We asked personal trainer and online coach Jayne Lo for some of her top training tips.
3 exercises (that aren’t squats) you should be doing to improve your leg strength and perk up your behind.
by Jayne Lo
As a female personal trainer and bikini competitor, I get asked a LOT what the “best” exercises are to grow a perkier derriere as well as to improve sport performance.
Squats aside, there are many other exercises out there that people don’t do enough of that are particularly good for leg strength, improving stability and injury prevention. What you should be focusing on when training for performance in particular, is where your weaknesses lie, then make sure your exercise selection in training sessions largely focuses on that.
If you’re training for performance, you are likely to be using your body unilaterally. Therefore it is common to have one dominant side (left/right, anterior/posterior), and more reason to spend time training each side individually.
Step downs (think opposite of step up) are an excellent way to improve ankle stability, traction of the knee, single leg strength, as well as grow those hamstrings and glutes. I prefer these over step ups because you are less able to use your supporting leg to help you up, therefore forced to isolate the back of your legs rather than use your quads which most people tend to do naturally.
Find a box/bench of a suitable height – to do that, place the foot of your working leg on the box and make sure your knee forms 90 degrees. Start the movement by standing upright on the edge of the box, then slowly lower yourself down by bending the working leg whilst your back leg dangles off the edge of the box. Keep the heel of your working leg flat on the box to ensure your glutes and hamstrings are working rather than let your quads take over (if your heel comes off and you’re on the ball of your foot). Change legs after you’ve done all the reps on one side.
Split squats are a great alternative to lunges. They are good for those who are new to resistance training or have poor single leg stability because you can focus on loading your front leg by sinking into your glute and hamstring. Whereas with lunges, those with weak stability tend to struggle with balance and are therefore hindered from executing the movement properly.
To do a split squat, start in a split stance (one foot forward one foot back). Like lunges, keep your front shin (working leg) perpendicular to the floor and weight on your heels rather than balls of foot to stop your quads from taking over. Keep your back shin perpendicular to the floor as well to prevent your hip flexor from over stretching. Sink your back knee right down to the floor to ensure you’re using your glutes. To make the movement harder, you can increase the range by elevating your front foot on a plate or by adding resistance with dumbbells/barbell.
Single legged leg press
On an incline leg press, sit in the machine with your entire backside pressed into the seat as if you are about to do a regular double legged leg press where your feet are shoulder width apart. Take the non-working foot off and rest it on the floor. Your working foot should remain on the platform in line with your shoulder. Crunch forward slightly so your neck and spine are align and you’re not tilting your head back. This ensures your pelvis is tucked forward rather than hyperextended.
Remove the safety bar and slowly lower the platform towards your chest, ensuring all the weight stays on your glutes and hamstrings. Push the platform back to the starting position through your heel, making sure you don’t lock your knees out at the top so the tension stays in the back of your legs rather than in your joints. Swap legs after you’ve completed a set of your desired reps.
Give these a try in your next gym session and compliment it with other lower body compounds and isolation exercises. Over time, you’ll find a gradual increase in unilateral leg strength as well as a firmer butt!
Photography by Tom Yau @tomyau