Leg exercises are a vital part of fitness. Strengthening the lower body is one of the best ways of preserving your independence and improving your health as you get older. Here are some leg strengthening exercises to try. Make sure you have a chair handy for some of the standing exercises to help with balance. Pick two or three to perform when you exercise during the week. Strengthening exercises should be done at least twice a week. Remember, it takes 4 to 6 weeks for your body to get used to any new demands placed upon it.
1. Ankle circles
This exercise improves your ability to move your ankle upward and downward. This is a good warm up exercise for the lower leg and feet.
- Sit in a chair with feet flat on the floor
- Extend your right knee and move your foot in a circle 20 times
- Then move in the other direction 20 times
- Repeat with the other ankle
- If lifting your knee up is too hard, try just extending your knee out
- Ankles often make crackling sounds. If your ankle is painful when making circles, try smaller circles or just move your foot up and down.
2. Knee extensions
Knee strengthening exercises are important for maintaining balance and avoiding falls.
- Sit in a chair with feet flat on the floor.
- Straighten out your right knee and hold for a few seconds.
- Then straighten out your left knee and hold for a few seconds.
- Repeat 10 times on each leg.
- Move slowly without jerking your leg.
- Make sure you use your full range of motion. Do this by bringing your heel fully back as far as comfortable then extending as far as comfortable.
3. Sit to stand
If you could only do one exercise a day for your leg strength and to preserve your mobility, this would be it. It’s one of the most important exercises used daily to keep people’s independence and confidence.
- Begin by standing with a chair behind you, your knees just in front of the seat.
- Lean forward as you bend your knees and lower yourself towards the chair as if attempting to sit.
- Before you touch the chair, pause then stand back up to a full upright position.
- Repeat 10 times.
- Bend from the hips.
- Use a walker for support if you need it.
- Place your hands on your knees for support if needed.
- Lift up your ribcage and stand tall.
This exercise is used for standing and balancing activities which maintain independence and functional mobility. Make sure you try this exercise first holding on to a chair with one hand before trying it alone. At first take a small step forward with on leg and slightly bend your knee. See how the strength in your leg feels before taking a larger step. Too large a step may make it difficult to regain a standing position due to weakness.
- Stand with arms at sides or on the hips.
- Keep feet shoulder width apart.
- Step forward keeping your trunk vertical.
- Push back up to the starting position.
- Repeat with each leg 10 times.
- Start by stepping only a small distance from your other foot.
- Gradually increase as your comfort improves.
- Don’t bend your forward knee too deeply.
- Maintain good form throughout, lifting ribs when returning to the starting position.
5. Calf raises
Calf exercises strengthen the lower body and are important in maintaining balance and walking ability by improving your ability to push off and accelerate as we walk. It is vital to keep these muscles working not only every day but several times a day.
- Stand using a chair to balance yourself.
- Raise up on your toes as high as you comfortably can.
- Return to the starting position and repeat 10 times.
- Keep your body still as you raise yourself up.
- Keep your feet apart if you have balance problems.