By Personal Trainer, Susan Manning
A strong lower body = better everyday movement.
Whether you’re walking, running, kicking, jumping or just basically getting from point A to point B, our legs are important to us at any age and definitely as we enter our older years.
Weak and tight leg muscles can affect how we move and our gait (our walking stride) which can lead to slower movement patterns and the “shuffle” walk often seen in older adults. Tight / weak lower body muscles that cross over our hip joints can affect how the pelvis sits and lead to lower back pain. So it is very important to make sure that our leg muscles and joints are both strong and flexible.
There are many muscles that make up the lower body therefore there are a variety of exercises for strengthening that will be shown to make sure everything is covered. These can all be done in the comfort of your own home. The focus for this article will be on the strength portion of the lower body. Keep an eye out for my next article on lower body stretching techniques.
As always warm up prior to starting your exercise program. You could go for a brisk walk or in your home march on the spot with some knee lifts and if you have stairs a couple sets of stairs will not only warm up your lower body but also give you some cardio at the same time.
Floor Exercises for Lower Body
Focuses on glutes (buttocks), hamstrings and low back
Hip Lifts Exercise Instructions
- Lay on your back with your knees bent and contract your core (tighten your abdominal muscles)
- Slowly lift your hips and pause for 5 seconds squeezing your buttocks muscles
- Lower back down to the floor
Repeat 8 – 12 repetitions for 1 – 3 sets
Straight Leg Lift
Focuses on the muscles that stabilize your pelvis, hip flexors and core
Straight Leg Lift Exercise Instructions
- Lay on your back with one knee bent and one leg straight
- Engage your core muscles and don’t let them go until the entire exercise is done
- Slowly lift your straight leg a few inches off the floor and hold
- Lower to starting position in a controlled manner
Repeat 8 – 12 repetitions for 1 – 3 sets, then repeat with the other leg
Side Lying Leg Lifts
Focuses on the outer thigh area.
Side Lying Leg Lift Exercise Instructions
- Lay on your side with your hips stacked one on top of the other
- Bend your bottom leg and keep the top leg straight
- Slowly lift the leg without moving your hips (do not let your hips roll back to have the leg go higher, that defeats the purpose of the exercise)
Repeat 8 – 12 repetitions and 1 – 3 sets and then repeat other side
Inner Thigh Squeezes
The focus on this exercise is the muscles of our adductors (inner thigh muscles)
Inner Thigh Squeezes Instructions
- Lay on your back with your knees bent
- Engage your core
- Press your knees together and hold for 5 – 10 seconds (you may want to put a towel or a children’s small ball between your knees for better comfort)
Release and repeat 8 – 12 repetitions and 1 – 3 sets
Dynamic Split Squat
Focuses on the front (quads) of legs, the back of legs (hamstrings and glutes) and is a great overall exercise
Dynamic Split Squat Instructions
- Stand upright (you can hold onto a counter or piece of furniture for better stability)
- Step forward with one leg
- Bend both knees as you squat. Make sure the front knee does not go past the toe
- Come back up
- Step back to starting position and repeat with the other leg
Repeat 8 – 12 repetitions for 1 – 3 sets
Single Leg Step up with Glutes Squeeze
The leg that is on the stair is working the glutes (buttocks), front and back of leg. The leg that is not on the stair focuses on the gluetes as you squeeze while you lift
Single Leg Step up Instructions
- Put one foot on the stair and make sure the knee joint is right above the ankle joint
- Engage core
- Use only the leg on top of the step to lift
- As you lift the other leg moves back and squeeze your buttocks
- Come back down slowly
Repeat 8 – 12 repetitions for 1 – 3 sets then repeat with the other leg
Standing Calf Raises
The focus is on your calves
Standing Calf Raises Exercise Instructions
- Standing with the balls of your feet on the edge of the step. Make sure you hang onto something and you can wear running shoes to give you better stability. Perform the exercise on the bottom step in case of a stumble.
- Raise up on your toes
- Slowly lower your heels down
Repeat 8 – 12 times 1 – 3 sets
When you work your leg muscles one day they need to have a days rest before they can be worked again, this is when the rebuilding of strength occurs….yes on your rest day!
Remember to do your stretches at the end of your workout as this will also help with something called DOMS (Delayed onset of muscle soreness) which can occur the next day and more so the day after that. This is common but walking and stretching will help to alleviate it. If you are very sore and have trouble getting up off the chair the next day that tells you that you worked too hard and need to do less sets and/or repetitions.
Enjoy your new found strength that will get your to places faster and with better ease. Enjoy
For more exercises you can at home please see the Fitness Guide written by Susan and Dr. Carolyn Anderson.
About the Author: Susan Manning is a BCRPA TFL, ACE, ACSM, TWIST certified Advanced Health & Fitness Specialist in BC. She is Dr. Carolyn Anderson’s co-author of It’s Never Too Late To Be Fit, a comprehensive guide for older adult’s fitness.