Strong Legs Help With Summer Activities: Hike, Bike, Swim and More – Harvard Health | Gmx Pharm

My favorite summer activities officially start when the calendar switches to May. It’s the best time for open water swimming, running, biking, hiking, and anything else that gets me outside and moving. But my first step is to get my legs in shape.

“The legs are the foundation of most activities,” says Vijay Daryanani, a physical therapist at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, which is affiliated with Harvard. “They’re home to some of the body’s largest muscles, and building healthy legs can improve performance, reduce injury, and increase endurance.”

Four leg muscle groups to build for summer activities

Four muscles do most of the footwork: quadriceps, gluteus maximus (glutes), hamstrings, and calves. Here’s a look at each.

Quadriceps (quadriceps). Also known as the hamstrings, the quads are a group of four muscles (hence the “quad” prefix). They straighten your leg at the knee and power every leg movement: standing, walking, running, kicking, and climbing.

glutes. The body’s largest muscles, the glutes (your glutes) keep you upright and help the hips and thighs propel your body forward.

hamstrings. The hamstrings are a group of three muscles that run along the backs of your thighs from your hips to just below your knees. They allow you to extend your leg directly behind your body and aid in hip and knee movement.

calves. Three muscles make up the calf, which sits on the back of the lower leg, starting below the knee and extending to the ankle. They work together to move your foot and lower leg, pushing you forward when you walk or run.

Focus on muscle strength and length

Strength and length are key focus areas for building summer-ready legs, says Daryanani. “Strengthening the leg muscles increases strength and endurance, and lengthening improves flexibility to protect against injury.”

If you are new to the sport or returning after a break, first get your legs used to the daily movement. “Just start by walking around your house or going up and down stairs non-stop for several minutes each day,” says Daryanani.

After that, adopt a walking routine. Walk at a moderate pace for 20 to 30 minutes every day. You can focus on walking a specific distance (e.g. a mile or two) or taking a specific number of steps by tracking them on your smartphone or fitness tracker. Not only will you build leg strength — you’ll reap a wide range of health benefits.

There are many different leg muscle building exercises, some of which focus on specific activities or sports. Below is a three-move routine that targets the four major leg muscles. Add them to your regular workout or do them just for legs a few times a week. (If you have mobility issues, particularly knee or ankle problems, consult your doctor before beginning.)

To lengthen your leg muscles and increase flexibility, try this daily stretching routine that includes multiple lower body stretches.

Squats with dumbbells

Muscles worked: Glutes and Quads

repetitions: 8-12

Sentences: 1-2

Rest: 30-90 seconds between sets

Start position: Stand with your feet apart. Hold a weight in each hand with your arms at your sides and palms in.

Movement: Slowly bend your hips and knees, lean forward no more than 45 degrees, and lower your buttocks down and back about 8 inches. Break. Slowly rise to an upright position.

Tips and Techniques:

  • Don’t round or arch your back excessively

Make it easier: Do the movement without holding any weights.

Make it harder: Lower yourself at a normal pace. Keep short. Get up quickly.

Back lunge

Muscles worked: Quads, glutes, hamstrings

repetitions: 8-12

Sentences: 1-3

Rest: 30-90 seconds between sets

Start position: Stand up straight with your feet together and your arms at your sides, holding dumbbells.

Movement: Step back onto the ball of your left foot, bend your knees, and lower yourself into a lunge. Your right knee should be aligned over your right ankle and your left knee should be pointing towards (but not touching) the floor. Push off your left foot to stand up and return to the starting position. Repeat, stepping back with your right foot to lunge on the opposite side. This is a repeat.

Tips and Techniques:

  • Keep your spine neutral as you lower yourself into the lunge.
  • Do not lean forward or backward.
  • As you bend your knees, lower your back knee directly to the floor with your thigh perpendicular to the floor.

Make it easier: Do lunges without weights.

Make it harder: Do forward lunges or use heavier weights.

calf raises

Muscles worked: calves

repetitions: 8-12

Sentences: 1-2

Rest: 30 seconds between sets

Start position: Stand with your feet flat on the floor. Hold onto the back of a chair for balance.

Movement: Stand on the balls of your feet as high as possible. Hold briefly, then lower.

Make it easier: Lift your heels less off the floor.

Make it harder: Do single-leg calf raises. Tuck one foot behind the other calf before rising onto the balls of your feet; Do sets for each leg. Or try doing calf raises without holding on to a chair.

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