Modified Leg Training for the Older Lifter

Arm yourself with a new perspective and start progressing toward a better, stronger physique.

When you’re a young newbie, you tend to think and act with extremes when it comes to training—bone-crushing, intense workouts coupled with a sense of unwavering drive to perform better at all costs. When starting out in the iron game, novelty and newness reign as you peer through a never-ending telescope toward your goals. It seems that the bullet train you’re on won’t be making any stops any time soon.

Fast-forward. Later in life numerous things change and you may find yourself in a very different place. Family, work, social obligations, and other unexpected occurrences crop up and training takes a back seat, and most likely one area in particular no longer even gets a seat.

You Really Need Leg Training

Leg training, I mean real, intense leg training, hurts. Trained properly, lower body sessions should be memorable more than just in the sense of soreness. Brutal squat sets, intense supersets, and pain-inducing, extended high-rep sets are usually just the tip of the iceberg. As you get older you tend to pump the brakes on intensity and soften those brutal sessions. Your leg training downshifts as you feel your hips, knees, and ankles have had about enough.

Now, you find yourself on the leg press and the leg extension machines going through the motions while focusing on joint safety with a little lack of motivation. Or maybe you’ve ditched leg training altogether and rely on running or biking to train your lower body. No longer do you find yourself under the coveted squat bar patiently preparing to take the load and fight against the bar on your back. Why bother?

The fact is that you really need lower body resistance training. No, you don’t need to squat the house or load up the leg press with every weight plate in sight, but it would behoove you to formulate a comprehensive plan to effectively strengthen your legs, if not only for mobility strength and function, but also for metabolic benefits.

Nothing revs up our metabolism like a challenging leg session. Since your legs provide you with over half of your musculature and strength, leaving them on the table, so to speak, is like training only half of your body and getting only half of the results.

The Old, the Able, and the Necessary

So, maybe now you want to overhaul your lower body training but don’t know where to start. First define what you’re able to do, then prioritize your programming then modify that programming to fit your goals.

Just because you’re older doesn’t mean you’re incapable. Traditional leg exercises like squats are still manageable along with the adoption of a few modifications to old favorites. You’ll also want to look into unilateral training methods as well as alternative exercises.

  • Back squat: Forget heavy, low rep sets. Instead, opt for higher rep, full range reps with light to moderate loads.
  • Leg press: Same as the squat—lighten the load and slow down the rep speed. Also, avoid too much of a range of motion because going too low will raise your pelvis, resulting in lumbar stress.
  • Single leg squats: A great alternative to bilateral training and another way to lighten your loads.
  • Lunges: Try walking lunges, reverse lunges, and lateral lunges as alternatives to add variety.
  • Leg extensions: Too much weight used on leg extensions can result in patellar stress and subsequent injury. If you do decide to perform this exercise, be sure to use a light load and slow rep speeds. Squeeze at the top for a count and then lower under control.

Get Your Priorities Straight

Next, define what your purpose is. Is it improved mobility and increased strength? Is it putting on a little more size to balance out your overpowering upper body? Could it be to possibly build in more resilience for an obstacle course race? Whatever your reason, it’s time to align your training with your purpose.

If your goal is to strengthen and add some size, then you’ll focus on more moderate amounts of weight, moderate rep ranges, and time under tension sets that have you lifting at a slower pace.

If your goal is more performance based and involves bettering your power, muscular endurance, and speed, then you’ll want explosive movements combined with high rep, low load sets.

Of course for all-around general fitness purposes, a combination of all methods will not only facilitate your needs, it’ll also stave off boredom and give you a virtual endless list of options.

Modify, Adapt, and Commit

As an older (not old) lifter, you will most-likely need to modify a few things in your training. This not only pertains to the types of exercises and their individual changes, it also pertains to execution.

  • If squats or leg presses cause you knee pain, then double down on your knee alignment. Make sure your knees are in line with your toes as you move through the range of motion. Any deviation will cause knee stress because the joint is not meant to move laterally.
  • If you suffer from lower back pain, then have someone check for anterior pelvic tilt in the bottom position of any exercise. That is where your pelvis will shift forward, causing lower lumbar strain.
  • If you’re unable to achieve a proper range of motion, it may be an issue with ankle mobility. Work on Achilles tendon range of motion daily. In the meantime, you can place a small weight plate under each heel until you’re more flexible.
  • Finally, you’ll need to decide to commit to your new mentality regarding leg training. No longer will you throw your leg training in the backseat to be abused and forgotten.

Arm yourself with a new perspective and start progressing toward a better, stronger physique.