How to Distinguish Lower Body Exercises

Lower body training can get kind of confusing sometimes.

We hear a variety of different ‘rules’ about training such as:

‘don’t let the knees go past the toes’,

‘don’t do deadlifts if you have back issues’ and

‘don’t train your legs if you don’t want to get bulky’.

Add to these the fact many people have low back pain and or knee issues and it’s easy to how many get confused when it comes to lower body training.

In particular how do you figure out if an exercise is for the posterior chain muscles such as the glutes and hamstrings or one that is for the front side such as the quad and hips?

Well I like to keep things simple and I distinguish these 2 types of exercises by the motion at the hips. The types of exercises I am referring to would hip dominant and knee dominant ones.

So here’s a quick way to tell exercises for the glutes and hamstrings from those for the quads and hips.

Look at the motion of the hips.

Do the hips move forward and back? Or do they move up and down?

Stand to the side of someone performing an exercise and you can answer this for yourself pretty quickly.

On hip dominant exercises we will see the height of the hips stay the same, or pretty close to the same. However in the sagittal plane (think forward and back) we should see a lot of movement.

If you’ve worked with us you’ll be familiar with a drill we use called ‘wall bumps’. This is where you stand with your back to a wall and then push the hips back to meet the wall. We use the analogy of holding groceries across your chest and then trying to close your car door with your butt.

But since this is Kelowna we’re not talking about a Smart car or Mini Cooper but a F350 pick up with a lift. So in other words you need your hips to push straight back and be as high off the ground as possible as they meet the ground. If you bend your knees and lower your hips you’ll pass right under the imaginary truck door.

By keeping your hips high you get more of a stretch in the backs of your legs and should be more aware of how to contract these muscles.

Conversely if we wanted to have you target your quads and hips we would have you squat down to a box while facing a wall.

From the side we would notice the level of the hips sink quite low and raise up.

When there are weaknesses and restrictions there may be a lot of movement going on but it’s more a forward and back movement (as in the previous example) as opposed to the a noticeable descent and rise of the hips.

However when we face a wall we can’t drive the knees forward as much. And we can’t bend forward at the trunk as much.

Having the wall in our face helps us realize how tall we need to stay during the movement in order to stay balanced on our feet.


Give both of these drills a try. Practice doing a wall bump and see how far away from the wall can you get with your feet while still being able to touch the wall with your glutes.

As well, try doing a squat facing the wall. How close can you get to the wall while still sinking your hips to knee height or lower?


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