By Stephen E. Alway, Ph.D., FACSM
Illustrations by William P. Hamilton, CMI
If you have trouble firming your rear thighs, you’re not alone! This area easily accumulates body fat and is almost the last area to give up its stores, even if you are strictly dieting. What’s more, underdeveloped posterior thigh muscles can make simple things more difficult to do— like climbing stairs or stepping up on a foot stool to reach something on a top shelf. Even slim and otherwise fit people can possess soft and weak hamstrings that lack tone and detract from the overall shape of the lower body.
But there’s hope! All you need is a bit of targeted work, like lying dumbbell leg curls, to tighten up weak and soft rear thighs.
Dumbbell Leg Curls
1. Choose a bench that has an incline to it. This will help to maintain tension on the hamstrings throughout the exercise. A perfectly flat bench (parallel to the floor) generates rather large torques through the lower back, which increases the risk for back injury.
2. Although you can use a training partner to place the weight on your feet, you can also do this without one. If you train alone or at home, place a dumbbell on the floor, standing on end. Place your feet on either side of the dumbbell and then lie on your stomach and grip the end of the incline bench for stability. The flat part of the dumbbell should sit on the soles of your shoes. The top of your knees should be just beyond the edge of the bench pad upon which you are lying.
3. Pull your heels towards your glutes. Keep your hips on the bench and do not let them lift upwards during the exercise.
4. After moving your heels a few inches, plantarflex your feet by pointing your toes away from your head (as if you were standing on your toes). Plantarflexion decreases the effectiveness of the gastrocnemius (calf) muscles to contribute to knee flexion. This will make the exercise much harder and pinpoint the activation of your posterior thigh.
5. Continue to flex your knees with the intent of bringing the dumbbell up to your glutes. This should be done under full control and not with a ballistic momentum-stealing repetition. You might not quite make it that far, but pull as far as you can. Hold the top position for a two- to three-second count.
6. Slowly lower the legs to the starting position but do not straighten your knee completely. Immediately after reaching the end of the repetition begin the next repetition. Aim for 12-15 repetitions before resting.
Spend your time between sets stretching your hamstrings, and hold each stretch for 20 seconds before switching to the other leg. Stretching the hamstrings is a very important preventative measure that should minimize the chances of obtaining back injures or pain that results from having tight hamstrings. Try to avoid lifting your hips or moving your ankles from plantarflexion into dorsiflexion, as both of these modifications will reduce the effectiveness of the exercise.
Weak and tight hamstrings can increase the risk for back and knee injuries, so you should strive to obtain posterior thigh strength that is about 60 percent of your quadriceps strength. Targeted exercises like dumbbell leg curls begin to address any muscle imbalances. While a stepper could also be used to activate the hip and hamstrings muscles, this will not provide a sufficiently targeted activation of these muscles. With a few months of determined training with dumbbell leg curls, you will be ready to launch to the next level of beautifully shaped rear thighs!
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