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How to strengthen your lower body : Squats and other tips

Posted by Jill Derryberry on May 31, 2024 8:30:00 AM
Jill Derryberry
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A strong lower body is important to help protect and improve our knees and hips, keep us moving with less pain and to be able to do activities of daily living independently for as long as possible.  Squats may be the most beneficial lower body exercise and are a key to living and aging well.   Think about how many times you bend your knees and lower your body during the day; picking up something from the floor, lowering yourself down to a toddler’s level to speak or play with a child, sitting down and then standing back up.  Those are all essentially squats and performing squats in your exercise routine, will help you to keep doing these types of activities in your day-to-day life.  According to a 2014 scientific overview, squats are “one of the most primal and critical fundamental movements necessary to improve sport performance, to reduce injury risk and to support lifelong physical activity.” 


There are many different variations of the squat exercise.  Some change the muscle that is working the hardest and some are better for beginners or better for individuals with limited mobility in one or more joints.   


If you are new or returning to exercise after a long time away or injury, a box squat or sit to stand may be the best way to squat starting out.   


To do a box squat (or sit to stand):   


  1. Use a chair or box high enough that when you sit, your thighs are parallel with the ground.  Keep your chest lifted and core engaged. 
  2. Stand in front of the chair. 
  3. Keep your heels down, bend your knees and slowly lower yourself until your backside gently taps the box or chair.  Try not to sit completely.  Rise from the box and stand.  Repeat for 8-10 reps.   


A wall sit is an isometric squat which means you will be holding your body in a position for a length of time rather than moving through a range of motion for each rep.  A wall sit will improve the muscular endurance of your lower body. 


To do a wall sit: 


  1. Start in a standing position with your feet shoulder-width apart and back flat against a wall.  
  2. Lower into a seated position by bending your knees at a 90-degree angle. Your knees should be directly over your ankles.  Keep your lower back firmly against the wall and hold the position for a set length of time.  

If a wall sit proves to be too strenuous, you can alleviate the tension on your low back by following the same steps, but also placing an exercise ball or stability ball between your lower back and the wall. If you're looking to make it more challenging, consider practicing a single-leg wall sit or a weighted dumbbell wall sit. 

To do a body weight squat: 


  1. Place your feet about shoulder width apart and facing slightly outward. 
  2. Your head should be in line with your spine, shoulders back, chest up, eyes forward.   
  3. Knees should move in line with your toes as you squat.  Knees should not go out or in or extend too far past your toes. 
  4. Bend your knees coming down into your squat at a depth that feels comfortable.  Aim to eventually get your thighs parallel with the ground.  You should aim to do 3-4 sets hitting around 10 or 12 reps. 


When body weight squats don’t feel as challenging, you should add additional weight (besides your own body).   Adding resistance with a weight will keep your body getting stronger instead of plateauing.   There are many squat variations using dumbbells, barbells, or other resistance equipment.   


Other Lower Body Exercises 


Squats aren’t the only exercise to do for your lower body.  A squat primarily uses the muscles in the front of your legs, the quadriceps along with your glutes, and hip adductors (the inside of your thighs).  It’s important to work the other muscles in the legs and core as well.    


The Romanian deadlift is a very effective and great muscle building exercise which works both on your lower back muscles, but more significantly and the primary used muscles when it comes to this exercise, are your hamstrings (which are the muscles in the back of your leg above your knee). 


To do a Romanian Deadlift: 


  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a barbell at thigh level. Your hands should be about shoulder-width apart. 
  2. Keeping your back straight, bend at your waist and sit your hips back to lower the bar. 
  3. Keep the bar close to your shins and lower as far as your flexibility allows while keeping your back straight. 
  4. Squeeze your glutes to extend at your hips (bring your hips forward) and stand up. You should aim to do 3-4 sets hitting around 10 or 12 reps. 


Strong glutes help to prevent injuries, back and knee pain as well as make everyday movement easier.  While they are working in all these lower body exercises, it is a good idea to do a specific exercise that focuses primarily just on these muscles as well. A glute bridge done on the floor, or a hip thrust with a barbell or dumbbells on your hips and shoulders on a bench are two ways to work your glutes.  The glute trainer machine can help you advance this exercise with heavier weights with an easier setup than using free weights.   


Glute Trainer Machine (NEW in our Indianapolis Location!) 


  1. Place your shoulders on the cushioned pad and place your feet an equal distance apart on the plate.  
  2. Place the roller over your hips and lock it in place.  
  3. Lift the roller bar slightly and move the holder forward to release the roller bar from its stand. 
  4. Pushing through your heels, and without moving your feet and shoulders, drive your hips up towards the ceiling while squeezing your glute muscles. 
  5. Once your thighs are parallel to your back, you have reached the top of the movement. Slowly lower yourself to the starting position. 


TIP:  Take it slow - Take time to focus on each repetition and really squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement. This will help you get more out of each rep rather than just going through the motions as quickly as possible.  Focus on your form and don’t use too much weight at first.   

TIP:  Avoid arching your back - Keep your spine in a neutral position throughout the movement and avoid overextending your back at the top. This will help reduce strain on your lower back and prevent any unwanted injuries. 


Don’t skip leg day and don’t skip your squats!  Squats build muscle and strength. Squats don’t just make you look good they make you strong! They mimic many everyday movements (like sitting down and standing up), which means they improve your functional strength.  They also, like other body weight and resistance exercises, are great for bone strength as well.   


Research shows that squats improve athletic performance, aid in injury prevention, and even impact things like jumping ability and sprint speed. For non-athletes, they make daily tasks easier and improve quality of life. In fact, leg strength is the best predictor of physical function in older adults.  Need help with your form or putting a lower body workout together?  Ask a LivRite trainer today! 


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