older woman in leg strength pose
How to Strengthen Your Legs if you're Older or In Recovery

How do you get more strength in your legs as you age, or when you’re recovering from an illness? Personal Trainer Carla Van Traa gives her advice along with specific exercises to try.

Strengthening Legs When You're Older or In Recovery

Answered by wlr Personal Trainer Carla van Traa REPS L4

Full Question

(From wlr member Molly)

I'm 76 years old and am recovering from four and a half years of Polymyalgia Rheumatica which was controlled with steroids. I'm still under the guidance of a Rheumatologist but the illness has taken nearly all the strength from my legs.

I have always walked for at least 1 hour a day, even when it was painful, but when I stand up after sitting for a short while, it takes about 15 paces before I can move from a stooped position and bent knees to a normal walking posture.

I haven't got full movement (such as when putting on socks) I have to lift my leg onto my knee and this gives limited movement.

I'd like to get my old energy and suppleness back. I'm young at heart. Not the doddering oldie that I appear!!

Although I like swimming and aqua aerobics, I'm afraid that the effort of walking all the way to the swimming pool would use up all the energy I need for the exercise. Have you any ideas?

Carla’s Answer

One of the simplest yet surprisingly hard exercises to do is getting off of a chair - not using your arms to help you of course. Think of a waiting room and it will have a variety of height of chairs with and without arms. As we age we find it easier to use the higher ones and use our arms to provide the leverage.

Try this with chairs of varying heights yourself.

Once you have mastered different heights, change it slightly by imagining that the chair is red hot, but you only realise just before your bum touches down, so you have to lift back up straight away. You can use slow lowering and lifting and try a quick lift /lower. Mix it up. Also use different foot positions.

Here’s how to mix it up further:

1. Feet in line hip width apart

2. Feet slightly in a split stance, still hip width apart, use left foot further forward for a few then swap to right foot etc.

3. Feet close to the chair, feet further away... I'm sure you get the idea

Another way to strengthen and improve your balance at the same time is to stand on one leg - when your waiting for kettle to boil or cleaning your teeth. This can be done 2 ways.

1. Just standing on the floor and lift one foot up and either

a) bring knee forward and up

b) keep thighs parallel and take foot behind

This may cause you to hitch a hip up if you’re not mindful so ...

2. Stand on a block with one foot only, can be any large book. Then take the other leg off the ground so the hip remains level and the feet are level. (This is much harder than option 1. So build into it.)

RE: the struggle to get upright

Once a day, or more, back onto a wall, see if you can get bum/hips and back or shoulders against the wall, including the back of your head, then aim to get back of calves too.

Relax and hold the position for a minute or so. Be mindful that your rib cage is not flaring at the front and your lower back is not arching to assist the shoulders against the wall .... if this is happening, get as straight as you can.

As far as keeping/re-introducing a range of general joint movement, then maybe a yin yoga, restorative yoga or Pilates.

The yoga option is about stretching not just the muscles, but the connective tissues and facia, and Pilates is about the range of movement that "you" can get from your joints and strengthening the smaller muscle groups.

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