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Leg day is tough, but not all your moves have to be knee-quaking squats. In fact, finishing your workout with unweighted moves using a stability ball can help alleviate next-day soreness and increase range of motion.
“These three moves are designed to simultaneously stretch and contract the muscles of the lower body and core,” says Martina Farnham, NASM, and owner of Today’s Fit Women in Houston, Pennsylvania. The smaller, stabilizing muscles of your legs, hips and trunk get contracted while the larger ones get lengthened, according to Farnham.
Do this workout, designed by Farnham, at the end of your leg workout using the rep ranges prescribed, and focus on deepening your range of motion with each repetition.
Setup: Lie with your abdomen across the top of the stability ball, and place your hands on the floor underneath your shoulders. Center your hips on the ball with your legs hip-width apart and your toes lightly touching the floor.
Move: Lift your legs straight up until they are parallel to the floor. Hold here and squeeze your glutes, then return to the floor. Take four slow counts to do each repetition. Do three sets of 15.
Make It Harder: Raise your legs, open them wide, then close and lower to the floor.
Tip: Even though you’re lying on your stomach, you should still contract your abs to stabilize your spine and help control your legs as they move through space.
Single-Legged Side Lunge
Setup: Stand with the stability ball on your left side. Place the inside of your left foot on top of the ball, toes forward and leg straight, and balance on your right leg.
Move: Squat down on your right leg and roll the ball away from you by pressing down into it with your left foot. When you’ve gone as low as you can, reverse the move and return to the start, actively pushing down into the ball with your left foot to activate your inner-thigh muscles. Do all reps on one side before switching. Do three sets of 10 on each leg.
Tip: Don’t fold forward at your hips. Keep your chest lifted and your hands in front of you to balance properly, and focus the work on your leg and glutes, not your lower back.
Bulgarian Split Squat
Setup: Stand with the stability ball behind you and extend one leg back, placing it with laces down on top of the ball. Place your hands on your hips and stand up straight.
Move: Bend your front knee and lunge straight down until your thigh is nearly parallel to the floor. Extend your leg and return to the start. Do all reps on one leg before switching. Do three sets of 10 each leg.
Tip: The ball should not roll around as you do this. Press down lightly onto the ball with your rear foot to keep it steady.