A two-part series in injury prevention

The best way to stay in shape and achieve tiptop physical condition is to keep from getting hurt. Too many exercise-goers jump head-first into an activity without the requisite knowledge on a proper warm-up and injury prevention. Shoulder and leg injuries are common, but it doesn’t mean you have to be sidelined with one of those ailments.

In the first of a two-part article, here are some helpful tips on how to strengthen the legs. Not only will these exercises keep you marching toward your fitness goals, they’ll help prevent common but debilitating ailments such as shin splints and knee pain.

Lunges

They work the quadriceps but also target the glutes, hamstrings, calves and core. Few exercises pack more of a benefit than the lunge, which is considered a unilateral exercise—meaning it trains one side of your body independently from the other. This results in improved balance and coordination.

Lunges also develop core stability, because you have to work hard to keep your torso upright.

Start with bodyweight lunges and perform up to 20 repetitions on each leg before adding weight, either in the form of dumbbells or a barbell. Eventually work your way up to four sets of six repetitions on each leg.

Step ups

Just like lunges, step ups are a unilateral exercise. The benefits of step ups are many: they can fix a muscle and strength imbalance (for many of us, one leg is stronger than the other). For lifters, a strength imbalance is a major hindrance to improvement; for runners, a strength imbalance means you’ll be more prone to injuries. Start with bodyweight step ups before going to dumbbells or a barbell.

Calf raises

Too many people neglect this exercise—don’t be one of them. Calf raises are critical for athletes in any sport because they strengthen the ankles, which is paramount for proper knee alignment and strength. For runners and lifters, this means you’re not taxing and putting all of the pressure on your quads, glutes and hamstrings during a workout.

Start with bodyweight calf raises before adding weight. For an advanced version of the calf raise, try single-leg raises.

Bulgarian split squat

Also referred to as a rear split squat or single-leg split squat, this exercise improves your core strength, balance and hip flexibility while also improving muscle imbalances. While the traditional squat can compress your spine, the Bulgarian split squat puts very little if any pressure on your spine when done correctly.

As with the exercise mentioned above, start with bodyweight split squats before advancing to weights.

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