by Jarueba Taylor
When it comes to physical wellness, one of the most important things you can have is a strong functional lower body. If you want to feel better, look better, be stronger, and have more mobility then there is something to be said for having a strong functional lower body. Most of your biggest and strongest muscles are cased below the waist. The glutes, hamstrings, quads and hips are the muscles I am referring to. When the glutes, hamstrings, quads and hips are well developed, they are not just “game changers” but “life changers’. While developing these muscles to their full potential is of the utmost importance, knowing what to do to develop these muscles is even more important. The building of these muscles can be helped thru certain movement patterns. These movement patterns help build and strengthen theses muscles. The movement patterns also teach these muscles how to fire properly for maximum effectiveness. This in turn will make you stronger, faster, more mobile and even reduce chance of injury and some pains. We are now going to look at some of the best ways to develop these muscles and the best movement patterns to do so.
Glutes- (Bridging Patterns)
One of the best ways to develop strong functional glutes is thru bridging patterns. The glutes are arguably the most important of the lower body muscles. The glutes have a connection to all things lower body. The glutes however are often one of the most underdeveloped and underutilized muscles of the lower body. When the glutes do not fire properly it can lead to a whole host of debilitating issues. Tight hips, tight hamstrings, back problems, knee problems, and even feet problem may all have some direct relation to glutes that do not fire correctly. If you ever see someone with underdeveloped glutes or a “pancake” ass, they generally tend to have a lot of lower body issues. This is because the glutes are not strong enough and lots of times other muscle have to take over the job that the glutes should be doing.
Exercises like glute bridges, hip thrust, leg band bridging, and elevated bridging are all excellent choices. These exercises create a bridging pattern that forces the glutes to learn to fire through contraction and release. This in turn will make the glutes firmer, bigger, stronger, and more functional.
Hamstrings- (Hip Hinging)
If you want to develop strong powerful hamstrings, then you are going to need to hip hinge. Hip hinging is one of the most important movements for the posterior chain (muscles of the backside). The hamstrings are some of the most important muscles of the posterior chain. When you hip hinge it is one of the best ways to target the hamstrings. When someone hip hinges, their hips go thru a large range of motion but the knees do not. This movement of hinging cause the hamstrings to work really hard. Exercises like Romanian deadlifts, kettlebell swings, cable pull thrus and good mornings are excellent choices for hip hinging and targeting the hamstrings.
Quads- (Extensor Movements)
The quads are the muscles that have a lot of control when it comes to the front of the legs. The quads are the main extensors of the lower legs, that means they are the main muscles used for straightening the legs. The best exercise for this would be some form of squatting. Squatting works a lot of the hamstrings and glute but also a lot of the quads. If you really want to make sure you are targeting mostly quads, then you would use a variation of the front squat. When squatting with the load placed in front more emphasis ends up being placed on the muscles of the quads due to a more vertical positioning of the body. Because holding the bar in a front squat position can be an issue for some people there are a few variations a person can use. They can do a regular clean grip (if wrist flexibility is not an issue), a cross arm grip, use a safety squat bar turned backwards (pictured below),
use a dumbbell variation, or even do a variation in a smith machine if the machine mechanics allow such. This movement pattern really hammers the quads and teaches the body how to move in a more vertical pattern.
Inner Thighs- (Adduction)
Have you ever seen someone try to do a squatting movement or leg pressing movement and as soon as it gets hard, their legs begin to buckle in? This happens because of a lack of inner thigh strength, namely a lack of strength in the adductor muscles. When the muscles of the inner thighs are weak it causes buckling under pressure. The buckling of the inner thighs under pressure can lead to aches, strains, or even serious injury. The key to injury prevention is to strengthen the adductor muscles. For this you want to use movement patterns that requires you to use a wider base. Exercises like the sum squat, sumo front squat, kettlebell sumo squat, wide stance goblet squat, or chest upright sumo deadlift are all great choices.
Overall Leg Balance and Development (Unilateral Movements)
One movement pattern that should be in all lower body regiments is some form of unilateral movements. Unilateral movements will do wonders for improving lower body balance, strength and athleticism. Unilateral movements may also significantly cut down injury risk. More often than not people tend to have one side that may be just a little stronger than the other side. By doing unilateral movements the balance between sides could possibly be improved. The weaker side becomes stronger because it’s forced to work on its own unlike in bilateral movements. Unilateral movements also improves overall strength. When a person uses a lot of unilateral patterning over time, they become much stronger when they go back to using bilateral movements. Part of this benefit is because unilateral movements improve core stability. When only one side of the body is used for a movement, the core has to work much harder to stabilize the body while the movement is going on. This will eventually lead to improved stability in the entire body. Overall improved stability will massively improve balance and helps protect the spine from injury. Unilateral movements also cuts down on spinal loading. This means you can get the benefit of heavy training without placing heavy loads on the spine from exercises like heavy squatting. Exercises like Bulgarian Split Squats, Single Leg Presses, Dumbbell Lunges, Dumbbell Reverse Lunges, and Single Leg Romanian Deadlifts are all good unilateral exercise choices.
Developing the muscles of the lower body is very important. The best way to build these muscle would be thru proper movement patterns and the right exercises. Knowing how to build and strengthen the muscles of the glutes, hamstrings, quads, and hips will go a long way in building a person’s fitness and long term health.