Office Exercises: Lower Legs
National Institute on Aging
About Strength Exercises
Even very small changes in muscle size can make a big difference in strength, especially in people who already have lost a lot of muscle. An increase in muscle that’s not even visible to the eye can be all it takes to improve your ability to do things like get up from a chair or climb stairs.
Your muscles are active even when you are sleeping. Their cells are still doing the routine activities they need to do to stay alive. This work is called metabolism, and it uses up calories. That can help keep your weight in check, even when you are asleep!
To do most of the following strength exercises, you need to lift or push weights, and you need to keep gradually increasing the amount of weight you use. You can use the hand and ankle weights sold in sporting-goods stores, or you can use things like emptied milk jugs filled with sand or water, or socks filled with beans and tied shut at the ends.
There are many alternatives to the exercises shown here. For example, you can buy a resistance band (it looks like a giant rubber band, and stretching it helps build muscle) at a sporting-goods store for under $10 to do other types of strength exercises. Or you can use the special strength-training equipment at a fitness center.
How Much, How Often
Do strength exercises for all of your major muscle groups at least twice a week. Don’t do strength exercises of the same muscle group on any 2 days in a row.
Depending on your condition, you might need to start out using as little as 1 or 2 pounds of weight, or no weight at all. The tissues that bind the structures of your body together need to adapt to strength exercises.
Use a minimum of weight the first week, then gradually build up the weight. Starting out with weights that are too heavy can cause injuries.
At the same time, remember that you have to gradually add a challenging amount of weight in order to benefit from strength exercises. If you don’t challenge your muscles, you won’t benefit from strength exercises. (The “Progressing” section below will tell you how.)
When doing a strength exercise, do 8 to 15 repetitions in a row. Wait a minute, then do another set of 8 to 15 repetitions in a row of the same exercise. (Tip: While you are waiting, you might want to stretch the muscle you just worked or do a different strength exercise that uses a different set of muscles).
Take 3 seconds to lift or push a weight into place; hold the position for 1 second, and take another 3 seconds to lower the weight. Don’t let the weight drop; lowering it slowly is very important.
It should feel somewhere between hard and very hard (15 to 17 on the Borg scale) for you to lift or push the weight. It should not feel very, very hard. If you can’t lift or push a weight 8 times in a row, it’s too heavy for you. Reduce the amount of weight. If you can lift a weight more than 15 times in a row, it’s too light for you. Increase the amount of weight.
Stretch after strength exercises, when your muscles are warmed up. If you stretch before strength exercises, be sure to warm up your muscles first (through light walking and arm pumping, for example).
Strengthens ankle and calf muscles. Use ankle weights, if you are ready to. Stand straight, feet flat on the floor, holding onto the edge of a table or chair for balance. Take 3 seconds to stand as high up on tiptoe as you can; hold for 1 second, then take 3 seconds to slowly lower yourself back down. Do this exercise 8 to 15 times; rest a minute, then do another set of 8 to 15 repetitions. As you become stronger, do this exercise first on your right leg only, then on your left leg only, for a total of 8 to 15 times on each leg. Rest a minute, then do another set of 8 to 15 alternating repetitions.
1. Stand straight, holding table or chair for balance.
2. Slowly stand on tiptoe, as high as possible.
3. Hold position.
4. Slowly lower heels all the way back down.
Variation, as strength increases:
Do the exercise standing on one leg only, alternating legs.
Strengthens muscles in front of thigh and shin. Use ankle weights, if you are ready to. Sit in a chair, with your back resting against the back of the chair. If your feet are flat on the floor in this position, you should place a rolled-up towel under your knees to lift them up. Only the balls of your feet and your toes should be resting on the floor. Rest your hands on your thighs or on the sides of the chair. Take 3 seconds to extend your right leg in front of you, parallel to the floor, until your knee is straight. With your right leg in this position, flex your foot so that your toes are pointing toward your head; hold your foot in this position for 1 to 2 seconds. Take 3 seconds to lower your right leg back to the starting position, so that the ball of your foot rests on the floor again. Repeat with left leg. Alternate legs, until you have done the exercise 8 to 15 times with each leg. Rest; then do another set of 8 to 15 alternating repetitions.
1. Sit in chair. Put rolled towel under knees, if needed.
2. Slowly extend one leg as straight as possible.
3. Hold position and flex foot to point toes toward head.
4. Slowly lower leg back down.
5. Repeat with other leg.