I have a confession to make: I only ever started doing barbell hip thrusts and walking lunges because I wanted a nice booty. After a while, though, I realized that not only was my bum shaping up as a result of these exercises, but I was getting noticeably stronger — significantly stronger, even.
So yes, lunges and hip thrusts (and other moves detailed later on) can certainly tone and build your backside, but it's the lower-body strength gains you should be even more proud of. A strong lower body is essential to basically all everyday movements, such as walking and getting up from your chair, as well as functional activities like squatting and hiking.
The problem is, most people equate "lower body" with "quads" — but there's so much more to a strong lower body than the fronts of your thighs. Gear up for the best leg day of your life with everything you need to know about developing lower-body strength and why it's so important.
Know Your Lower-Body Muscles
Think of your body in two halves: The anterior chain comprises all of the muscles on the front side of your body, while the posterior chain includes all of the muscles on your backside.
Anterior Chain Lower-Body Muscles
Anterior chain muscles important to lower-body strength include:
- Adductor group (the group of muscles responsible for squeezing your legs tightly together)
- The front of your calf (the muscle that lies atop your shin bone)
- Other stabilizing muscles in the hip
Posterior Chain Lower-Body Muscles
Muscles on your backside that are important to lower-body strength include:
- Abductor group (the muscles responsible for swinging your legs sideways)
- Other stabilizing muscles in the hip
Just like with your upper body, your core also plays a large part in your lower-body strength and stabilization, according to a 2016 study in the Journal of Sports Science — but that's a whole other story.
Why Lower-Body Strength Is So Important
Considering you use your legs every day for any number of tasks, it's not hard to see why building up your lower body is beneficial — critical, even. A toned butt is a happy bonus to benefits like lower body fat percentage, increased muscular endurance and reduced risk of chronic diseases.
1. It's Essential to Functional Movement
Functional movements are the ones we use every day; movements that keep us strong for life. For example, each time you pick an object up from the ground, you perform a deadlift. Every time you sit in your chair, you do a squat. Lower-body strength is essential to maintaining these functional movement patterns. Without a strong lower body, it would be a struggle just to get yourself up off the floor.
2. It Can Say a lot About Your Overall Health
A June 2014 study in the American Journal of Medicine found that older adults with more muscle mass have lower all-cause mortality (read: longer, healthier lives). The researchers even went so far as to suggest that muscle mass may be a better indicator of health than total weight.
Take it from this June 2015 study in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise: Overweight adults who participated in strength training had heart and metabolic health profiles closer to those of people at a healthy weight than to those of overweight people who didn't lift.
3. It Can Help You Hit Your Fitness Goals
Want to run faster, hike farther, lift heavier? Lower-body strength is a major component of all those activities and more. The stronger your lower body, the easier it will feel to run hills or tackle an intense hike or finally squat that new one-rep max.
Of course, you don't want to entirely ignore other factors of your fitness, such as cardiovascular endurance, which is essential for powering those long runs and hikes. But if you focus on lower-body strength, those 30-inch box jumps in your next CrossFit workout will feel like nothing.
Read more: Here's Exactly What to Do on Leg Day
How To Build Lower-Body Strength
Point blank: by working your lower-body muscles! There are two basic categories of movements for the lower body: push movements, which involve driving through your feet to move your body away from the floor or an object, and pull movements, which involve contracting (squeezing) your hamstrings to extend your hips.
Push Movements for Lower-Body Strength
Pull Movements for Lower-Body Strength
Some lower-body movements don't quite fit squarely into either category because they involve both pulling and pushing motions — one example is the deadlift. Others with a smaller range of motion, such as hip abduction and hip adduction, also have unique movement patterns and can help round out a lower-body workout routine.
A 7-Day Workout Routine for a Strong Lower Body
As a certified personal trainer, I recommend that everyone includes at least one focused lower-body day in their weekly workout routine, if not two. You can choose to work both your anterior and posterior chain in a single workout, or you can do an anterior workout one day and a posterior workout another.
Here's an example of a weekly workout split that hits all of the important lower-body muscles (and then some):
- Monday: Upper-body strength training and/or cardio
- Tuesday: Lower-body strength training (front squats, deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts and kettlebell swings)
- Wednesday: Rest
- Thursday: Upper-body strength training and/or cardio or full-body HIIT
- Friday: Lower-body strength training (back squats, lunges, leg extensions, calf raises and jump squats)
- Saturday: Steady-state cardio or rest
- Sunday: Rest
Try These Lower-Body Workouts
It’s always best to learn from a certified fitness professional, either with one-on-one personal training sessions or in group fitness classes that emphasize form and technique. But if you’re just dying to get out onto the gym floor, try one of these workout routines for lower-body strength:
- Journal of Sports Science: "Core Stability Training on Lower Limb Balance Strength"
- American Journal of Medicine: "Muscle Mass Index as a Predictor of Longevity in Older-Adults"
- Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise: "Strength Fitness and Body Weight Status on Markers of Cardiometabolic Health"