Deadlifts

Deadlifts


Muscle group:   The back muscles, the leg muscles, the butt muscles, complex exercises

Trained muscle:   Lower back muscles, thigh front, adductors, butt muscles

Focused muscle:   Lower back muscles

Fitness level:   Advanced, experienced

Type of training:   Free weight exercises


 

Deadlifts represent one of the basic exercises within the weight training area, together with squats, bench press, and pull-ups. It is an effective exercise for the muscles of the lower back (lumbar region). At the same time it is a complex workout that additionally trains the upper part of the trapezius as well as the muscles of the buttocks, the front of the thigh, and the adductors.

Deadlifts

Deadlifts should not be practised by beginners. It not just represents an effective exercise for the mentioned muscle groups. Its motion sequence also is very similar to a back-friendly behavior in our daily life. The deadlift teaches us to lift properly. Especially the variation with dumbbell gets very close to this clean movement. The basic version of the exercise is practised with barbell.

Deadlifts with barbell

The deadlift starts in shoulder-wide or slightly wider standing position. Get as close to the barbell as possible with your shanks touching the bar. Your toes point straight to the front or slightly toward the side. Grab the bar with extended arms. For heavy weights it is reasonable to use a mixed grip. Performing deadlifts with barbell, always choose your grip to have your arms on the outsides of your knees. A wider stand requires a wider grip as well.

From this position lower your buttocks and keep your trunk upright. Look straight to the front or slightly upward. Tense your trunk muscles and especially your back and pull the weight upward with the power of your legs. Keep your back straight (slight hollow back) and the barbell close to your body (still touching the legs). Above of your knees the bar will slide up on the thighs. At the end of the motion we stand upright. Pull your shoulders slightly to the back.

Deadlifts

Deadlifts

 

Deadlifts with dumbbell

Deadlifts with dumbbell require the same body posture and motion sequence. The dumbbell stands on one side between our feet. The only difference to the deadlift with barbell is that we now have our arms between our feet. So we now choose a wider stand.

There also exists a variation of the deadlift that keeps the legs extended during the exercise. Please be careful! Here, the lower back will be strained significantly. It is not recommended to perform this version.


Antagonist: Abdominal muscles

Stretching: Lower back stretches

 

 


Leg curl

Leg curl


Muscle group:   The leg muscles, the butt muscles, the back muscles, complex exercises

Trained muscle:   Thigh backside, butt muscles, lower back muscles

Fitness level:   Beginner, advanced, experienced

Type of training:   Machine exercises


 

Leg curl is a popular exercise for the backside of the thigh. Many variations also work out the lower back and the butt very intensely. We can train in lying, kneeling, sitting, and standing position on machines or just with our own body weight. This article will explain the leg curl versions on the machine. To learn about the free variations without machine please read the article back leg lifts.

Leg curl lying

Lying leg curls shouldn’t necessarily be practised by complete beginners. We start in prone position. The knees are slightly below the cushion of the machine. Adjust the machine to have the cushion for the resistance as far back toward the heels as possible. Working out with stretched knee joints is uncomfortable. If possible, choose an adjustment that allows you to start with slightly bent knees.

From that position lift your thighs from the cushion and start to bend and stretch your knees against the resistance. Please never stretch you knees maximally. To intensify the exercise keep your thighs raised maximally and your knees slightly bend. Performing small impulses from that position makes the training even more intense.

Leg curls can also be performed one-legged. Here, we move to one side of the cushion and place one leg on the side (lunge position). This erects the pelvis what keeps us from developing a hollow back. Especially the workout with lifted thighs makes the lying leg curl extremely intense for the thigh backside, the butt, and the lower back. But please be careful with your lower back. It could be helpful to strengthen the muscles of the lower back in several sessions with easier exercises before moving to this exercise. Otherwise leave the thighs on the cushion.

Leg curl lying

Leg curl lying

 

Leg curl sitting

Sitting leg curls can be performed by all training levels. Adjust the leg curl machine to have the back rest sit tightly on your back. If there is a fixation cushion for your upper thighs you should use it to fixate your legs from above. Your knees should be in one line with the rotation axis of the machine. We start the movement with slightly bent knee joints. Tense the abdominal muscles and bend your knees maximally in a controlled movement. Bring your legs back up again smoothly but don’t stretch your knees maximally. This leg curl version can also be practised one-legged.

Leg curl seated

Leg curl seated

 

Leg curl standing

The standing leg curl can be performed by advanced and experienced sportsmen and -women. Work out on the cable machine at the gym using a foot loop around the ankle joint. Stand straight on the machine holding on to the handles to stabilize your body. The training leg pulls backward in a slightly bent knee position. This version focuses on the muscles of the lower back and the butt and is less effective for the thigh backside. The activation of the backside of the thigh should increase the more you bend your knee. This could get a little tricky since we work out completely free without any leg fixation. When you work out standing leg curls it is important to avoid a hollow back. Tense your abs and keep the pelvis erected.

Leg curl standing

Leg curl standing

 

There also exists a machine especially for the standing leg curl what provides cushions for the training leg to achieve more stability.


Antagonist: Thigh front, abdominal muscles

Stretching: Back thigh stretches, glute stretches, lower back stretches

 

 


Butt exercises

Butt exercises


Muscle group:   The butt muscles, the back muscles

Trained muscle:   Butt muscles, lower back muscles

Focused muscle:   Butt muscles

Fitness level:   Advanced, experienced

Type of training:   Machine exercises


 

Butt exercises are very popular and we can find quite a large variation of different workouts. The buttocks with its three parts (gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus) is the biggest leg abductor so all abductor exercises also represent a training for the buttock. This article puts the focus on the gluteus workout on the machine. But you can find a variety of all exercises for the bum under the following link: Butt exercises

Butt exercises on the machine

For butt exercises on the machine we can choose between the hip pendulum, cable machine, gluteus machine, leg curl machine, and leg press machine. The workout with the leg curl machine will be explained in the article back leg lifts and the training on the leg press machine is explained in the article leg press. The other three exercises will be described below.

Butt exercises on the hip pendulum

Butt exercises on the hip pendulum can get quite intense. Adjust the machine to have your hip joint in one line with the rotating axis of the pendulum. The cushion of the pendulum should sit right above the knee joint. Keep your body straight and support this position with both arms in tight grip on the handle bar. The abdominal muscles are tensed.

The training leg now conducts the pendulum to the back into an overextension. Bring the leg back up to complete one repetition. The exercise becomes highly intense if we work out in small impulses in the area of highest muscle tension (leg in overextension). Please actively stabilize your body during the entire exercise. Note, that solely the training leg performs the movement. Your trunk remains steady all the time. Avoid a hollow back.

Butt exercises on the hip pendulum

Butt exercises on the hip pendulum

 

Butt exercises on the cable machine

For butt exercises on the cable machine we begin in standing position in front of the machine. Fixate the cable on your ankle using a foot cuff. Hold on with both arms to the machine actively stabilizing your body. Keep the abdominal muscles tensed. The standing leg is bent slightly. The training leg conducts backward into the overextension. Intensify the workout with small impulses in the area of highest muscle tension (leg in overextension). Keep your body straight during the entire exercise. Again, solely the training leg performs the movement.

Butt exercises on the cable and gluteus machine

Butt exercises on the cable and gluteus machine

 

Butt exercises on the gluteus machine

There are different types of gluteus machines to practise butt exercises. Investigations performed by Buskies W., Boeckh-Behrens W. (2009) showed that such machines mostly do not fulfil all muscle function optimally what decreases the effectiveness.

Adjust the machine to have the rotating axis in one line with the hip joint. Place your upper body and arms onto the provided cushions. Your arms grab the handles. Some machines also provide a cushion for the knee of the standing leg. From that position the training leg presses the resistance as far back up as possible. Bring back the training leg to the starting position to complete one repetition.


We have quite a large range of butt exercises we can perform. Many of them are very effective and intense. But sometimes it also happens that machines are being developed that do not ensure an optimal workout. Here, we can try to focus more and more on the trained muscle during the workout and feel whether an exercise stresses the intended parts or not.

Antagonist: Thigh front

Stretching: Glute stretches

 

 


Abductor exercises on the machine

Abductor exercises on the machine


Muscle group:   The leg muscles, the butt muscles

Trained muscle:   Abductors, butt muscles

Focused muscle:   Abductors

Fitness level:   Beginner, advanced, experienced

Type of training:   Machine exercises


 

Abductor exercises on the machine are very intense. We can choose between the workout on the abductor machine, the hip pendulum, and the cable machine. All versions represent an effective training. The version on the cable machine is explained in the article abductor side leg raises. The other two exercises will be described below.

Abductor exercises on the hip pendulum

Abductor exercises on the hip pendulum are recommended for advanced and experienced athletes. We adjust the machine to have the hip joint in line with the rotating axis of the pendulum. The cushion of the pendulum should sit right above the knee of the training leg. It is recommended to bend the training leg. The standing leg bends slightly. From that position the training leg abducts maximally in a controlled movement. Bring the leg back down to complete one repetition. Keep the abdominal muscles tensed during the entire set.

Small impulses in the area of highest muscle tension (leg abducted maximally) intensify this abductor exercise significantly. The exercise trains the abductors of both legs to the same time. The standing leg has to perform a lot of stabilization work what is very intense.

Abductor exercises on the hip pendulum

Abductor exercises on the hip pendulum

 

Abductor exercises on the abductor machine

Abductor exercises on the abductor machine can be performed by all training levels. We begin with closed legs. Sit in the machine with bent hip joints and tensed abdominal muscles. In a controlled movement we abduct both legs maximally. Close your legs again in a controlled movement to complete one repetition. The workout can be intensified with small impulses in the area of highest muscle tension (opened legs).

Abductor exercises on the abductor machine

Abductor exercises on the abductor machine


Antagonist: Adductors

Stretching: Glute stretches

 

 


Side leg raises

Side leg raises


Muscle group:   The abdominal muscles, the leg muscles, the butt muscles, complex exercises

Trained muscle:   All parts of the abdominal muscles, Adductors, Abductors, butt muscles

Focused muscle:   Oblique abdominals

Fitness level:   Advanced, experienced

Type of training:   Own body weight exercises


 

Side leg raises are a very intense and effective exercise for the oblique abdominal muscles that combines the lying versions of the abductor side leg raises and the adductor side leg raises. In accordance, significant training effects can also be achieved for the abductors and adductors of the leg. In its basic version the exercise also represents a variation of the side raises.

Side leg raises

Side leg raises are performed in lying position. We get in lateral position with our hips and knees stretched. Feel free to have your arms support on the ground. Tense the abdominal muscles and stabilize the rest of your body. Raise your legs from the ground and remain in that position (isometric execution). Please avoid press breathing (exhalation against closed airways) at any time.

Side leg raises variations

Side leg raises variations

 

Side leg raises variations

The isometric version of the side leg raises already is quite intense. You can increase the intensity by performing small upward impulses with your legs (end contraction). It is also possible to work out dynamically. You could bend and stretch your legs alternately or open and close your legs like scissors. The dynamic versions are less intense than the isometric ones.

Side leg raises with bent knees

Side leg raises with bent knees


Antagonist: Lower back muscles

Stretching: Abdominal stretches

 

 


Stiff man

Stiff man


Muscle group:   The leg muscles, the butt muscles, the back muscles, complex exercises

Trained muscle:   Thigh backside, butt muscles, lower back muscles

Fitness level:   Beginner, advanced, experienced

Type of training:   Own body weight exercises


 

Stiff man represents an effective workout for the entire backside of the body. Especially the back thigh, the buttocks, and the lower back will be trained with this exercise.

Stiff man

Performing the stiff man we begin in supine position lying on the floor. Our legs are stretched and closed. We bring the arms to the side pulling them onto the body. We now tense the entire body to become completely stiff. Now smoothly lift up the pelvis from the ground. A few centimetres are enough. Your feet and shoulders press into the floor. You could also practise the stiff man with your feet elevated on a bench, chair, etc. or have a training partner lift you up holding on to your ankles.

The exercise becomes easier in prone position. Bring your arms stretched above your head with the hands on top of each other. Lift your arms from the ground tensing the abdominals and the buttocks. To intensify this variation you could either press with your hands against an insurmountable barrier from below (like the wall bars, a heater, etc.) or have a partner holding on to your hands from above. This variation also involves the muscles of the middle back.


A quite familiar exercise of the stiff man in supine position are the glute bridges.

Antagonist: Rectus abdominis, thigh front

Stretching: Lower back stretches, glute stretches, back thigh stretches

 

Stiff man

Stiff man


Glute bridges

Glute bridges


Muscle group:   The leg muscles, the butt muscles, the back muscles, complex exercises

Trained muscle:   Thigh backside, butt muscles, lower back muscles

Fitness level:   Beginner, advanced, experienced

Type of training:   Own body weight exercises


 

Glute bridges are a very effective exercise for the muscles of the backside of the upper thigh, the butt, and the lower back.

Glute bridges

Glute bridges most effectively are being performed one-legged. We start in supine position with one leg pulled towards our chest to the maximum to erect our pelvis. Bend the other leg with the heel digging into the floor. The tiptoes pull up and your hands are crossed under your head. Now increase your heel pressure against the floor lifting and lowering your butt. During one set of repetitions your butt doesn’t touch the ground.

Glute bridges variations

Glute bridges become easier by exercising with both legs on the floor. Further lower the intensity by working out on the foot soles instead of the heels. The exercise becomes more intense by working out with larger knee angles and adding more tension by pulling your heel actively towards the butt. Remaining in the area with highest muscle tension (pelvis lifted to the maximum) further intensifies the exercise. In this position also pull the lifted leg maximally to your chest. Glute bridges could also be practised with your legs in an elevated position, like on a bench or similar.

To prevent muscle cramps it is recommended to perform a few repetitions of an easy version of the glute bridges before working out intensely.


A quite familiar exercise of the glute bridges represents the stiff man.

Antagonist: Rectus abdominis, thigh front

Stretching: Lower back stretches, glute stretches, back thigh stretches

 

Glute bridges

Glute bridges

 

Glute bridges variations

Glute bridges variations


Lunges

Lunges


Muscle group:   The leg muscles

Trained muscle:   Thigh front

Fitness level:   Beginner, advanced, experienced

Type of training:   Own body weight exercises, free weight exercises


 

Lunges are familiar with one-legged squats. The exercise focuses on the muscles of the front of the thigh. To smaller portions the muscles of the butt and the thigh backside are trained as well performing lunges.

Lunges

Lunges begin in an upright standing position. From here perform a smooth step forward into lunge position. Decelerate your weight with your leg muscles. Return to your starting position by dynamically stretching your front leg. The rearward leg pulls forward.

In lunge position it is important to align the knee and foot of the front leg in one line. The knee joint would be sitting right above the ankle joint. Please try to not bring your knee farther to the front. Also, keep your back straight and your abdominal muscles tensed during the entire exercise to stabilize the pelvis.

Lunges variations

Lunges variations

 

Lunges variations

Intensify the lunges by using extra weights on your shoulders (e.g. barbell) or in your hands (e.g. dumbbells), by lunging deeper and/or wider, or by performing the lunge more dynamically. Lower the intensity by not lunging as deep and/or as wide, by reducing the dynamic, and/or by resting your hands on your thigh or hips.

Lunges variations

Lunges variations

 

Lunges can also be performed more statically by remaining in lunge position and performing up and down movements. You could also remain deep performing small up and down movements in the area of highest muscle tension. The lunge could also be performed as a side step.

Deep Lunges

Deep Lunges


Antagonist: Thigh backside

Stretching: Front thigh stretches

 

 


Squats

Squats


Muscle group:   The leg muscles, the back muscles, the butt muscles, complex exercises

Trained muscle:   Thigh front, thigh backside, lower back muscles, butt muscles

Focused muscle:   Thigh front, lower back muscles

Fitness level:   Beginners, advanced, experienced

Type of training:   Own body weight exercises, free weight exercises, machine exercises


 

Squats represent one of the basic exercises in the weight training area (together with bench press, deadlifts and pull-ups). It mainly works out the front side of the thigh and the lower back – and this quite intensely. The thigh backside and the butt muscles are trained on a reduced level performing squats.

Squats

Performing squats we start standing with our legs in shoulder width from each other. Our feet point straight toward the front or slightly toward the outside. Hip, knee, and ankle joint are in one line and the knee sits exactly above the forefoot. The body weight rests balanced above our feet. Our heel always remains on the ground. Please keep your back straight at any time by erecting the pelvis and tensing the abdominal muscles. Also keep your leg muscles tensed throughout the entire movement to spare your ligaments.

When we squat down our knees remain above our feet. Our butt is moving backwards as we wanted to sit down. As a beginner please stop the down movement at a knee angle of 90°. With respect to their physical conditions advanced and experienced sportsmen and -women can go further down. Please always perform smooth motions in both ways (up and down) and do not press breathe (exhale against closed airways).

Squats

Squats

 

Squat variations

Squat variations

 

Beginners could stretch their arms to the front during the exercise or use a chair or similar for stabilization purposes. The ability to work out in different variations depends on our physical conditions. The length of the thighs and upper body as well as the mobility of the ankle joints determine how deep we can go.

Squats with extra weights

Squats with extra weights can be performed on the multi press rack or using a barbell. Here, the weight usually sits on our upper back what can stress the cervical spine significantly. When you use higher weights it is recommended to use a cushion or towel in your neck. The increased weight also puts much pressure on our lumbar spine. Only advanced and experienced athletes should perform squats with extra weights keeping a very clean execution.

Squats variations

Squats variations

 

Hack squats

Hack squats are performed on the machine or with the barbell. With the barbell we would hold the weights behind our legs. This execution is quite difficult and can cause complaints and injuries. The version on the machine is much more comfortable. We stand shoulder wide with the cushions resting on our shoulders. Grab the handles. Our complete back rests on the back cushion. Keep it straight. Knee and foot are in one line.

The abdominal muscles are tensed and we start to bend our knees in a controlled movement. Do not stretch your knees completely when you come up again. The soles of your feet remain on the ground (also the heels).

Hackenschmidt squat

Hack squats

 

One-legged squats

One-legged squats are also very effective. Their intensity can be increased by working out with extra weights, like dumbbells in your hands or on a belt, or going very deep, like standing on a bench, step, or similar. One-legged squats become easier by not going that deep, holding on to the wall bars, or similar with the hands, or choosing a wider step to the front and distributing our weight more on both legs.

Starting position of the one-legged squat is the lunge. Almost the entire weight will be carried by the front leg. Its foot sole remains on the ground during the entire exercise (pressure on your heel). The back foot slightly rotates toward the inside standing on the tip in hip-width to the front foot. From that position we bend and stretch the front leg alternatingly.

One-legged squat short

One-legged squat short

 

One-legged squat wide

One-legged squat wide

 

One-legged squats

One-legged squats

 

One-legged squats – elevated

Elevated one-legged squats (on a bench, step, etc.) are more intense. During the entire exercise it is important to actively tense the leg muscles, keep the entire foot sole of the training leg touching down, and to not move the knee to the side or too far to the front (knee remains above the foot).

One-legged squats on the step

One-legged squats on the step

 

For one-legged squats on the bench it is recommendable to perform them with our hands holding on to the wall bars, or similar. In the upward movement the back leg remains as long as possible on the floor and touches the floor as early as possible again in the downward movement.

One-legged squats on the bench

One-legged squats on the bench

 

Lunges represent a version of the one-legged squat.


Antagonist: Thigh backside, rectus abdominis

Stretching: Front thigh stretches, lower back stretches

 

 


Back leg lifts

Back leg lifts


Muscle group:   The leg muscles, the butt muscles, the back muscles, complex exercises

Trained muscle:   Thigh backside, butt muscles, lower back muscles

Fitness level:   Beginner, advanced, experienced

Type of training:   Own body weight exercises


 

Back leg lifts represent a very good exercise for the thigh backside, the buttocks, and the lower back muscles. The exercise can be performed at different intensity levels on machines or just using the own body weight. This article will explain the workout with the own body weight. For the training on machines please read the article leg curl.

Back leg lifts

Back leg lifts can be performed in a standing, kneeling, or lying position. There are also machines at the gym for this exercise.

Back leg lifts lying

The lying back leg lift starts in prone position. The head lies on our crossed arms facing the floor. We can keep both legs stretched or bend one leg and lay it sidewards to the floor to erect the pelvis. From that position we lift the other leg stretched from the floor. Make sure to lift the entire leg including the thigh to the maximum. With your leg in the air flex your knee joint. From that position it is quite intense to perform small up and down movements in the area of highest muscle contraction. Lifting and lowering your leg alternatingly would make it less intense. You could intensify this exercise by using extra weights (foot cuff).

Back leg lifts lying

Back leg lifts lying

Back leg lifts and bends on the floor

Back leg lifts and bends on the floor

Back leg lifts and bends on the bench

Back leg lifts and bends on the bench

Back leg lifts and bends on the bench

Back leg lifts and bends on the bench

 

Back leg lifts kneeling

The same execution applies for back leg lifts in kneeling position. Here, your body rests on both arms and one leg in tabletop position. Intensify this version by holding your diagonal arm stretched from the body.

Back leg lifts

Back leg lifts

 

Back leg lifts

Back leg lifts

 


Back leg lifts in lying position combined with reverse flys and hyperextensions makes a very complex exercise that works out almost the entire backside of your body.

Antagonists: Thigh front, abdominal muscles

Stretching: Back thigh stretches, glute stretches, lower back stretches