You can do push-pull exercises on leg day as well

You hear the term push-pull training and you probably think of upper-body workouts where you replace pushing exercises, such as push-ups and bench presses, with pulling movements, such as chin-ups and dumbbell rows. But the time-efficient structure of a push-pull workout can (and should) also apply to leg day, says Dane Miklaus, CSCS, founder of WORK Study training in Irvine, Calif.

Explain that the terms push and pull are respectively the muscle groups used to open and close a joint. For example, exercises that target the muscles that flex or close the hip joint are considered pulling exercises, while movements that strengthen the muscles that extend or open the hips are push exercises.

The benefits of a push-pull leg workout

Each joint has its own ideal ratio of what balance between pushing and pulling muscles really means. Regardless, we want to make sure the strength (or health) of the muscles on one side of a joint is relatively similar to the muscles on the other side, says Miklaus World of runners. Runners, like most athletes, often struggle with unnoticed or untreated muscle imbalances. Left unchecked, these imbalances can lead to poor performance, pain, or even serious injury.

Designed by Miklaus, the following push-pull leg workout targets common areas of imbalance among runners, including the knees and hips. Most exercises also emphasize single-leg movements. We recommend incorporating one-sided (one-sided) work as part of a comprehensive training program because one-sided working can specifically identify, as well as treat, any imbalances [between the right and left sides of the body]Miklaus says.

Miklaus recommends doing this workout once a week as part of your overall strength training program.

How to use this list: Perform these exercises as 3 separate circuits. Complete 3-4 sets of each before moving on to the next circuit.

Circuit 1:

  • Bulgarian split squat
  • Single leg raised glute bridge

(For each set, perform both exercises on the same leg before switching sides.)

Circuit 2:

  • Press-Off lunge
  • Single leg hip thrust

(For each set, perform both exercises on the same leg before switching sides.)

Circuit 3:

  • Lateral lunge of the glider
  • Skater

(Perform glider side lunges to both sides before doing skaters.)

Each move is demonstrated by Miklaus in the video above so you can learn proper form. You will need a medium weight set of dumbbells; a stool, box or bench; gliders; and an exercise mat.

1. Bulgarian split squat

push pull legs workout bulgarian split squat

Dan Miklaus

Why it works: Loved and hated by athletes the world over, the Bulgarian split squat increases the time under tension of the quadriceps (the upper thigh muscles that extend the knee) and hip flexors, since there is no true stance. rest in this move, says Miklaus. It serves as a very effective push exercise for the leg and can help strengthen the front of the knee and hip.

How to do it: Sit on a box, chair, or knee-high bench, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Extend left leg, heel to floor. Plant your left foot and stand up, keeping your foot where it is, so you are upright and facing away from the box. Place the top of your right foot on the box behind you and let your arms hang down at your sides. This is your starting position. Lower yourself into a lunge-like position, front left knee trailing your toes, back right knee hanging just above the floor. Pause, then drive through the left foot to return to the starting position. Repeat. Do 10 reps. Perform an equal amount of repetitions on the opposite side.

2. Single leg raised glute bridge

leg push pull single leg workout elevated glute bridge

Dan Miklaus

Why it works: This variation of the glute bridge works the hamstrings (upper thigh muscles in the back of the leg), both where they insert at the knee and attach at the hip, says Miklaus. It also involves the buttocks. Because of the flexion at the knee, this would be considered a pulling exercise that helps strengthen the rear [muscles] of the knee and hip, he adds.

How to do it: Lie face up, arms by your sides on the floor, knees bent, left heel planted on a box or bench lower than knee height. Lift your right leg towards the ceiling. Engage your glutes as you lift your hips, driving through your left heel. Lower your hips to the floor and repeat for 12 reps. Perform an equal amount of reps on the opposite side with left leg lifted.

3. Press-Off in lunge

push pull legs workout lunge press off

Dan Miklaus

Why it works: Performed with or without weight, this exercise incorporates plyometric activity at the knee joint, which is known to boost strength gains, Miklaus says. One cue to consider while doing this move: Place your toe against a block or other object and think about pushing your entire body away, he suggests.

How to do it: Stand upright with feet hip-width apart holding dumbbells at sides. Take a big step forward with your left leg and bend both knees. The legs should form 90 degree angles with the left knee following the toes and the right knee hovering above the floor. Immediately push off your left foot, maintaining a slight bend in the knees, and bring your left foot off the ground. Land softly, bending your knees and returning to a lunge position, then immediately push off with your left foot. Continue pushing off your front foot for 15 reps. Perform an equal amount of repetitions on the opposite side.

4. Single leg hip thrust

leg push pull single leg hip thrust workout

Dan Miklaus

Why it works: This exercise is similar to the single-leg elevated glute bridge lift in that the hamstrings maintain a bent knee position throughout, while most of the movement occurs at the hips. The change in orientation, however, makes most athletes feel more in their glutes than in their hamstrings, says Miklaus. But both of those powerful muscle groups on the back of the leg get stronger during this pulling motion.

How to do it: Sit on the floor with knees bent and feet planted. Rest your shoulders and upper back on a bench, box, or other elevated service. Lift your right foot off the ground. Looking down at your belly button, drive your left heel into the floor, engage your glutes and lift your hips, forming a straight line from shoulders to knees. Keeping your right foot lifted, slowly lower your hips towards the floor. Repeat. Do 12 repetitions. Perform an equal amount of repetitions on the opposite side.

5. Side lunge of the glider

push pull legs workout glider side lunge

Dan Miklaus

Why it works: This is a fantastic move for strengthening the muscles in your hips, including those responsible for rotation, as well as your adductors and abductors. The gliding nature of this movement creates a very interesting dynamic that actually inherently causes a simultaneous push and pull on the hip muscles in both legs, Miklaus says.

How to do it: Holding a dumbbell in each hand with arms at your sides, stand with feet hip-width apart, right foot on a glider. Bend your left knee as you push your hips back and push your right leg out to the side, keeping it straight. Lower the weights to either side of your left knee as you sit up and back as far as your mobility allows. Push through your left foot and squeeze your inner thigh together to draw in your right foot and return to the starting position. Repeat. Do 10 reps. Perform an equal amount of repetitions on the opposite side.

6. Skater

push pull legs training skater

Dan Miklaus

Why it works: The same mechanics and rules apply here to the glider side lunge ice skater, says Miklaus, pointing to how hard it hits muscles on the back and outside of the hip, such as the gluteus medius. The explosive nature of this exercise and its dynamic movement in the lateral and rotational planes of motion make it a great way to finish off a leg circuit.

How to do it: Start with your feet hip-width apart. She jumps sideways to her left side, stepping off her right foot and landing lightly on her left foot, body in a mini squat position. Allow your right leg to move behind your left (for an added challenge, don’t let your right toes touch the ground) and the toes of your right to brush the floor in front of you. Immediately repeat, jumping to the right. Continue alternating. Do 30 reps total.

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