Strong legs are an important component of overall health and safety. Playing a major role in balance and stability, having a strong set of stems could be one of the best defenses against injury.
Falls become increasingly dangerous with age, and strong legs can prevent falls by making you more resistant to bumps and loose footing.
Furthermore, the more muscles you have in your legs, the less pressure you’re putting on your joints. This can protect your joints from pain, and perhaps even lower the risk for osteoarthritis—and relieve its symptoms.
You can strengthen your legs from the comfort of your own home, too. You don’t need very much space, and all you really need is yourself, a solid surface, and something to add some resistance, like a kettlebell, dumbbell, resistance band, or anything that has some weight to it.
Strengthening your legs is a three-step process. Start with dynamic stretching; then perform your strength exercises, followed by static stretching. All in all, it should take about 30 to 45 minutes. Here’s a closer look at how to get through a leg workout to produce some real benefits.
Dynamic stretches are a great way to get warmed up for a workout session. They involve movement and bring synovial fluid into the joints, loosen up the muscles, and prepare your body for exercise.
The looser you are, the better you’ll move and your risk of injury is greatly reduced.
To perform these dynamic stretches, you’ll need a bit of room, so perhaps use a hallway in your house or a large room that allows for a few big steps; however, this is not required. You can do them standing in place.
- Clasp your hands behind your head.
- Take an exaggerated step forward with your left leg.
- Bend your left knee so that is positioned over your left foot, but does not reach past your toes.
- Slightly bend your right knee so it is just off the floor. Both feet should be pointed straight ahead.
- Keep your torso straight up and look straight ahead. (You can also lean back slightly, but try to stay as straight as possible.)
- Pause for one count at the bottom of the lunged position and stand back up. Repeat with the right leg stepping forward.
- Do 10 to 15 repetitions per leg.
Walking Knee Tuck
- From a standing position, step forward with the left leg and flex the right hip and knee to move the right thigh towards your chest.
- Grasp the front your right knee.
- Use your arms to pull the right knee further up and squeeze the right thigh against your chest.
- Pause for one count in the knee tuck position, then step back down with the right leg and shift your body weight to the right leg. Repeat the tucking motion with the left leg.
- Try to pull your knee a little higher with each repetition.
- Do 10 to 15 repetitions per leg.
Squats (with or without a resistance band)
- Grip the handles of the band with your fingers wrapped around each handle, like you were holding a bottle. Your palms should be facing up with the wrist bent slightly back.
- Position your feet about shoulder width apart, with your toes pointed slightly outward.
- The middle portion of the band should be under the arches of both feet.
- Position the handles to the outside so you’re holding them roughly levelled with your shoulders, palms facing forwards or slightly up.
- Keep your back flat and chest up and out, with your shoulder pulled back—the band should be taut, but not stretched.
- Flex your hips and knees so your butt and hips come back and your knees bend.
- Keep your torso-to-floor angle as constant as possible as you move down.
- Keep your back flat and chest out as you move down, using the hips and knees to create the motion. Keep your heels on the floor.
- Keep moving your hips and knees until you have reached the desired squat-depth, which should be about a 90-degree bend at the knee.
- On the way up, slowly extend your hips and knees at the same rate in order to hold the torso-to-floor angle as constant as possible.
- Keep your back flat and chest held up and out. Your heels should remain on the floor.
- Keep extending the hips and knees until you are fully standing.
- Complete 10 to 15 repetitions, two to three times.
- You can also get rid of the resistance band and perform a squat using just your body weight, or try holding a dumbbell or other object between your legs to create resistance.
- You can start by placing a chair or an ottoman beneath you if it makes you more comfortable. But once strength and balance improve, remove it.
- Stand with your chest up and out, back straight, and shoulders pulled back.
- Tilt your head up slightly, but still look straight ahead.
- Place your feet hip-width apart with your toes pointed straight ahead.
- Take an exaggerated step forward with one leg. Keep your torso straight up during the step.
- Leave your other foot in the starting position, but allow the knee to slightly bend.
- Plant your lead foot on the floor (the one you stepped with) pointing straight ahead or slightly inward.
- Allow the lead hip and knee to slowly flex (bend).
- Once balance has shifted to both feet, flex the lead knee to lower the trailing knee toward the floor. The training knee will flex forward, but not as much as the lead knee.
- Keep the lead knee directly over the foot, and do not allow it to extend past the toes.
- Lower the trailing knee—still slightly flexed—until it’s one to two inches from the floor. At this point, your lead leg should be at a 90-degree angle.
- Balance your weight between the ball of your trailing foot and your entire lead foot.
- Keep your torso perpendicular to the floor by sitting back on the training leg.
- To return to the standing position, shift the balance forward to the lead foot and forcefully push off the floor by extending your lead hip and knee.
- As the lead foot moves back, the weight will shift to the trailing foot, causing the heel of the trailing foot to reconnect to the floor.
- Keep the torso straight during the movement.
- Bring the lead leg back next to the trailing foot.
- Lead with the other leg.
- Do 10 to 15 repetitions per leg (alternating), two to three times.
After you’ve performed the exercise portion of the workout, it’s time to cool down and stretch out your muscles to recover and limit tightness and muscular pain.
Lying Knee to Chest
- Lie on your back with your legs next to each other, fully extended.
- Bend your right knee and flex your hip to bring the right thigh towards your chest.
- Grasp the back of your right thigh (under the knee). Keep the left leg in the starting position.
- Use your arms to pull your thigh further up towards your chest until a stretch is felt. Hold it for 20 to 30 seconds.
- Repeat with the left leg.
- Sit on the floor with your torso upright.
- Flex the hips and knees out so the bottoms of your feet are touching each other.
- Lean forward at the hips and grasp your feet, pulling them towards your body.
- Rest your elbows on the insides of your legs.
- Keeping your back flat, slightly push the elbows down and pull your feet towards your upper body until a stretch is felt. (You should feel the stretch in your inner thigh muscles.)
- Hold the position for 20 to 30 seconds.
Coburn, J. et al., NSCA’s Essentials of Personal Training, Second Edition (Colorado Springs: National Strength & Conditioning Association, 2012), 251-290.