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Exercise Selection 101 - Lower Body Workouts

Exercise Selection 101 - Lower Body Workouts

Discover the “method to the madness” and get the most out of your training sessions

I don’t focus on training muscles specifically, but instead prefer to focus on training and improving movement patterns. It’s why I love incorporating “full-body” exercises into sessions such as turkish get-ups (TGU’s), cleans, crawling, and jumping drills, just to name a few. Of course, I do separate exercises out based on their muscle-area and movement emphasis. I’m big on “templates” and “categories” and love having a menu of movements I just “plug & play.” I simply refer to this menu, plug the appropriate movements into the routine, and get on with it.

These templates are forever evolving, but there are main “categories”, or movement patterns, that have been the foundation of my routines for years. The main categories include:

1. Lower Body Training
2. Upper Body Training
3. Torso Training
4. Conditioning Exercises
5. Activation, mobility, and stability drills

However, for the purposes of this article, let’s look a little deeper into the lower body movements that typically make the cut.

Hip Dominant

1. Deadlifts

Trap Bar
A hybrid exercise between a squat and a deadlift, it’s a great place to start when first introducing deadlifts into a program. Since the load is more in line with your body’s center of gravity (as compared to the traditional deadlift), it’s a safer option for beginners.

Traditional Deadlift
Without question, one of my top exercises for clients and athletes. Once proficient with the trap bar version, my clients and athletes receive a healthy dose of straight bar deadlifts.

1-Leg Variations
I like to use barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells when performing single leg variations. Typically, in performing 2 lower body movements in a session, one will be bilateral and one will be unilateral. For example, if the first exercise is a goblet squat, the second might be a 1-leg deadlift. Whenever on one leg, there is a balance component; and I love to incorporate “balance” and “stability” into certain movements.

2. Bridges/Thrusters

I’ve included bodyweight bridge variations into my routines for years as a warm-up movement to help activate the glutes. After incorporating the weighted hip thruster (Thanks to Bret Contreras) into my routine, it’s now a staple movement for building strength in the posterior chain of my athletes.

1-Leg Bridges
I love single leg bridges to help address lower body imbalances while further challenging core stability.


Stability Ball
I like the ball to add instability to the movement. These can be performed with one or two legs.

These seem to activate your hamstrings more than any other variation I’ve tried, especially if the hamstring curl movement is added in.

Depending on the surface you have, these can be the most challenging of the three listed. I really like sliders to work on the eccentric portion of the bridge (or curl) for injury prevention purposes.

3. Kettlebell Swing

2-Arm Swing
Depending on load and your reps/sets scheme, this is one of my favorite hip dominant movements for creating power and endurance in the body. I love to using these in circuits, finishers, or as a stand alone movement in a strength training session.

If you want to mix up your swing routine, here’s an article highlighting alternatives: ‘Swing Variations

Knee Dominant

1. Squats
99% of my MMA athletes have shoulder mobility issues, so I opted for the more shoulder-joint friendly front squat version as opposed to the back squat. For the record, I like back squats, I just feel the risks don’t outweigh the rewards for MMA athletes. (many “general population” clients have thoracic spine and shoulder mobility restrictions too, so make sure the exercises you choose are appropriate for them)

Barbell Front Squat
Getting used to the bar position will take a little time, but once comfortable with it, it’s a great movement for developing strength in the quads, glutes, hamstrings, and core.

Goblet Squat
My current “squat” variation of choice. The goblet squat allows you to get deep into your squat, helping open up the groins and hips. We typically use a kettlebell, but a single dumbbell works well too.

1-Leg Squat
This includes a number of variations, from the full bodyweight pistol, to the less challenging equipment-assisted versions such as the 1-leg bench squat, or the 1-leg TRX squat.

2. Lunge

If you have the space, I like “traveling” lunges. Either traditional walking lunges to work the sagittal plane or lateral lunges to focus on frontal plane strength, these involve a great deal of leg strength and core engagement.

Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat (RFESS)
My current “lunge” variation of choice. These are one of the exercises I see on my program every week that leave me thinking of excuses not to do them. A definite “love-hate” relationship If you will. I love that they incorporate unilateral balance and strength, but I hate how challenging they are. These are staying in my routine for a long time and I recommend you include them in yours.

I don’t include too many forward lunges (lunging forward and back in the same space) into programs anymore. Instead, I opt for the much more knee friendly reverse lunge. They’re also a great alternative to walking lunges if tight on space.

3. Lower Plyos

Box Jump
Like the ‘trap bar’ deadlift, the ‘box jump’ is the first jump we do. With less distance to cover on the descent it’s a safer variation, although it’s important to mention that I never have my clients or athletes JUMP down from the box or bench. I always have them step down, as it’s the return trip where 99% of the injuries occur.

Depth Jump
A great jump to develop power and speed off the ground. I cue my athletes to get off the ground as fast as possible to minimize the “amortization phase” on the ground.

Broad Jump
I use this exercise in my testing sessions, as it’s a great way to track one’s power and monitor progress. It’s also a great way, by sharing everyone’s measurements, to bring about a little friendly competition within a group.

Of course, there are thousands of additional lower body exercises to choose from. I wanted to share with you my “go to” movements and explain how exercises are selected for a program. This article isn’t so much a “how-to-do” piece, but rather a, “these-will-yield-results,” piece.

This clip will show you the variations listed above in action:

To see how many of the exercises would fit into a program; check out the 1R Winter Workout Program written earlier this year.

10 / 09 / 2017 1R