lower body exercises

Top ten lower body exercises

Exercises without training your lower body are often futile.

Although different people have different fitness goals, lower body exercises should be incorporated in your workout routines. Focusing only on a few or selected muscle groups is counterproductive. Lower body exercises can effectively strengthen your core and legs preventing muscular imbalances in your body.

Working out your lower body can help you be free from any injuries, especially when doing high intensity routines. Movements from lower body exercises target your quadriceps, thighs (adductors), outer hips (hip abductors), calves, hamstrings, and glutes. Several routines like lunges and squats are beneficial in building your overall core strength. 

In this article, Cognitive Health and Wellness Institute lists down the top ten lower body exercises that allow you full range of motion. Learn how to engage your core, keep your spine safe, and protect your back at all times.

What are the best lower body exercises? 

Lower body exercises are great because you can do these with very minimal equipment. You can significantly improve your performance in sports or lose weight when you start working out your biggest muscle groups. 

There are multi-joint and bilateral movements you can do to make sure you’re working all sides and muscles in your body. Read on to find out more how to do effective lower body exercises even at the comforts of your home.

(1) Jumping jacks

jumping jacks - lower body exercises

Do you need to burn calories and have a go-to exercise in losing weight? Jumping jacks will be a good choice. There are a few plyometric exercises among lower body exercises like jumping jacks that can help you run faster.

Stretching your muscles especially first thing early in the morning can jumpstart your movement for the rest of the day. You develop strength and agility over time while developing a habit from this workout. You’re increasing your heart rate without necessarily riding a bike or running for hours. 

How to do jumping jacks

  • Stand with both feet straight, together, and with your arms to your sides.
  • Jump, spread your feet hip-width apart and bring your arms above your head, just barely touching.
  • In your second jump, lower your arms while bringing your legs together.
  • Repeat.

There are also variations of jumping jacks like squat jack, rotational jack, or low-impact jumping jacks. Do as many repetitions as you can and increase sets over time. 

Start with a good foundation of strength and conditioning exercises before doing jumping jacks. Most importantly, consult with your doctor if you experience pain, discomfort or any muscle/joint injuries .

(2) Glute bridges

glute bridges - lower body exercises

Depending on your goals, there are different ways to do glute bridge. You can do them with bands or weights. These variations intend to develop your endurance and strength and that target is the muscles in your glutes. This group includes the maximus, minimus and medius. This exercise would lot a lot of your body weight to achieve the expected results from the movement.  

How to do glute bridges

  • Get a mat to serve as a support and cushion for your body.
  • Ensure that you are lying with your back flat on the floor.
  • Grab a barbell or resistance band (this is optional), let any of these rest where you bend your hips. There are times when you might have to use a pad to support a movement. Consider this too.
  • Bend your knees into 90 degrees until they are pointing up to the ceiling.
  • Allow your feet to stay flat on the floor.
  • Activate your heels as you push your hips up (you can hold your barbell or put your resistance bands for more pressure). Let your shoulders and head stay flat on the floor as you do the movement. Keep your knees pointing upward when repeating the process. Let your abdominal muscles tighten as you do the position.
  • Keep the upward position for a few seconds then slowly release and go back to the floor. You should feel the tension in doing this.
  • Repeat the exercise for about two to three sets. Only rest for one to two minutes in between every set. 

What will you get from glute bridges? The first benefit is that it will improve your posture. If you are one who sits down for a long period of time because of work, this can be an opportunity for you to do something about that. This exercise can also help you alleviate your lower-back pain. Indeed, it isn’t only for aesthetics but for your health too. 

(3) Donkey kicks

donkey kicks - lower body exercises

Another way to strengthen your glutes is with donkey kicks. This exercise is the best for stability and toning. It would also concentrate on your gluteus maximus, which is the largest of the three gluteal muscles and the majority of your booty.  On top of this, it would also hit your shoulder muscles, and core, which is enough to say that it is good for your whole body. This move is easy to do, with or without a gym.

How to do donkey kicks

  • Get ready with your starting position. Put your knees hip-width apart, your hands under your shoulders, and your spine and neck in a neutral form.
  • Lift your leg while your core is intact, and knee on bet. Ensure that your foot is flat against the floor and your hip hinges throughout the movement.
  • Push your foot towards the ceiling and squeeze at the top with every force coming from your glutes. Your pelvis should work as you do this and your hips should stay pointed on the ground.
  • Repeat the process at least 20 times and complete four to five sets.

Donkey kicks will stabilize your mobility, and it could also touch muscles without straining your joints. If you are one of those people who cannot execute squats properly, then going for this exercise should be a more fitting option for you. This hip-hyperextension movement would focus on your gluteus maximus, which is the largest part of your gluteal muscles. It’s a powerful booty lifting move!

(4) Squats

squats - lower body exercises

Whether you are an athlete or not, adding some squats to your exercise routine should be good for you. This lower body exercise is effective in strengthening your quadriceps and glutes. It’s also a move to maximize your core muscles. It won’t only tone you to achieve the physique that you want, it could also be instrumental in your weight loss as it burns an effective amount of calories. 

How to do squats

There are many variations of squats such as bulgarian split, goblet, front, pause, or dumbbell squat. But these are the basic moves you master to perfect the form:

  • Stand in a comfortable stance with your feet parallel and apart from each other.
  • Put your hands on your thighs.
  • Look up while your chest lifts.
  • Bend your knees until you reach a 90-degree angle with your weight directed on your heels. Sit back slowly as you do the routine.
  • Ensure that your knees don’t go beyond your toes. Keep your head and chest upright as you repeat the movement and hold the position for about five seconds.
  • Go back up with your heels pressed, and straighten your hips until you are in your original position. 

Squats will indeed do wonders on the most powerful muscles in your body which are important in bending, climbing, walking, and functioning. If you have to be at your outermost performance, this exercise would also help you in preparing. Incorporate it in your exercises and see the results in no time. 

(5) Lunges

lunges - lower body exercises

Lunges are very versatile. In fact, this is one of those lower body exercises with variations you can challenge yourself with. You can do lateral lunges, forward lunges, overhead lunges, reverse lunges, and walking lunges like the animation above. 

How to do lunges

  • Stand with both feet together.
  • Step forward bending your front knee to 90 degrees.
  • Push back to standing position.
  • Your knee should not move past your toes. 

It’s a good tip to place a towel under one foot to use that to either slide sideways or backwards. When bending the opposite knee into a lunge, putting a sock underneath your foot might help. This can also help your balance and stabilize your footing.

(6) Side leg lift with band

side leg lift with band - lower body exercises

Did you know that you can do lower body exercises while lying down? Well, not completely lying down, really. You can build strength in your gluteus medius and minimus (outer thighs and hip abductors) through side leg lift exercises, for example.

Adding a resistance band increases strength-building so you can feel the pressure of pushing away your leg from your midline. These lower body exercises target your abs and obliques, too. 

How to do side leg lifts with resistance band

  • Rest on your hips, lying from your side with your feet stacked together.
  • Loop a resistance band on your ankles to make the movement even more effective. 
  • Prepare your core and raise your top leg on the ceiling while your hips are still in line with each other. Feel the tension on the bands when you lift your leg. 

Doing leg raises regularly would help you in preventing pain and injuries in your lower back, knees and hips. 

(7) Bird dogs

bird dogs - lower body exercises

If you’re experiencing lower back pain, bird dog is a good exercise. It’s a simple core workout routine that neutralizes your spine so you can have better posture and improve stability. It also greatly increases your range of movement.

How to do bird dog exercises

  • Starting position is being on all fours like a tabletop position.
  • Squeeze your knees in so they are under your hips while your hands are under your shoulders.
  • Engage your abdominal muscles and draw your shoulder blades together.
  • Keep your shoulders and hips parallel to the floor when you raise your opposite arm and leg.
  • Tuck your chin and lengthen the back of your neck when stretching your left leg and right at the same time.
  • Hold the stretched position for a few seconds then go back to starting position.
  • Repeat.

Alignment is crucial when doing bird dog exercises. Don’t put your chest down and move slowly to maintain your control and core engagement. As in any of the other lower body exercises, smooth and even breathing is important.

(8) Step-ups

step-ups - lower body exercises

Step-ups are low-risk exercises and can be a good all-around strengthening workout routine. It’s great for cardio, strength conditioning, and as an alternative for plyometric exercises.

How to do step-ups

  • Find a step or a stair to use as an elevated platform.
  • Bring your knee up to a 90-degree angle upon stepping up.
  • Each foot should be placed onto the elevated platform.
  • Keep your chest up, your shoulders back, and your body straight.
  • Like in a marching position but with a bench or step, bring your next foot up, knee bent at 90 degrees.
  • Your thighs should be parallel to the floor upon stepping up.
  • Do the reverse motion upon stepping back down then repeat.

Make sure you use both legs with the right form so you are building strength equally on both sides. Step-ups are lower body exercises that can improve your balance and symmetry. They also add leg power making you move faster and jump higher. Your knees and heart will thank you for doing this exercise.

(9) Deadlifts

deadlifts - lower body exercises

Not only is this a good lower body exercise, it’s one of the best compound exercises that strengthens the whole body. The workout is so efficient because it uses multiple muscle groups simultaneously. This means you can tone your arms, abs, and legs all at once. Deadlifts do double duty working your major muscle groups: legs and core.

How to do deadlifts

  • Stand on your feet, hip-distance apart.
  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand.
  • Your palms should face away from your body or thighs (pronated grip).
  • Engage your back, core, and glutes.
  • Hinge your hips forward, lower your legs with the weights down (torso parallel to the floor).
  • Slightly bend in the knees, pull your shoulders back but don’t hunch over.
  • Straighten your legs and stand back up to starting position. Repeat.

(10) Calf raises

calf raises - lower body exercises

Unlike many of the lower body exercises in this list, calf raises isolate only one main muscle. Yes, you guessed it right. Just your calves. 

There are many variations of calf raises. It can be bodyweight, standing, seated, reverse (like in the animation above), or jumping calf raises.

How to do calf raises (standard)

  • From standing position with your feet together, hold a dumbbell in each hand (keep your hands on your sides).
  • Lift your heels up, balance your toes while your heels are off the floor.
  • Hold that position for a few seconds, go back down, and repeat.

Like in the animation above, you can strengthen your calf muscles and ankles even with variations.Holding your own weight for each leg is a good challenge. Keep your core engaged for any variations of calf raises you do.

Functional lower body exercises

It requires strength to perform daily tasks like lifting a chair or carrying heavy packs of groceries. And, sometimes, you don’t realize how climbing up a flight of stairs can be a good form of exercise. That’s where lower body exercises come into play. These exercises help build functional strength. 

When you start feeling wobbly even with simple movement, maybe it’s time to add lower body exercises in your routine. You can see signs of becoming off balance when getting off the bike, for example. Or, when you can’t seem to carry your own weight when you stand up after sitting too long.

Lower body exercises primarily target your legs because your lower extremities essentially make you strong and stable. The legs are your wheels that literally carry you through life. While strengthening your core, you should not ignore your leg support.

These lower body exercises activate your abs (core) and protect your lower back. These are muscle groups that you don’t realize you rely on in many of your daily activities and tasks.

Remember, there’s no one fool-proof exercise for everyone. Work out as many muscles as you possibly can. Lastly, switch your game up gradually and enjoy finding what works best for you.


Top 10 Upper Body Exercises

Bulging biceps, broader shoulders, and a big chest – these are only some of the reasons why upper body exercises are the favorite of gym-goers and bodybuilding enthusiasts. 

When executed right, these exercises will not only help you achieve leaner shoulders and arms, but they will also contribute to your overall health. 

Good thing; this workout shouldn’t be as complicated as others make it out to be. For as long as you’re hitting the major movement patterns, you’ll feel and see results in the long run. 

A toned and shredded upper body is a dream come true for many. It looks impressive on whatever you wear, be it a sweater or tank top, and it’s also great support for doing other lifts. It’s an achievement-unlocked moment that would inspire you to keep on going in your fitness journey!

In Cognitive Health and Wellness, we vigorously promote quality of life that meets the length of life. Read on how to achieve that through these upper body exercises in the list.

What are some good upper body workouts?

These are some of the best upper body workouts that you can incorporate into your strength training program. Have you been executing any of these?

(1) Bench press

A bench press is ideal in shaping up your shoulders, arms and pectorals. It increases the strength of your upper body, pumps up your pushing power and improves the health of your bones. You engage both your minor and major pectoralis muscles as you do this movement, which you mostly see in your rib cage. The gain you’ll get from this exercise is what others refer to as wings. 

How to do a bench press

bench press - upper body exercises
  • Lie your back flat on a bench. Grip the bar of your barbell with your hands a little wider than your shoulders.
  • Keep your hips stable on the bench and allow your feet to touch the ground through the movement firmly. 
  • Slowly lift the weights then lower them to your chest until your elbows are below the bench. Press your foot against the floor as you push your barbell forward.

If you are a beginner, ensure that you are not going too heavy, moving your shoulder blades or feet as you perform this routine. You should also set a stable grip width that you can be consistent with as changing this would affect your progress. Finally, to maximize this exercise, touch your chest for every repetition without bouncing your sternum. Just tap your chest and then press up. 

(2) Pull-up

Gone were the days when pull-ups were only standard in military drills. Today, a pull-up is a staple in everyday workouts, and it has built a reputation as an effective upper body workout. This exercise targets your latissmus dorsi, biceps, upper back and shoulders, and pectorals. 

A pull-up may not be the most straightforward upper body exercise, but it is a compound movement that works out various muscles. You only have to tweak it to focus on other areas. While routine would require you to exert sheer power, it would activate the weight of your body and use it to perform. 

How to do a pull-up

pull-ups - upper body exercises
  • Stand below a pull-up bar. Face your palms away from your body and make an overhand grip with your hands almost shoulder-width apart. If you are still a beginner and this is hard for you, you can use a box and stand on that. Hold the bar and be ready to move!
  • Lift your feet off the floor and hang from the bar. Isolate the movement in your core as you go up and down. Don’t forget to inhale and exhale as you pull your shoulders back and down. 
  • Bring your chin over the bar and engage the muscles in your arms and back as you do so. You’d have to bend your elbows to raise your upper body. In making this motion, don’t swing your legs or shrug your shoulders. Engage your shoulder blades.
  • Inhale when you are on top, and exhale as you go down. 

(3) Arnold press

Anybody who aims to achieve a bigger build looks up to Arnold Schwarzenegger. So, if your goal is to gain boulder shoulders, then the Arnold press is the upper body exercise for you. The actor’s unique twist on the known overhead press has gained much attention for its practical contribution to robust muscle growth. 

The move is decisive because it stimulates three sections of the deltoid. This is the round-like muscle that you see on the top of your upper arm. Incorporating this exercise into your routine would add width and thickness to your shoulders. 

How to do an Arnold press

arnold press - upper body exercises
  • Prepare by rotating your shoulders. Get ready to be in a position and posture that focuses on the right muscles for the movement. Grab a pair of dumbbells with your palms facing you. Bend your elbows. Ensure that your arms are stable right on your torso.
  • The starting position is when you fold your arms and contract your biceps. Afterward, raise your weight upward and rotate your palms until you’re lifting the dumbbells above your head. Fully extend your palms and let them face you oppositely. 

When performing this upper body exercise, avoid over-rotating. This might lead you to injury if you are not careful. Take your time and control your movement. The magic of Arnold press lies in the way you rotate and hit all parts of your delts. 

(4) Lateral raise

An upper body exercise list will not be complete without this one movement that tones the shoulder and upper back muscles, too – the lateral raise. 

The lateral raise develops deltoids and massive shoulders. This is the exercise you need to master in pulling off a V-shaped torso. You can only do so much with your abs, biceps, and pecs – if you’d let them hang on narrow shoulders, you are unlikely to realize the impressive torso you’ve been working hard for.

How to do a lateral raise

lateral raise - upper body exercises
  • Stand with your feet hip apart from each other, or be in a split stance. Grab a dumbbell for each of your hands and position them on your sides. Keep your grip neutral and closed. Your thumbs should be around the handles of your weights and let your palms face your body.
  • Isolate your abdominal muscles and let them contract. Pull your shoulders down and then back. Keep your head forward in a neutral position and ensure that it stays aligned with your spine. Stability is crucial here. If you have to bend your knees slightly, then do so. 
  • Raise your dumbbells to your sides in an up and down motion. Rotate them slightly when they are already at shoulder level. Stop only when your dumbbells are at a shoulder level that is parallel to the floor. 

(5) Plank

You might not have expected planking on this list, but this exercise has always been an effective core and upper body workout that strengthens the necessary muscles for more compound movements. What a win-win! This won’t only be good for your abdominals and lower back, but it would also hit your shoulders, chest, biceps, and triceps. 

How to do a plank

plank - upper body exercises
  • There are variations, but the basic is holding the trunk part of your body parallel to the floor. 
  • Ensure that your butt isn’t sticking out or that you are not too low on the ground. 

Starting this position is easy, but staying on it is the real challenge. 

With this exercise, practice is the key. Supplement your upper body workouts with this. Increase the seconds and minutes! 

(6) Push-up

Push-ups are among the oldest upper body exercises, especially popular with men, which helps build the chest and shoulders. This workout attacks your core and back muscles more than you can imagine. 

How to do push-ups

push-up - upper body exercises
  • Your feet should be together, knees not touching the floor, hands flat on the ground, and arms straight. 
  • Lower your chest just below your bent elbow. 
  • Breathe in upon bending your elbows and breathe out as you push your body back up from starting position.

Push-ups have different variations. For example, close-grip push-ups only using your body weight and can pummel your triceps hard. You can do diamond press-ups instead of the standard military push-ups where your hands are wide apart. We recommend this if you want to focus more on triceps and biceps. 

Hand position variations can make a difference in activating specific muscles like your pectorals. Other variations are wall push-up, spiderman (sidekick) push-up, knee push-up, and shoulder tap push-up, etc. 

(7) Clean and press

Clean and press is an explosive exercise that is suitable for intermediate lifters. With a barbell, this movement is a magnificent boost to stamina, endurance, and strength. It is beneficial for the cardiovascular and muscular systems when done right. Practicing this enhances strength and speed, which is a valuable combination in weight lifting. 

With this routine, getting the correct form is the key. If you are a novice, start with lighter weights first and do a progressive overload. Take your time to perfect the stance and technique before challenging yourself to a heavier load. This would allow you to optimize your strength training!

How to do clean and press

clean and press - upper body exercises
  • Grab the barbell on its overhand grip by squatting down and your back straight.
  • Lift the barbell to your shoulders in a swift movement and follow it with a squat.
  • Drive force from your heels and push the barbell up until it extends to your arms over your head.
  • Drop the weights back to the floor by slowly lowering it to your shoulders and maintaining your back straight.

(8) Renegade row

Bodybuilding programs typically include renegade row as part of their upper body exercises. This workout activates your core muscles and obliques, as well as your rhomboids (back muscles) and triceps (arm muscles).

How to do a renegade row

renegade row - upper body exercises
  • You start from a plank position with one hand lifting a dumbbell and your back and legs in a straight line.
  • Rotate your shoulders outward to engage your lats. 
  • Maintain your alignment (tucked chin, squeezed quads and glutes) as you pull the dumbbell toward your hip.
  • Bend your elbow approximately 30-45 degrees away from your body.
  • Feel your shoulder blades retract upon pulling the weights toward your hip.
  • Keep your shoulders and hips squared toward the floor.
  • Switch sides or hands to complete 2-3 sets of 5-8 repetitions. 

(9) Dumbbell rear-delt fly

This exercise is sometimes known as dumbbell reverse fly. It helps define and strengthen your muscles, especially your posterior deltoids. If you’re sitting in chairs for hours, you tend to hunch over. Upper body exercises like this can help you have better posture and more muscular shoulders. 

How to do a dumbbell rear-delt fly

dumbbell rear-delt fly - upper body exercises
  • Hinge at your waist from a standing position making sure your feet are shoulder-width apart. (Your back should be at least parallel to the floor.)
  • Slightly bend your arms and bring the dumbbells up to your sides. 
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top. (This should contract your rear deltoids.) 
  • Maintain tightness in your core as you slowly bring your arms back down and then repeat. 

To stabilize your movement and prevent injury, avoid adding too much weight and bending your arms too much.

(10) Back squat

Upper body exercises usually target the shoulders. Back squat is one of them. However, it also targets the legs simultaneously, making this workout suitable for the lower extremities. 

How to do a back squat

back squat - upper body exercises
  • Hold the barbell from a standing position with both feet planted on the ground and shoulder-width apart.
  • The barbell should be across the back of your shoulders with your chest up. 
  • Engage your core when squatting down. 
  • Upon reaching a level where your thighs are parallel to the floor, go back up to starting position.

Upper body exercises – one day at a time

You can do these upper body exercises at home even without as much equipment as possible. Make sure to always warm up before starting any workout to avoid injuries. It takes discipline and consistency until you develop a habit. 

Don’t jump to extreme workout routines right away. Find your footing and you’ll develop good technique eventually. If you feel any discomfort or pain, stop immediately and listen to your body. Challenge yourself one day at a time.

Variations and alterations can be incorporated in your routine as you condition your body with increasing repetitions over time. Allow your muscles and core to do the work and don’t just be dependent on your momentum. You’ll be surprised at how strong your upper body, back, and core will become in the long run.

Your body needs to heal itself and for your muscles to recover. You need to rest approximately 24-48 hours before working out the same muscles again. Have enough sleep to achieve optimal results in your exercise program.

Additionally, as in any workout routine, it’s important that you eat the right food all the time. You will need food as your fuel to do these exercises. With everyday movement and a balanced diet, you have energy, a sound mind and body, and strength that can last you a lifetime.