For a powerful, beautiful lower body, use this leg workout from Bikini Olympia Champion, Nathalia Melo-Wilson.
Don’t let anyone fool you. A leg workout of nothing but bodyweight and booty-band exercises is a social media gimmick. And those who sell these programs often won’t admit they built their own legs from years of heavy lifting.
Luckily, Nathalia Melo-Wilson – Bikini Olympia Champion 2012 – is setting the record straight with the exercises she uses to build and maintain her physique. Here are five proven classics that work.
1. Heels-Elevated Squat
Loaded squats provide progressive overload, mechanical tension, and intensity. Why elevate the heels? To help you train through a greater range of motion if you have poor ankle mobility or tight calves, and to shift the training stimulus to the quads.
- Stand on a wedge or place 5-pound plates under your heels.
- Open your feet and hips to the angle that allows your greatest hip mobility.
- Lock your head in a neutral position with your chin down.
- Brace your core by locking your ribs down to your pelvis.
- Squat to the greatest depth available with a neutral spine.
- Keep your knees from collapsing inward.
- At lockout, lock your glutes under your ribs without exaggerating by leaning back into your lumbar spine.
Need more help? Perfect your squat technique with a detailed head-to-toe breakdown.
Do three warm-up sets of 8-12 reps with 60-90 seconds rest. Then do three working sets of 8-10 reps with 90-180 seconds rest.
2. Romanian Deadlift
Nathalia uses Romanian deadlifts as part of her glute training. Doing this deadlift variation with bent knees places the primary training stress on the glutes ahead of the hamstrings. RDLs traditionally start top-down and eccentric first, instead of from a dead stop off the floor.
- Start with your knees bent roughly 20 degrees. Allow for a little knee movement, but primarily focus on hinging at your hips.
- You can choose from mixed or double-overhand grip. Lifting straps are fine if grip strength is a limiting factor (train your grip elsewhere in your program). You can also use dumbbells.
- Start from a standing position and lower the weight in a controlled fashion.
- Pivot your hips back and torso forward to create a stretch through your hamstrings and glutes.
- Pivot until you reach the end range of hip motion without rounding or pivoting with your lower back.
- Reverse direction with a powerful horizontal thrust from your hips.
- Lock out with your hips tucked under your ribs and knees straight. Avoid excessive lumbar extension.
- Keep your head neutral throughout.
- Bend your knees to 20 degrees and initiate the next rep.
Do 4 sets of 8-12 reps with 60-120 seconds rest. Don’t go to failure; leave 2-3 reps in the tank.
3. Bulgarian Split Squat
Bulgarian split squats, while grueling, will place more tension on quads and glutes with less axial loading on your spine than bilateral variations.
- Elevate your back foot onto a bench with laces down.
- Walk your front foot forward far enough to allow you to squat while maintaining a relatively vertical shin and firm heel contact with the ground.
- Your knee can travel past your toes to emphasize quad tension.
- Lock your chin down to your collarbones and lock your ribs down to your pelvis.
- Squat to the fullest depth you can while maintaining a neutral spine.
- Come to a soft lockout of your front knee at the top of the rep.
- Elevate your front foot if the floor prevents you from reaching full range of motion.
- Perform all reps on one leg, then switch to the other leg.
Do one warm-up set of 8-12 reps per leg. Do 2-3 working sets of 6-8 reps per leg, 1-2 reps shy of failure. Rest 90 to 180 seconds between sets as needed. Rest between sides if needed.
4. B-Stance Hip Thrust
Hit your glutes one side at a time. This lift overloads your working leg by adding more stability than a true, single-leg hip thrust. If you already hip thrust, this is a good variation to break up the monotony while retaining the loading pattern.
- Elevate the middle of your shoulder blades across a bench.
- Roll a loaded barbell with hip padding onto your hips.
- Position your working foot (the one closest to your body) so your shin is vertical. Set your support heel in line with the toes of your working foot.
- Tuck your chin to your collarbones and look forward.
- Lock your ribs down to your pelvis to maintain a neutral spine.
- Hinge at your hips to lower the weight to the maximum range with a neutral spine.
- Drive your hips toward the ceiling and lock them without extending your lower back.
- Pause briefly at lockout, then repeat for reps.
Do a warm-up set of 12-15 per leg. Do 2-3 working sets of 8-12 per leg, approaching strict form failure. Rest 60-120 seconds between sets.
The stairclimber glute-kickback combo might be great for cardio, but it’s useless as a glute builder. Try this instead. The step-up is easy to do and only requires a step and some weight.
- Find a stable step, bench, or box. Start lower and increase the height as you gain skill.
- Load up with dumbbells at your sides, a kettlebell in the goblet position, or a barbell across your back or the front-rack position.
- Place your working foot on the box with your heel near the edge.
- Keep the working foot in place for the full set, not allowing it to step down between reps.
- Lean your torso forward to center your weight over your elevated foot while maintaining firm contact through your elevated heel.
- Push almost entirely through the elevated working foot. Avoid bounding from the ground foot.
- Come to a standing lockout of the working hip at the top of each rep.
- Load the working leg through the negative and minimize an uncontrolled drop onto your back leg.
- Complete all reps on one leg before switching.
Do a warm-up set of 10 reps per leg. Do 2-3 working sets of 8-10 per leg.
Rest 60-120 seconds between sets.
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