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 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

 

 


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

 

 


Straight leg raises

Straight leg raises


Muscle group:   The leg muscles

Trained muscle:   Thigh front

Fitness level:   Beginner, advanced, experienced

Type of training:   Own body weight exercises


 

Straight leg raises are a very effective exercise for the straight thigh muscle. The side parts of the thigh muscles are activated on a reduced level performing straight leg raises.

Straight leg raises

Straight leg raises can be performed in a standing or sitting position. If you cannot hold the balance in a standing position make sure to hold on to a chair or similar. Stand straight up and raise one leg to the front. Keep this leg raised and stretched in the knee joint to the maximum. Bent the standing leg slightly. The straight thigh muscle tilts the pelvis. In this exercise it is necessary to work out with a hollow back. It is still recommendable to keep the upper body as straight as possible and the abdominal muscles tensed.

Straight leg raises in a seated position are a little easier to perform since our body remains more stabilized. Sit down with both legs stretched to the front and your back straightened up. Your arms rest behind your back on the floor. The abdominal muscles are tensed. From this position raise one leg from the ground. Make sure to lift and stretch this leg to the maximum.

Both, standing and sitting straight leg raises can be performed with small up and down movements in the area of highest muscle contraction (at maximum elevation). If you would like to further intensify the exercise you could work out with extra weights, such as foot cuffs around your ankle. Please avoid press breathing (exhalation against closed airways).


Antagonist: Thigh backside

Stretching: Front thigh stretches

 

Straight leg raises seated

Straight leg raises seated

 

Straight leg raises standing

Straight leg raises standing


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

 

 


Straight leg lifts

Straight leg lifts


Muscle group:   The abdominal muscles, the leg muscles

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

Focused muscle:   Rectus abdominis (straight abdominal muscle)

Fitness level:   Advanced, experienced

Type of training:   Own body weight exercises


 

Straight leg lifts represent an extremely effective exercise for the abdominal muscles. This is due to the large amount of compensation work the ab has to perform to stabilize the pelvis. It is essential to know that straight leg lifts activate the hip flexors a lot what causes the risk of developing a hollow back. People with problems in that area should not work out straight leg lifts.

Straight leg lifts

Straight leg lifts in seated or lying position are smoother and less intense than hanging leg raises. We have different start positions we can choose from. We could either work out on the ground with a gym mat, on a bench, or similar. Here, we either choose a lying (supine) position with our arms beside our body or under our head. Or we take a seated position with our upper body raised from the ground at approximately 30 to 45 degrees. Seated our hands could be supporting behind our back. In lying position the exercise is less intense as in a seated position. Seated we can further intensify the workout by taking our hands from the ground holding them beside the upper body or crossed on our chest.

Before we lift our legs we should already tense our ab muscles to pre-erect and stabilize the pelvis what prevents negative effects. From the chosen position we lift our legs straight up. A quite intense exercise would be to just hold our stretched legs in that position close to the ground. It would get even more intense performing small up and down movements. It is also possible to perform circular movements or draw numbers or letters into the air. Furthermore we could bent and stretch our legs alternatingly or both legs together. Notice, that a workout with a long lever (stretched legs) is more intense than with a short lever (bent legs).

Straight leg lifts and hollow back

Straight leg lifts correct execution

Straight leg lifts correct execution

It is important to abort the exercise if you are no longer able to hold the pelvis erected. Also do never lift your legs quickly or in sudden movements what increases the stress for the back. Perform straight leg lifts in a smooth and controlled execution at any time. Putting the hands under the pelvis supports its erection and helps us to execute the exercise in a clean way. Avoid press breathing (exhalation against closed airways).


Antagonist: Lower back muscles

Stretching: Abdominal stretches

 

Straight leg lifting

Straight leg lifting

 

Straight leg lifts variations

Straight leg lifts variations

 

Straight leg lifts variations

Straight leg lifts variations

 

Straight leg lifts variations

Straight leg lifts variations

 

Straight leg lifts on bench

Straight leg lifts on bench