Legs – they get us around town, inspire us to continue on the exhausting quest for the perfect pair of denim jeans, and are particularly useful when cutting shapes on the dance floor. For all the use we get out of our legs though, when it comes to working out, the lure to skip leg day completely is a force that tends to trump our own willpower. Perhaps it’s because we think walking around or cardio activities like cycling and running are enough, or maybe knowing the muscle groups and how to target them simply eludes us. Whatever your reasoning, the fact remains: you should never skip leg day.
When it comes to the legs and glutes, the health benefits of strength training can’t be underestimated. For the glutes especially, it goes far beyond simply having a peachy posterior. Strong glutes are essential when it comes to all manner of exercise and everyday movements; they not only assist with lower back health thanks to their role in pelvic, hip and trunk motions, but also evenly distribute load throughout your lower back and extremities while assisting with good posture.
Still, knowing just how to engage the legs and glutes when working out can be difficult. Add to that the fact that the fitness industry in 2021 is over-saturated with Instagram influencers sharing their workouts, to trainers shifting in-class gym workouts to Zoom links accessible to all, and it comes clear that navigating the fitness world with a discerning eye for the programs that are scientifically backed and those that simply look good on the ‘gram, can be tough. In an effort to steer you away from the fads and towards those proven methods that have knowledge at their core, we enlisted the services of trainer extraordinaire Jānis Blūms.
If you’re tapped into fitness, it’s likely you’re familiar with Jānis and his passion for health. As a former junior Australian high jump champion, Sydney AFL captain and fire fighter with Fire & Rescue NSW, even just reading his resume is exhausting – is there anything Jānis can’t do? That health and fitness run in his DNA is clear, but rather than rest on his laurels (or genetic makeup), Jānis has sought to understand human psychology so as to better serve his clients. And it certainly shines through in his practice: he doesn’t just inspire, he empowers men and women of all walks of life to view their body with appreciation and respect, and take ownership of their health and fitness.
As a trainer at Sweaty Soul Sydney, Jānis is also the official personal trainer for IMG Models, Chic Management and Chic Development here in Sydney. On his Instagram, you can regularly see your favourite influencers and the next top models sweating it out in the gym, and it’s clear that with his expertise and passion, Jānis has the power to transform anyone that steps foot in the door. Now, Jānis is serving up regular workouts for Women’s Health and to kick things off, he’s taking us through a bodyweight-only legs and glutes workout. As he explains, it not only will “improve posture, stability, strength and balance,” but “can be done at home or at the gym. No weights required…only a step, couch or box.” If we’re reading between the lines here, that’s code for: no excuses.
Read on for Jānis’ lower body workout that will have your legs shaking.
Warm-up (6 mins)
Elevate: heart rate, body temperature, fluidity, energy transportation.
1. High knees (20 secs) into walking lunges (40 secs) x 3 sets, back to back
Eliminate: fascial tension that is often found within the quads, likely due to heeled footwear and long durations of sitting – to improve pelvic (skeletal) alignment prior to step 3.
2. Foam roll quads (2 mins per side)
Engage: pelvic stabilisers (glutes) and the sensorimotor units of the feet in order to produce a strong, stable foundation for more complex movement.
3. Single leg RDL to march position for 30 secs per side with a pause at each endpoint x 2 sets per side.
Excite: the neuromuscular system to maximise muscle fibre recruitment and mental acuity.
4. Triple extension speed drips x 5-8 (1 set)
Part 1 (3 rounds) – Isolated Neuromuscular Strength:
Wall supported toe raises x 20
Elevated hamstring bridges x 20 (bilateral) Set 1
Elevated hamstring bridges x 10/s (unilateral) Set 2 & 3
Elevated single leg bridge with contralateral irradiation x 5-10/s
Cyclist squats with heels elevated x 10-20
V-sit with isometric compression x 45 secs
Each of these exercises are designed to improve the mind-muscle communication pathway of specific muscles/muscle groups that are commonly found to be weak, tight, short, long, underachieve or overactive within the general population.
Accessing these muscles early into the workout will improve the likelihood of their proper recruitment during the compound movements later in the workout and this will minimise the introduction of compensatory movement patterns that can lead to injury, pain or unnecessary wear and tear on joints and connective tissue.
Part 2 (3-5 rounds) – Compound Strength and Conditioning
Rear foot elevated split squats x 15/s
Elevated Cossack x 15/s
Reverse lunge step down x 15/s
Feet elevated straight leg isometric hamstring bridge (30 secs)
Perform all exercises on one leg first, then do all reps on the other. Alternating reps will lead to less localised blood occlusion and reduce the intensity of the set. Given these are bodyweight only, we want to maximise the workload and intensity which can be achieved either by reducing rest intervals, slowing the reps down, performing repeated or non-alternating reps or performing explosive movements, to name a few.
Part 3 – Conditioning (3-5 rounds)
High knees x 20
Lateral Hops x 6/s
Squat jump x 5
Rest 30 secs between rounds – this will not be long enough to fully recover and therefore progressing through each round should result in accumulated fatigue and a heavy build-up of metabolic waste.
When we think of conditioning, what we are referring to is the ability for muscle tissue to utilise localise energy stores (mostly) anaerobically (without oxygen). To do this, we require movements that are explosive and repetitious for a duration between 45-90 seconds. A well-conditioned muscle will be able to manage this metabolic build up and sustain the exercise intensity for greater intervals than an unconditioned muscle.
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