Why Do My Legs Seem to Not Get Stronger With Walking?

Our life includes busy schedules and a world of multi-tasking and sometimes, we find that walking is one of our dominant forms of exercise.  Walking is a great way to exercise! Your feet can take you where you need to go, like shopping and to/from work!  Walking at a good pace longer than 15 minutes can give us aerobic exercise, which is great for the heart!  It is also a fantastic way to decrease stress, lose weight, and strengthen the legs.

But why do my legs seem to not get stronger with walking?

As a physical therapist, I hear this question very frequently while treating patients.  Our hip strength affects the mechanics of the low back and legs.  If your hips are weak, this can cause problems.  “I don’t understand why I have knee or back pain because I walk every day, my legs and hips should be strong”

To begin to answer this question, we need to consider the question “why do we walk?”   We walk because walking is energy efficient. This is the reason we don’t crawl or walk on our hands.  Well, some of us do!

When we look at babies, their first locomotive movements are rolling from their stomach to their back and then returning to the stomach.  Then, when sitting stability is achieved, some babies even scoot on their bottoms before crawling but eventually, we all master the art of walking.

To walk properly, we need a strong core–our abdominals, back, and hip/buttock muscles are our foundation.

We need a strong foundation for strong legs.

Here are some of my favorite exercises for hip strengthening:

(These should be performed a least three times a week)

Bridging:

Start on your back, bend your knees to a comfortable position, tighten your tummy muscles and then lift your bottom up.

Repeat 20 times.

Clamshells:

Start on your side, bend your knees and hips to a comfortable position, your heels should be aligned with your body

Keep your back perpendicular to the mat and tummy tight

Keeping your heels together, lift your top knee… yes… just like a clam

Repeat 10 times, 2 sets for both legs.

Sidelying leg lifts (abduction in slight extension):

Start on your side, bend your bottom knee to a comfortable position

Straighten your top leg and bring your leg slightly behind your body but be careful not to arch your back.

Keep your back flat to the mat and tighten stomach muscles

Lift your top leg about 4-6 inches

Repeat 10 times, 2 sets for both legs.

When enjoying your walks, you may want to consider the following to challenge yourself further… to get more out of your walking routine:

1.     Walking up and down hills:  Living or working in San Francisco offers this great opportunity.  Try walking up a small hill and feel how your heart rate increases and your legs become a bit sore after your walks.

2.     Stairs: Try walking up/down stairs and avoiding the elevator (although very tempting).

3.     Increase your speed when you walk: a brisk walk would challenge your cardiovascular system more than a leisurely walk.

4.     Cross Training: Compliment your walking routine with a few simple exercises at home (like the hip strengthening exercises above).  You don’t have to spend hours at a gym to achieve this!

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