Today we are going to talk about simple leg exercises for the elderly that can be done at home!
If you can’t afford an expensive gym membership or just don’t like going to the gym, but want to improve your leg strength, I’ve got some good news! You can train your legs with few simple exercise at home.
It’s wise to improve and maintain your leg strength as you get older. Especially if you haven’t been very active during your adult life, your leg muscles can be surprisingly weak.
You might not have any problems with leg function right now but if you don’t train your legs you can lose the full functionality fast as you get older or if you get sick or injured.
Having strong legs will give you freedom to go anywhere you want! A flight of stairs? No problem. A steep hill? Like a breeze. A 10-hour hike at the mountains? Sure!
So let’s get going by looking at some of the benefits of having strong legs as we get older.
Benefits of leg exercises for seniors
Our legs are our prime movers and to most folks they essentially mean freedom. Think about, if you lose the ability to use your legs, it puts a lot of limitations to where you can go and what you can do. Especially on your own.
Legs carry the largest muscles of our body (that we’ll talk more about shortly) and have a significant effect on our overall activity and metabolism. Without strong legs It’s hard to keep active and keep your metabolism functioning, which is important for resisting most lifestyle diseases like diabetes and heart disease.
It’s especially dangerous to have weak legs when you get injured in old age. Strong leg muscles will both prevent injuries and make your recovery faster but most importantly you can regain your ability to walk after being bed ridden for several weeks. Leg strength can actually predict mortality!
So strong legs are important for your health, self-reliance and freedom. People take these for granted when they are younger and healthy, but as we age you have to fight for these things in the battle against aged related deterioration of our bodies.
Doing simple leg exercises is a cheap (or free) way to keep your leg muscles strong and the benefits are abundant:
- You will build and maintain leg strength which is important for your overall health, freedom and vigor.
- You will maintain full range of motion in your legs. As we get older our joints become stiffer and tendons become less elastic. This can be countered with regular stretching and full range strength training.
- Leg exercises improve your balance exponentially. As you do them you teach your maintain balance on full range of motion of the legs. If you slip or lose balance, strong legs can save you from a disaster
- Doing everyday things becomes much easier and safer
Before we get to the exercises, let’s look at the musculature of the legs.
Muscles of the legs
The muscles of the legs can be divided in to three categories:
Muscles of the shins: These are responsible for the extension (straightening) and flexion (bending) of the ankle joint. This includes your powerful calf muscles and the smaller ankle flexors partly in front of your thigh.
Calf muscles are especially important for effortless walking, running and jumping. They function as an elastic storage of kinetic energy on every step, sort of like a spring. If you upper legs are strong your shin muscles rarely need much real work but they do love being active!
It’s important to keep you calves stretched to avoid pain when walking and the infamous Achilles heels tear.
Muscles of the thighs: These are responsible for mainly the extension and flexion of the knee joint but some of them also function over the hip joint.
The biggest movers of the knee joint are the quadriceps in front of your thigh. The quadriceps are one of the larges and strongest muscles groups in the human body along with the glutes and they are responsible for great deal of the strength in your legs.
The other strong and very important muscle group is at the back of the thighs. The hamstrings. They are responsible for both the flexion (bending) of the knee and extension of the hips. They are a very large and strong muscle group that many people simply never learn to use properly.
Hamstrings are very important, if not the most important muscle group in the legs for posture and healthy function of the knees and hips.
Muscles of the hips: The hip joint is a bit more complex than the knee joint, as your hips can be abducted (move your legs apart) and adducted (move your legs together) as well as rotated, flexed and extended.
We will not go in to all the nitty bitty details as they are not important to understand for exercising your legs. What is important to know that biggest muscles of your body, the Gluteals or glutes, aka your butt, are responsible for the extension of hips in conjunction with the hamstrings.
Glutes are also responsible for maintaining good posture on your lower back. Strong hip extensors help you both cure and avoid lower back pain and protect you from back injuries when lifting heavy things.
Exercise for legs and thighs
Now that we know the most important muscles and muscle groups of the lower body, it’s time to look at simple and effective exercises for them!
squat is probably the most functional and natural leg exercise there is. Babies learn to squat before they learn to walk and in many cultures humans rest by squatting instead of sitting. And actually most of the population of the planet squat when the nature calls.
The squats use all the muscles of your upper legs and are great for balance as well. The only thing you need for squatting is enough room and maybe something to hold on for support. A side of table will do just fine.
For some seniors achieving a full, unassisted squat itself can be a feat. Some can do it quite effortlessly. If you don’t have any serious illnesses or disabilities that affect your joints and ligaments, you should be able to achieve the mobility for a squat with enough training. Keeping your back neutral ensures you are using your hamstrings and glutes properly.
We will be doing the body weight version of the squat with as much of range of motion as possible. If you can get low enough to have your thighs parallel to the ground while maintaining a neutral back, that’s great!
When squatting to improve leg strength, the most important thing is to avoid lower back rounding. If you feel your back rounding, don’t go so low just yet. You can go lower as your hamstrings and hips get accustomed to the movement.
Keep your hands in front of you and bring your butt back as you decent and keep your weight on the middle of your foot. The weight on the middle of the foot is very important and if you focus on that, the rest of your body tends to correct the positioning of the squat.
You can start with as many squats as you can comfortably do for three sets. Once you can do three sets of 20 squats every other day you are in very good shape.
At this point you can add resistance with dumbbells or a barbell. These are more demanding movements that demand proper coaching, so keep that in mind.
Kettlebell or dumbbell Romanian deadlift
Next we will be training the hamstrings and the glutes through hip flexion. This next movement teaches the correct movement patterns needed fo lifting heavy objects for example.
We are talking about the Romanian deadlift, that we will be doing with a kettle bell. You can use a dumbbell or some heavy object like a bucket filled with sand or water instead of the kettle bell in the beginning.
The Romanian deadlift can seem very similar to the squat but it focuses entirely on the hamstrings and glutes. It’s important not notice that you don’t bring your knees forward at all. Your shins remain vertical as you bring your hips back.
If you feel the need to bring your knees forward and drop your hips, don’t go so far. The whole point of the movement is to feel the stretch in your hamstrings and really squeeze your glutes at the top.
You should perform these with a moderate weight until you can perform around 3 sets of 20 repetitions.
You can then progress to kettle bell swings with the same weight if you wish. It is a more advanced movement that needs proper coaching.
With the squats and Romanian deadlifts most of your upper leg muscles are trained. Neither of them really target the calves however. For that we fortunately have a very simple exercise you can do anywhere! The calf raise.
Try to extend your ankle as high as possible. Use a table or a wall to help with balance. Once you can do around 20 of these, you can do them on a stair to increase the range of motion. This really stretches the calves and you should be careful.
You can get really sore really fast if you do too many too fast, so please start light and leave a few in the tank.
Leg exercises for seniors with bad knees
If you have problems with knee pain you might be thinking how to build leg muscles with bad knees? Well it’s not very easy unfortunately. But it’s possible. You just have to have your attitude and expectations in line.
The good news is that sometimes leg exercises and stretches improve or even cure knee pain all together. Especially if the reason is lack of fitness and being overweight.
If your knee pain is because of injuries or osteoarthritis it’s important to consult your physician for best exercise.
From the exercises we showed before, with knee pain you can usually do the Romanian deadlifts and calf raises without issues, since they require very little knee involvement. So do them if you can.
But it’s important to find a way to train your quadriceps as well to have balanced leg strength or you risk making your knee pain worse.
This is easiest to do on a leg press machine on a gym. This is because knee pain usually occurs when the knee ankle is very acute. If you limit your range of motion you can avoid pain. This however limits the effectiveness of the exercise. This can be countered by progressively increasing the load.
On a good leg press machine it’s possible to find the range of motion your knees are comfortable with and increase the load when you can perform about 15 repetitions.
We hope you enjoyed reading this tips for these easy leg exercises that are suitable for the elderly and can be performed at the privacy of your home with minimal equipment.
Strong legs are a crucial part of being healthy in old age. Always remember to train safe and er on the side of caution if you have any pain or discomfort. But don’t be afraid to push yourself ever now and then. You are much stronger than you think, just give your body time to adapt. If you like becoming stronger, check out these tips for training your shoulders as well.
If you have any questions about leg exercises or strength training in general please leave a comment below and we promise to get back to you as soon as possible.
See you next time!