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"Grandmas Can't Do Squats or Deadlifts"

September 30, 2020

"Sean, I'm your grandmother.  Grandmothers don't do squats or those deadlift things.  Do you remember how old I am?"  My grandmother is 86 years old and recently had some health issues that resulted in her being severely deconditioned and weak.  My amazing parents swooped in and started providing round the clock care for her.  My grandmother (and I'm sure my parents) were eager for her to get better and back to her own home living independently.  With that in mind, she started physical therapy with her loving grandson (me).

It was slow going at first.  Everything was a struggle and a fight.  She worked extremely hard but fought everyone every step of the way explaining that it was really making her tired and she wanted to do less.  I explained to her that physical therapy and the exercises we prescribe, both in the one-on-one sessions and for her exercise homework, were just like the medicine she was taking. There are specific types and dosages of exercises just like medicine. So if I recommended she perform 3 sets of 10 leg lifts to build strength, then she needed to do all of them.  If the doctor prescribed 100mg of a medication to be taken 3x per day every day of the week and she only took it 1x per day each day, would she expect it to work?  No.  She made some comment about me being a lot sweeter before I went to PT school and we pushed on.

After a long road of total dependence on my parents for every activity in her day, my grandmother started to get stronger and more independent.  She did physical therapy a couple of times per week, every week, and started mentioning her desire to go home and live on her own again.  At this stage in physical therapy, it was time to focus primarily on what we call functional strength training.  This is where the exercises we prescribe are directly related to specific movements you perform in your everyday life.  With that in mind, I said, "OK Gram, our focus today is going to be on squats and deadlifts."  Her look was priceless.  I couldn't tell if she was just surprised or actually hurt that I would suggest such horrible things to do.  She composed herself and said, "Sean, I'm your grandmother.  Grandmothers don't do squats or those deadlift things.  Do you remember how old I am?"  This is a popular sentiment among so many of my patients that are fed misinformation about age, arthritis, and the expectations of someone in this stage of life. Sadly, this attitude is harmful to their quality of life. I reminded her quickly that she was not frail, weak, or incapable of anything.   Her age and arthritis merely meant that she might have to work a little harder, but she could still do it.  Indeed, at this point, she was walking hills and distances of 1/2 mile and more with a walker. I also reminded her that strength and mobility improvements can occur throughout an entire lifetime.

Let’s look at a squat and deadlift. 

Squat #1


Deadlift #1

These are two of the most fundamental movements in life and few people can do them, especially people at an advanced age.  The purpose of this blog is to explain to you that you should be able to perform these two movements with good form, many times throughout a day.  If you can't, your ability to move and interact with your environment is going to be so much more challenging than they need to be. Why do you need to be able to perform these exercises? And when would you possibly need to do squats and deadlifts throughout your life? Take a look at the following images.  All of these are examples of squats and deadlifts throughout a normal day.

Squat #2

Deadlift #2

As you can see, these movements are used in many different parts of our lives.  Not only that, but the strength you gain from squats, deadlifts, and similar exercises, helps you to perform other activities of daily life like getting in and out of your car, climbing stairs, and standing up during the day.  


Below are a couple of videos showing you how to do a basic squat and deadlift.  If you have balance concerns or struggle (pain, stiffness, limitations) performing 10 repetitions in a row of these exercises, stop and give us a call, we would love to help you and provide you with Movement For Life.


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I’m sharing this with my mom!

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