If you're part of the .001 percent of the female population thrilled with their thighs and butts, stop reading now. Everyone else, listen up: The only thing standing between you and a firmer lower half is about 12 minutes.
"Balance is the key to changing your body," says Wini Linguvic, author of Lean, Long & Strong: The 6-week Strength-Training, Fat-Burning Program for Women (Rodale Books, 2005). "Unfortunately, we live in a world of extremes. We're bombarded with fad diets, three-hour workout plans and infomercial products with big promises. However, taking an all-or-nothing approach with your fitness goals sets you up for failure."
Linguvic's workout is composed of "synergy sets." "Synergy means that when certain actions are arranged strategically, they can produce results far greater than the sum of their individual parts," Linguvic says. "By integrating stretches into a strength-training routine that flows from one move to the next, you end up with a timesaving workout that burns calories, increases flexibility and defines muscle."
In creating this intermediate-level 12-minute lower-body workout, Linguvic put together two separate synergy sets, each comprising several sculpting moves immediately followed by a corresponding stretch. Components of the sets should be executed consecutively with no rest between moves. Once familiar with the moves, the two sets shouldn't take more than 12 minutes. For maximum results, perform both synergy sets two or three times a week, and follow with 20 minutes of lower-body-targeted cardio on an elliptical trainer, treadmill or recumbent bike. You should perform 10 reps (for each leg or side where applicable) and work up to 15 reps.
Synergy Set 1
1. Drop Lunge: Stand in a lunge position (left foot front, right foot back), knees soft, right heel lifted, torso erect, abs tight, hands on hips. Keeping your body upright and centered between your legs, slowly bend your left knee, keeping it over your ankle, until your left thigh is parallel to the floor. Pause. Push your left heel into the floor, and squeeze your glutes (the thigh muscle that connects the thigh bone to the hip bone) to straighten your legs and return to the starting position.
2. Wide Squat with Calf Raise: Stand tall, feet turned over and placed slightly wider than hips, arms straight, fingers touching, abs tight, shoulders rolled back and down. Keeping your knees in line with your ankles, bend your legs, lowering until your thighs are no deeper than parallel to floor. Pause at the bottom and lift your heels until you're balanced on the balls of your feet. Drawing your inner thighs together and squeezing your glutes, straighten your legs, staying on the balls of your feet. Lower your heels.
3. Stiff-legged Deadlift: Stand tall, your legs shoulder-width apart, feet parallel, abs tight, arms alongside your body and holding a 5- to 10-lb. dumbbell in each hand, shoulders rolled back and down. Keeping your back slightly arched, your head facing front, draw your hips back while tilting your torso forward until you feel a slight stretch in your hamstrings. Your arms shift naturally forward, so weights are under your shoulders. Come up by pushing your hips forward, bringing your arms back to your sides and returning your body to a straight, upright position.
4. Quarterback Stretch: Take a wide stance, your legs outside your hips, feet turned out slightly. Squat and rest elbows inside your thighs, lightly supporting your body weight. Press your elbows into your thighs, and gently push thighs open. Drop your hips to slightly above knee level and gently arch your back. Hold for five slow breaths. Place your hands on your knees and come up slowly.
Synergy Set 2
1. Ball Squat: Stand tall, your feet turned out and wider than your hips, abs tight, hands on waist, shoulders rolled back and down, an exercise ball propped between your lower back and a wall. Walk your feet slightly away from the wall so they're visible when glancing down. Bend your knees and roll the ball down the wall until your thighs are no lower than parallel to the floor. Pause at the bottom of the move before drawing your inner thighs together and squeezing your glutes to come up.
2. Bridge on Ball: Lie on your back with your head and neck relaxed, legs straight, feet together, heels pressed into a ball, arms by your sides, palms flat. Without arching your back, lift your hips to form a diagonal line from your ankles to your shoulders. Pause at the top. Keeping your hips even, slowly lower until you're suspended 2 inches from the floor. Immediately lift again into the bridge position.
3. Abduction on Ball: Lie on your right side on an exercise ball that's supporting your waist, both legs extended, feet flexed, hips stacked on top of each other, abs tight, right hand on the floor, left hand pressed into your left thigh. Keeping your torso stable, lift your right leg until it's slightly above body level. Pause at the top of the move for two counts. Slowly lower your leg.
4. Adduction on Ball: Lie on your right side on an exercise ball that's supporting your waist, both legs extended, feet flexed, hips stacked on top of each other, abs tight, right hand on the floor, left hand pressed into your left thigh. Move your left leg across, and rest your left instep on the floor slightly in front of your body. Lengthen and gently turn out your right leg. Keeping your torso stable, reach out and up with your left leg, as high as it will go. Squeeze your inner thighs together at the top and hold for two counts. Lower your leg until it's 4 inches from the floor.
5. Lying Hamstring Stretch with Ball: Lie on your back with your head and neck relaxed, arms alongside your body, palms flat on the floor, knees bent, an exercise ball between your feet and the wall (the ball should be a couple of inches off the floor). Scoot your body toward the wall. Pushing your heels into the ball, roll it up the wall by straightening your legs. Flex your feet, and reach out through your heels. Hold for five slow breaths.