As yogis we can get a bit obsessed with forward folds and hip openers. I know being able to bite your toes or fold in half is a really cool trick. And I know hip openers can feel really juicy and like they are doing us loads of good (and in some cases they may well be). If we are always pushing to get further/ deeper into these poses without strengthening at the same time then we can run the risk of overstretching / weakening / injuring ourselves. Particularly the hamstrings, glutes and pelvic / knee stability.
Another contributing factor can also be super grippy modern mats which allow us to 'hang out' or sink into or flexibility in standing poses such as warrior 2, triangle etc because we don't need to engage other muscles to stop our feet sliding out from under us (try doing W2 on a 'slidier' surface and you'll see what I mean)
Please note I'm not saying yoga or stretching is bad (I'm a yin teacher afterall!) just that it's about balance and realising there can be too much of a good thing :)
Below are my top 3 lower body exercises to help your lower body stay supple AND strong.They can all be done at home with some dumbbells if you don't have access to a gym. Choose weights that are appropriate for you, if you're new to weights start light and see how you go. Make sure you warm up first! Do consult a medical professional if your are unsure if these exercises are right for you.
Try 3 sets of 10-15 reps of each exercise 2-3x per week and let me know how you get on!
1) Romanian Deadlifts
If you've every tweaked / torn a hamstring (me included!) then you'll know that they can be pretty painful and take a while to heal. It might seem counter intuitive but eccentric contractions (where the muscle is lengthening under a load) are a great way to not only gain functional strength but also to help rehab muscle tweaks and tendon sprains because the help orientate the healing fibers the right way.
- Stand with your feet hip width apart holding a barbell or pair of dumbells in your hands, arms straight, palms facing back towards your hips.
- Your shoulders should be slightly down and back, pushing your chest out.
- With a slight bend in your knees, hinge at your hips, keeping your back straight and lower the weight/s down the front of your legs until you feel a slight stretch in your hamstrings.
- Squeeze your glutes (bum) and use your hamstrings to come back up to stand.
Sqauts are fab, they help strengthen the glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves.They also work out your core, stabilizing muscles, which improves the communication between your brain and your muscle groups increasing stability around the hip, knee and ankle joints.
- Stand with your feet a little wider than shoulder width apart.
- Hold a weight against your chest, with your elbows tucked in. If you’re using a dumbbell, hold it vertically. If it’s a kettlebell, hold the sides of its handle.
- As you squat, keep your elbows inside the line of your knees, and the heels of your feet flat on the ground.
- Go as low as you can in this position, then come back up, pushing through your heels. Keep your movements smooth and your abs engaged throughout.
3) Reverse Lunges
Another all round exercises that particulary strengthens the glutes and the quads. The spilt stance challenges your balance more (even better for stability and mucle control) plus it allows you to "even out" strength and muscular imbalances by bringing your weak side up to par with your stronger side
- Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Your hands should be on your hips or if you're using weights holding them by your sides. Look directly forward, keeping your chest lifted.
- Start the lung by taking a step back, contacting the floor with the ball your foot, allowing your knees to bend to lower your body. Keep lowering until your knee nearly touches the ground. Move slowly with control paying attention to the your alignment. Your front knee should stay stacked over your ankle in line with your foot, your hips level and your upper spine should remain neutral.
- After a brief pause, return to the starting position by driving through the heel of the front leg to extend the knees and hips.
- This movement can be done completely on one side before switching, or can be performed in an alternating fashion