My 3 Favorite Movements For Each Muscle Group (LOWER BODY EDITION)

As we talked about last week in My 3 Favorite Movements For Each Muscle Group (UPPER BODY EDITION) - it's way too easy to get stuck in the same gym routine for years.

You know... doing the same movements, for the same reps, month-after-month.

Now, the reality of training is - a program that consists of "the boring basics" WILL get results.

When I first started coaching, ALL I would focus on with clients were the boring basics.

Clients got results... until they got sick of: squat, deadlift, squat every. single. week.

Since, I've learned a big part of creating a program that is truly effective for clients also means it will be fun and engaging programs.

When you're having fun with your program and are excited to see what new challenges await you at the gym this week - while also following a program rooted solidly in the principles of smart program design - THAT'S when you'll get amazing results.

This is a HUGE part of my philosophy for program design, and a big part of why my online clients get such great results.

Now, every program I design for clients puts a major emphasis on training all of the foundational movement patterns at least twice per week...

  1. Squat
  2. Hinge
  3. Lunge
  4. Push
  5. Pull
  6. Anti-Movement

...Which is why this article breaks up each muscle groups into the movement patterns first. If you stray too far from this principle, your program will be less effective.

Another big emphasis whenever I write training programs is unilateral work (training one limb at a time). So, for every muscle group, I've included my favorite bilateral (training with both limbs at the same time) and unilateral option.

Finally, I've included a metabolic stress option for each muscle group. Think of this as your "finisher" at the end of a workout, when your goal is pumping up and feeling the burn. (Finishers are another great way to make programs unique and engaging.)

Realize, this is far from a comprehensive list - it's simply what I would pick if I had to choose a bilateral, unilateral, and metabolic stress option for each muscle group - with the above taken into consideration.

Hinge

Glutes

Bilateral Glute Dominant Hinge: Barbell Hip Thrust

When it comes to building glutes, NOTHING beats the hip thrust.

While most any hinging pattern is great for building glutes, the hip thrust is superior because:

1. It allows for VERY heavy loading (high mechanical tension) without the limiting factors of core and grip strength that come along with deadlifts (the other hinge movement best suited for heavy loading). While the deadlift is a much better movement for training you back, the hip thrust takes the upper body out of the movement entirely, and lets you focus specifically on the glutes.

2. On a similar note to above - for who struggle with more traditional hinges (e.g Deadlifts, Romanian Deadlifts) due to mobility restrictions OR low back issues (crazy common) - subbing in the hip thrust still allows you to train the hinge pattern, and hit the glutes and hamstrings with a VERY effective growth stimulus.

Unilateral Glute Dominant Hinge: Glute Dominant Lunge

Ok, so this is somewhat of a hinge/lunge hybrid. But I promise, it's GREAT for your butt.

This is a very unique movement that you don't see a lot in the gym - but it's crazy effective for taking the glute and hamstring stress to a whole new level.

The key is to initiate the descent into the lunge like you would for a Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift - focusing on hinging back instead of sitting down. Reaching way back with your off leg and allowing your torso to lean forward creates tons of stretch on the glute and hamstring - a lot more than a normal lunge variation.

To keep this a glute dominant movement, drive your weight through your front heel and squeeze your glutes as you return to upright.

Metabolic Stress: Glute Burnout Ladder


The key to building glutes is hitting them with a variety of intensities (loads).

1. Heavier loads (on moves like deadlifts and hip thrusts) create a TON of mechanical tension - THE primary driver of muscle growth.

2. Moderate loads still create a relatively high degree of mechanical tension, but also allow you to increase the total time under tension (another important aspect of muscle growth) the muscle experiences.

3. Lighter loads are great for building the mind-muscle connection and creating lots of metabolic stress, which - you guessed it - are also important aspects of muscle growth.

This burnout ladder definitely falls into the latter category, as your glutes will be ON FIRE by the time you're done. I love programming this as a glute finisher for online clients that want a bigger booty.

This is a continuous superset of each move: 15,15,14,14,13,13... all the way to 1,1. Finish off with 15,15 of each move. Take as few breaks as possible. Don’t die.

Hamstrings

Bilateral Hamstring Dominant Hinge: Dumbbell RNT Romanian Deadlift

The Romanian Deadlift is a money move for your hamstrings... granted you're capable of performing the movement properly.

The issue is, most new online clients have trouble understanding the how the hinge differentiates from the squat, and thus end up with a kind of half-squat, that doesn't effectively train any muscle group.

The addition of the band really helps cue you to push your hips back (not down) into the hinge, and create a HUGE hamstring stretch at the bottom of the rep.

Plus, the band creates more tension during the top half of the movement (normally the easier part), and forces the glutes to work much harder to lock the rep out, due to the increased band tension.

The Romanian Deadlift is already a great movement on it's own. The addition of the hip band makes it even more effective.

Unilateral Hamstring Dominant Hinge: Staggered Stance Romanian Deadlift

The most popular single-leg hinge is by far the Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift.

Don't get it twisted, the Single-Leg RDL is a great variation.

The problem is, it requires a TON of balance. Most clients have to spend weeks just mastering the concept of hinging while also standing on one leg, before the movement actually provides any effective training stimulus for the hamstring.

To bypass this learning curve, while still getting a great training effect - try the Staggered Stance Romanian Deadlift.

The movement still allows you to train unilaterally, WITHOUT balance becoming a huge limiting factor. I program this movement A LOT for online clients.

Metabolic Stress: Band Romanian Deadlift/Bodyweight Reverse Lunge EMOM

This finisher is more "everything in my lower body hurts" than "my hamstrings hurt", but it puts extra emphasis on the glutes and hamstrings. Here's what to do:

1. Set an 8 minute timer as you start your first set of 15 banded RDLs.

2. Complete the set, and rest with the remaining time until the clock hits 7 minutes.

3. Immediately rep out 10 reverse lunges per leg.

4. Rest with the remaining time until the clock hit 6 minutes.

5. Repeat the exercises in alternating fashion every minute on the minute (EMOM) until the clock hits zero.

Squat

Quads

Bilateral Squat: Barbell Front Squat

*Gasps*... "Not the BACK SQUAT?!"

While the back squat IS an amazing movement - the reality is, at least 70% of the clients that I work with have a previous injury or mobility restriction that prevents them from back squatting effectively.

There's absolutely no need to force a square peg into a round hole here. Remember - we're focused on movement patterns, not specific movements.

The front squat seems to be more widely useable for most, primarily because it drastically reduces the stress placed on you back (relative to back squat variations).

With a barbell loaded on your back, it's easy to round forward under the weight, and your back is forced to worm much harder to maintain a neutral spine postion.

Whereas with a barbell in the front rack position, much more of the stress is put on your abs to keep the torso upright. Excessive forward rounding simply means you'll drop the weight, instead of grinding out reps with your back painfully rounded.

Plus, the front squat is a great movement for building your upper back. A lower body movement that feels like an upper body movement? That's a win in my book.

Unilateral Squat: Bulgarian Split Squat

The Bulgarian split squat is absolutely one of the most dynamic movements.

I’m constantly programming the Bulgarian Split Squat for online clients for a few reasons:

1. If you have back issues, it still allows you to hit your legs HARD. A lot of times clients are limited in what they can do with their lower body training due to back pain - this often takes barbell squat variations off the table.The split squat allows you to get a GREAT training effect and keep building the legs, without aggravating the low back.

2. Unilateral strength. Clients will typically start coaching with some pretty drastic imbalances - in this case, one leg is typically stronger/doing more work than the other.⠀If not corrected, this results in pain and/or injuries. Training bilateral movements (using both limbs simultaneously) often makes the issue worse.⠀The solution? Movements like the split squat, which force you to train each limb solo. This balances strength between legs.

3. Functional carryover. Not only will split squats get you strong-ass legs, they’ll also improve your balance and athleticism. Movements like this have a huge carryover to you moving better in day-to-day life.

I program these constantly for clients, because they're just so damn effective.

Metabolic Stress: Bulgarian Split Squat Dropset Of Death

This is brutal. Here's what to do:

1. 8 reps with a challenging weight in the hand of the planted foot.

2. After the 8th rep, pause for an 8 second isohold.

3. As quickly as possible, drop weight by 20-30%, repeat.

4. For the third and final set, again drop weight by 20-30%, do 8 more reps with an 8 second isohold.

Using your off hand to hold onto the rack takes the balance component out of the movement, and allows you to focus specifically on brutalizing your poor legs.

Definitely use this as a lower body finisher only, as you won't be able to use your legs much for a bit.

This is brutal. Here's what to do:

1. 8 reps with a challenging weight in the hand of the planted foot.

2. After the 8th rep, pause for an 8 second isohold.

3. As quickly as possible, drop weight by 20-30%, repeat.

4. For the third and final set, again drop weight by 20-30%, do 8 more reps with an 8 second isohold.

Using your off hand to hold onto the rack takes the balance component out of the movement, and allows you to focus specifically on brutalizing your poor legs.

Definitely use this as a lower body finisher only, as you won't be able to use your legs much for a bit.

And those are my current favorite movement variations for every lower body muscle group...

...uh minus calves I guess. But let's be real - I'm not the guy you come to for calf training advice.

Combine these movements with last week's upper body edition, and one of the training templates from Finding The Optimal Training Split For Your Goals And Lifestyle, and you'll have a crazy effective program that will get you leaner, stronger, and moving better than ever before.



About The Author

Jeremiah Bair is the biggest Taylor Swift Fan in Lincoln, NE. He's also a certified nutrition coach, strength coach, and owner of the Online Coaching Business Bairfit. His Instagram is noticeably missing any calf pictures