Nice legs!

This winter, I intend to hit the slopes a few times, either skiing or snowboarding. I grew up near the mountains and was skiing shortly after I was able to walk. The chance to head the the hills was always the bright spot in a bleak winter season for me, and though the business of being a grown-up has put a bit of a damper on my sportiness in the past few years, I'm going to try to re-capture that love of my youth. After all, when you live in a place where winter takes up the majority of the year, it's nice to have something to look forward to, right?

Nice legs!

But skiing and snowboard--and whatever winter sport you choose, be is snowshoeing, skating or whatnot--requires strong legs. Plus, I've had problems with my knees in the past and I'd like to strengthen the muscles around them to prevent any chance of injury. The leg muscles are naturally the strongest muscle group in the body -- that's because they're responsible for carrying the weight of our body on a regular basis. But they still need to be worked. Here are some exercises that will tone and strengthen yours:

  1. Squats. Squats on their own are a great exercise, but if you're trying to build strenth, do them with weights. You can use either dumbells, one in each hand, or a bar, which should go over your shoulders on the fleshy part. Try to challenge yourself by going with more weights than you normally would -- your quads can usually take it.
  2. One-legged squats. These are great for building strength helping with your balance. Hold one foot out in front of you or behind you (your choice) and make sure it doesn't touch the ground. Then do a squat with your other leg, with weights if you choose.
  3. Lunges. Lunges are great for toning your quads and glutes. Rule of thumb: make sure your front knee doesn't extend further than your front toe. To challenge yourself, add a weighted bar across your shoulders, or do squats with your back leg on a step.
  4. Calf raises. Most leg exercises focus on the thighs, but don't forget that much-neglected calf. To do a standing calf raise, find a step and put just your toes of one leg on it. Then drop your ankle, and raise it again. Do it with weights if you want a challenge.
  5. Cardio. Functional exercises are one of the best ways to increase your leg strength. Running, walking and stair climbing are good for building strength and burning calories.

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