Strengthening your leg muscles during workouts can bring great benefits when you are on a hiking trail, for example, or while swimming. Your leg starts at your hip joint and travels down to your ankle joint, encompassing the thigh, knee, and calf. Your leg muscles help you do everything from extending and rotating your leg in all directions, bending your knee, pointing your toes, and more.
Keeping your legs strong is especially important as you age. Strong legs can help you improve your balance to prevent trips and falls. Here are some exercises that can help you.
Lunges work both your legs and your core muscles. They work your upper legs, including your hamstrings, glutes (or gluteal muscles), hips, and quads.
If your knee hurts, avoid this exercise. See your doctor to make sure lunges are the right exercise for you.
To do a dumbbell lunge:
- Position your feet hip-width apart while holding your favorite dumbbells or weights by your side.
- Keep your torso straight and walk forward.
- Bend your front and back leg at a 90-degree angle.
- Make sure to keep your front foot flat on the ground.
- Use both legs to stand up.
- Repeat walking forward with the opposite leg.
Slot variations to try include:
- Side slit. Instead of stepping forward, take a step to the side and bend that leg to a 90-degree angle while straightening your other leg.
- Reverse lunge: Instead of moving forward, back away. Then do the same movement by bringing both legs to a 90 degree angle, then straightening up.
- Walking lunge: Make a lunge as described above. Then, instead of putting your feet together and starting from the same position, just step forward with your other foot. You will find yourself walking around your space with this exercise.
Squats are a useful exercise for building leg strength, and they are recommended for beginners. Here’s how to do a cup squat:
- Hold your dumbbell, kettlebell, or other favorite weight with both hands at chest level.
- Place your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Descend into a squat by bending your knees. Continue lowering until your hips are below your knees.
- Make sure to keep your back as straight as possible as you lower yourself down.
- Stand up and repeat.
- Dumbbell squat. This is similar to the cup squat, but you are holding two dumbbells at shoulder level instead of one at chest level.
- Crouching folds. Place your feet further apart and point your toes outward as you perform the squat.
- Bulgarian split squat. Hold two dumbbells or weights, place one leg on a bench or chair behind you, and do the squat with the other leg.
- Jump in a squat. Without weights, crouch down and swing your arms to jump with explosive energy. Finish in a squatting position.
This exercise works your hamstrings. You can use dumbbells or a barbell for this one.
- Stand up straight with your weights at hip level.
- Bend down slowly, leaning at hip level and lowering your torso.
- Stop bending over when you feel a stretch in your hamstrings – the muscle at the back of your thighs. Your weight will likely be slightly below your knees.
- Push your hips forward to stand up.
How many reps do you need to do?
Some fitness experts recommend doing two sets of 10 reps for each leg exercise. If that seems too easy for you, try adding more resistance by using heavier weights. If this feels too hard, use less resistance or try fewer reps.
Home workouts vs gym workouts
Some of the recommended exercises suggest using dumbbells or other gym equipment. If you are working out at home and don’t have a dumbbell, there are plenty of alternatives to try. You can fill a milk jug with water or sand, or use soup cans or water bottles as weights. You can also use resistance bands or a bucket filled with sand.
Before you start, warm up
When training with weights, you should always warm up before your workout and cool off after. It can help to avoid injury. Warm-ups can include exercises like jogging, stretching, and strength training. Cooldowns should include plenty of stretches.
Wear shoes with good grip to keep you in position while exercising. Make sure to keep your back straight during the exercises, especially those where you bend over like the deadlift.
If you experience pain during your workout, stop doing this exercise. If your pain persists after a few days, contact your doctor.
If you are new to training, start slowly. Use lighter weights and do fewer reps. Ease in your workouts helps you avoid injury.