Don't ignore simple standing leg lifts on your quest for sculpted thighs, calves and hips. This classic exercise strengthens your legs and core while improving balance and flexibility. Change the direction, height and intensity of your standing leg lifts to target different muscle groups and build a stronger, leaner lower body.
1. Leg Strength
Lifting your legs from a standing position engages the muscles in your hamstrings, quadriceps and hips. The versatility of leg lifts allows you to vary the exercise to target specific muscles. Externally rotating your legs as you lift them will give your hamstrings and abductors a more intense workout. Keep your toes pointing upward to target your quadriceps.
2. Core Strength
Standing leg lifts strengthen your abdominals, obliques, lower-back muscles and glutes -- known collectively as the "core"-- along with your legs. Keep your torso straight and still as you practice leg lifts to effectively exercise your core muscles. Deepen the workout by drawing your navel to your spine and completely engaging your abs as you lift and lower your legs with control. Holding a medicine ball while you do leg lifts also adds a greater challenge for your core.
Leg lift repetitions provide a dynamic stretch for your lower body, meaning they use motion to gently increase the range of motion in your legs and hips. Unlike ballistic stretching, which involves forcing your muscles beyond their limits with bouncing motions, the dynamic stretch of a leg lift works within your body's limitations. With each leg lift, try to lift your leg a little higher so you feel the stretch in your calves and hamstrings. According to a report by the University of Virginia, leg lifts are an effective way to warm up before playing sports since the active motion helps your body adjust to athletic movements and oxygenates your muscles.
Shifting your body weight onto one foot and lifting your other leg into the air requires strong balance. As you stand on one leg, the muscles in your legs and core work together to stabilize and balance your body. Good balance improves athletic performance and spacial awareness. Focusing on your balance is especially important as you age as it decreases your risk of falling while exercising or performing daily activities. If you have trouble balancing as you do leg lifts, try holding onto a table, wall or the back of chair until your balance improves.
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