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A group of large muscles on the front of the thigh, the quadriceps function primarily to straighten the knee. Because these muscles are so important for day-to-day activities including rising from a seated position and walking, strengthening them is important, particularly for seniors. Increased strength can allow seniors to retain their mobility and independence, prevent and reduce knee pain, maintain bone density and prevent potentially serious falls.
Because knee extensions are performed from a seated position, they don't pose a risk of falling. This makes them ideal for seniors who have balance issues. To perform this exercise at home, sit in a chair with your feet placed on the floor. Straighten your right knee, keeping the back of your thigh in contact with the chair. At the end of the straightening motion, avoid the temptation to kick your leg or hyperextend your knee. Return slowly to the starting position. After doing your desired number of repetitions, perform the exercise with your left leg. If you have access to the gym, you can do the exercise on the knee extension machine.
Squats target the quadriceps, and they can easily be modified to suit the needs and concerns of seniors. Because they are weight-bearing exercises, squats help build bone density. This exercise also targets several other important muscle groups including the hamstrings and the gluteal muscles. If you are a senior, you can perform squats by standing slightly in front of a chair with your feet a bit wider than shoulder-width. Bend your knees as if you were going to sit on the chair. When your buttocks are about an inch above the chair, return to a standing position. For safety, don't let your knees extend past your toes. Move slowly throughout the exercise. If you have difficulty balancing, stand in between a chair and a table so that you can place your hands on a table for support.
Step ups are another weight-bearing exercise that targets the quadriceps. Stand facing a step and hold on to the handrail for support, if necessary. Bend your right knee and place your right foot on the step. Straighten your leg, bringing your left leg up to the step. Touch the step with your left foot before returning to the starting position. Your right leg supports your body weight throughout the ascending and descending portions of the exercise. After performing your desired number of repetitions, switch legs and use your left leg for support.
Seniors can benefit from weight training three times a week, with a day of rest in between workouts. If you are just beginning your exercise program, start off with one set of about 10 repetitions. Each week, add a couple more repetitions until you reach 15. Then, work on adding an additional set. Once you can perform two sets of 15 reps, you can make the exercises more challenging by adding ankle weights to the knee extension or by holding light dumbbells for the step ups.
Consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program, particularly if you have injuries or health problems or if you have been inactive for a period of time. Once you have been cleared to start exercising, you do not need to perform multiple exercises for your quadriceps in each workout. Choose one exercise per workout. If you do not have balance issues, weight-bearing exercises such as the squat and step up offer more health benefits in terms of building bone density. If you want to challenge your quadriceps by doing two different quadriceps exercise in one day, start with a multijoint exercise (such as the squat or step up) and then do a unijoint exercise (such as the knee extension).