Background Low muscle mass and strength are highly prevalent in inpatients. It is acknowledged that low muscle mass and strength are associated with falls in community-dwelling older adults, but it is unknown if these muscle measures are also associated with falls in a population of older inpatients. This study aimed to investigate the association between muscle measures and pre- and post-hospitalization falls in older inpatients. Methods An inception cohort of patients aged 70 years and older, admitted to an academic teaching hospital, was included in this study. Muscle mass and hand grip strength were measured at admission using bioelectrical impedance analysis and handheld dynamometry. Pre-hospitalization falls were dichotomized as having had at least one fall in the six months prior to admission. Post-hospitalization falls were dichotomized as having had at least one fall during the three months after discharge. Associations were analysed with logistic regression analysis. Results The study cohort comprised 378 inpatients (mean age, SD: 79.7, 6.4 years). Fifty per cent of female and 41% of male patients reported at least one fall prior to hospitalization. Post-hospitalization, 18% of female and 23% of male patients reported at least one fall. Lower muscle mass was associated with post-hospitalization falls, and lower hand grip strength was associated with both pre- and post-hospitalization falls in male, but not in female, patients. Conclusions These findings confirm the likely involvement of muscle mass and strength in the occurrence of pre- and post-hospitalization falls in a population of older inpatients, but only in males. Electronic supplementary material The online version of this article (10.1186/s12877-018-0812-5) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.