Whether your legs are slim and toned or well muscled, they can always use some added stability.
I'll admit that stability training does sound kind of boring. It generally involves slow movements and ultrasimple exercises to allow blood flow to the muscle-attachment sites. This helps them get stronger, and strong tendons equal stable joints.
What good is it to be able to squat a heavily loaded barbell if your knees are shaking and your arches flatten while the feet turn way out? Strong legs can still be weak. Women, if you're gifted with legs that look amazing in anything, should a simple stagger while walking in a high heel be cause for a serious injury?
Strengthening joints is just as important as strengthening muscles. That's why tempo and control during exercise is so important. Controlled movements allow the joints to stabilize the body's structure. Muscles do more than just quickly contract and release. They should also be able to slowly contract and slowly release.
Stability programs often start with just body weight. If your body can stabilize itself, then it's OK to progress to weights. Today's exercises can do just that while proving not to be so boring - and a little challenging. They can be used for stability training as well as strength training. The first is a variation of the lunge.
Basic lunge form is simple to explain but may take time to perfect. Master the basics with the help of a trainer, mirror or workout buddy.
Start your lunge by taking a large step forward. Lower the back knee so the lower leg is parallel to the ground. Your back knee should be just above the floor and each knee should be bent at 90 degrees. Keep the front knee behind the toe. Keep the back from leaning or rounding forward.
When ascending out of a lunge, push with the front heel and the back toe. Keep an eye on the front knee and make sure it doesn't shift inward or outward during the exercise. For more on the lunge, see my October 2011 column on lunges.
The three-point lunge is a combination of the basic lunge and the side lunge. Lunging to the front, to the side and to the back will help to condition the legs for just about anything. I use these exercises as part of a circuit or to help train body control while moving in and out of the different lunges.
Slide circles are a great exercise for building control in the legs and hips. Essentially, you hold a half squat with one leg while the other remains straight and travels a half circle path from the front of the body to the back. It may seam difficult, but most can perform this exercise with a little practice. I use this exercise to help the knee and ankle become more stable.
Don't have a set of sliders? No need to worry. Use a gym towel if the floor is slick and a magazine if the floor is carpeted. Flying discs from the dollar bin at the pet store work just as well. Most sporting goods stores will have sliders in stock.
Chris Huth is a Las Vegas trainer. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Before beginning any exercise program, consult your physician.