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3 Leg Exercises for Great Legs

From eDiets - The online diet, fitness, and healthy living resource

An hour of fitness a day keeps the fat away -- and we've got a trio of do-anywhere exercises that'll help you meet that goal and get your legs in great shape at the same time!

The National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine urges adults and children to exert themselves for at least 60 minutes a day. Whether it’s washing your car, cleaning the house or walking up the stairs, anything goes... as long as you’re up and moving at a mild to moderate pace.

Many fitness experts applaud the announcement -- they believe daily fitness can stem the growing obesity problem. It can't hurt. More than six out of 10 Americans are obese or overweight. Researchers have long said regular exercise is an absolute must when it comes to staying at a healthy weight.

The Academy’s findings are based upon how much activity is done by individuals who maintain a healthy weight. According to the latest data, a person who has a job that doesn’t require much movement (think desk work) can still maintain a healthy weight by adding routine physical activities into the mix. For those people who do engage in high-intensity activities, 20 to 30 minutes of exercise in the target heart rate zone four to seven days a week is enough.

Great Legs We can hear many of you moaning, "There's no way I can squeeze an hour of exercise into my busy day!" Relax. Fitness expert Michael Stefano tells eDiets you don't have to spend an hour a day at the gym to reap any benefits. There are many ways to accomplish the feat. Swimming or walking will do nicely.

Stefano, the author of The Firefighter’s Workout (HarperCollins), suggests you break down the hour of activity like this: 20 to 30 minutes of strength or resistance training, and 30 to 40 minutes of mild aerobic activity... spread throughout the day.

“If you happen to be a busy mom or construction worker (or any other occupation that entails a great deal of daily physical work), you most likely surpass the average American’s physical activity level, and you should not consider yourself a sedentary individual," he says.

Michael Stefano A realistic assessment needs to be made, but more appropriate for you might be a shorter, possibly more intense body sculpting or fat burning program that will still improve health, and could be squeezed into your already physically active and very busy day.

Stefano stresses that these new findings do not invalidate the U.S. Surgeon Generals 1996 push to get Americans sweating out 30 minutes of moderate exercise (i.e. brisk walking) a day. He notes that less-strenuous activity requires more time if you want to reap the same benefits.

Stefano is also quick to note that the Academy’s findings are indicative of a routine that will ward off obesity NOT necessarily build a firmer figure. Building muscle requires a high-intensity toning regimen -- and today we've got a leg-toning set of exercises that can be done in the comfort of your living room, bedroom or even the garage in 30 minutes or less. This workout will help increase your body’s fat-burning abilities.

Stefano's super three exercises that'll give you better-looking legs and help you meet the recommended daily dose of fitness include the step-up, the lunge and the squat. (We've got animated images to make sure you do them properly!) Stefano says the lower body comprises over 60 percent of your lean muscle mass -- while working the larger muscles of the lower body, you'll enjoy a great fat-burning experience.

“The thighs respond to these types of exercises,” Stefano says. “They aren’t isolated or hard-to-reach muscles. The step-ups, the lunges and the squats directly work the front and back quadriceps, hamstrings and butt at the same time -- that’s three major muscle groups all at the same time. They also bring the lower back and abs in to stabilize muscles. When you add the dumbbells, you’re also engaging the muscles in the arms and shoulders.

“Realistically, if a guy or girl did this twice a week, in addition to being active as the study suggests, it would have a tremendous effect on your appearance. It’s a time saver that guarantees big results.”

Stefano recommends: Begin with the step-ups. Repeat to fatigue. Move directly to the lunge and perform 12 to 20 reps. Then move on to the squat and do 12 to 20 reps. For the lunge and the squat, use hand weights to increase intensity. When you have done all three exercises, rest for 60 seconds or less. Repeat entire set two or three times depending on your level of fitness.

Michael Stefano Step Ups Place your right foot flat on the step and your left foot flat on the floor. Exhale and push off as little as possible with the left foot as you bring both feet up to step level (you'll now have two feet on the step). Inhale and lower your left foot back down to the floor. Work with body weight only, and repeat to muscle fatigue regardless of the number of reps. Repeat with the legs reversed. While step-ups are a great toning exercise, they also serve as a warm up for squats and lunges, and should therefore be done in a higher rep range with no added resistance.

Michael Stefano Lunge Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, arms at your sides. Inhale and take a large step backward with the left foot to a point where your left knee is a few inches above the floor (or as close as you can comfortably go) and your right knee does not extend past the toes of your right foot. Your hands, with or without dumbbells, remain at your sides; your gaze is forward. Exhale and step forward with the left leg returning to the starting position. Finish all reps with the left leg before repeating with the right. To make the movement less difficult, alternate legs. Repeat to muscle fatigue (in the range of 12 to 20 reps).

Michael Stefano Squat Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart holding your hands or dumbbells at your sides. Your head is straight, the natural arch maintained in your back. Inhale, swing the weights (or your bare hands) slightly forward for balance while bending at the knees and hips to a sitting position (or as low as you can go and still maintain balance). Be sure the buttocks don't drop below the level of your knees, and your knees do not extend past your toes. Exhale and slowly return to a standing position, allowing your hands to drop back down to your sides. Repeat to muscle fatigue (in the range of 12 to 20 reps).

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