1. Residents of a chronic care hospital (13 men of mean age 88.5 ± 6 sd years and 13 women of mean age 86.5 ± 6 sd years) who had multiple pathologies were assessed for leg extensor capability in several ways.
2. A custom-built rig was used to assess leg extensor power, that is, maximal power output over less than 1 s in a single extension of one leg. Performance measures were obtained by timing chair rises (from a standard chair 0.43 m high), stair climbing (four risers, total height 0.635 m) and a walk (6.1 m). For each measurement the best of several trials were recorded as definitive.
3. Leg extensor power was significantly correlated with all performance measures, but the performance measures were not related to each other except for chair rising and walking speed.
4. Women had significantly less extensor power than men, but their power explained more of the variance in performance, e.g. power accounted for 86% of the variance in walking speed.
5. There was no relation within the group between age and any of the variables measured.
6. Measurement of leg extensor power in frail elderly people may prove useful in focusing effective rehabilitation programmes.