Lunges are a lower body exercise that works almost every muscle in your legs including the hamstrings, glutes, quadriceps and calves. The lunge requires no special equipment, though it can be done with weights to make it tougher. Since lunges are a body-weight exercise, you can do them anywhere, making them ideal for trips or small areas. However, lunges can be tough on the knees, so it's helpful to have a few alternatives that work the same muscles.
Squats are another complete lower body exercise. Squats target the entire lower body including the glutes, hamstrings, quads and calves, and can be done with body weight alone or with weights. To perform a squat, begin standing with your feet hip-width apart. Slowly lower yourself, pushing your hips back behind you. Once your legs are parallel to the ground, stand back up. Perform three sets of 10 repetitions.
Deadlifts focus more on the back of the legs than the front, working the hamstrings and glutes as well as the lower back muscles. To perform a deadlift, stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart with a barbell in front of your feet. Squat down and grab the bar with your hands just outside of your knees. With your back straight, stabilize your core as you stand up straight. The barbell should rest in front of your thighs. Hinge your hips back into a squat as you lower the bar to the ground. Perform three sets of 10 repetitions.
A dumbbell step-up is a simple movement and mimics the movement of walking up stairs. What makes step-ups different from a typical trip up the stairs is the added weight or higher step that can be used, which puts more stress on the leg muscles. To begin, stand with your feet hip-width apart in front of a step or box with a dumbbell in each hand. Lift your right foot and place it on the step, pushing off your right foot to bring your left foot onto the step. Reverse the movement to return to the starting position. Do three sets of 10 repetitions on each leg.
Stability Ball Hamstring Curl
Many people ignore the hamstrings, which can lead to hamstring pulls and injury. The hamstring curl focuses primarily on the hamstrings, with a secondary focus on the glutes and the quadriceps. To perform this exercise, lie on your back with your calves on top of a stability ball. Your hands are out at your sides with your palms flat on the ground. Press your shoulders into the ground as you lift your hips and glutes off of the floor. Slowly roll the stability ball in toward your glutes. Your feet should end up on top of the ball. Reverse the movement to perform one rep. Do three sets of 10 repetitions.
Kaitlin Condon is a holistic health coach and certified physical fitness/wellness specialist. She is a contributing health writer for the teen magazine "Miabella," as well as several online publications.