The 6 Best Leg-Strengthening Exercises After 50
You might be in your fifties or beyond, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of the best leg-strengthening exercises. In fact, now is a great time to get started with a new leg workout or take your current routine to the next level.
What Muscles are in the Legs?
The quadriceps are the powerful muscles that form the front of your thighs. These are the four big muscles that help you extend your legs.
- Quads – Rectus femoris—this crosses both the hip and knee joints and mostly aids in flexing at the hip.
- Quads – Vastus lateralis—this muscle is the biggest of the bunch. It spans from your hip to your kneecaps on the outside edge of your thigh.
- Quads – Vastus medialis—this is the muscle that runs along your inner thigh from your hip down to your inner kneecap. It also has a teardrop shape.
- Quads – Vastus intermedius—this deeply embedded muscle lies between the vastus lateralis and the vastus medius, rounding out the four muscles that form your quadriceps.
Hamstrings form the back of your thighs and are comprised of three muscles on the posterior side of your leg. They run from your glutes and hips all the way down to the back of your knee and help you bend your knees and hips.
- Hamstrings – Biceps femoris—this muscle helps you bend at the knees and runs from the upper thigh down to your knee area.
- Hamstrings – Semimembranosus—this muscle spans from the pelvis to the inside of your thigh, connecting near your knee and helps you bend your knees and rotate your legs.
- Hamstrings – Semitendinosus—this muscle helps you extend and rotate at the hip as well as bend your knee.
Your calf muscles make up your lower leg and are the drivers of movement for your ankles, feet, and toes.
- Calf – Gastrocnemius (calf muscle)—this is the main muscle of the calves and runs from the knee to the heel on the back of your leg, helping to move and bend your knee and foot.
- Calf – Soleus—this muscle helps you stand and walk and runs from the back of your knee to your heel.
- Calf – Plantaris—this little muscle helps provide feedback to your brain regarding foot position and can assist in flexing the foot and knee.
Best Leg-Strengthening Exercises Start with a Great Warm-Up
If you really want to crush it during your leg training, you’ll want to start with an extensive leg and hip warm-up. What is a warm-up? It’s a 10- to 15-minute exercise session you do prior to your workout. It involves gentle movement and stretching, as well as taking the joints you’re about to work through a full range of motion.
Why is this important? Because when you get into your harder sets, you want your muscles to be warm and pliable, your blood circulating and feeding your muscles, and your joints primed and lubricated. This will help prevent injury and maximize your performance during your workouts. And remember, the older you get, the longer it may take to warm things up. So be sure to allot the time needed for a solid warm-up.
Leg-Strengthening Warm-Up Exercises
Which areas should you warm-up before a leg workout? Focus on the joints like the hips, knees, and ankles. Try some of these gentle warm-ups:
Hip Openers—simply stand next to a stable surface and lift your right leg, keeping your knee bent until your thigh is at hip level. Move your leg in a circular motion over to your right side and then back down to the start. Repeat on the opposite side.
Knees Over Toes—place your right foot on an elevated platform, hands on hips, and lean forward into a lunge position until your knee is bent as far forward as it can go. Pause here and push back to standing. Repeat ten times on one side and then switch to the opposite side.
Ankle Flexes—this easy move will loosen up your ankles. Simply sit with your legs straight out in front of you and flex your ankles, bringing your toes up and toward your body. Next, point your toes and feet away from you. Repeat 15 times.
Now you’re ready to get started!
The Best Leg-Strengthening Exercises
1. Box Squats
While regular squats may seem daunting, these squats are doable at any age. Start by standing in front of a bench or platform that is about chair height. Place your feet about hip-width apart and start to “sit” back, meaning push your hips back as you bend at the knees. Keep your torso upright and lightly touch down (sit) on the bench before pushing back up to a standing position. As you get stronger and more comfortable with this move, try holding a weight in each hand as you squat.
2. Banded Lateral Walks
You’ll need a medium-weight resistance band. Place the band just above your knees and with knees slightly bent, hands together, step out to your right, followed by your left foot. Continue taking five steps to the right and then repeat the process with five steps to the left.
3. Weighted Step-Ups
Start with a dumbbell in each hand in front of a low bench or platform. Lift your right leg up and step onto the bench. Allow your left foot to follow, placing it lightly on the platform. Next, move back to the start by bringing your left (trailing) leg back to the floor and finally your right leg. Repeat 10 times on the right and then repeat on the left side.
4. Dumbbell Calf Raises
Begin with a dumbbell in one hand and balance yourself on a stable surface with the other. Place both feet on an elevated surface. Scoot back until your heels are hanging off the surface. Next, lower your heels until you get a good stretch through your calf muscles and then raise yourself up onto your tip toes, squeezing your calves.
5. Bulgarian Bench Split Squat
Stand in front of a bench, facing away from it. You may want to have a wall or bench in front of you in case you need to catch your balance. Lift your right leg and place the top of your foot on the bench behind you. Lower your hips toward the ground until your right knee is at a 90-degree angle and your left knee almost touches the ground. Push back up to standing through your right leg. Do ten reps on one side and then repeat on the other. Once you get stronger, you can add weight by holding a dumbbell in one or both hands.
6. Walking Lunges
This tried-and-true exercise is an oldie but a goodie and will work your entire legs, including your glutes. Stand with your hands clasped in front of you. Take a giant step forward with your right leg while keeping your torso and head upright. Bend at the knee as far as you can, allowing your rear leg to straighten. Push up through your right heel to propel yourself back up and forward. Repeat on the left side. Continue taking giant steps until you have done 10 reps on each side.
Just because you’re over 50 doesn’t mean you get to skip leg day. Au contraire! Working your legs—the powerhouse of your physique—is more important now than ever before if you want to stay strong and function well. Add these tried-and-true leg-strengthening exercises into your workout program two to three times a week for optimal results.