In the United States the Baby Boomer and older-adult populations are increasing at unprecedented rates. It is estimated that the U.S. population of adults over the age of 65 will double by year 2030. Once an adult passes 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 to 50 percent of muscle strength from age 30 to age 70. For this large group of people the loss of function is a serious threat to their independence and quality of life. Strength training has long been recommended to counteract this loss of muscle. But, in the past 10 years or so, experts have identified power training as a potentially more effective method of improving function than traditional strength training.
Studies show that power training increases strength similarly to traditional strength training. It also increases power more than traditional strength training. More importantly power training improves physical functioning more than traditional strength training. A person’s power has been more highly associated with functional abilities than strength. Studies have shown that leg power was significantly associated with physical performance and had a greater influence on physical performance than muscle strength. Other studies have reported that leg power was the strongest predictor of the functional status of elderly women than any other physiologic measures assessed, including lower-body strength.
How to combat this decline of function? There aren’t power studies with older adults to make any definitive recommendations regarding repetitions, sets, or frequency of exercise. A practical place to start is to incorporate power training into an existing strength-training program. Studies show peak muscle power improves equal amounts using light, moderate, or heavy resistance. With safety in mind, an older adult can get results using the lighter weights higher repetitions at intensity somewhere between 40 to 70 percent of 1 repetition maximum. Considering the momentum created with power training, the safer and better equipment selections would be pneumatic machines, elastic bands, body weight and medicine balls. When using gravity-base equipment such as dumbbells, barbells and weight stacks at higher velocities, the momentum produced puts the adult at higher risk for injury when stopping the weight. To get the most benefit, perform your power exercise before your traditional straining portion of your program.
Your body has basically two types of muscle fibers, type II (fast-twitch) and type I (slow twitch). Type II muscle fibers help you move fast and are the power muscle fibers. Because type II muscle fibers are the predominate muscle fibers that atrophy with advanced age, the remaining muscle mass is not only smaller and weaker, but slower as well. This has a dramatic effect on potential power generated. In fact the power output to type II muscle fibers is approximately four times the type I fibers. So, even though we lose both strength and power as we age, we lose power almost twice as much. This means that is we are in real trouble if we need to move fast. We not only need the strength to move our bodies but we also need the power to be able to move our bodies quickly. From climbing stair s, getting up from a chair, crossing the street before the light changes and hitting a tennis ball, muscles must generate force in a short amount of time. Incorporating power into an exercise program, at any age with help with one’s ability to enjoy life and do the things we want to do as we age.