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The Best Leg Exercises You Aren’t Using

sandbag fitness equipment

Jessica Bento, Physical Therapist

(DVRT Educational Director and Creator of DVRT Restoration, Shoulder, and Pelvic Control Courses)

There are “those” exercises that open up a much bigger world of training. Exercises that teach you so much more about what strength means and does so much more than just burn out muscles. The exercises that do much more for our training and give us that “big bang for the buck” benefits are those that we should prioritize in our training or have the goal of moving towards in our training. One of the best examples of such an exercise are the leg exercises we can build using just ONE simple concept.

One of the more unique DVRT concepts we teach is how change in direction is a means of increasing intensity. This is most obvious with lunges, but can work with hip hinges as well giving us so many great leg exercises that teach not only strength, but stability, mobility, and power as well. The most challenging direction tends to be a crossover. In many circles, crossover lunges (called curtsy lunge for female clients and a dragon lunge for male clients, kidding, not kidding) are called transverse plane movements, but upon closer examination they are not!

leg exercises

When we step out to the side that is obviously a frontal plane (laterally moving) movement. So, when we step laterally just the opposite direction why would that be transverse? It is just frontal plane in a less stable position placing way more demand on our leg exercises. It would be like saying that stepping backwards in a lunge and forward in a lunge are moving in different planes of motion. Of course, besides that being a fun discussion of understanding planes of motion training, why should you care?

People love training the glutes, they know they need to build hip mobility, and they know they need to train core stability. The crossover movement allows us to build all these qualities in really powerful leg exercises. Since our hips are truly tri-planar muscles (they work in all 3 planes of motion at once producing and resisting force at the same time), we need to put them in positions which really we can challenge such qualities. That is why in DVRT we love to progress both upper body and leg exercises into split stances of all sorts. In doing so, we cause the hip to perform both of these actions. However, when we get to the crossover, due to the instability and higher mobility demands, we get even a STRONGER training effect and really make hip hinges, lunges, and step-ups power house movements.

Josh did an okay job of explaining why the crossover is such a multi-faceted movement that makes our leg exercises so much better (can’t say he did a great job, that just makes his head swell more). There are a few keys in having success in crossover leg exercises. If we are stepping up on a box, make sure the box is not too high, coach to start with the whole foot on the step with specific attention given to the big toe “grabbing” for the step, and just slightly cross the back leg behind (don’t let the downward foot be too far away from the step). Most of all, don’t let the lifter go into pelvic rotation into the movement (very slight is fine we don’t want huge amounts because we are trying to resist rotation in these movements).

sandbag workouts

The lunge and hip hinges are similar in the points we want to cue in these leg exercises. The big toe means everything and if people don’t engage the feet properly they will feel off balance and can cause some issues with the knee. The back leg is VERY important on the hip hinges and lunges as too many times people put no pressure through the back foot. That is fine if you are more advanced, but especially when introducing these leg exercises you can help people SO much more if you teach them to use the ball of foot on the back leg. It is also important to start with just slightly crossing the midline of the body, often especially with people new to these movements they don’t know HOW far to step across. Giving them a goal and slowly build within their capacity can make all the difference in the world.

In the series you see below, I show you how to apply these concepts with Ultimate Sandbags and kettlebells because each provides us unique opportunity to build powerful leg exercises. You will also notice a bent row in the sequence. How does that make sense when we are discussing leg exercises? I love using different bent row variations in this position for a few reasons. One, it allows the client to get more comfortable and stable in the position without too much movement occurring. Second, we get to train the upper body with the core and lower body which are all interconnected. Training the hips with the upper body helps us build stronger and more resilient shoulders (we will discuss more in an upcoming post but if you have been following us for some time that will sound familiar).

The crossover also allows us to maximize our space and equipment during a time where people are looking how to achieve more with their workouts with less of everything. Just because our gym may look different doesn’t mean we have to change how we think of getting great results from our workouts.

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