Great Exercises for Your LEGS

Boxers have long-lamented that “the legs are the first things to go.” While that may be true in relation to the quick reflexes boxers need in the ring, the rest of us mere mortals would do well to incorporate some basic exercises that maintain muscle mass in our legs and keep a little bit of spring in our step.

Now go figure. Little did I know that these basic jumping/hopping movements actually had a NAME. I just discovered that what I’d learned years ago thanks to an old coach of mine is now referred to as PLYOMETRICS. Fine. You call it plyometrics, I call it hopping and jumping. No matter how educated you want to sound, it means nothing if you aren’t doing something to improve your health.

These exercises involve three phases. The first phase is the “pre-stretch.” You don’t want to pull a muscle while you’re trying to build your muscles.

The second phase is the time between the end of the pre-stretch and the start of the concentric muscle action. According to plyometrics, this brief transition period from stretching to contracting is known as the amortization phase. I call itâÂ?¦.”rest.” I know, it doesn’t sound nearly as technical, but the shorter this phase is, the more powerful the subsequent muscle contraction will be.

The third and final phase is the actual muscle contraction – better know as the exercise itself. In practice, this is the movement the athlete desires – the powerful jump.

This sequence of three phases is called the stretch-shortening cycle. In fact, plyometrics could also be called stretch-shortening cycle exercises. I call it something easier: the workout.

Now why is it that if I describe these exercises as ‘hopping and jumping” a lot of men and women will simply NOT be interested. Yet, the minute I call them ‘plyomterics’ and charge you money, all of a sudden the interest/participation level skyrockets? I’ve seen it happen and I have yet to figure it out.

But wait! You say you’re not much of athlete? Do you really think that matters? Leg strength is important no matter what you do. Whether you’re just standing up from your desk or walking up a flight of stairs, our legs – say sport physiologists – are the frame that carry our body’s weight and affect the heart and lungs, not to mention the muscles that support our lower and upper back.

Running may keep us flexible, but even running all year long doesn’t necessarily build leg strength and quick reflexes.

Time for some personal testimony: I’ve seen great improvements in my leaping abilities while doing these exercises. Fine, you want to call them “plyometrics” – Plyometrics are just jumping exercises! Try this basic workout once or twice per week and I promise you’ll be bouncing out of your chair like nobody’s business:

Ready to begin? Let’s get started:

1) The “hop”. If it were any simpler, it would beâÂ?¦wellâÂ?¦too simple. You want to hop like a frog. Flex the knees, bring the arms back. Swing the arms forward to gain momentum and HOP. If you have the space, you can hop from point-A to point-B. You want to hop at least 10 times. Don’t worry about speed. This isn’t a race. You want to go for height and distance. Take about a 40 second rest in-between and then do another set of hops. Aim for four sets.

2) Basic Step. Get a box – at least 12 inches in height. You want to alternate stepping on the box. Again, you’re not aiming for speed. You’re also not stepping ‘up.” You’re alternating your steps “on” the box. Go for 1 minute with a minute rest. Aim for four sets.

3) Hopping Up and Down. Take the same box you were stepping on. Stand in front of the box. Legs together. Now hop up on top of the box. Then hop down. Turn around. Hop back up and then hop down. Again – one minute with a minute rest for four sets.

4) Hopping up stairs. Go outside to your front stairs (assuming you have them) or use the stairs that lead from your fist to send floor. Place your hands behind your head, legs together and hop up the stairs. You want to hop up at least five stairs. Walk back down. Start again. Five repetitions. As you get better, increase the number of stairs.

Do this for two weeks, and take a one week break, then repeat. Increase your sets from four to eight. That’s really all it takes.
The exercises I just mapped out deal with the following factors, which greatly affect their impact on your leg strength:

– Volume (how many repetitions)
– Intensity (how high you try to jump or hop vs. amount of rest in-between)
– Quality (are you tasking your time/ don’t rush and work on form)

This in turn leads to:

– Strength level
– Speed level
– Muscular elasticity level

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to increase your leg strength and build a little muscle in the process. You can do this workout in about a half an hour. Your time may vary depending on the number of repetitions.

Stick with it. And you’ll be surprised at the results.

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