If you didn’t already know, the glutes (gluteus maximus), and the quads (quadriceps) together make up a large percentage of your overall muscle. Keeping the lower half of your body in shape is an important step towards keeping your entire body in shape. If you have ever spoken with a body builder, or a power lifter, you might have heard them say something along the lines of “I hate leg day!” While I don’t want to let that scare you away, there is a reason they say that: those two muscle groups can and should be worked harder than some of your smaller muscle groups. Bottom line? Leg Day is a huge workout, but it doesn’t have to be intimidating. In fact, one of the best things you can do for your lower body is yoga.
This is a good thing, especially for women. Many of us are familiar with the struggles of upper body strength. That is not to say that women are “weak”, quite the opposite! It’s more that, relative to men, a woman is more likely to struggle with upper body gains over and above the gains she can make on her lower half. (And for these purposes “gains” means strength, stamina and tone, not a weight gain.) So use these huge muscle groups to your advantage! They burn loads of calories, use up stored fat for fuel, and just generally look amazing when they are tightened up a bit. Yoga is an excellent way to achieve these goals, and it is suitable for beginners. Let’s take a look at a few of the best poses to get the most out of your lower body workout.
The “Warrior Poses” Series in Yoga
Yoga is pretty amazing. If you have not checked it out already, then you absolutely should. Yoga poses can bring you some amazing lower body strengthening exercises. There are three particular poses in yoga called the Warrior poses. They are all standing poses that increase slightly in difficulty as you progress. Any pose requiring balance is a great overall strengthening exercise, because you have to then use all of those smaller, auxilliary muscles, alongside the major muscle groups like your glutes and quads, in order to remain stable (and not topple over, which still happens to all of us, no matter how good we get).
To begin this pose, begin with your feet about 4 feet apart. Kneel into your front leg, creating a deep lunge. Turn your front foot out at a 45 degree angle to allow for a deeper bend, and to protect your knee. Turn your back foot out at a 90 degree angle to help open up the hips.
For the arms, begin by stretching them outward at your sides until they are parallel with the floor. When you feel balanced and ready, strongly bring your arms up over your head, remembering to keep your shoulders down, and allow for a slight arch in your lower back. If you are able to, turn your palms inward, and allow them to touch over your head.
Hold this pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute, as you are able. Release the pose, and repeat on the opposite side. Do this sequence for three sets, and then rest.
Begin by assuming the same deep lunge as Warrior 1 – remembering to keep your front foot turned out 45 degrees, and your back foot turned out 90 degrees. Sink into the lunge as deeply as you can while still maintaining balance.
Bring your arms strongly out to the sides as before. If you have your right foot in front, then bring your right arm forward, palm down, pointing your fingertips toward the wall in front of you. Take your left arm, and point it behind you, also palm down, and keep both arms parallel to the floor. Adjust yourself so that your hips are facing forward, but your shoulders are open to the side wall.
Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute, and repeat on the other side. Do this sequence for three sets, and then rest.
To begin, get into the lunge position you are used to from the other two Warrior Poses (those thighs ought to be feeling pretty strong by now!). To shift the body weight forward, place both hands on your front knee for stability, and gently lower your torso so that the mid line of your chest aligns and rests on the mid line of your thigh.
From here, slowly begin to extend your arms forward, so that your arms are right alongside your ears, while at the same time, carefully lifting your rear leg off the floor. Make adjustments as necessary (it is totally normal to lose your balance when first attempting this), and straighten the knee of your supporting leg when ready. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute, and then switch to the other side. Do this sequence for three sets, and then rest.
Now, I will be honest here in saying that I once thought of this particular pose as some kind of torture. I am glad I stuck with it however, because I could not believe how quickly it began to feel easy, with practice. Talk about a butt and thigh workout! This is another standing yoga pose, and also a balancing pose despite the fact that you are on two feet. That is merely one of the deceptive aspects of Chair pose. You will see what I mean when you get into position.
To begin, stand tall with your feet together, and relax here for a moment. When ready, bring your arms straight out in front of you, parallel to the floor. Gently bring your arms up over your head, with your upper arms alongside your ears. Remember to pull your shoulder blades down your back.
Take stock of how the weight is distributed on your feet, and begin to bring it back to your heels. Begin to bend the knees, keeping them pressed together, and see how close you can get to a 90 degree angle. To counter balance, bend slightly at the waist, and lean forward.
You may only be able to hold this pose for a few seconds at first, and that is completely okay. Focus on form until you feel more comfortable holding it for longer.
Triangle Pose is another one of those deceptively tricky poses. Once you are able to get into the proper form, you will begin to realize why it is so popular. Not only does this improve strength and balance, it promotes powerful legs that can support you in any position. The deep stretches you are able to get in this pose are helpful too, especially if you plan on adding some running or other cardio into your workout.
To begin, stand tall and either walk or jump your feet about 3 1/2 to 4 feet apart. Turn your left foot in at a slight angle to the right, and your right foot outward at 90 degrees. Make sure your right heel is lined up with your left heel. Take a moment to make sure your right knee cap is in line with the center of your right ankle.
Extend your torso slowly to the right, directly over the line of your right leg. Use your right hand to steady you by gradually sliding down from your thigh to your calf or foot (Never on the knee. Leaning on a joint may cause injury). Reach your left arm up so that your upper arm is alongside your ear, and lengthen through your side. Feel the stretch along your side, and into your glutes. Turn your gaze upwards toward your raised hand, if comfortable. Hold, reverse sides, and repeat the set 3 times.
My favorite single leg balance in all of yoga is tree pose. I feel like this is an especially approachable pose for the beginner, while also easily modified for the more advanced student. Even though it is a balance, it is very stable, working the butt and thighs to keep you standing tall and steady.
For this pose, begin by standing tall, heels together and feet slightly turned out. Pull up through your thighs and lengthen your spine in preparation for moving into the balance.
Start by just lifting one heel off the ground, allowing your toes to touch back down if you feel unsteady. When ready reach down to grasp your ankle, and place the sole of your foot either alongside your calf, of your thigh (Again, never against the knee!) Let go, using the strength in your thighs to hold this pose, and slowly raise your arms above your head.
Bet you didn’t think you could get that much of a butt and thigh workout by just standing still, huh? These poses are only the beginning. Check out Udemy’s “At Home Yoga Retreat” for more!