Leg-Strengthening Exercises for Adults Over 50

While cardio is important for overall health and longevity, strength training helps people, especially older adults, improve their strength and balance, ultimately helping prevent future falls and injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And that's important because more than 95 percent of hip fractures in older adults occur as a fall-related injury, after which many people can no longer live alone.

Strengthening the legs is an important part of staying injury-free later in life.
Credit: VioletaStoimenova/E+/GettyImages

Luckily, Maillard Howell, owner of CrossFit Prospect Heights and founder of The Beta Way, a holistic wellness program, has created a leg-toning workout older adults can follow to improve their strength and balance, emphasizing knee strength to help stabilize the leg.

Read more: 10 Resistance Band Exercises to Tone and Tighten

Warm-Up: Banded Walk

  1. Begin with a resistance band around your feet, ankles or shins (not your knees!).
  2. Keeping your arms at your sides or on your hips, bend your knees slightly and take a wide steps to the right.
  3. Avoid touching your feet together between steps as you continue these side steps.

Reps: 3 rounds of 10 steps to each side

Note: Howell recommends performing this exercise at least three times a week to stimulate the muscle.

Warm-Up: Wall Sit

  1. Lean you back against a wall.
  2. Keeping your knees behind your toes and your back straight, slowly lower your back down the wall.
  3. Lower until your legs form a 90-degree angle. Keep your arms at your sides.
  4. Hold this position for 10 seconds before you reverse the motion back to standing. Rest for 30 seconds.

Reps: repeat for five to seven minutes total as a warm-up before you perform the following moves

Read more: At-Home Workouts to Improve Balance, Mobility and Strength in Your 60s and Beyond

1. Step Up

  1. Stand in front of a fairly low bench or step (ex. regular stair step).
  2. Step up onto the bench or step, using your glutes and legs to lift your body to the top.
  3. Keeping the same leg stable step back to the ground and bring your legs to meet.

Reps: 4 rounds of 12 on each side

Once you become comfortable with this exercise, you can increase the height of the bench as you become stronger. For older athletes, avoid stepping higher than knee height, Howell says.

For an added challenge, perform a front-loaded step-up by holding a 10-pound plate or a light medicine ball at your chest as you do the exercise. As you grow stronger, increase the weight while maintaining good form.

2. Box Squat

  1. Stand in front of a bench or chair, facing away from it.
  2. Hinge your hips back and slowly lower your body toward the bench, keeping your knees behind your toes.
  3. Keep your shoulders back and your chest up.
  4. Tap the bench with your glutes before you return to standing.

Reps: 4 rounds of 10

According to Howell, box squats are excellent for building the legs and quad muscles, especially with older clients. Box squats maximize the strength benefits of a squat while minimizing risk by shortening the range of motion of a full squat.

3. Step-Down

  1. As with the step-ups, choose a step or bench about six inches tall.
  2. Plant one leg firmly on the step and raise your other leg.
  3. Lower your free leg with control to the ground and kiss the heel to the floor.
  4. Reverse the motion and bring the legs back together at the top of the step.

Reps: 4 rounds of 10 on each leg

4. Deadlift

  1. Holding a light weight (dumbbell or kettlebell), begin standing with the legs hip-width distance apart.
  2. Keeping the back flat, hinge at the hips and lower the weight toward the ground.
  3. Bend the knees slightly and hover the weight a few inches off the ground.
  4. Reverse the motion, pushing the hips forward and straightening the body.
  5. Return to standing.

Reps: four rounds of 10

As you get more comfortable with this exercise, try performing it with a trap bar. Before you add significant weight to your deadlift, be sure to try the exercise with the supervision of a professional.

Read more: What Are the Benefits of Deadlifting?

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