You can't hold a barbell or dumbbell with your toes, but these tools are still useful for strengthening all parts of your legs. For toning purposes, aim to complete two to three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions of each free weight exercise. If you’re using the right amount of weight the last repetition should be a challenge.
Grasp a dumbbell in each hand and let your arms rest naturally at your sides throughout this motion, or rest a barbell high on your shoulder muscles at the base of your neck. If you use the barbell, make sure not to shrug your shoulders up as you support the bar. Contract your core muscles to maintain good posture as you shift your weight forward very slightly and lift your heels off the floor, balancing on the balls of your feet. Exhale as you lift up. Then, slowly lower your heels back to the floor, inhaling as you do so. This is one repetition. Calf raises help tone and target--you guessed it--your calves. Doing these exercises with your legs straight will target both the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles, while bending your knees slightly will help focus the strain on your smaller, deeper soleus muscles.
Straight Leg Deadlifts
Grasp a barbell in both hands or a dumbbell in each hand. Let your arms hang straight down in front of you with your palms facing your thighs. Stand square with your feet hip-width apart. Pull your shoulder blades down and back to help stabilize your spine; think of sticking your chest out. Keep your head up, looking forward or just slightly down, throughout the exercise. Your knees should stay very slightly bent throughout the entire exercise. Slowly bend forward from the hips, thrusting your buttocks backward and lowering the weight along the front of your legs. Keep your back straight; it should neither arch nor hunch. Stop when your back is horizontal to the floor, when your hands are just below your knees, or when you feel any tension in your hamstrings--whichever comes first. Then slowly squeeze your hips forward to help you stand up again. This exercises focuses on the hamstrings and gluteal muscles, and also forces your core muscles to work to stabilize your spine.
Grasp a dumbbell in each hand and let your arms rest naturally at your sides. Avoid the temptation to shrug your shoulders upward at any point during the exercise. Lift your left leg and place your foot firmly on a raised, stable platform. Your left knee and left hip should be bent no sharper than 90 degrees; if there’s more of a bend in either joint, the platform is too high. If your knee isn’t bent as far as 90 degrees, the platform is too low. Shift your weight onto your left leg, pushing forward off your back leg if necessary for the first repetition. Squeeze your buttock muscles to push your hips in and forward as you stand up straight on your left leg. Shift your hips back as you bend your left leg again, lowering your body until your right leg nearly touches the ground. Again, your left knee shouldn’t bend any more sharply than 90 degrees. Continue standing up on your left leg, then sinking back down, without allowing your right leg to touch the ground until you’ve completed a full set of 10 to 15 repetitions. Switch legs and repeat on the other side. This exercise focuses on your gluteus maximus -- buttocks -- muscles and your quadriceps -- the fronts of your thighs.
- Barbell image by Semfamily from Fotolia.com
This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.