If you feel like your legs have gotten weak as you’ve aged, I’m here to help you out. In this post, you’ll learn why leg strength is important and how to improve it in just 5 minutes! Weak legs on seniors are really common so you are definitely not alone.
Before we start I want to make it clear that this post is about weak leg strength on seniors that is caused by aging and exercise habits. IMPORTANT: If you have sudden leg weakness, that is something that needs to be diagnosed by a medical professional as soon as possible!
Sudden loss of leg strength can be caused by several severe or even life-threatening conditions, so do not postpone going to the doctor if you’ve suddenly experienced loss of leg strength.
If on the other hand, you have noticed that over time walking the stairs, squatting to tie your shoes, or sitting on the toilet has become a lot harder than in your youth, then it’s far more likely that you are experiencing a more benign loss of leg strength that can be remedied in many cases.
Either way, it’s always important to discuss any loss of strength or health issues with your treating medical professionals to rule out any pathologies.
That in mind, in this post we will look at an easy way you can try at home to improve your leg strength. And I’ve got some great news for you! You can improve your leg strength in less than 5 minutes, I’ll show you how a bit later on!
Let’s start by looking at why leg strength is so important for your health and well-being as you age.
Why Is Leg Strength Important?
Leg strength is something most of us don’t really think about until we lose so much of it that it becomes a real issue.
The sad truth is that you can lose a very significant portion of your leg strength in the modern day without really ever thinking about it because our life has become so immobile and assisted.
Unless you’ve been a professional athlete in some part of your life, you’ve probably never given two thoughts to your leg strength.
When you learned to walk and run you were so young that you can’t even remember learning those skills. Since then you’ve very likely possessed sufficient leg strength to get by your daily activities.
If you’ve ever broken a bone in your leg or sustained an injury that left you bedridden, then you might be familiar with the feeling of losing strength in the lower body.
Without sufficient strength, your balance and ability to stand upright will diminish. You lose the ability to stand and walk, which severely restricts your freedom to move independently.
It’s likely that you are not at that point yet, but if you are having trouble walking a flight of stairs, sitting and standing on a chair or toilet seat, or having trouble with your balance, you are likely already suffering from severe loss of leg strength.
Leg strength is one of the most important factors for your well-being and independence as you age because it determines how well you can move around, maintain balance, keep active, and live independently.
Muscle mass of the legs is also very important for your metabolic health since they are the largest muscles of your body. Large and strong leg muscles will help control blood sugar and improve your metabolism.
Why Do You Lose Leg Strength With Age?
So why do you lose leg strength as you age? Isn’t walking around enough to keep you going till the end?
You lose leg strength because of sarcopenia, a natural effect of aging. In short, as you age, your hormonal profile doesn’t support muscle strength and regeneration as well as it did in your youth, and metabolic changes in your cells affect their performance.
Your central nervous system also deteriorates slowly, making your muscles slightly less coordinated and weaker. These are things that are unavoidable. But fortunately, a lot can be done to counter the effects.
Unfortunately walking alone isn’t enough to usually prevent losing significant leg strength, neither is cycling for that matter. Any form of strength training is superior to cardiovascular exercise when it comes to building and preserving muscle mass.
It’s a matter of use it or lose it. If you don’t use your muscles regularly with their full range of motion against a sufficient load, you will lose strength. The older you get, the faster this decline is.
A huge issue in modern days is the fact that you barely have to use your muscles in day-to-day life. You drive around in your car and sit in front of the TV or computer most of your waking hours.
Even if you walk or cycle a lot, your muscles aren’t performing enough work on a full range of motion for optimal strength development.
Strength training can’t stop aging of course, but it can do a lot to counter the effects it has on muscle and bone strength. The younger you start the better.
For example, if we take two identical twins and the other one grows up athletic and keeps strength training to his seniors years while his sibling is sedentary most of his life. Which one would you expect to have problems with leg strength earlier?
The sedentary one naturally. Well, unless the athletic one overdid it and caused permanent damage to his joints like many professional athletes end up doing. But you get the point. Strong muscles create a buffer against aging, you have more to lose from.
How about if the sedentary sibling wants to improve his leg strength as a senior, is it too late for him? Fortunately, it isn’t. Let’s look at why.
Can You Improve Leg Strength As A Senior?
So you might be thinking that losing leg strength and becoming frail is a natural consequence of aging. It’s true, but only partly.
As we established earlier, aging does lead to loss of muscle mass and strength, reduced coordination, and loss of bone mass. But you can do a lot to counter it with strength training as we talked about.
Many people seem to live by the notion that there is not much you can do to counter the effects of aging.
Furthermore many people think that they can’t do anything in their sixties, seventies, or eighties to improve their strength and mobility if they weren’t fit when young and middle-aged.
This is not true either. Gaining strength and muscle mass is a lot slower as a senior than in your twenties, but it’s actually easy as long as you don’t try to become the next Mr. or Mrs. Olympia.
If you simply want to improve the active strength and mobility of your muscles, the training principles are not any different as a senior than they are for younger people. Anyone can improve strength, adults of all ages, children, seniors. Anyone.
You’ll Improve Fast As a Beginner
In strength training, there is what’s known as the “beginner effect” aka newbie gains. When untrained people start training intelligently for the first time they will generally see around 50% to 80% of all their strength gains within the first 6 to 12 months of their training career.
All development after that will typically be hard and slow. For someone training for health effects, this is very good news, since it means that you can improve your strength vastly in a short frame of time.
So does this effect apply to seniors? Of course, it does! Just because your body is older, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t live by the same biological rules.
But it gets even better! If you’ve been active in your youth, maybe playing sports or doing construction work, for example, you can actually gain lost strength back even faster because of an effect called “muscle memory“.
Your muscles remember their former glory and once you give them the proper signal, they will improve a lot faster than on someone who has never had the same level of strength.
Of course, you can’t expect to gain your strength levels of the youth if you are in your seventies or eighties, but anyone without any conflicting medical conditions should be able to improve their leg strength enough to make movement easier.
This article review for example concluded that “Strength training in the elderly produces substantial increases in the strength, mass, power and quality of skeletal muscle” in addition to several improvements in important health markers.
How To Improve Leg Strength In Just 5 Minutes!
Like I said in the beginning, it’s very important that you rule out any medical causes for losing your leg strength before attempting to improve it at home.
Another consideration you need to make is that if you have any knee, ankle, or hip pain or arthritis, you need to plan your strength program with a qualified specialist so that you don’t make any existing conditions worse.
One more consideration is that if you are significantly overweight, you need to start very light. The combination of high body mass, weak muscles, and old age are a recipe for injury if you don’t listen to your body.
But here’s the good news! To improve leg strength to a healthy level, you can do it in just 5 minutes! Of course, you are not going to improve you strength in a single 5-minute sessions, but 5 minutes a day is all you need.
Assisted Squats To The Rescue!
There is a single movement I recommend you perform, master, and improve over time. It is the assisted squat. It’s a squat variation where you assist and support with your arms by holding to a door frame or the kitchen sink for example.
The squat is the perfect exercise to strengthen your legs because it uses all the muscles of the legs in a natural and functional pattern that transfers well to real-life applications. When you sit on a chair, you perform a squat.
But don’t underestimate the squat. Unfortunately most people these days can’t perform a proper bodyweight squat because there is no real need to do it at full depth.
Many seniors lack the strength, mobility, and motor patterns (skill) to perform a good squat. This is where the assist comes in handy.
By balancing and supporting yourself on fixed furniture, it’s much easier to control the movement and you can assist with your upper body if you lack the strength.
In this YouTube video by Crossfit you can see a senior lady performing it with a good form:
Notice how her back remains flat and she lowers her hips as far as her mobility allows. Holding to the door frame gives support and control so she can comfortably perform the movement for several repetitions.
Here’s another great example from YouTube by John Woods. He uses a kitchen sink as the support and performs several full range of motion squats. He also shows a lateral movement variation, which I don’t recommend you do before you’ve mastered the squatting pattern. But the lateral movement should be very efficient for improving hip mobility and stability.
Here’s are some important tips:
- Have someone assists you if you don’t feel confident you can hold yourself upright, especially on the first try
- Focus on lowering yourself down slowly, assist getting up with your arms as much as you need
- Go as low as it’s comfortable. It might be 5 inches your it might be a full squat depending on your mobility and strength
- At first, focus doing 5 perfect repetitions for a set or two every day while improving your depth. If you feel any discomfort on your joints, stop.
Once you are comfortable with the exercise, it’s time to add progressive overload which drives the strength improvement. Here’s an example progression
- Week 1: 3 sets of 5 repetitions four times a week.
- Week 2: 3 sets of 7 repetitions four times a week.
- Week 3: 3 sets of 10 repetitions four times a week
- Week 4: 3 sets of 12 repetitions four times a week
- Week 5: Keep increasing repetitions or sets as you feel comfortable or maintain strength levels but performing a set of 10 repetitions several times per week.
If you don’t like complicated exercise programs, even an easier way is to just do a single set every day and add one repetition. Take a day off every now and then, especially if you feel sore or have any joint pain.
Once you have completed a few weeks of this, it’s time to add some work for the hamstrings and the upper body. You can read more about those in my free strength training program for seniors, or for example in these deadlift and row articles.
Combine this with balance work and daily walks and you’ll be enjoying strong legs for years to come!
I hope you found this post on how to improve leg strength on seniors useful. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me through the comments section below and I’ll promise to get back to you as soon as possible.
Leg strength is one of the most important factors for leading an active and healthy life as a senior. There is no need to accept frailty as part of aging without a fight, especially if you don’t have any serious medical conditions that prevent you from performing basic strength training.
Having weak legs can severely limit your ability to move freely and make everyday actions dangerous and cumbersome. Leg strength is very important for maintaining balance and fall prevention.
So performing a very simple squat routine several times per week is a very efficient and effective way to both improve leg strength and prevent loss of muscle mass on your legs. So start today!
Thanks for reading and if you enjoyed the article, please consider sharing it on social media to spread the information.
See you next time!
24 thoughts on “Weak Legs On Seniors (5 Minute Fix!)”
This is highly useful squat exercise for seniors to strengthen their legs. It’s seems so simple yet effective. I suppose this squat exercise would be beneficial for all ages, not only for seniors. I shall pass this technique onto my senior family members who would benefit from this.
Thank you for sharing.
Glad you found the post useful Habib! Yes, squats are beneficial to all ages. In fact, I think they should be a mandatory day routine at schools! All kidding aside, apparently many kids can’t squat these days because they never learn how to. In the wild, we humans would go to the toilet by squatting, so I blame the invention of the toilet seat for this!
Hi, happy to have read your post. I start to have pain in one of my knee about a years ago, I”m going to do the exercise that you show on you video. Thank you for this sharing this article I really like reading it.
Glad you found it useful Line! Just be careful with the knee pain. It can be a sign of arthritis or other joint issues that you might want to run by your doctor before squatting too much.
A very good advice on a strength training for leg muscles.
Many elderly do not even dream of squats any more, as they either have painful knees, or actually have too weak muscles to push them back from the down position. The idea of pulling themselves up with the strength in their upper body is absolutely great. This way they can gradually actually regain some of their previous strength and feel and be much safer on their own feet.
Glad you found it useful Kerryanne! I agree that assisting with your upper body makes all the difference. It gives you the control and confidence to actually perform this movement even if you feel weak and not confident with your mobility.
Thank you So Much for this helpful information! My mom has had several falls which have been attributed to weak legs. I’m starting her on these easy exercises to increase her leg strength. I really appreciate the videos which will guide us through the beginning of her squat regimen. Thank you Again!!
Glad you found it useful Leslie! Keep in mind that these are general fitness recommendations. Someone who has suffered several falls (any fractures?) might need a throughout medical evaluation and physical therapy so please understand this article is not medical advice in any way or form.
I’m 83. About 6’2” 220 lbs. I started exercising many years ago because of severe lower back pains. Back was down to 25% now about 85%. Every morning I do 30-40 squats, 100–150 crunches, 30 leg lifts, and plank 1 to 2 minutes. Now sleep apnea and body balance problems. But hanging in there. Wrestler in HS then body building early 20’s. .When I was 19 I could do 25 push-ups one hand. So used to work out back then which probably make it easier now. No I wasn’t a great athlete just a workout addict for awhile. I don’t do sets but now after your info I plan to.
Thanks for commenting John! You are in great shape for your age! I’m sure your training when young made it a bit easier but it’s the effort you put in consistently that matters. Couple of things I would like you to clarify. You are doing that routine you laid out every day but also suffer from sleep apnea, severe back pain and balance problems if I understood correctly? You are doing plenty of strength training for your age if those daily numbers are correct. Adding more sets might not be a good idea here, if anything you should probably add rest days or lighter days a couple of times a week. Age and personal ability to recover from strength training plays a big role here, it’s possible you are not recovering by training every day at your age. If you have severe back pain and balance problems it’s important to plan your training routine with a qualified medical professional. Good luck and keep up the good work!
Thanks for the great advice. I really need to do this exercise as I am a former sports man who is now73. I hope your kind words bear fruit. All the very Best.
Glad you found the article useful Brian! Just take it easy and if you have any pain or hesitation about how to do the exercises correctly, ask a professional.
I am a 87 yr old man. My legs were getting very weak. Someone told me to try squats. After 2 days of 35 squats per day, I regained almost immediate strength. I am now doing 50 per day and has completely changed my life. I believe this should be brought to all older peoples attention. It does not cost anything and it works very fast. Larry Hofland.
Thanks for taking the time to comment Larry, your story pretty incredible! I know squats are effective as I’ve seen it myself, but I would not have guessed they could produce such a remarkable change in just two days at your age! Just goes to show how adaptable our body is and how great the squat is as an exercise for your legs. And like you said, it’s free and literally takes a minute or two.
I have a problem with unsteady walking. I have done exercises for balance problems, such as standing on one leg, for many months, and there has been
no improvement. I am wondering therefore, if strengthening my legs would be a better solution. I have started on the squats and find them quite easy to do and I would be happy to continue if I thought they would help my problem. Perhaps you would let me know if these squats do incidentally bring about steadier walking. I have a lower back problem due to pressure on a nerve root, and I do exercises to relieve this too, which do help.
Would be much obliged if you could advise me.
Sorry to hear about your problem with unsteady walking Lucy! I can’t give you medical advice, unfortunately. There can be many reasons for unsteady walking, many of which are not due to weak muscles so you should definitely consult a medical doctor to get a proper diagnosis and treat accordingly. It’s possible that squats can help and it’s unlikely they will hurt, but it’s better to be safe than sorry and get a medical diagnosis. Hope this helps and all the best!
Thanks for your advice. Yesterday my husband fell to the ground because he lost the use of his legs. He was taken to the local hospital in Mallorca where we live. He was released the same day but now I have given him your advice because as you say he sits watching tv or reading most of the day.Now I will get him doing your squats, Thank you very much. He is 9l years of age and otherwise quite healthy.Will keep you posted.VonnieVonnie Jackson
Sorry to hear about your husband Vonnie! With his high age and falling it’s important to plan the physical therapy in accordance with medical professionals. All the best!
Do you have videos on youtube, or for sale? I exercise alternate days, doing 30 minutes on elliptical & 20 minutes yoga for back pain. I’m doing the yoga due to some severe low back & sciatic pain. Been going to acupuncture & back pain is gone after 3 visits. I dealt with the back issue for 3 weeks before finding acupuncture solution which I’ve used many times over the last 40 years. I’m 78. However now I’m really exhausted, sometimes feeling I can’t do daily chores. I’m otherwise healthy, 98% organic foods, little sugar. I will start doing the squats, but looking for guidance in a video down the road.
Hi Betty! Unfortunately, I don’t have any videos of my own on the site, yet. You can find some good examples on YouTube by other people on the article https://elderstrength.com/squats-for-seniors/ . Sorry to hear about your exhaustion. I can’t give you medical advice but it’s always wise to ask for a second or even a third opinion when it comes to your health. If you have severe exhaustion, strength training can make things even worse so definitely talk with your doctor before trying to treat on your own. Hope this helps and good luck!
WOW!! THANK YOU FOR THIS INFORMATION! SQUATS here I come!
Glad you found the information useful William!
I am 75 years ,male having PD since 7years. Since last month my legs muscle are becoming stiff and fIinding it difficult to walk. I can climb steps, squat cycle ,only difficulty is moving my legs for walking.
Should I apply ice packs or hot water bags.
I am from Mumbai,INDIA.
This defnitely sounds like something you need to discuss with a doctor. It’s seems from your comment that you have been active and exercising and are relatively fit for your age. Since it affects your walking it’s very important you seek medical advice to rule out any medical conditions. Good luck and all the best!