Welcome friend! In this post, you will learn about the best leg strengthening exercises for seniors.
As I’ve talked about in several articles, leg strength and mobility are some of the most important factors for your overall health and independence as a senior.
Simply put, you depend on your legs to get around and move freely. Of course, there are solutions for people with disabilities, but people with good leg function should make it a priority to keep that function.
Having strong legs will make everyday living, exercising, and activities much easier and more enjoyable. It can also prevent and reduce joint and back pain.
If you have weak legs it can feel hard and strenuous to do many forms of exercise, so it can also affect your cardiovascular health.
But here’s the good news. Your leg muscles are very large and they react well to strength training. People often think that strengthening a muscle group would be much harder than it is in reality.
In reality, consistency is much more important than hard grueling exercises. You don’t even have to break a sweat to build leg strength if you do it daily.
Let’s start by looking at how you actually strengthen your legs and then look at some of the best exercises for doing it.
How To Strengthen Legs For Seniors
Your leg muscles are the largest muscles in your body. The main muscle groups are the quadriceps or quads at the front of your thigh, the hamstrings at the back of your thighs, the calf muscles, and the gluteal muscles or glutes.
The quads are responsible for extending your knee, i.e. straightening your leg. Quad strength is very important for walking, jumping, and running and for your knee health.
The hamstrings are responsible for two functions, extending the hips and knee flexion. They are one of the strongest muscles in your body but unfortunately, they are very underdeveloped in many sedentary people due to too much sitting.
The glutes work in tandem with the hamstrings for hip flexion and are very important for walking, running, and jumping. The calves are responsible for the movement of the ankle and the feet.
To make your legs strong, it’s important to strengthen all of these muscle groups. All this might seem a bit much and complicated but I promise you it’s not.
You can strengthen all of these muscle groups with a handful of exercises and it doesn’t have to take much effort.
The basic principles of strength training are these: Train – Recover – Adapt.
A strength training exercise stresses your muscles. After a workout you will eat, rest, and sleep and your body will recover from the workout. Each time your muscles recover a bit stronger, they adapt to the demand.
The final piece of the puzzle is a progressive increase in stress to the muscle over time. This means making the exercises slightly harder each time. The very small increments add up over time and your body will build itself much stronger.
The best news is that in the beginning, this process happens very fast. In just a few short weeks and months you can gain a lot of strength and mobility if you train correctly. You can learn more about this process in the article Benefits Of Strength Training For Seniors.
Let’s look at the best exercises for building leg strength.
4 Best Leg Strengthening Exercises For Seniors
The following four exercises will cover all the muscle groups of the legs and train them effectively.
Exercise 1: Squat
The squat is arguably the most effective exercise for building leg strength. It activates all the muscle groups of the lower body and it’s easy to make
Bodyweight squats don’t require any special equipment so no need to go to the gym or invest in expensive exercise machines. It also helps to improve and maintain your balance skills as I talked about in the article How To Improve Balance In The Elderly.
You can learn how to perform the squat in the article Squats For Seniors.
While the squat might seem perfect it has some serious cons for seniors. The biggest problem with the squat is that it requires good mobility and muscle control.
If you lack mobility in the ankles or the hips, it can be impossible to do full squats and it can put a lot of strain on your knees and hips.
This is especially true for weighted squats like barbell squats, but even bodyweight squats can get you injured if you perform them with incorrect form. For seniors, the risk of falling is also very real.
Many people also have problems with performing bodyweight squats due to a lack of strength. Especially if significantly overweight.
Assisted squats and quarter squats are a great way to reduce the load and build up mobility so that you can eventually do full bodyweight squats.
If you can perform squats safely, they can be your only leg strengthening exercise, so it really pays to learn them.
Exercise 2: Leg Press
If you have access to a gym the leg press is a safer option to a squat, especially with heavier weights.
There are several types of leg presses but for seniors, a simple cable weight machine is probably the best due to ease of use and adequate resistance.
The leg press allows you to focus on improving strength without the need for good balance, muscle control, and mobility.
This can be very beneficial, especially when starting strength training as even bodyweight squats can be too demanding exercise at first.
This is also the downside of the leg press. Because you are supported completely by the machine, it will not improve your motor and balance skills, only strength.
Strength itself is beneficial for balance, so as long as you do other types of exercise and are active, this shouldn’t be a huge issue.
Another problem with the leg press is that it can give a false sense of strength because even untrained legs are very strong when they don’t have to balance the weight.
This can lead to a temptation to add more weight than you can handle. So start light, progress slowly, and be smart and safe when using the leg press.
You can learn more about the leg press in the article Leg Press For Seniors.
Exercise 3: The Deadlift
The deadlift is an excellent exercise for building functional leg strength, especially in the hamstrings and the glutes.
Just like the squat, however, the deadlift is a very technical lift that shouldn’t be learned alone.
For beginners, the safest and most effective variation is the Romanian deadlift which can be done with a gym stick or a light kettlebell.
You can learn how to do the deadlift and the Romanian deadlift in the article Deadlift For Seniors.
A good option for the deadlift in a gym is the leg curl machine. It allows you to start with a very low weight without putting any strain on your lower back as it isolates the hamstrings very effectively.
The problem with the leg curl is that it doesn’t really engage the glutes and you need a gym with the machine.
For training the hamstring and the glutes at home, bodyweight squats, good mornings and Romanian deadlifts with a light kettlebell are a good option.
Exercise 4: Calf raises
The final exercise to all the leg muscle groups is calf raises. The calf raise is an isolated movement of the ankle where you extend your ankle against a weight. You can learn how it’s performed in the article Calf Raises For Seniors.
Calf raises are very effective for building calf strength and ankle mobility. They are easy to
Calf raises can be performed by standing up with bodyweight or in a seated position with a special calf raise machine.
When performing standing calf raises it’s possible to make the exercise more demanding by standing on a platform that allows your heel to drop lower than the ball of your foot, increasing the range of motion.
You can also make the exercise harder by performing the with one foot, but this is typically after several months of strength training.
The biggest problem with calf raises is that it’s very easy to overdo them at first and most seniors have reduced range of motion in their calves.
By overdoing I mean that it’s very easy to get your calves to cramp or to cause severe delayed onset muscle soreness. The bot will make walking and exercise very uncomfortable, so avoid it by starting light.
It’s also a good idea to stretch your calves to increase mobility and reduce the risk of cramps and pain.
There you have it! 4 great exercises to improve leg strength for seniors. If any questions sprang into your mind you can leave them in the comments section below and I’ll get back to you.
As a recap, leg strength is very important for your ability to function independently, be active, and exercise.
The way you strengthen your legs is through strength training. It’s important to start light, improve mobility and build strength gradually over a long period of time.
Strength training doesn’t have to be too strenuous or time-consuming, a few short sessions per week is enough to see good results if you are consistent.
Consistency is the key, doing exercises every now and then and then forgetting them for weeks or months will not produce significant results.
So light and consistent is better than hard and inconsistent. Remember that and you will enjoy your training, avoid injuries and see great results!
Thanks for reading and see you next time.