Lower-Body Workout

By the Editors of SilverSneakers |

Sculpt your legs, hips, and glutes for a bottom half that works—and looks—better from all angles.

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Think about all the ways you need your lower body to move on any given day.

Start easy: You want to be able to walk forward and hopefully step backward. It’s also helpful to step from side to side or even diagonally. Don’t forget about bending your hips, knees, and ankles to sit down and stand up—or step up and down on stairs. And of course, ideally, you could do all this without pain.

That’s a tall order. Luckily, this lower-body workout sculpts your legs, hips, and glutes for a bottom half that works—and looks—better from all angles.

How the Lower-Body Workout Works

You’ll need a variety of gym machines and a set of dumbbells. If you don’t have access to a particular machine, simply use the ones that are available to you, or try one of the suggested alternatives. If you’re not sure which dumbbells to use, choose the lightest ones you can find. You can always go heavier if the moves feel too easy.

Warm up with at least five minutes of walking or this warmup routine. Perform the exercises below in order. Cool down with deep breathing and stretches of your choice.

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.

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Set Yourself Up for Success

Before you start moving on any machine, set it up properly. Just like you wouldn’t start driving a car without checking the seat and mirrors, you don’t want to use a machine that’s not set up for you. Use these tips to get it right.

If you’re using a machine for the first time, ask gym staff for instruction, or read the instructions that are typically posted on each machine. Equipment can vary from model to model, so you want to know how the version in front of you works.

Always choose a lighter weight to start. The general rule for all types of strength training: Start light before going heavy.

Check your machine settings. You want to make sure the machine is set for you—and not the person who used the machine before you. Is the right amount of weight selected, and if there’s a pin, is it fully inserted? How’s your seat positioning?

Let the machine support and guide you—not do the work for you. As with any exercise, you’ll get better results with good posture and good form. Engage your whole body, and move with control.

Exercise #1: Hip Abduction

Do 2 sets of 12 to 15 reps

Use the pin to select a light weight on the weight stack, and set yourself up on the hip abduction machine. Place your feet on the foot holders, outer thighs against the pads, and hold on to the handles by your seat. Your knees and toes should be pointing directly in front of you. This is your starting position.

From here, open your legs out the sides by pressing your thighs against the pads. Pause, then slowly return to the starting position. That’s one rep. Do two sets of 12 to 15 reps, resting 60 seconds between sets.

If you don’t have a hip abduction machine available, you can tie a resistance band around right above your knees and perform seated hip openers.

Exercise #2: Hip Adduction

Do 2 sets of 12 to 15 reps

Use the pin to select a weight on the weight stack, and set yourself up on the hip adduction machine. Position your legs so that your inner thighs are pressed against the pads, feet on the foot holders, and hands holding the handles by your seat. This is your starting position.

From here, press your inner thighs into the pads to bring your legs together. Pause, then slowly reverse the movement to return to the starting position. That’s one rep. Do two sets of 12 to 15 reps, resting 60 seconds between sets.

If you don’t have a hip adduction machine available, you can place an inflatable Pilates ball or a yoga block between your knees and perform the seated adduction in a chair.

Exercise #3: Glute Bridge

Do 2 to 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps

Lie on your back with knees bent, feet on the floor about hip-width apart, and heels a few inches away from your buttocks. Lift your toes one to two inches off the floor to help keep your weight in your heels. Press your arms into the floor for support, and brace your core to minimize the arch in your lower back.

From here, push through your heels and squeeze your glutes to lift your hips up until your body forms a straight line from your knees to shoulders. As you get stronger, focus on getting your shins as close to vertical as you comfortably can at the top of the movement. Pause, then slowly lower your hips to return to starting position. That’s one rep. Do two to three sets of 12 to 15 reps, resting 60 seconds between sets.

Exercise #4: Cable Squat

Do 2 to 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps

Attach a straight bar to the low pulley of a cable station. Grab the bar with an underhand grip so your palms face you, and hold it with your hands shoulder-width apart and at arm’s length. Set your feet about shoulder-width apart in an athletic stance. Keeping your upper arms tucked against your sides, curl the bar up to your chest, 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. Do two to three sets of 12 to 15 reps, resting 60 seconds between sets.

Circuit #5

Do 2 to 3 rounds

Perform the three exercises below in order with little rest in between. After the third exercise, rest one minute, and repeat the full circuit again. Aim to do two to three rounds total.

Exercise #5A: Leg Curl

Do 15 reps

Use the pin the select your weight on the weight stack, and set yourself up on the leg curl machine. Position your legs on the pad so that it’s just above your sneakers or ankles when you place your legs on top of it. Your legs should be about hip-width apart, toes pointing up.

Bend your knees to pull your heels down. Pause, and straighten them to starting position. Do 15 reps, resting as needed.

If you don’t have a leg curl machine available and can get down on the floor, you can do a leg curl with a dumbbell. Otherwise, squats and related exercises like sit-to-stands are good substitutes.

Exercise #5B: Leg Extension

Do 15 reps

Use the pin the select your weight on the weight stack, and set yourself up on the leg extension machine. Position your legs so the pad hits just above your ankles when you place your legs behind it.

Straighten your legs. Pause, and lower them to starting position. Do 15 reps, resting as needed.

If you have bad hips or knees, you may want to try a seated leg extension without any weight or a squat that works for your body.

Exercise #5C: Dumbbell Side Squat

Grab one dumbbell, and hold it by the ends in front of your chest. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, and squat down slightly. Brace your core. This is your starting position.

Maintaining your squat, take a small step to your right. Then step back to your left. Continue alternating until you complete 10 to 12 reps on each side. Rest 60 seconds, and repeat the full circuit again. Do two or three rounds total.

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