Legs, Knees and Calves – Pilates on the Total Gym
When you work out your legs, do you use a well-rounded leg routine? One that not only works on those big main leg muscles, but the other parts that may be left out? Will your knees and calves and inner thighs get a work out by doing your usual leg routine? Yes, but not as well as specifically targeting these areas.
Let’s just talk a little about what you are really working when you train your calf muscles! Your calf muscles are made up of two major muscles – the Gastrocnemius muscle and the Soleus muscle. Then there’s still the Flexor hallucis longus, Flexor digitorum longus, Tibialis posterior, your Achilles tendon, just to name a few! When you work your calf muscles you are also strengthening your ankles and your feet.
Lastly, there is one major mistake I see all the time when people work this area out, and that is: they forget to stretch! Problems can build up in your legs, and they tend to stick around and can be painful, so if you are willing to take the time to do the workout, then go the extra step and stretch!
It doesn’t matter if you are an Athlete or an everyday novice at the gym, there will be a day that your knees remind you that they deserve some attention. And if you don’t pay attention when your knees start knocking, there will be a price to pay!
To really help and keep up the strength and health of your knees you should do some exercises that target those muscles just above the knee. There are key muscles surrounding the knee – the Quadricep femoris, Rectus femorus, Vastus lateralis, Vastus medialis and Vastus intermedius. The three Vastus muscles take a certain range of motion to target and this is usually something most people think is boring and not worth the effort. But let me tell you, do it now because if you have to go to rehab for an unstable kneecap you will be doing that exercise anyway!
As a Pilates instructor there are many times when I have a client for the first time come in and tell me how much leg work they do, and that they run or bike (which are very good exercises in general, just not well-rounded). Once I get them on the machine to do some lateral, abductor and adductor (inner thigh) work, they are weak, shaking and can barely finish the set. Like many things in life, we don’t know until we are put in a different situation just how strong we really are as well as what we lack.
To help you out a little, look up the anatomy of the lower leg (posterior, anterior and lateral), as well as the muscles of the thigh. If you haven’t already, I promise it will blow you away and open your mind to how you train your legs.
The exercises I am giving you are simple, but important. As always, take your time and do it the right way.
You will need the toe bar for these exercises.
- – First open the glide board and sit towards the bottom, facing your toe bar
- – Place the ball mount of your feet up on the toe bar and lay back
- – With your legs parallel and an inch apart, lift both of your heels with your foot and toes pointed straight.
- – As you drop your right heel down, bend your left knee and keep your left foot and toes pointed straight.
- – With equal pressure under both feet, lift your right heel, straighten your left leg and switch
- – Now dropping your left heel with a straight leg, and bending your right knee keeping your right foot and toes pointed straight
- – Always ensure both feet and toes are pointed straight before switching
- – Repeat until you have dropped both heels for 8 reps!
Tips: Make sure that when you are performing this exercise with a steady and controlled movement. Try to use your abdominals to help lift your feet. Imagine you are pushing your heels through mud. Remember you are working your feet and ankles, trying to strengthen them, not injure them. Always try to distribute the weight through your whole body, not just from one foot to the other.
Calf raises (parallel, internal rotation, external rotation)
- – Keeping feet parallel after your last heel drop, lift both heels
- – Lower both heels down under the bar
- – When you lower your heels, reach towards the tower with your head
- – Repeat 8 to 10 times
- – With toes together and heels apart
- – Do the same movement but rotate your feet inwards!
- – Perform 8 to 10 times to complete a set
- – With heels together and toes apart
- – Do the same movement as above, but rotate your feet outwards!
- – Perform 8 to 10 times to complete a set
- – Now drop both heels and STRETCH!
Tips: It doesn’t matter if you are just stretching or moving, try not to be lazy with your body. Don’t forget to breath.
Single leg press
You will need the toe bar for this exercise. The level of difficulty will depend on your knee strength.
- – Standing at the bottom of your glide board, straddle the board facing the tower
- – Bend down to all fours, onto your knees, elbows and forearms
- – Keep your shoulders down and abs in
- – Take your left leg and place the ball of your foot up and behind you on the toe bar
- – With your knee facing down toward the board, take an inhale
- – Exhale and press your foot into the toe bar and straighten your left left
- – Inhale bend your knee again
- – Try not to slam or close the glide board all the way
- – Repeat 10 times and then switch sides to complete a set
Tips: This exercise targets the muscles above the knee, so please be aware of the level you are working on, if you have knee pain start slow and low. When you bend your knee, make sure you are bending it down, and not out to the sides at an angle. Always use your whole body, not just the leg you are working.
Sitting single leg adduction
This exercise uses the leg pulley. Keep the level low at around 2-4.
- – Holding on to your leg pulley, face the left and sit in the center of your glide board
- – Rotate your body at a slight angle towards the right
- – Place your left foot in the foot harness
- – Bend your right leg and place it on the glide board with the outside of your leg down
- – Place your arms on each side of your body with your hands on the glide board
- – Sit up straight, and keep your abs tightened and inwards
- – Starting with your left leg straight, and reaching towards the tower
- – Move your left leg in like a leg sweep
- – Repeat 8 times then switch sides facing the other side of the machine
Tips: Good posture is very important for this exercise, and it will help you properly engage your abs so that you are not only making your leg work. It’s easy to grip your hip flexors, so focus on your muscles.
As always, enjoy! Until next time.