Lower Body Micro Workout to Build Muscle and Strengthen Bones

Published: January 24, 2022
Updated: June 1, 2022

Strong legs help you climb up and down stairs without having to rely on the handrail, propel you forward on a bicycle, allow you to tromp on sandy beaches with your grandkids, power up hills with fido, and help you maintain stability and prevent falls. 

In other words, aging gracefully depends upon a strong lower body.

The good news: Most planned exercise and even everyday movements impact the strength and mobility of the muscles and bones in your lower body. While “leg day” workouts that include weights, resistance, and even bodyweight help you build and maintain lower body strength, research supports that you don’t need to rely solely on pumping iron in the gym or running up hills to strengthen your legs and glutes.

One study revealed that exercise snacking — aka micro workouts consisting of a few exercises that can be completed in just a few minutes — is a promising strategy to improve leg muscle function1 and size in aging adults. 

While longer workouts certainly have their place in your weekly routine, five-minute micro workouts can help break up long periods of sitting, boost your balance and mobility, and provide bone-strengthening benefits to boot. Our lower body micro workout checks all these boxes, and can be fit in at any time of day — but we favor the afternoon for this one.

5 Bone-Strengthening Exercises to Energize Your Afternoon

This quick circuit-style workout boosts energy and builds strength in the lower body for a more challenging effort that keeps late-afternoon sleepiness at bay. Completing these muscle- and bone-strengthening leg moves midday gives your body more time to get limber.

Feeling droopy after lunch? Instead of popping a coffee pod into the Keurig machine for an afternoon pick-me-up, get the blood moving with an afternoon exercise snack instead.

Chair Squats

My favorite easy exercise to do when sitting is just to stand up and sit back down until the bottom grazes the seat, and stand back up — which is essentially a squat. This helps activate the back and leg muscles as well as bring some blood flow to the legs after sitting for a period of time.

Bone Health Benefits: 

  1. Squats are excellent for improving balance and strength. This exercise targets the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and core! 
  2. The muscle contractions of this bodyweight exercise apply mechanical force on the bones, which in turn stimulates bone formation. The addition of a chair will help you set up the movement properly and allow you to increase the depth of the squat.
Step-by-Step Instructions:
  • Stand with your feet a bit wider than shoulder-width apart, toes pointing slightly outwards.
  • Check your posture: shoulders back and down, head floating evenly at the top of your spine. Maintain this upright posture as much as possible throughout the squatting motion.
  • With control, bend at your knees, stick your butt back, and sit back towards the chair. For a harder version, touch your butt on the chair without sitting and come to standing. For an easier version, sit all the way down and then stand up, raising your arms out in front of you for balance.
  • As you squat down, your knees should splay outwards in the direction of your little toes.
  • Keeping your torso upright, straighten your knees to come up and engage the butt muscles at the top to ensure a full stand. Avoid using momentum or your hands on the chair to come up; make your glutes do the work!
  • Repeat 10 to 15 times.

Look at you — getting those glutes and hammies fired up. You know, now would be the perfect time to really show your chair what you’re workin’ with. So give it some more action with sitting knee extensions.

Sitting Knee Extension

Bone Health Benefits: 

This simple move strengthens thigh muscles and allows for stabilization of the knee when standing, walking, or squatting.

Step-by-Step Instructions:
  • Sit back in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. 
  • Elongate your spine up, lifting up from the crown of your head.
  • Engage your core by gently drawing in below your navel.
  • Flex your right foot and rapidly straighten your right knee as you lift your foot away from the floor. 
  • Do not slouch or round your back.
  • Hold this position for 5 seconds while breathing. 
  • Take another 5 seconds to return to the starting position.
  • Repeat 10 times.
  • Repeat on the left side.

Another bone-strengthening exercise that helps improve your stability is clamshells. It’s a great move to do while laying on your couch and catching up on your favorite binge-worthy show.

Clamshells

Bone Health Benefits: 

Clamshells strengthen the outside of the hips, providing stability when walking or standing on one leg.

Step-by-Step Instructions:
  • Lie on your side on the couch with your hand propping up your head, and your back and pelvis grazing the back of the couch.
  • Stack your legs and bend your knees at a 45-degree angle.
  • Check that your hips are stacked on top of each other. You don’t want your hips to rock backward (lying right up against the back of the couch can help with this).
  • Pull your belly button in towards your spine to engage your abdominals 
  • Keeping your heels touching, raise your upper knee as high as you can without letting the pelvis drift back.
  • Hold the position for 1–2 seconds and squeeze your glutes, and then lower your knee back down.
  • Repeat 15–20 times on each side or make your way up to 2 minutes on each side.

So you’ve tackled some clamshells. Kudos! Now what else can you do during those pesky commercial breaks? Let’s head to the nearest wall in your living room and bust out some wall sits.

Wall Sit

Bone Health Benefits: 

This exercise supports lower body strengthening, especially through the thigh muscles. Standing against the wall also helps with postural awareness.

Step-by-Step Instructions:
  • Stand near a wall (around two feet away).
  • Lean back against the wall with your torso, with your feet a bit wider than hip distance, toes turned out slightly.
  • Press your back into the wall and slide your torso down the wall as you bend your knees, making sure that your kneecaps are pointing in the same direction as your toes and the knees are aligned over the ankle. You should be able to see your toes. Slide down as far as your can without overexerting yourself
  • Keep your head, shoulders, and upper back against the wall and hold the position, tightening your abdominal muscles.
  • Try to hold for 10 seconds, longer if you can. 
  • Rest for 30 seconds and repeat.

By now your lower body muscles are wide awake and primed for another set of bone-strengthening exercises. So let’s rev things up with a touch of cardio.

Jumping Jacks

Bone Health Benefits:

The impact of jumping stimulates bone renewal. Jumping jacks also improve mobility through multiple joints.

Step-by-Step Instructions:
  • Start by standing with your legs together with a very slight bend in your knees, arms by your sides
  • Jump, spreading your legs just slightly wider than shoulder-width apart
  • At the same time, raise your arms overhead and try to touch the hands together
  • Return to the starting position and repeat 10 times
  • Tip: Try to keep your core engaged by gently drawing inwards just below your belly button
  • If you’re unable to jump, try stepping one foot out to one side quickly as you move your arms overhead. Bring your arms back down to your sides then step the other foot out to the side quickly as you arc your arms overhead. Repeat 10 times.

The Bottom Line

I hope this circuit-style lower body micro workout got your heart rate up a bit and left you feeling stronger. It’s amazing how just five minutes of quick exercise can help energize your afternoon — no caffeine or carb-rich snack needed! 

When you’re ready to wind down tonight, why not try a five-minute full body micro workout that’s perfect to do in the evening while you’re waiting for your veggies to steam or instead of sitting on the couch. And don’t forget to follow our five-minute yoga micro workout tomorrow morning to get you ready to rise and shine.

References
1. Oliver J. Perkin, Polly M. McGuigan, Keith A. Stokes, “Exercise Snacking to Improve Muscle Function in Healthy Older Adults: A Pilot Study”, Journal of Aging Research, vol. 2019, Article ID 7516939, 2019. https://doi.org/10.1155/2019/7516939

Article Comments

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  1. Linda in FL

    June 5, 2022 , 4:41 am

    Excellent exercises to improve movement. I plan to try them all!

  2. Douglas Gammage

    June 9, 2022 , 4:59 am

    Great tips. Thanks

  3. Raj Jethwa

    June 20, 2022 , 11:29 am

    Hi,

    Can we do this exercise without warm up?

  4. Kirby Johnson

    June 20, 2022 , 4:53 pm

    Raj,

    Wonderful to hear from you <3 We'd generally advise doing a short 5-minute warm-up to safely perform these movements 🙂 Walking stairs to increase your heart rate and stretch your legs is a great way to prepare! However, you may find this unnecessary after discussing it further with your physical therapist - it's always best to confirm any exercise regimen you're considering with a certified professional who's familiar with your health circumstances. Hope this helps!

    - Kirby @ AlgaeCal

This article features advice from our industry experts to give you the best possible info through cutting-edge research.

Prof. Didier Hans
PHD, MBA - Head of Research & Development Center of Bone Diseases, Lausanne University Hospital CHUV, Switzerland,
Lara Pizzorno
MDiv, MA, LMT - Best-selling author of Healthy Bones Healthy You! and Your Bones; Editor of Longevity Medicine Review, and Senior Medical Editor for Integrative Medicine Advisors.,
Dr. Liz Lipski
PhD, CNS, FACN, IFMP, BCHN, LDN - Professor and Director of Academic Development, Nutrition programs in Clinical Nutrition at Maryland University of Integrative Health.,
Dr. Loren Fishman
MD, PhD - Medical Director of Manhattan Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation and Founder of the Yoga Injury Prevention Website.,
Dr. Carole McArthur
MD, PhD - Professor of Immunology, Univ. of Missouri-Kansas City; Director of Residency Research in Pathology, Truman Medical Center.,