Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness and nutrition courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+.
Up-and-coming training programs often tend to steal the thunder of the exercises we have been doing since the rise of recreational exercise. While it is important to adjust your workouts regularly to keep your body and mind on their proverbial toes, sometimes, the simplest solution is what you really need.
“It seems like every new exercise modality is high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or purports functional training benefits,” notes Irene Lewis-McCormick, MS, CSCS, author of A Woman’s Guide to Muscle and Strength. But, ironically, she notes that when it comes to functional movements, “there is no replacement for a lunge or deadlift,” despite the latest claims. A closer look at the deadlift, for example, will show that despite its simplicity, the motion is one that you do each and every day.
And one more bit of food for thought: basic one-legged motions, like lunges, have perhaps the most transferable benefits of all lower-body exercises. Training one leg at a time or by alternating legs will improve your balance, as well as strengthen tiny supporting muscles and help make everyday activities more fluid.
Put these tried-and-tested tools to work today – we’ve got three plans consisting of four basic exercises, providing you with enough variety to work your quads, glutes and hams up to three times per week.
Workout 1: Dirty 30
Three exercises for 10 reps each using medium resistance, ending with a high-rep (30 per leg) burnout.
|Exercise||Reps||Sets||Rest Between Sets|
|Romanian Deadlift||10||2-3||30 Seconds|
|Barbell Back Squat||10||2-3||30 Seconds|
|Bulgarian Split Squat||10 (each leg)||2-3||30 Seconds|
|Reverse Lunge Off Step||30 (each leg)||1||N/A|
Workout 2: Test Your Limits
Four sets of five reps with ample rest means you need to use a ton of weight. (Have a partner hand you the weights and spot you.)
|Exercise||Reps||Sets||Rest Between Sets|
|Barbell Back Squat||5||4||2 Minutes|
|Reverse Lunge Off Step||5 (each leg)||4||2 Minutes|
|Romanian Deadlift||5||4||2 Minutes|
|Bulgarian Split Squat||5 (each leg)||4||2 Minutes|
Workout 3: Killer Circuit
Jack your heart rate by doing one set of each exercise in a row with light resistance. At the end, rest for one to two minutes and repeat twice.
|Reverse Lunge Off Step||15-20 (each leg)|
|Bulgarian Split Squat||15-20 (each leg)|
|Barbell Back Squat||20|
Rest one to two minutes; repeat twice from the top.
Barbell Back Squat
Target Muscles: gluteus maximus, quadriceps, hamstrings
Set Up: Hold a barbell across the back of your shoulders with a grip wider than shoulder width. Position your heels under your hips, or slightly wider.
Action: Keeping your chest lifted, abs braced and your eyes focused ahead, bend your knees and hips to direct your tailbone behind you. Stop when your thighs come parallel to the ground – or a bit lower, if you can – then press through the soles of your feet to return to the starting position.
Tip: Your knees can flare out slightly as you lower, but don’t allow them to jut in front of your toes.
Bulgarian Split Squat
Target Muscles: quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus maximus
Set Up: Holding a dumbbell in each hand, stand in front of an exercise bench. Extend one leg behind you and place your foot, sole up, onto the bench.
Action: Focus on maintaining an upright torso as you bend your knees to lower your body towards the floor. Pause for one count at the bottom, then press through the foot of your standing leg to return to the start.
Tip: After placing your foot on the bench, hop your front leg forward a few inches to ensure that your knee stays behind your toes as you squat.
Reverse Lunge Off Step
Target Muscles: gluteus maximus, quadriceps, hamstrings, gastrocnemius
Set Up: Stand on a step about eight to 10 inches tall and hold a dumbbell in each hand at your sides.
Action: Step one leg behind you and bend both legs to drop into a lunge [B]. Return to the start, and alternate legs with each rep.
Tip: If your balance is poor or you are just starting out, omit the exercise step and do the action on the floor.
Target Muscles: hamstrings, gluteus maximus, erector spinae
Set Up: Begin by standing with your feet about hip-width apart, holding a barbell in front of your thighs.
Action: As you lean forward from your hips to bring your torso parallel to the floor, bend your knees slightly to help engage your quadriceps. Contract your glutes and hamstrings as you rise, straightening your legs as you extend from your hips.
Tip: Move the barbell in a straight path up and down, keeping it close to your body throughout each rep.