Mature Adults Need Strength & Power

Do you hope to maintain quality of life as you grow older? Is it important that you’re able to perform your daily tasks, enjoy your recreational activities, and care for yourself? You probably would like to stay fit, trim, strong and mobile for as long as possible. If you do happen to have some physical limitations, you would want to halt or maybe even improve your condition.

It is possible to turn back the aging clock! The myth is that as we grow older we get much weaker and suffer more aches and pains. The fact is that many of the symptoms of old age are really the symptoms of inactivity, of using our muscles less! Muscle weakness, bone loss, and sluggish metabolism are changes that come with aging but are not solely caused by it.

Use it or lose it! You can slow and possibly reverse many of the symptoms associated with aging. By increasing your strength and flexibility, you can turn your wishful thinking into a reality!

Once adults pass their physical prime in their teens and 20’s, they lose an average of 10 ounces of lean body mass per year. On average, a person will lose approximately 40 – 50 percent of muscle mass, and 50 percent of muscle strength from age 30 to age 70. Strength training is recommended to counteract this loss of muscle. Recently, experts have identified power training as a potentially more effective high-intensity strength training. Because of the preferential atrophy of type II (fast-twitch) muscle fibers that occurs with advancing age, the remaining muscle mass is not only smaller and weaker, but slower as well. This has a dramatic effect on potential power generation. In fact, the power output of type II fibers is approximately four times that of type I fibers.

Power training is defined as explosive resistance training where the concentric phase is performed “as fast as possible”. Muscle power is the product of force x velocity. Specifically, muscle power is the product of the force generated by the muscle and he velocity at which the contraction is performed. As a result, increasing either or both of these will increase power output. Therefore, just performing the same strength-training movements more quickly, or increasing strength (force) through traditional low-velocity training will result in an increase of power.

Recent studies have reported that power training: increases strength similarly to traditional strength training, increases power more than traditional strength training, increases power similarly in younger and older subjects, and improves physical functioning more than traditional strength training. Power has been more highly correlated with functional abilities than strength. One study reported that leg power was significantly associated with physical performance, and had a greater influence on physical performance than muscle strength, and another reported that leg power was the strongest predictor of functional status in elderly women than any of the other physiologic measures assessed, including lower-body strength.

Muscle power recedes at a faster rate than strength with age and may also be a stronger predictor of fall risk and functional decline. Older adults, athletes or not, want and need safe and effective programs that improve physical functioning. Power training is an effective intervention that can be added into existing strength-training routines safely and effectively. This is important because the successful completion of many activities require the ability to generate force quickly. From stair climbing and rising from a chair to crossing a street before the light changes and driving a golf ball, muscles must generate force in a short amount of time.

One reason experts have stressed the importance of performing resistance exercises in a slower, controlled manner is to avoid momentum. This is a problem that is inherent to gravity-based equipment such as dumbbells, barbells and weight stacks. Force production at the beginning of the movement is significantly greater at higher velocities than at lower velocities. Since the weight is moving at a higher velocity, it takes more effort to stop the weight. This presents higher risk for injury in older adults.

Considering momentum, pneumatic equipment, elastic bands, body weight and medicine balls are good choices to use in a power-training program for older adults. With pneumatic equipment, momentum is never an issue, because gravity is not involved in the resistance. It does not matter how fast or slow a person performs the movement; momentum remains close to zero.

Elastic bands are good because as elastic is stretched, the resistance increases slightly, but the resistance curve stays the same at all movement speeds. Body weight allows for real-life, functional movements such as step ups because it requires more dynamic balance. Medicine balls are a good option because the weighted balls are released at the end of the fast movement so that the momentum created does not stress the joints.

The dose-response benefits of traditional strength training have been well-documented and quantified. Unfortunately, there are not enough published power training studies with older adult subjects to be able to make any authoritative recommendations regarding sets, reps, frequency or intensity of exercise. Most studies use a three-set, 8-10 repetition, three-days-per-week design, with intensity between 20 and 80 percent of 1 RM (repetition maximum).

To incorporate power training into an existing program, use appropriate equipment by performing the concentric phase “as fast as possible, while maintaining proper form. Be careful not to overdo it if you are adding more sets of exercises into an existing program to incorporate power training.

Resources: AAHF

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