In the gym, it doesn’t always take big moves to get big results. In fact, sometimes just a small “pulse” rep — that is, a range of motion of just a few inches at most in a controlled but relatively quick fashion — can challenge your muscles in a whole new and invigorating way.
Houston-based fitness specialist Karen Armstrong, who as part of her expertise integrates Pilates with traditional resistance workouts, is a firm believer in this “less (movement) is more” approach, devising the following resistance-band-focused lower-body session that will leave you sore from your core down.
The following five exercises can be performed with either a closed resistance-band loop or a flat band that you can tie into a loop. The routine is also adaptable to any fitness level by simply decreasing or increasing the “pulse” reps per set and the length of time you “hold” each position. “Just focus on the ‘little things’ to maximize the benefits,” Armstrong suggests. “From the feeling of lifting each vertebra in your back off the floor, one by one, during your bridges to feeling your muscles contract and release on each pulse, that mind-to-body connection will help you get the most from this 30-minute session.”
The Lower-Body Band Workout
Perform the following exercises either as a circuit two to three times through or do them standard style, completing two to three sets per exercise before moving on to the next — your choice. Start with a lower-tension band to get the hang of each move, but as you get stronger over time, you can choose higher-resistance bands to increase the workout intensity (and results).
|Band Bridge||2-3||30 pulses (per bridge)|
|Band Side Abduction||2-3||30 pulses (per side)|
|Kneeling Band Thigh Extension||2-3||30 pulses (per leg)|
|Band Wall Sit||2-3||30 pulses|
|Standing Band Adduction||2-3||30 pulses (per leg)|
Lie on your back, arms at your sides with your palms down, with the resistance band around both legs above your knees. Spread your feet so they are hip-distance apart, placed on the floor, knees bent 90 degrees. Inhale deeply, then exhale as you begin to assume a bridge position by lifting your hips upward, one vertebra at a time coming off the floor from the lower lumbar area on up. Once your torso is elevated at a 45-degree angle, abs tight, pulse your legs out against the resistance band 30 times. Return your hips slowly to the floor, again lowering one vertebra at a time. Repeat the sequence, but instead of pulsing out against the band, pulse your hips up and down 30 times. Alternate the two versions for three rounds total.
Band Side Abduction
Lie on your side with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle and the resistance band around both legs above your knees. Place your low-side elbow on the floor, with that hand supporting your head, and place your opposite hand on the floor in front of your stomach. Keeping your knees bent 90 degrees, raise your top leg up and away from the bottom leg as high as you can against the resistance, then perform 30 pulses, keeping your hips parallel and abdominals in tight. Repeat the sequence with the opposite leg.
Kneeling Band Thigh Extension
With the resistance band still around your legs positioned just above both knees, kneel on all fours. Move the band under one knee so that you are kneeling on the band with that knee to hold it in place. Now lift your opposite leg upward behind you, keeping that knee bent so that the foot of the extended leg moves toward the ceiling. At the topmost position, perform 30 pulses, lifting the sole of that foot toward the ceiling just a couple of inches up and down — that thigh should remain relatively parallel to the floor throughout. Switch legs and repeat the pulses. “Remember to keep your abdominals flexed throughout the exercise to support your lower back and maintain stability,” Armstrong says.
Band Wall Sit
With the resistance band around both legs and above the knees, stand against a wall with your feet on the floor, hip-distance apart. Walk your feet away from the wall so that you can slide your back down the wall until you arrive in a seated chair position. Make sure your feet are far enough away from the wall to maintain a 90-degree bent leg — your knees should not be past your toes. Flex your abdominal wall and roll into a slight pelvic tilt so that your lumbar spine touches the wall. With your chin up, eyes straight ahead and lower body tensed, pulse your legs in and out 30 times, trying to hold the sit position for 30 to 60 seconds.
Standing Band Adduction
Stand with one hand on the back of a chair or on a wall for stability and support, with the resistance band around your ankles and your feet hip-distance apart. Step one foot forward on the floor the full length of the band. Externally rotate the toes of that foot outward as you lift your foot up from the floor, keeping your leg straight. The heel and foot of the lifted leg should be directly out in front of your weight-bearing leg. Maintaining just a slight bend in each knee, pulse your lifted foot up and in front of your planted leg 30 times. Repeat with the opposite leg.