Leg exercises are important, but they become even more important as you age. How do I know? Because I am old. How old? Old enough to remember the dial-up internet sound when dial-up internet was a thing and cell phones were the size of bricks.

Yes, that old.

Exercise, as you get older, becomes less about vanity and more about function. Can you get up and down from the ground? Is it easy to get up and down from the throne? Or do you find yourself having to catch your balance because the ground is going to meet your face?

Yes, vanity is great and a good reason to exercise but staying upright is essential and losing your balance becomes a very big deal. Let these facts from the CDC prove it to you.

One out of five falls causes a serious injury such as broken bones or a head injury.

Each year, 3 million older people are treated in emergency departments for fall injuries.

Over 800,000 patients a year are hospitalized because of a fall injury, most often because of a head injury or hip fracture.

Each year at least 300,000 older people are hospitalized for hip fractures.

More than 95% of hip fractures are caused by falling, usually by falling sideways.

Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries.

Getting up and down, having good balance, and having enough strength and energy in your legs to do the things you want to do is important. If this sounds important to you here are 4 essential leg exercises you should be doing to remain awesome as you age.

1. Goblet Box Squats

Strong legs are essential for you to stay mobile and prevent falls as you get older. Strengthening the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes with any squat variation will help you get up and down easier and improve your balance. Plus, squats strengthen the core muscles that make everyday movements like turning, bending, and even standing easier.

Even though you might hate squats, it is an essential leg exercise to do as you age. But there are many squat variations so why this one? First, holding the weight goblet style allows you to get into the squat position easier and give your core and upper back some love and attention. Second squatting to a box makes sure you get good depth and gives you a reference point to squat better.

Out of all the 4 leg exercises on this list, I feel this is the most important. Plus, it makes getting up and down from the throne easier

How to Do the Goblet Box Squat

  1. Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell goblet style by your chest with your shoulders down and chest up. 
  2. With a chair or bench behind you get your feet in your preferred squat position. This may take some time.
  3. With your chest up and shoulders down, squat between your knees until you’re sitting on the box.
  4. Pause for a second and squat back up and squeeze your glutes at the end of the exercise.
  5. Reset and repeat for repeats.

Programming Suggestions

Doing this movement early in your training a couple of times a week for two to four sets for eight to 15 reps is a good starting point. Pairing this exercise with an upper-body exercise is great for burning fat and building muscle. For example,

1A. Goblet Box Squat 8 reps

1B.  Single-Arm Row 12-15 reps

2. Machine Leg Extension

Yes, many coaches, including myself, poo-poo on the leg extension machine, but I don’t anymore.  How “functional” is it to sit on your butt, put your feet behind a pad and extend your legs? Well, not very but possessing leg extension strength as you get older is important.

How important? This one study suggested that leg extension strength, which determines walking speed and power, and lack of it was one of the reasons why older adults had mobility problems. (1)

You need access to a gym to use one, but they are a simple way to improve your quad strength, add muscle and help strengthen the muscles around your knees. This isn’t a perfect exercise by any means but as you get older, I feel this is an essential leg exercise to train.

How to Do the Machine Leg Extension

1.     Pay attention to your setup on the machine. Start with a slight backward lean and adjust the pad you put your feet behind, so your feet are slightly forward of your knees.

2. Extend your knees until they are almost fully extended. Leave a slight bend in them.

3.     Slowly return to the starting position and repeat.

Programming Suggestions

This is not an exercise you should train for heavyweight and low reps, but a move trained for moderate weight and higher reps. This helps add muscle, strength, and endurance. Three to four sets of between 12-20 reps work well.

3. Romanian Deadlift

You sit on it a lot and you want it to look great in your favorite pair of pants.  Plus, adding size and strength to this muscle is a sure way to keep your lower back and spine healthy. Do you know what muscle I’m talking about? Sir Mix-A-Lot immortalized it in this song. Yes, it’s your glutes, butt, and behind.

Strengthening your glutes is essential because the glutes are one of the many muscles that get weaker as you get older. Why? Because you (and me) sit on it more and move less. Plus, hinging at the hips and not flexing your lower back to pick up stuff from the floor is essential if you don’t like back pain.  Because your lower back isn’t designed to move, your hips are.

The Romanian deadlift is one of many hip hinge variations you can do. But I feel it is one of the easiest standing hinge variations to do so this is why it made this leg exercises list. The hips don’t lie baby.

How to do The Romanian Deadlift

1.     Hold a pair of dumbbells with an overhand grip in front of your thighs with your feet hip-width apart.

2.     Keeping your shoulders down and chest up, slide the dumbbells down your thighs while hinging at the hips until the dumbbells are below your knees.

3.     Reverse the movement and finish the exercise by squeezing your glutes.

4.     Reset and repeat

Programming Suggestions

If you are not sure how to hip hinge with good form, please start here. Start light here and dial in your form and confidence with three sets to four of 12 to 15 reps and then you can add load and do between eight to 12 reps. Pairing with an upper-body exercise for fat loss or added muscle works well. For example.

1A. Romanian Deadlift 12-15 reps

1B. Dumbbell Bench Press 8-12 reps

4. Split Squat

The split squat is an easy exercise to hate because of the reduced base of support, the muscle burn, and the soreness you’ll feel the next day. But when balance, strength, and stability become more of an issue then you need to train them. Enter the split squat. With its reduced base of support and its focus on the glutes and quads, it becomes an essential leg exercise when you want your leg to look good and function like it should too.

Plus, life is spent in a single-leg stance (walking, running, and taking the stairs) so it pays to train it. There are many standing single-leg exercises to improve balance and the strength of your legs, but the split squat is one of the simplest and most effective around in my humble opinion. They will reduce strength imbalance between sides for improved balance and reduced injury risk and will improve your core strength because of the reduced base of support.

You will dislike them, but split squats will work.

How to do The Split Squat

1.     Get into a half-kneeling position to start with. Ankle above knee and knee underneath the hip. Hold on to something solid if balance is an issue

2.     With your shoulders down and chest up push through your front foot and squat up

3.     Slowly descend down with a slight forward lean and before your back knee touches the ground, squat back up.

4.     Reset and repeat and then do the other side.

Programming Suggestions

If you’ve never done these before or your balance is an issue do the assisted version and work up to two-three sets of 12-15 reps on each side before going on to the unassisted variation. When you have nailed the assisted, train the unassisted between the eight to 15 rep range for two to three sets as least once per week. Again, pairing this leg exercise with an upper-body exercise for strength, muscle, or fat loss works well. For example,

1A. Split Squats 8-15 reps

1B. TRX Row 12-15 reps

Wrapping Up

Maintaining or improving leg strength as you get older is less about vanity and more about improving function. The ability to walk, run, pick up stuff from the ground and get up and down from the ground is ridiculously important as you age. Leg strength using these leg exercises will improve the quality of your life and help to keep you alive longer.

And you still want a sexy butt, don’t you? 

If you want to improve your leg strength, form, and function I can get you a program together here.

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