Best Leg Exercise, Ever!

As a personal trainer and sports therapist, I get asked a lot of questions regarding “What exercises are best for ______” (fill in the blank). One of the most common areas of concerns is the lower body, specifically the butt and thighs. Today I’m going to share one of my favorite lower body exercise and all of its awesome variations. It’s called the Rear-Foot Elevated Lunge Variation or as its most commonly known, the Bulgarian Split Squat. This exercise is so effective that you’ll pretty much make your body thunder-thigh proof once you master it!

Before I get into this, one thing I definitely don’t want to do is feed into the idea of individual body part training and spot reduction on certain areas of the body. I am a big believer in total body functional training, meaning that we exercise the upper body, lower body, and core during every single training session. By training the whole body at once we maximally stimulate lean muscle gain and metabolism to promote total body fat burning in order to eliminate the body fat that is hiding those areas that people are having trouble seeing; yep the areas of stubborn fat that prevent a good body from becoming a great body. Also, a diet high in lean protein, fibre, and green veggies which is low in unnatural fats and refined sugars and starches is of course a pre-requisite if you want to see your muscles pop out in a good way. It is also important to know that you lose fat in a genetically predetermined way. You can do all the crunches and sit ups you want but without total body training, proper eating habits, and enough time to get to those stubborn fat areas you will never get rid of your gut, bingo wings, or the dreaded muffin top!

Moving onto the main event: the world’s greatest lower body exercise. My favorite leg exercises are any of the many lunge variation because I prefer single leg exercise’s over their double leg counterparts for a number of reasons. For people with back issues, single leg exercises allow them to safely perform lower body exercises without putting their lower lumbar spine at risk of hyper flexion or excessive rounding that can cause back spasms in the short run and herniated discs in the long run. Furthermore, I feel there’s often such a strength and/or flexibility imbalance between one leg and the other for most people that it’s critical to address one leg at a time to really shore up the weak links from the start.

As mentioned earlier, my favorite lunge variation is called the rear foot elevated lunge. So basically we’re going to elevate the back foot on a chair, bench, box, or any other sturdy foot support, usually about 12-18 inches high. You’ll put your front leg well in front of you in order to make sure that your front knee and ankle are lined up. In general, I tell people to exaggerate how far you put your front leg forward so that the front knee is almost slightly behind the ankle as this really helps to reduce the sheer force on the knees. Initiate the exercise by loading the front heel and dropping your hips as low as you can in a pain-free range of motion while staying really tall up top with a proud chest and shoulders back and down. Finish the rep by explosively driving through your front heel to return to the top of the movement. You can start with body weight only aiming to get the front thigh parallel to the floor or lower and then progress by adding speed of movement or by adding dumbbells. You can even incorporate some very cool combination movements with this lower body exercise like adding a curl to press at the top of the movement or even by raising dumbbells overhead to really challenge your core and single-leg balance and stability.

See the video below for a demo of the different variations of the rear-foot elevated lunge.

I have yet to find an exercise that hits the legs as hard as this bad boy does. In particular, it really helps strengthen your vastus medialis muscle, that inner quad muscle that looks like a teardrop, that’s heavily responsible for tracking your patella and keeping your knee caps in line. So if you have a history of overtraining or patella-femoral issues this exercise is phenomenal for keeping your knees as bulletproof as possible.

Also, what’s great about it too is that it provides a very good stretch for the hip flexor of your back leg, an area that is often very tight, especially for people who spend a lot of time sitting, whether that be at a desk or in the car. Any exercise that allows you to simultaneously stretch and strengthen your body is a real keeper. Don’t waste another moment with the useless adductor machine and get off your but and crank it with the world’s best lower body exercise today!

Train Hard, Eat Smart!

Marc