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

 

 


Calf raises

Calf raises


Muscle group:   The leg muscles

Trained muscle:   Calf

Fitness level:   Beginner, advanced, experienced

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


 

Calf raises represent the one and only exercise for the muscles of the calves. The training can be modified in many different ways what makes the calf workout pretty diverse.

Calf raises

Calf raises begin in shoulder wide stand. The upper body is straight, the abdominal muscles are tensed, and we actively erect the pelvis. Extend the knee joints. If necessary hold on to a chair, the wall bars, or similar to stabilize your body. From that position raise the heels maximally to just stand on the balls of your feet. Make sure to keep a straight feet alignment (do not rotate your legs). Come back down again to complete one repetition.

The exercise should be performed in controlled movements. In the upward movement the body weight could shift toward the big toes. To intensify the calf raises we could perform small impulses in the area of highest muscle tension (highest position when ankle joints are extended). We could also work out on one leg. Extra weights, like dumbbells, barbell, or on the multi press machine, further intensify the workout.

Calf raises

Calf raises

 

Calf raises standing

Calf raises

 

Calf raises on the machine

Calf raises can be exercised on different machines. There also are two specific machines, one for the sitting and one for the standing calf raise. But also the hack squat machine allows a proper workout of the calves. Step on the platform with just the balls of your feet.

  • In the standing version you have the resistance cushions rest on your shoulders. Your knees are extended and your entire body stands right up. Tense your abdominal muscles and erect the pelvis. Grab the handles to stabilize your body and start raising and lowering your heels in controlled motions.
  • In the sitting version you have the resistance cushions sit on your thighs. Sit upright with your ab tensed. The hip and knee joints are bent. Grab the handles or the seat cushion to stabilize your body and start raising and lowering your heels smoothly.
Calf raises on the machine

Calf raises on the machine

 

In both versions the training in the area of highest muscle tension intensifies the exercise significantly. Please note, that working out standing calf raises with high weights puts a lot of pressure on the spine what could cause complaints. Always keep a clean execution.

Calf raises on the leg press

Also a quite effective version of the exercise represent calf raises on the leg press. We sit in the machine with our complete back on the back rest. The balls of our feet are placed hip-wide on the platform. The tips of your feet point straight forward (straight feet alignment) and the knees extend. Tense the abdominal muscles and grab the handles of the machine to stabilize your body. Start raising your heels maximally in a controlled movement. Bring the heels back down to complete one repetition. Calf raises can be performed on all leg press machines or racks.

Calf raises on the leg press

Calf raises on the leg press

 


Beginners should start performing calf raises slowly without extra weights. With the time they can move toward the machine exercises before they finally are able to work out with free weights.

Stretching: Calf stretches

 

 


Leg extension

Leg extension


Muscle group:   The leg muscles

Trained muscle:   Thigh front

Fitness level:   Beginner, advanced, experienced

Type of training:   Machine exercises


 

Leg extension is an exercise that trains the front of the thigh quite intensely. We either work out on the leg extension machine or on the cable machine. A familiar exercise are the straight leg raises.

Leg extension machine

The exercise on the leg extension machine can already be performed by beginners. Take a seat and adjust the machine to have the rotating axis in one line with your knee joints . Your complete back should sit tightly on the back rest. The resistance cushion should sit on the lower part of your shank right above the ankle joint. Extend your legs in a controlled movement. When you do so the kneecaps should point right up. Neither rotate your legs outward, nor inward to protect your knee joints.

Leg extension on the machine

Leg extension on the machine

 

When we work out leg extensions the thigh backside is not activated, as it would be with squats or leg presses. This causes instabilities of the knee joint what can lead to complaints or injuries if the exercise is not executed properly. The exercise can also be performed one-legged.

Leg extension on the cable machine

Leg extensions on the cable machine should just be practised by advanced and experienced athletes. There are two different ways. We adjust the lowest position of the cable and fixate the cuff around the ankle of the training leg. The standing leg bends slightly. Stabilize your body with both hands on the machine and by tensing your abdominal muscles.

  • From that position we could either raise the training leg in extension. Bring it back to the starting position to complete one repetition. The movement here would be quite similar to the straight leg raises in standing position.
  • Or we raise the thigh to the horizontal line in front of our body (bent hip joint). From here we extend the knee maximally in a controlled movement and bring it back to the starting position.
Leg extension on the cable machine

Leg extension on the cable machine

 

Both versions can be intensified with small movements in the area of highest muscle tension (raised leg in extension).


Antagonist: Thigh backside

Stretching: Front thigh stretches

 

 


Leg press

Leg press


Muscle group:   The leg muscles

Trained muscle:   Thigh front

Fitness level:   Beginner, advanced, experienced

Type of training:   Machine exercises


 

Leg press is one of the most effective exercises for the front of the thigh. On a much lower rate some versions work out the back of the thigh, the butt, and the lower back as well.

Leg press

The leg press is performed on the machine or rack. Here, we can find various types that allow us to train different variations. On the leg press machine we usually have the platform for our feet right in front of us. Here, we overcome the resistance on the horizontal line. But the back rest can be adjusted at different angles, so we either exercise sitting or lying. Beginners could already work out on the machine. On the leg press rack the weight moves freely. We usually work on an inclined line pushing it upward. Only advanced and experienced athletes should work out on the rack.

Leg press on the machine

The seated leg press on the machine is the basic version of the exercise. We sit in the machine. Our complete back rests on the cushion. Set your feet with the entire sole shoulder wide on the platform. Your knees pull slightly to the outward to have them in one line with the feet. In the beginning the knee angle should not be below 90°. Experienced athletes of good physical health and with a very clean execution can choose lower angles as long as the lower back remains on the cushion. It is recommended to not work out below 70°. Tense your abdominal muscles and grab the handles on the sides with both hands to stabilize the body. Start to extend and bend your legs alternately. In the end position never extend your leg maximally. The soles of your feet remain on the platform completely during the entire exercise.

Seated leg press

Seated leg press

 

The execution of the horizontal leg press is similar to the seated version. Due to the lying position and the resistance cushions on our shoulders some athletes could feel uncomfortable to their lower back or shoulder. If so, please continue with the seated leg press.

Horizontal leg press

Horizontal leg press

 

Leg press on the rack

Leg presses on the rack also work the same way. Here, we have to be careful with the weights. Once we release the holders the platform moves freely what causes the risk of crushing body parts. Also, be careful with your lower back. Just bend your legs as far as you can keep the complete lower back on the rest. Raising the lower back could cause complaints or injuries.

Incline leg press

Incline leg press

 

Also work out squats.


Antagonist: Thigh backside

Stretching: Front thigh 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

 

 


Adductor exercises

Adductor exercises


Muscle group:   The leg muscles

Trained muscle:   Adductors

Fitness level:   Beginner, advanced, experienced

Type of training:   Machine exercises


 

Adductor exercises are quite often performed on the adductor machine. But there also are some exercises that work out this muscle group with other pieces of equipment or even without any tools.

Adductor exercises

This article introduces a selection of very effective adductor exercises, especially focussing on the adductor machine and the hip pendulum. There also are different variations of side leg raises that train the adductors pretty well. All exercises for this muscle group are listed under the following link: Adductor exercises

Adductor exercises on the adductor machine

Adductor exercises on the adductor machine are very effective and can already be performed by beginners. We sit in the machine with opened legs and bent hips. The cushions should sit right above the knees, if possible. Stabilize your body with the handles on the sides and by tensing the abdominal muscles. In a controlled movement close the legs maximally against the resistance. The exercise can be intensified if we perform small impulses with almost closed legs (area of highest muscle tension).

Adductor exercises on the adductor machine

Adductor exercises on the adductor machine

 

Adductor exercises on the hip pendulum

Adductor exercises on the hip pendulum also represent a quite intense workout for the adductors of both legs to the same time. Here, it is more difficult to stabilize the body so beginners shouldn’t practise this exercise. Adjust the machine to have the rotation axis of the pendulum in one line with the hip joint. The cushion of the pendulum should sit right above the knee joint on the inside of the thigh. The standing leg bends slightly. The training leg should be bent. From that position pull the leg against the resistance toward the body in a controlled movement. Bring the leg back up again smoothly to complete one repetition. The workout can be intensified with small impulses in the area of highest muscle tension (almost closed legs).

Adductor exercises on the hip pendulum

Adductor exercises on the hip pendulum

 

Adductor exercises – forearm clamp

The forearm clamp is an isometric adductor exercise. We either sit on the floor or on a bench, chair, or similar. Open your legs and place one forearm horizontally between. The upper body leans forward keeping the back straight and the abdominals tensed. Press both legs together against the forearm (clamping it). You vary the intensity of the exercise by dosing the pressure of your muscles.

Adductor exercises, forearm clamp

Adductor exercises, forearm clamp

 

The exercise can also be practised with a partner working leg against leg. Here, we could train adductors and abductors alternately. One athlete starts with closed legs and the other athlete with opened legs sitting in front of each other. The athlete with closed legs now opens his legs (abductor exercise) smoothly against the opened legs of the other athlete, who starts to close his legs (adductor exercise) against the opening legs. Slowly increase the pressure until you have reached a decent training intensity.


Antagonist: Abductors

Stretching: Adductor stretch

 

 


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

 

 


Hanging leg raises

Hanging leg raises


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

Trained muscle:   All parts of the abdominal muscles, thigh front

Focused muscle:   Rectus abdominis (straight abdominal muscle), Oblique abdominals

Fitness level:   Experienced

Type of training:   Own body weight exercises


 

Hanging leg raises represent one of the most effective exercises for the abdominal muscles. It can be performed on the wall bars or pull-up bars. A variation would be on the bars with our forearms supporting.

Hanging leg raises

Hanging leg raises are most effective when performed with longest lever. This can be realized by stretching the legs horizontally. This version is quite difficult and requires a well pronounced musculature. Easier variations would be practised with bent legs or by raising the legs not as high (shorter lever). Shorter levers can also be applied toward the end of the set when a complete repetition with long lever no longer is possible. This would exhaust the muscle in an optimal way.

Hanging leg raises with a free back are more intense than with your back resting on a wall. Leg lifts in lying or sitting position are far less intense in comparison with the hanging version. This is due to the large amount of stabilization work our muscles have to perform in hanging position to keep the pelvis erected.

Hanging leg raises – execution

Get in a hanging position, tense the abdominal muscles, and erect the pelvis. Raise your stretched legs without momentum in a controlled and smooth movement to the horizontal line. Hold this position as long as possible. With the increasing exhaustion you can start to bend your legs. Please abort the exercise when you are no longer able to keep the pelvis erected. At the end of the set please lower your legs smoothly. Too much momentum can harm the lower back.

You could also work out dynamically lowering and raising your legs in small amplitudes. Even more intense are small impulses in the area of highest muscle tension (longest lever). The exercise becomes easier with bent legs. Here, we don’t have to work on the horizontal line only. Feel free to further raise your legs.

Hanging leg raises variations

Hanging leg raises variations

 

Hanging leg raises with twist

Hanging leg raises with twist are less intense since we work out with shorter levers. We take a similar starting position. The abdominals are tensed and the pelvis is erected. From that position we raise our bent legs and start twisting them without momentum smoothly and controlled from one side to the other.

Hanging leg raises, twist

Hanging leg raises, twist

 

Hanging leg raises on the bars

Hanging leg raises on the bars are actually not performed from a hanging position. Our forearms support on the bars. The execution stays similar. Keep the abdominal muscles tensed and the pelvis erected. To ensure highest intensity make sure to not have the buttocks move toward the back too far.

Leg raises on the bars

Leg raises on the bars

 

All versions of the hanging leg raise activate the hip flexors. Athletes with complaints in the lower back, pronounced hollow back, or shortened hip flexors should not practise this exercise. If back problems occur during or after the training please switch to other exercises for the abdominals. Also avoid press breathing (exhalation against closed airways).


Antagonist: Lower back muscles

Stretching: Abdominal stretches

 

 


Heel press

Heel press


Muscle group:   The leg muscles

Trained muscle:   Thigh backside

Fitness level:   Beginner, advanced, experienced

Type of training:   Own body weight exercises


 

Heel presses represent a quite effective isometric exercise for the muscles of the back thigh that can be practised by beginners as well as experienced athletes.

Heel press

Heel presses can be performed in lying or standing position. Lying we start in supine position with both hands crossed under our head. The knees are bent at an angle of approximately 90° and the heels press into the floor. The tiptoes pull upward. Our lower back pulls toward the floor by tensing the abdominal muscles. We now press our heels strongly into the floor without raising the pelvis. On top of the pressure into the floor we can actively pull the heels upward to our body (without changing the position) to intensify this exercise. The intensity can also be increased by extending the distance between heels and buttocks.

The heel press in standing position is performed one-legged. The trained leg is being elevated on a chair, bench, or similar. The tiptoes point upward and the heel presses downward. Tense your abdominal muscles and increase the pressure with your heel.

Please note that in the one-legged standing version we don’t tend toward a hollow back as much as in the two-legged lying version. But we also activate the hip flexors significantly. So please be careful with your lower back when you perform heel presses.


To increase the intensity level you could also work out familiar exercises, like the stiff man and glute bridges.

Antagonist: Thigh front

Stretching: Back thigh stretches

 

Heel press lying

Heel press lying

 

Heel press standing

Heel press standing