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!
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 wellbeing 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 for 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 posessesed sufficient leg strength to get by your daily activities.
If you’ve ever broken a bone in your leg or sustained 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 to 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, males, females. Anyone.
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 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 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.
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 ranges 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!
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See you next time!