If you rush around for hours every day you’ve probably noticed that when your legs are tired your whole body feels achy and you slow down. It’s as though your total wellbeing is dependent on the fitness of your limbs. Or, if by contrast, you sit around for hours, the chances are you experience back pain from weak hamstrings and short and tight hip flexors. Whatever your lifestyle it’s important to keep your leg muscles strong and to exercise them regularly, since strong legs are essential for mobility. Strong muscles also provide stability, so if we trip muscles help correct our posture by supporting bones and preventing fractures. Good balance is essential for maintaining control of your body and will help reduce risk of injury.
Generally speaking women have naturally less leg power than men and many of us complain about our thighs being too skinny, too fat or just not strong enough. But the shape or size of our thighs, or how we look in jeans really isn’t of great importance. What really matters is keeping the thigh muscles strong in order to support our bodies, and to help us maintain our physical independence as the years go by.
Our thighs consist of several muscle groups: The big front muscles, the quadriceps, are made up of four primary muscles. At the back of the thigh are the hamstrings, consisting of three primary muscles. On the outer side of the thighs are the abductor muscles, and on the inside thigh are the adductor muscles…both consisting of 2 primary muscles. Your lower body is home to some of your biggest muscles and working these larger muscles requires more energy, which means your body burns up more calories. Your gluteus maximus (your bottom) is the largest muscle in your body!
To enjoy everyday activities now and for the years ahead we need to maintain muscle power. The power generated from your lower half is essential for nearly every sport. Walking and running are simple ways to get the legs working and to keep the muscles strong. Activities such as tennis, golf, hockey, bowling or rowing and cycling are fine examples of leg work, or in the gym walking the treadmill, aerobic and other keep fit classes will all help keep your legs busy. These activities can also speed up your metabolism helping to burn calories and keep you in great shape!
With strong thigh muscles you’ll be able to safely increase your range of motion. Picking up boxes, moving furniture, carrying equipment or moving furniture becomes easier when your lower body is able to squat down or move freely at the hips, and you will avoid lower back pain. Even if your arms are strong, you can more efficiently lift heavy objects if you bend at the knees and use strong thigh and gluteal (bottom) muscles instead of straining your back.
1 FRONT AND SIDE LIFT To strengthen the quadriceps (front thigh muscles)
Stand and hold back of chair for support. Straighten right leg, point toes and lift leg high out in front and hold for 5 seconds. Keep leg as high as possible and take it around to side and hold for 5 seconds. Repeat 5 times. Relax leg down and repeat with the left leg. (Keep supporting leg soft)
2 CHAIR SQUATS To strengthen front thigh muscle
Stand in front of a sturdy chair with feet hip width apart. Keep your weight on your heels and simply pull in your tum, bend upper body forward and lower your bottom toward the chair seat. Pause before sitting and keeping tummy tight stand up straight again. Repeat 10 times. Build-up repletions as thighs get stronger.
3 ABDUCTORS To work the outer thigh muscle
Lie on your right side, bend your knees, stack them on top of each other, and curl them slightly forward (banana shape). With right elbow on floor support your head with your hand (alternatively stretch out right arm palm up, rest head on it, use small cushion for comfort). Place your left hand on the floor (in front of your waist) for support. Don’t roll forward or backwards! Pull in tummy, and tighten bottom. Flex left foot (toes towards shin), straighten and lift left leg up (lead with your heel) – relax down. Controlling both up and down movements lift and lower 10 times. Roll over and repeat with the right leg. (Adding leg weights increases the intensity still further)
4 ADDUCTOR To work the inner thigh muscle
Lay on your right side as before. With right elbow on floor support head with hand (or straight arm stretched out, palm up, rest head on cushion). Place left hand in front of waist for support. Take left leg over right knee, bend left knee and place down on floor. Now straighten out lower right leg (in straight line with upper body) and flex right foot. Lead with heel and lift and lower with short sharp movements 20 times. Feel the small inner thigh muscles working! Roll over to left side, take right knee over to floor and repeat this “pulsing” movement with left leg 20 times.