Best Leg Exercise When You Can’t Lift Heavy Weights

better leg exercise optionsWhen you want strong, toned legs, but pain, joint limitations, or a lack of access to a gym prevent you from being able to lift heavy weights, I’ve rounded up some of the best leg exercise options you can do at anywhere.  They’re single leg exercises and the reason they should find their way into your life and workout is that they help you reach fatigue with less of load to your body.

Reaching fatigue is a crucial part of getting muscle tone. Fatiguing lower body muscles is no problem if you have a leg press machine at the gym. It’s a little harder to accomplish if you’re at home. You can build muscle, add strength, endurance, and stamina, and ultimately, boost your metabolism best using those large muscles in your lower body.

If you have arthritis or another condition, you’re an athlete, or you love to lift weights frequently but you’ve figured out that too little rest between workouts deems them ineffective after 50. This little round up of my best leg exercises is the perfect addition to your workouts.

How to use this best leg exercise series

Use these exercises instead of traditional squat variations, including leg press, if you can’t lift heavy, or use them as your midweek workout, between heavier weight training sessions. Use the series as your “in season” weight training workouts if you’re a runner, hiker, biker who is already using her legs significantly but knows lifting is something you have to keep up year round after 50.

Single Leg Dead Lift

This is winner of the best leg exercise award! It was the number one hamstring exercise in those tested in a recent study by the American Council on Exercise. Hold the weight in the hand opposite your weight-bearing leg. Your weight need not touch the floor. Find the range of motion you can do to feel your glutes (butt muscles) and hamstrings (back of the thighs) activated but can’t feel any stress or strain in the lower back.

Rear Lunge

A rear lunge is the safest way to perform a dynamic lunge and avoid knee stress. If you’ve dumped lunges because they hurt your knees, try a rear lunge (watching the video here) with proper cues and see if it is something you can consider again. It’s common that unless you’ve had the right cues at the right time you concluded too soon you can’t. If however, you do have pain leave rear lunges out! There are other options for you. (Including the Knee-Friendly 5-Day Flip)

Single Leg Squat

This exercise too could easily be one you think you can’t do if you have knee trouble. Try it with support. Put your hand on the back of a chair or wall. Keep your range of motion super small to start. Weight on your heel at all times. Go slow. You’re simple going in 20-30 degrees of motion.  Watch the video and do it with me.

Single Leg Bridge

Get to the floor or a hard surface. Though there is less risk of stress to knees, there’s some, so weight on your heel is a must. If you feel completely unable to do one leg at a time on this one, you can use both.


The Best Single Leg Exercise Playlist

If you want to click play and see all videos from this post you can use this playlist and they’re all lined up for you!

Ways to use this best leg exercise set

  • Substitute these leg exercises for other lower body exercises you’re doing.
  • Use this as a third workout a week (Wednesday) between two heavier lifting days (Monday and Friday).
  • Add these exercises to your routine one or both days a week (on a two-day a week lifting schedule).

best leg exercise for bone healthLast word on your “best leg exercise”

Know your goals. If bone density is your big reason for lifting weights, you need to reach fatigue in 10 or fewer repetitions. The science on this is clear. I know you’ll read from doctors in fact that weights don’t have to be heavy to increase bone density. I’ve read it (and cringed) myself. Yes, you should start light. You should progress. You should collectively factor all the components that make an exercise safe for you and effective at reaching your goals. However, if you can, and in joints that tolerate it,  when you reach fatigue in 10 or fewer repetitions you do the most bone health good. That’s not always popular. I’m not here to be popular. I’m here to help you with the best science and the practical application of that to you.

Moore load sometimes is required to accomplish the goal.

So while these exercises in this post will support strength and endurance, therefore create tone and definition, you need to choose activity specifically matched to your goals for health and fitness. Define those first before you go shopping for exercise. And… form follows function, so all exercise done for a goal will support you looking your best too.



You might also like:

Flipping 50 TV Episode 11 for a series of body weight exercises

Muscles in Minutes short quick leg and body part exercise sequences (includes squats, lunges, and not necessarily joint TLC)

Knee-Friendly 5-Day Flip (no squats and lunges)


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