Legs of a Champion

By: Tim Rigby (courtesy of Inside Fitness)

It wasn’t long ago that most women would look at a big weighted sled with disdain, regarding it as something only brutish men or football players would use.  Yet, we’ve come a long way, baby – and oh, how times have changed.  The apparatus of a sled for the purpose of pushing has become a mainstay of most modern gyms; it’s not just the guys who have been embracing this equipment.  More and more women are taking advantage of the incredible fitness benefits of the sled push, which although it incorporates full-body involvement, is particularly effective for building and shaping your legs. 

Another workout exercise that used to be reserved for “men only” is the box jump based on the principle of explosive, athletic movement, but in this day and age, such a principle is absolutely leveraged by enterprising women who are determined to up their game with strength, in addition to gaining muscle size and tone.  Make no mistake that these elements do have a lot of common ground; if you excel in one, you are more apt to excel in the other.  Rounding out this workout are other moves which require equipment like the dumbbell lunge and step-up/knee-up, and body weight moves including the lateral lunge and gluteus medius stretch.

So, what are you waiting for?  Let’s get right to the workout!

Focus on good form and technique here, rather than exploding through the reps.  Note that the rest periods are quite brief, so use appropriate resistance in those moves that employ weights.  You’re sure to get a great cardiovascular benefit here due to the short rests, and you’ll be able to burn extra calories.

Exercise                                             Sets     Reps/Dist.     Rest

SLED PUSH                                         5          20 metres       45 secs.
BOX JUMP                                           3-4      8-10                30 secs.
STEP-UP / KNEE-UP                          3-4      8-10                30 secs.
ALTERNATING DUMBBELL LUNGE 3          10                    30 secs.
ALTERNATING LATERAL LUNGE   3          12                    30 secs.
GLUTEUS MEDIUS STRETCH           3          12                    30 secs.


Exercise Descriptions

SLED PUSH

Start:  Load the sled to your desired weight and stand behind the short end of the apparatus.  Grasp onto the tall handles using a neutral grip in each hand (initially at arms’ length) and set up into position by splitting your legs and bending your knees as shown.  Your back leg will raise up slightly onto its toes.  Make sure to keep your back straight and do not reach forward excessively to grasp the handles.

Execution:  People often find that the hardest part of this exercise is at the beginning when they first get the sled in motion; this is because of the force of friction between the sled and the floor.  Tell yourself that “If I can get it moving, the pushing is the easy part”.  Focus your vision toward the end of the distance and contract your abs.  Extend your legs and push the sled forward.  Alternate the movement of your legs as though you were walking at a 45-degree angle, and keep your upper half fixed in position.

Tip:  For most weightlifting moves, it’s recommended that you keep your head in line with your spine.  In this case, it’s okay to drop your vision a little (getting your “head down”) provided you maintain the power position.

BOX JUMP

Start:  Place a box of your desired height onto the floor and stand no more than 18 inches away from it.  Stand tall with your legs separated by no more than shoulder width.  Keep your back straight, head up and legs elongated.  Let your arms hang freely and extended at your sides.  Set a mental picture of the execution in your mind to help you prepare for the explosive action that’s about to occur.

Execution:  When ready, begin by first identifying a landing position on the top surface of the box; this will be your target at which you want to plant your feet.  During the upward leap, keep your attention focused on this spot.  Begin the movement by flexing substantially through your legs by bending your knees, and draw your arms significantly back behind you.  Then, press sharply into the floor and explosively leap upward and forward.  Draw your thighs into your abs on the ascent, then land with your knees slightly bent.  Recover by standing tall on top of the box.

Tip:  The higher the box, the more you’ll need improved balance.  Help establish muscle memory here by practicing on lower boxes and really develop the connection in your mind between your feet and the landing space.

STEP-UP / KNEE-UP

Start:  This two-part exercise does not require the same explosive element as the box jump, but it’s challenging and effective nonetheless – especially for your quads.  Place a box of your desired height onto the floor and stand as close to it as you can comfortably.  Separate your feet no wider than your shoulders and stand tall with back straight, legs long and head level.  Let your arms hang freely at their sides.  Run through the motion in your mind as a mental warm-up prior to beginning.

Execution:  Having chosen which leg to lead with, step up onto the box by reaching forward with it.  Press forcefully onto the top surface of the box since you have to support your entire body weight.  On the ascent, swing your arms forward such that your hands meet together in front of you, as shown.  From here, stand tall on the box, but do not pause; rather, in one fluid motion draw your trailing leg forward and raise it such that its thigh becomes parallel to the floor (this is the “knee-up” portion).  Pause for one second, then reverse the motion back to the start and continue repping by alternating your lead leg.

Tip:  Although this is absolutely a legs exercise, make sure your arms play an active role here.  Use them for both momentum and balance; they will help on the ascent getting you on top of the box, and also keep you balanced by reducing any lateral movement.

ALTERNATING DUMBBELL LUNGE

Start:  Grasp a moderate-weight dumbbell in each hand, based on your ability to complete 10-12 reps comfortably with effort.  Hold the weights with a neutral grip position and let your arms hang freely at your sides.  Stand tall to begin, with your back straight, legs elongated and head in line with your spine.  From here, split your legs forward and backward, using a slight bend in your knees.  Make sure your feet do not exceed the width of your shoulders.

Execution:  Despite the use of weights here, they should not move in relation to your arms for the duration of this execution.  Think of this as a legs-only move that emphasizes your quads.  When ready, lunge forward onto your lead leg and allow gravity to cause a controlled descent as the flex at your knees increases.  Stop the forward motion when your lead thigh becomes parallel to the floor (at this point, you can expect your back foot to raise up onto its toes).  Pause in this bottom position for a full second, then reverse the motion back to the start.  Continue repping by alternating your lead leg.  Note this is not a walking lunge and therefore you will remain in a fixed spot rather than moving forward.

Tip:  You may find a natural inclination to sway your chest forward on the descent, but try to avoid this; make sure you don’t hinge forward from your hips during the entire move and keep your torso upright to let your legs do all the work.

ALTERNATING LATERAL LUNGE

Start:  Begin the sequence here by simply standing tall on a fixed spot with your feet together.  Make sure your full body is elongated and your head is level.  A great mental warmup for this exercise is to think of a narrow corridor that extends outward from your sides; this will be the plane of movement for when you activate the motion.  Therefore will  not be any frontward or backward action.  Let your arms hang freely at your sides and feel a relaxed sense before you begin.

Execution:  When you’re all set to move, simply lunge outward to one side at a comfortable distance.  Don’t over-reach with your foot and extend too far.  You should be able to comfortably flex at your knees until the lead thigh is parallel to the floor.  To help with control, you may wish to draw your hands toward the top of your lead knee, but make sure your torso remains completely facing forward.  Pause here for a moment, then reverse back to the start.  From there, you want to replicate the exact same movement but over to the other side.  Continue repping in such a way by alternating direction back and forth.

Tip:  The need for control here is more important than the pace of execution.  In other words, don’t rush the motion but as a body weight exercise make sure you maintain balance and control to best target your legs.

GLUTEUS MEDIUS STRETCH

Start:  This stretching exercise is designed to make your medius (upper) glutes more supple and toned.  It also hits your intercostal region which helps allow you to take deeper breaths.  To begin, stand tall in a fixed spot with back straight, head level and your feet together.  Spread your feet out wide as shown by extending one leg and then the other.  With your back straight, hinge forward from your hips and place your hands mid-thigh as shown.

Execution:  Using a lot of control, which is the key element of any good stretch, reach out to one side, with your same-side arm supporting your torso.  Keep in mind throughout this move that you don’t want your legs to move whatsoever.  Draw your opposite side arm above and overhead in a slightly arched position.  Feel the stretch in the outward section of your lower back and in your upper glutes.  Pause for a second, then return to the start.  Keep working the same side for your desired reps, then switch over and work the other side.

Tip:  When reaching overhead, you may be inclined to buckle your lead leg so as to reach farther, but resist the temptation.  If you keep your legs completely motionless, you’ll be able to evoke a much better stretch which is what you want.

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