Strength training should be a regular part of the fitness programs of older adults, as training with weights has shown to improve health and physical functioning. Muscle power – the ability to produce force rapidly – has recently been revealed to be an important predictor of function in older adults. Strength training that incorporates high-speed power training will increase everyone’s muscle power.
High-speed power training can prevent most of the decline in muscle strength and power that are associated with aging, and has been proven to be just as effective with older men and women as it is with younger members of the population. A good personal trainer or strength coach will be aware of the benefits offered by high-speed power training and should teach this form of strength training to their clients regardless of their age.
Traditionally older adults have been encouraged to strength train using slow-velocity contractions at a high percentage of maximal force in order to improve muscle strength. This kind of strength training is typically performed on machines, and is inferior to training with free weights. Nevertheless, the prevailing wisdom is that this kind of training will improve the muscle strength of older adults, and as a result maintain/improve health and reduce functional decline.
Muscle power has received a lot of attention from researchers as of late as a predictor of function and disability in older adults. Muscle power differs from muscle strength, as muscle power is the product of force x velocity. Sorry for the physics reference, but it is a bit necessary for this discussion.
The distinction is important; muscle strength refers to the ability of the muscle to produce force, muscle power refers to the ability to produce force quickly. Recent research indicates that strength training that incorporates high-speed training may be more beneficial to older adults than traditional slow-speed strength training.
The new data supports the logic that high-speed strength training is more appropriate for seniors because real-world activities occur quickly and require balance and stability, a nimble nervous system. This high-speed training has positive effects on the nervous system – more of an effect than provided by traditional means of strength training – and can help older men and women function more efficiently and effectively.
While lower-speed strength training methods still should be a part of every training regimen, there is definitely reason to compliment this traditional form of strength training with high-speed power training.