Imagine Healthy Legs and Abs
Strong leg and core muscles do more than just look good; strong legs keep you mobile, and strong abdominal muscles protect not only the organs of your belly but support your back as well. The workouts I’ve created for the lower body follow a pattern similar to the Imagine Upper Body workouts: repetitions increase as the weight decreases, ending with two rounds at a low weight to cool down muscles before moving on to the next exercise.
If increasing weights makes it impossible for you to do an exercise slowly and all the way through your full range of motion, just do all the repetitions at the lowest weight. If anything hurts painfully, it’s time to back off or give it a rest. If you’re new to weightlifting, you might even start with just doing the first and last sets, lifting the low weight 12 times, then 12 more repetitions lifting the lowest weight. When that feels good, then add on to it, at your own pace. Make the routine your own, and you’ll be much more likely to stick with it.
From my experience, it seems to take about 12 weeks of being on a workout program to really see noticeable results. So, take your time, and enjoy the process! These workouts shouldn’t take more than 45 minutes. That seems like a reasonable time frame to me: it’s enough time to warm up and get enough rest/stretch time between, yet not so much time that one can’t squeeze it into a busier day. To shorten it up, I’d recommend doing fewer exercises well, rather than whipping through all of them too quickly. Slow, even lifting builds muscles. Whipping the weights around at the speed of light just wastes your time and increases the risk of injury. So, take it slow and easy.
Click the links below to see illustrations and specific workout suggestions for getting your lower body strong and fit. These are merely suggestions: listen to your own body to avoid injury! I’ve suggested one-minute rests between most of the sets. If you need more rest time between, take it rather than rush into the next set. Consult a fitness professional, personal trainer, or physical therapist if you have questions or concerns about how specific exercises might affect your body.
If at any point you are unable to complete any exercise slowly and to your full range of motion, decrease the weights for all sets until you can do the exercises comfortably and with good muscle control.
Similarly to all my weight workouts, progression through each exercise consists of doing six sets of the same exercise, with more repetitions at lower weights, and fewer repetitions of the exercise at the higher weights.
- Set One: 12 reps, rest one minute (this is a warm-up set, so low weights are best)
- Set Two: 10 reps, rest one minute
- Set Three: 8 reps, rest one minute
- Set Four: 6 reps, rest one minute
- Set Five: 12 reps, no rest (unless you need one; listen to your body!)
- ADVANCED has a Set Six: 12 reps
(The last two sets help muscles cool down, so use low weights again and lift slowly)
After each exercise, rest for two minutes before going on to the next. If you feel tempted to rush into the next set rather than taking a short break, try using the rest time to stretch your muscles instead. (Need stretching ideas? CLICK HERE to check out Imagine Healthy Yoga)
The BASIC workout example gives a starting point which utilizes ower weights and has you choose one of two exercises for each muscle group. In the BASIC routine, you do each exercise a total of 48 times/repetitions.
For a more intense workout, when your body is ready, choose TWO exercises from each category, and increasing the weights slightly on every set. The ADVANCED workout encourages you to try adding another set of 12 repetitions at the end, bumping the total repetitions for each exercise up to sixty.
If the weights listed in the ADVANCED list are not challenging for you at all, it’s time to set your own weight increments. Listen to your body, and consult a fitness professional for further advice. In the Imagine CHALLENGE workouts, two exercises are chosen from each category at higher weight increments you determine yourself.
To determine what weight you’ll start with, find the maximum weight that you can do the exercise–slowly and at the full range of motion–for six repetitions. Please don’t choose the biggest weight you think you can handle to start. Check out a weight below what you think your max is, try it six times, see how it goes. Too easy? Try a slightly heavier weight. Again, if you find it’s not challenging you at all, go a bit heavier, and repeat until you find one that you find to challenge your limit, without sacrificing form or slow, even lifting.
Once you’ve found that sweet maximum weight just suited to your musculature, work backward to find your starting weight: decrease incrementally by 2-5 pounds for each of the starting sets: Three, Two, and One. The same lowest weight is what you’ll use for your warm-up Set One, and your two cool-downs, Set Five and Set Six. To clarify, let’s frame it as an example.
Let’s say, for our example, that you are able to do six repetitions of a certain exercise with 25-pound weights–slowly, and without sacrificing your full range of motion, without pain or strain, AND without having to drop the weights at uncontrolled speed on the return! If that’s the case, then 25 pounds becomes your peak weight for that particular exercise, the weight you’ll lift six times. So, for that exercise, your maximum lift would be 25 pounds. First, you’d warm up your muscles by lifting less. And after lifting your highest weight, you’d cool your muscles down again by lifting a low weight before moving on to the next exercise.
For this example your progression might look like this:
- Set One: 12 reps with 15-pound weights, rest one minute
- Set Two: 10 reps with 18-pound weights, rest one minute
- Set Three: 8 reps with 20-pound weights, rest one minute
- Set Four: 6 reps with 25-pound weights, rest one minute
- Set Five: 12 reps with 15-pound weights, rest one minute
- Set Six: 12 reps with 15-pound weights
Periodically, you might find your maximum weight doesn’t feel like your max anymore. At that point, go through the slow process of testing to see what your new max is. A general rule of thumb is to never increase workouts by more than 10% week over week. So, if you were maxing out at 25 pounds, you could add another 2.5 next week. Jumping up to, say, 35 pounds would entail the risk of unnecessary injury and pain. That 35-pound dumbbell isn’t going anywhere; it’ll wait patiently for you to get to it safely.