As some of you already know, and as others of you will unfortunately find out as you continue along our exercise journey, you’re only as strong as your base. A bad ankle, knee, or hip is a sure-fire way to knock you out of the game and leave you languishing on the sidelines. To keep you going strong and able to perform to your max potential it’s absolutely imperative that you’re putting in the efforts to maintain a strong base; a.k.a your lower body.
I was talking to a physical therapist friend the other day and he was mentioning how often he sees runners coming in to see him with the same problems; bad knees, tight hips, and an overall weakened lower body. At first this went against conventional wisdom – you’d think a hardcore runner would have a lower body of steel, extremely injury-resistant. But as I came to find out, long-term running, which is classified as high-impact cardio, will slowly tighten ligaments, throw a body out of alignment, and open the door to more serious problems.
Since so many of us include running in our general exercise plan, whether it’s HIIT or something else, it would be wise to take a look at countering the above mentioned effects. As the physical therapist mentioned, a serious base-building leg workout is going to accomplish three main goals:
- Loosen ligaments
- Build muscle mass in key areas to stabilize joints.
- Provide a strong foundation that will allow you to excel in other areas of fitness
He walked me through a routine he often uses with clients, and which I’m going to pass on to you today. Give this one a try by working it in to your current routine once a week. If you’re feeling up to it, squeeze it in another day each week, but make sure you’re giving yourself at least 72 hours rest between workouts.
The BASE Leg Workout
We’re starting off on the stair stepper, but if you don’t have access to that, I’d recommend setting your treadmill to 10-15 degrees incline and a 4-ish mile per hour pace. If you have access to none of the above, finding a set of stairs you can run will do the trick as well. We’re going to perform 6-10 minutes of stairs until we’re nice and warm and have got the fluid in our knees really flowing.
If you have particular difficulty with your knees, he recommended icing immediately after stairs. Chill out, throw some ice on those bad boys and take a quick breather because we’re getting right back into it shortly. Aim to ice for 5-10 minutes. If you don’t have any nagging knee problems, skip this step and proceed into the rest of the workout.
The rest of the workout looks like this:
Leg Press Machine – High weight/low reps; aim for 4-5 sets of 5-7 reps using a weight that really causes you to reach muscle exhaustion by the last rep.
Deadlifts – Back off slightly here and go for a more moderate weight. Aim for 3 sets of 10-12 reps. Make sure to use perfect form by keeping your back straight, keeping your chest high, and using fluid movements.
Farmer Walks – Pick up a set of heavy dumbbells and perform three consecutive walks of ~ 50 feet. At the end of the first walk, set the dumbbells down, rest for 15-20 seconds, then repeat. Now, grab a plate, and while holding it with both hands in front of your body, repeat the above three walks.
To close things out we’re going to jump on the stationary bike. Bump the resistance slightly so it takes a little power to get those wheels spinning. Bike for a solid 10 minutes before calling it quits on the days workout. For those of you with knee issues, he recommends biking with ice on your knees.
To close things out, we’re going to relieve some of the tightness that inevitably accompanies any sort of strength training. If you have access to a foam roller, great. If not, they’re only a few dollars, definitely pick one up and start using it because it’s going to literally change your life. I want you to roll it out, hitting those IT bands, quads, calves, hamstrings, and right into the hip flexors. There’s no set time here, just do enough until you feel you’ve loosened up enough.
For those of you interested, what we’re actually doing here is releasing some of the tension in our muscle fascia (that’s the stuff that covers our muscles). When we release this tension, we improve the pulling and associated tightness in our ligaments. For more information on the full benefits of foam rolling and active release technique, check out this article.
Remember, staying fit and ahead of the game is only going to happen if you can keep yourself playing. That means avoiding the injury bug and allowing yourself to perform to your max potential. Getting yourself fit really does begin from the ground up, so start taking care of that lower body and get to work on building yourself a base that’ll take care of you for the long road ahead.
6-10 minutes Stair Stepper
4-5 sets x 5-7 reps Leg Press Machine
3 sets x 10-12 reps Deadlifts
3 sets x 50 foot walk Farmer Walks with Dumbbells
3 sets x 50 foot walk Farmer Walks with Plate
6-10 minutes Stationary Bike
Foam Rolling as needed