Whether you’re jogging, playing tennis, or carrying groceries, your legs are involved in almost all of your daily activities. Your legs are your largest muscle group. They support you and keep you moving. Essentially, they’re the foundation of your body.
As you get older, you start to lose muscle and flexibility. This might be a result of decreased activity or joint disorders. But to keep your legs strong and avoid losing too much muscle as you age, you need to do more than just walk. It’s important to incorporate strength training and functional movements into your workouts so you can maintain or increase muscle mass, improve balance, coordination, and decrease any joint pain.
Seniors should strength train
With consistent weight training and stretching, you will see an increase in muscle strength and flexibility. This is true at any age.
These five exercises will help strengthen and increase mobility in your lower body.
Squats are the most functional exercise you can perform to strengthen your hips, glutes, and quadriceps. Using the added assistance of a stability ball while performing a squat against a wall will help you perfect the technique. That’s because the stability ball adds cushion to your lower back and guides how low you should be squatting. The stability ball also assists you on the explosive movement as you come up from your squat.
Equipment needed: wall and stability ball
Muscles worked: hips, glutes, quadriceps, and lower back
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, leaning with your shoulder blades against a stability ball that is against a wall. It should be reaching down to your lower back. Lean back against the ball and take a slight step out away from the wall. Be sure to distribute your weight evenly into both of your heels and keep pressure on the ball. You can keep your hands down by your side or extended out in front of you. Stand up tall with your core engaged and your shoulders relaxed. This is your starting position.
- Inhale. Lower yourself down into a squat position, keeping pressure on the ball so it’s continuously protecting your lower back. End when your knees form a 90-degree angle and from the side view, you look like you’re sitting in an imaginary chair. Make sure your posture stays upright and your core is engaged the entire time. Hold this position for 1 count.
- Exhale. Explode up through your heels back to your starting position.
- Perform 15 repetitions. Work up to 3 to 4 sets.
Stationary or static lunges work the same muscle groups as a regular lunge. But in this case, you’re not performing that explosive movement because your feet will be planted in one spot the whole time.
Stationary lunges are more knee-friendly because they help you maintain form without the movement that may end up putting added pressure on your joints.
Equipment needed: none
Muscles worked: quadriceps, glutes, calves, and hamstrings
- Start with your legs together. Take 1 large step back with your left leg and lift your left heel up so just your tippy toes are on the floor. Focus on putting all your weight in your right heel and right quadricep. Your upper body should stand tall with your core engaged, and your shoulders should be back and relaxed. Keep looking straight ahead of you so your shoulders don’t turn in and your chest won’t collapse. This is your starting position.
- Inhale. Lower yourself down until your left knee is about 2 to 3 inches away from the floor. Your right knee should form a 90-degree angle as you lower yourself down. If your right knee goes over your toes, take a bigger step back with your left leg. Your toes should not go out past your bent knee.
- Exhale. Drive through your right heel back up to your starting position. Straighten your leg but do not lock out your knee. When you’ve reached the top of your lunge stance, squeeze your left glute.
- Perform 10 repetitions for 3 to 4 sets, and then switch legs. As you get stronger, use dumbbells or increase the number of reps.
Hips tend to get very tight, very easily. It’s important to keep your hips moving and stretch them regularly to avoid any reduced range of motion in your hip joints.
Equipment needed: abductor machine
Muscles worked: abductors, hips, core, and glutes
- Spread the legs of the machine outward so you have room to sit down. Sit down on the abductor machine facing the stack of weights and select an appropriate amount of weight.
- Place your feet on the top notch of the footrests. Lift the lever and push in so your knees are together. You want to isolate just your abductors and glutes while performing this exercise, so don’t lean back against the backrest. Shimmy yourself forward until your butt is almost off the seat. Really engage your core so you can maintain proper posture and sit upright. You may hold onto the handles if you need to. This is your starting position.
- Exhale. Push outward with your abductors and glutes as wide as you comfortably can. Hold this position for 2 counts. Your upper body should remain stationary throughout this exercise. Only your glutes and abductors should be moving.
- Inhale. In a slow, controlled movement, release the tension in your inner thighs and abductors and come back to your starting position. Don’t let the weights slam back down; you should keep tension at all times. As soon as the weight is half an inch away from the stack, push outward again.
- Perform 15 repetitions. Work up to 3 to 4 sets.
This exercise is similar to the previous abductor exercise. But instead of using weight and keeping stationary, you’ll be working with resistance to keep you moving. This banded walk will add a lot of mobility and strength in your hips, glutes, and inner thighs.
Equipment needed: resistance band
Muscles worked: glutes, abductors, and quadriceps
- Grab a resistance band with the appropriate amount of thickness. Hold onto the band at about waist height and step onto the band so it lies underneath the arches of your shoes.
- Stand shoulder-width apart with your knees slightly bent. Keep the band slightly tense with your hands. Distribute your weight evenly in your heels. Relax your upper body and stand up tall with your core engaged. This is your starting position.
- Continuously keep breathing and take a big step laterally to the right with your right foot. Land with your right foot flat on the floor. Make sure you lift your feet up, don’t drag them on the floor. Hold this wide stance for 1 count.
- Lift up your left foot without dragging it. Move your left foot to the right only shoulder-width apart from your right foot. You’ll be back to your starting position. Think 1 wide step, one shoulder-width step.
- Step for a distance of 50 feet, then step laterally to your left 50 feet.
This exercise tests the overall strength in your legs because it involves explosive power and control.
Equipment needed: leg press machine
Muscles worked: quadriceps, calves, hamstrings, and glutes
- Start off by sitting down in the leg press with your heels on the platform. They should be about shoulder-width apart with both feet in 1 line. Both knees should be slightly bent and in line with your ankles.
Note: Don’t lock out your knees while performing this exercise; you want to make your muscles do all the work — not your joints.
- Engage your core and relax your upper body against the back pad. Don’t arch your back while in this position because it will put unwanted pressure in your lower back. Engage your core. You may hold onto the handles if you need to. This is your starting position.
- Inhale. Unlock the safety lock. In a slow, controlled manner, bend your knees and lower the platform down toward you until both of your knees are in a 90-degree angle. If your knees start to go past your toes, slide your feet up higher on the platform. All the weight should be distributed into your heels. From the side you should look like you’re in a squat position. Your quadriceps will be line with your chest. Hold this position for 1 count.
- Exhale. Drive through your heels and push the platform back up to your starting position without locking out your knees. You want to keep them about 10 degrees bent.
- Perform 12 repetitions. Work up to 3 to 4 sets, adding weight when you can.
Strengthening your lower body helps improve your balance, agility, and can even prevent fractures. As you get older, it’s inevitable that you won’t be as strong as you once were. But incorporating strength training two to three times a week while staying active can improve muscle growth and mobility. This will keep you strong at any age.