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The Best Leg-Strengthening Exercises for Seniors

Check out the three most important lower-body movements for aging gracefully.
FACT CHECKED BY Alexa Mellardo

Aging gracefully depends on a number of factors—in particular, resistance training. Legs are a must-strengthen area for seniors. When it comes to mobility in the sense of being ambulatory, preventing falls, reducing or reversing muscle loss, and bone strengthening, performing strengthening exercises for the legs is an absolute must. That's why we've rounded up some of the best leg-strengthening exercises for seniors.

To put it simply, prolonging your quality of life as you move through your golden years relies heavily on keeping your upper legs strong via weight training. The following is my list of the three most critical leg-strengthening exercises for seniors to maintain their physical autonomy. Perform each exercise for three sets of 10. Feel free to hold a dumbbell in each hand for extra weight, or stick with just your body weight. Rest for one to three minutes between sets. Do this twice a week to build and maintain leg strength while keeping your independence and mobility.


mature man doing dumbbell squat as part of leg-strengthening exercises for seniors

Of course, squats are at the top of the list when it comes to leg-strengthening exercises. This exercise hits most of the muscle groups in your lower body. The weight-bearing nature of the exercise ensures stimulus to bones as well as muscle tissue. Finally, the functional nature of the squat movement, such as when getting out of a chair, for instance, also helps you maintain independence as an aging adult. You can sit back on a chair to perform the exercise if doing them on an open floor is too difficult.

To perform squats, begin standing with your feet hip-width distance apart. Stick your hips backward, and lower down by bending your knees and hinging at the hip. Lower until your thighs are nearly parallel to the floor, or until your hips reach the seat. Drive through your whole foot, and extend your knees and hips to return to the starting position Repeat for the target repetitions.

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senior woman doing lunges with dumbbells as part of leg-strengthening exercises for seniors

Lunges mimic gait (walking) movement and help you maintain mobility in your lower body while also strengthening the glutes, quads, and hamstrings. Lunges are also great for working on your balance due to the unilateral nature of the exercise.

To perform lunges, begin standing with your feet hip-width distance apart. Step forward with your right leg with a 1.5 to 2x depth step compared to normal walking. Lower your back knee as you also bend your front knee, until your back shin is nearly parallel to the floor. Drive through your front foot, and extend your knee and hip to return to the starting position. Repeat for target repetitions on both sides.

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woman in fitness class doing step-ups

The last of our best leg-strengthening exercises for seniors is the step-up. Step-ups are an excellent way to maintain the ability to climb stairs while providing the stimulus to grow muscle and maintain bone mass. You will need a stair or step setup to perform this exercise.

To perform step-ups, begin standing with a step in front of your feet hip-width distance apart.
Step forward with your right leg up onto the box. Stand up on the box by extending your front leg. Bring your rear leg to the box, and tap it next to your front foot, keeping your weight on the front foot the whole time. Step back with your left foot, then step down with your right foot to return to the starting position. Repeat for the target repetitions.

Tyler Read, BSc, CPT
Tyler Read is a personal trainer and has been involved in health and fitness for the past 15 years. Read more about Tyler
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