Leg muscles can be broken down into two separate groups: PUSH (extensors) vs PULL (flexors) muscles.
PUSH leg muscles help straighten the knees and hips to get a person up from a chair. Common gym exercises include the leg press or squats.
PULL muscles are needed to take long steps and to walk easily. These muscles are not easy to work on at a gym as there are NO specific machine designed for that purpose. The best way to work on this muscle group is when one is laying down.
The distinction between these two groups is important because often older adults can easily stand up from a chair but then shuffle their feet or take small steps. Different exercises are required to strengthen PUSH and PULL muscle groups, thus allowing functional improvements.
Let’s talk about leg strength training:
- A certain amount of leg strength is required for a person to be independent with their mobility.
- We all start losing strength at the age of 30 unless we are ACTIVELY doing appropriate exercises to build strength.
- Strength is built only when resistance is added to a muscle during the movement. Strength diminishes within 3-5 days of halting exercises.
- Walking, swimming, aerobics are not strengthening exercises.
- Best completed laying down NOT sitting in a chair.
EVERY older adult needs FUNCTIONAL LEG STRENGTH to be independent and safe with their mobility. An easy way to build leg strength is with four (4) leg exercises that are completed laying down (bed, couch, recliner, or floor). The key is that weights must be added to allow functional changes. No improvements are noticed until a person can lift four (4) pounds with this program. Four (4) pounds is equivalent to a large ketchup bottle or medium pumpkin being attached to the leg. However, it is suggested that people build up their leg strength so they can lift between 7-10 pounds (gallon of milk, two five pound bags of flour).
To answer the original question: which leg muscles are most important to keep older adults independent and safe? The answer is ALL leg muscles.
LEG STRENGTH is the KEY to independent and SAFE mobility.