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Leg Strengthening Exercises for the Elderly

author image Riana Rohmann
Riana Rohmann has been working for the Marine Corps doing physical training and writing fitness articles since 2008. She holds personal trainer and advanced health and fitness specialist certifications from the American Council on Exercise and a Bachelor of Science in kinesiology and exercise physiology from California State University-San Marcos.
Leg Strengthening Exercises for the Elderly
Older adults need to strength train to best perform daily activities. Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images

Elderly people often have trouble with balance, coordination and daily activities of living due to loss in leg strength. Weight training has numerous benefits including bone strengthening, improved balance and coordination, fat loss, muscle gain and disease prevention. In a study conducted by Dr. Wayne Wescott, a senior strength specialist, he assessed the strength of 19 adults who average 88 years in age. After 14 weeks of weight training, their leg strength improved by almost 50 percent.


Older adults often have problems with flexibility due to decreased activity and joint disorders, so before starting any strength training do a five minute cardio warm up of walking or stationary cycling, followed by 10 minutes of stretching. The National Strength and Conditioning Association recommends that older adults strength train three days per week, focusing on all major muscle groups each session, but making legs a priority. The weight used should be heavy enough that you are fatigued by the tenth repetition, called a 10 rep maximum. Start with one set, but progress to three as you gain strength.

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Squats can be done on a leg press machine, or with a chair at home. If you are using a leg press machine, make sure you start with a light weight to test your range of motion, and then gradually progress to your 10 rep maximum. Doing chair squats at home helps you control your downward motion, or eccentric contraction, which is often the problem action in the elderly. Stand in front of an armless chair and slowly lower yourself until you are almost seated, then stand back up. Place your hands on the chair if you need too for support, or do the exercises next to an object you can hold for balance.

Leg Extension

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention affirms that strengthening the quadriceps will decrease pain associated with arthritis. Start by sitting in a chair with both legs bent at 90 degrees and feet flat on the floor. Slowly contract your right quadriceps and straighten your leg so it is horizontal to the floor. Hold for three seconds, lower back down, and alternate sides. For added resistance, use 3 to 5 lb. ankle weights. When this becomes easy, try the leg extension machine at a health facility.

Leg Curl

Leg curls help strengthen the hamstrings and work on balance and posture. Stand behind a chair with your hands on the back of the chair for support. Shift your weight to your left leg, and slowly bend your right knee. Bend it as much as you can, and hold for three seconds. Slowly lower and switch sides. When this becomes easy you can progress to a leg curl machine.

Step Up

Step ups train balance, coordination and assist with walking movements. Do these with a single step rather than a flight of stairs for safety reasons. Start with a 6-inch high step or box and step up slowly onto it with your right leg. Hold and balance on your right leg for about three seconds, then slowly lower yourself back down. Control the lowering movement. Do not allow yourself to rapidly back down, as it's that eccentric contraction that is most important. Hold onto something for support if you need to.

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