat and you have a chair seat to catch you so don’t be scared to try this option!
- Wear ankle weights. This will make the leg raise more challenging.
MAKE IT EASIER
- Eliminate the leg raise. Just kick your leg straight at the bottom and then bend it again, eliminating the straight-leg lift.
Squat (to seat) with Leg Raise (left)
Same move, lifting your left leg.
Donkey Kicks (right)
Start on all fours: knees stacked under hips, hands stacked under shoulders. From here, you’re going to press the bottom of your right foot up towards the ceiling so that your knee is right around hip height. From this starting point, you’re going to squeeze into your right glutes and hamstring as you lift the right knee up a few inches. Lower it back down to starting height and continue repeating. This is a small movement, up about three inches, down about three inches. Try not to let your knee drop to the floor during the 40 seconds of work. As you do these, keep a straight spine by engaging your abs, pulling the belly button in towards the spin (this will protect your low back). If you find your back sagging towards the floor with each lift of the leg, try doing this same movement but from your forearms.
MAKE IT HARDER
- Wear ankle weights.
MAKE IT EASIER
- Do it standing or in an inclined plank position. If mobility issues prevent you from getting down on all fours, do these standing, holding onto a chair or rail for balance. If you want an extra core challenge, try placing your forearms on a chair or bench and doing them in this incline plank position.
Donkey Kicks (left)
Same move, other cheek!
Hip Bridge Raise
Start on your back, knees bent, feet planted on the ground under your knees, arms by your side for support. Squeeze the glutes to lift your butt off the ground, thrusting your hips up towards the ceiling. Don’t over-arch into the back here—your abs are still engaged. Pause at the top, really squeezing your bum, and then slowly lower back down, not letting the butt come to rest on the floor (just hover it and then go into your next lift). That’s one rep.
IF THE FLOOR ISN’T HAPPENING: If mobility issues prevent you from doing this move, I want you to replace it with a traditional squat (into a chair or without).
MAKE IT HARDER
- Hold a weight at your hips. Place a dumbbell, sandbag or other weight across the pelvic bone to make the lift more challenging.
- Place your feet on an elevated surface. Place your feet on a bench or stepper to change the angle of your body as you do this.
MAKE IT EASIER
- Lower all the way to the floor. Instead of maintaining a hover with your bum at the bottom of this move, lower hips all the way down, resting your bum on the floor for a second and releasing the muscle contraction. Make it quick though! Get your booty right back up there!
The “Why” Behind This Workout
You should challenge your body with BOTH large and small movements. In this workout you’ll do squats and lunges (large range of motion with both) as well as donkey kick pulses that emphasize a much smaller movement. Both types of exercises (big, explosive / pulses, holds) challenge your muscles, but in different ways. Think CrossFit vs. Pure Barre — both intense workouts but in VERY different ways. It’s good to integrate it all into your workout routine!
Using a chair will help you master proper squat form. One of the biggest form errors with squats is sticking your knees out farther than your toes instead of sitting back into the position as you lower. Having the seat of a chair to catch your bum will get you comfortable with sliding your hips back, shifting your weight into your heels, and keeping those knees stacked over your ankles.
Mixing in some single-leg work (lunges, leg lifts) improves balance. Fitness isn’t just about your body’s strength; you have to work on improving range of motion (flexibility), agility and balance, cardiovascular endurance, etc. All these factors work together, and improving one will help improve the others.
Interval training is effective and gives you a way to track improvement (counting reps). Interval training improves your body’s ability to recover (with respect to cardiovascular and muscular recovery). The first time you do this workout, you might find your rep numbers dramatically dropping with each round because the 20 seconds of rest time won’t feel long enough toward the end. If you continue to incorporate this type of training into your workout routine, you’ll find your body becomes better able to recover from the cardiovascular and muscular strain of the work intervals, improving your performance (especially in those later rounds!). This will be reflected in steadier (and higher!) rep counts.
Moving gradually from standing to floor moves makes the transitions easier for people with joint issues or who are carrying a significant amount of extra bodyweight. While some of these exercises are done on the floor, I’ve included modifications for staying a little higher up. One of the biggest challenges a beginner may face is all the fast position changes that often come with workouts: hopping from laying on your stomach to your feet; jumping from plank to a squat; getting up and down from the floor—it’s not always very joint friendly. This workout moves from standing, gradually down to the floor so that you only have to get down (and then back up) once per circuit round.
SHOT in a Breather room (Gloucester St. #2) — I always get lots of questions about where the decor is from and unfortunately have no clue (although I wish this was my apartment haha). You can get your first hour of Breather free with code PUMPIRON (they’re in NYC, Boston, San Fran, Montreal & Ottawa).
As always, let me know if you have any questions on form in the comments! I’ll do my best to answer quickly.
MORE RESOUCES FOR BEGINNERS:
SHOP A SIMILAR LOOK: