Ditch the floor exercises to build a strong, stable foundation for your body.
A strong lower body is the foundation for an active, independent life. But if you have trouble getting down on and back up off of the floor, popular strength moves like glute bridges and clamshells aren’t always an option.
And that’s not a problem at all. Standing exercises that strengthen the lower body can actually deliver greater benefits than seated or on-the-floor versions, says Michael Osaki, P.T., founder and director of Greenwood Physical Therapy in Seattle.
“When you’re standing, you exercise your muscles in a functional way, or in the same way you are required to use them every day when you get up from a chair,” Osaki explains. “Also, standing exercises are weight-bearing, meaning they put downward stress on your bones to promote bone strength and mineral density.”
Standing exercises also engage many stabilizing muscles, so they’re a great way to improve your balance and stability, he says.
Here are six standing exercises that Osaki recommends to help strengthen your legs and butt—and ultimately improve your day-to-day life. For best results, aim to perform two sets of 10 reps of each exercise below three times per week.
“Quality is more important than quantity,” Osaki says. If you have trouble performing all of the reps with proper form, reduce your total rep count and gradually work up to two sets of 10. You can also split this workout into two or three mini-workouts throughout the day, doing only two or three of the exercises during each session.
As always, safety is key. The exercises here may be different or more advanced than those you’ll experience in a SilverSneakers class. If you have a chronic condition, an injury, or balance issues, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.
Standing Exercise #1: Squat
Stand tall with your feet shoulder- to hip-width apart. Hold your arms straight out in front of you at shoulder level, and brace your core. This is your starting position.
From here, push your hips back, and bend your knees to lower your body into a squat, not letting your knees cave in as you do so. Pause, then push through your heels to return to starting position. That’s one rep. Perform 10 reps, or as many as you can until you feel it in your legs, then rest. Repeat for a total of two sets.
Learn how to make the squat easier or harder for your needs in our beginner’s guide to the squat.
Standing Exercise #2: Stationary Lunge
Stand tall with your arms down at your sides. Step back with your right foot, placing your toes on the ground and keeping your heel lifted.
From this staggered stance, bend your front (left) knee to slowly lower your body as far as comfortable. Allow your back knee to bend as well until it hovers a few inches above the floor, but keep your weight pressed into your front heel. Place your hands on your hips, draw your lower belly in, and lift your chest.
Pause, then press through your front foot to raise your body back to standing. That’s one rep. Perform 10 reps, then switch sides and repeat. Do a total of two sets.
Standing Exercise #3: Wall Sit
Stand tall against a wall. Next, take a big step forward with both feet, keeping your back against the wall. Rest your arms by your sides.
From here, lean back and slowly slide your hips and torso down the wall until you are in a comfortable squat position. Your ankles should be aligned under your knees. Keeping your torso against the wall and your hands off your thighs, hold the position for 10 to 30 seconds, rest, and then repeat. Gradually work up to holding for 1 minute, broken into as many reps as you need.
Standing Exercise #4: Band Side Step
Place a miniband or tie a longer band around your legs, just above your knees (easier) or ankles (harder). Bend your knees slightly with your feet hip-width apart.
From here, step to the side until the band provides resistance, then slide your other foot over to re-create your original stance. Repeat this sidestepping movement for 10 reps in one direction, and then do the same number of reps in the other direction to complete one set. Do two sets total.
Standing Exercise #5: Stepup
Stand tall in front of a low bench or step. Feel free to do this exercise next to a wall or sturdy piece of furniture you can rest your hand on for balance if needed. Set your left foot on the step, push down through your heel, and lift yourself up until your leg is straight. Step down. That’s one rep. Do 10 reps or as many as you comfortably can, switch legs, and repeat. Do two sets total.
Make sure you do all the work with the leg on the step rather than pushing off the floor with the other. For more of a challenge, add resistance by holding dumbbells in your hands, as long as it doesn’t cause knee or hip discomfort. Or increase the range of motion by using a higher step.
Standing Exercise #6: Toe Raise
Stand tall with your feet a few inches apart. From here, slowly raise your body onto the balls of your feet. Pause, then slowly lower your heels to return to start. Avoid using momentum. That’s one rep. Aim for two sets of 10 reps.
If you prefer, do this move six inches away from a wall, counter, or other sturdy surface, which you can grab onto with one or both hands for support. For more of a challenge, hold a pair of dumbbells at your sides with your palms facing your body.
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