Cover All Your (Muscle) Bases

In youth, there are certain “rules” that many follow when engaging in resistance training. The reasoning goes that for men to be more attractive they need to concentrate on their arms and chest. Women may feel the need to focus on abdominals and glutes. These rules do not apply in the same ways as we enter older adulthood.

Do not take this to mean that older adults are not concerned about their appearance; rather, as we age we need to take a more holistic approach to the muscles we exercise. It is important to pay attention to the muscle groups that help us to perform the activities of daily living (ADL) such as walking, climbing stairs, carrying groceries, bending down to pick up something we have dropped on the floor, etc., not just the ones that get us noticed when we wear tight clothes! After all, what good is having gigantic biceps and a huge chest if we cannot make our way across the room?

A recent article on AARP’s website by Michele Wojciechowski highlights some of the often-ignored muscle groups that deserve our attention and exercise. The author highlights the following areas: 1) The hip area (the glutes and hip flexors); these are key to walking and getting up from a seated position. 2) The core; this part of the body is from the shoulders through just below the hips and serves as support for the entire upper body. Often, older adults with poor posture have weakened core muscles. 3) The knees–which are not a muscle, but a joint; they are supported by the quads and the hamstrings; keeping those strong and limber is key to walking, climbing stairs, standing, and maintaining balance. 4) Ankles and feet; again, vital to walking but also important in maintaining balance and stability; ask anyone who has had feet or ankle problems and they will tell you that it seriously inhibits mobility. 5) The neck; not keeping the supporting muscles strong and limber will literally cause “a pain in the neck.” It is not uncommon at all to see older adults whose heads are perched out well in front of the chests; this causes problems beyond appearance, possibly affecting sleep, posture, and the ability to drive a car. 6) Hands and wrists; while many are hit by arthritis in this area, others simply allow the lower arm muscles to weaken, which limits the ability to perform fine motor skills like writing, eating, typing.

As I age, I am concerned about my appearance. I always want to put the best version of myself forward. For me this means not only working on the “sexy” muscles, but also on the ones that will keep me active and independent. Do not overlook these muscle groups or they will have a way of calling your attention to them in a way you might not enjoy.

Power to the (Older) People

Power to the people

In the world of fitness–as in the world of physics–there is a difference between strength and power.

Muscle strength is the maximum amount of force a muscle can exert against resistance in a single effort. For instance if a person is able to press 135 lbs in a single rep of a bench press, that would be their muscle strength.

Muscle power, on the other hand, is the ability to exert maximal force in as short a time as possible; this could mean accelerating (as in a run), jumping or throwing an object (a ball, a discus, a javelin). Muscle power takes into account speed.

The way a person trains their muscles depends on the outcome they are looking for. Those seeking sports performance often focus on power training since speed is usually a factor in competitive sports. Many others who look to improve muscle tone or who want to be able to carry out activities of daily living may focus on strength training.

The most recent issue of ACE Fitness Journal (Sept. 2019) had a brief article on power training vs strength training for older adults by Shirley Archer, JD, MA. She reports on a study out in Brazil reporting on the benefits of power training in an older population. It showed that subjects in the study who were above the median in maximal power had better survival rates than those below the median; in other words, if you have more muscle power there is a tendency to live longer.

This is exciting news to those of us who work with many older clients. The study can be found in https://journals.lww.com/nsca-scj/pages/default.aspx, vol. 41, issue 1.

The article by Archer notes that there is need for more study and caution. Power training requires more balance and coordination; some seniors may not have the necessary skills to perform power training. Even so, it is interesting to note that this is a promising direction for trainers and clients as we age.

I look forward to more research as I continue to help my older clients live longer, healthier and more independent lives.