“Stop Loading, Start Exploding”

I just returned from the IDEA Personal Training Institute in Alexandria, VA. IDEA is an organization that provides educational opportunities for Personal Trainers. The title of this blog is the title of one of the courses I took, taught by Cody Sipe of the Functional Aging Institute.

The central topic of the course was Power Training. I have blogged about this in the past; once in 2019 and once in 2020, but it is worth reviewing what it is all about. Power=force x velocity. Power training focuses on increasing the rate at which work (ie, lifting weight, pulling a cable, throwing a ball) is performed. Power training has been a part of the fitness world for a long time, but it was thought that this kind of exercise was not appropriate for older adults.

Research shows that as we age muscle strength declines, but power drops even more quickly; the reason is that velocity decreases. Older adults may not be able to move as quickly as they had when they were younger. Why does this matter? As we age, our interest generally changes from having a beach body to have a body that functions the way we need it to; we need to be able to walk, climb stairs, lift and carry objects, etc. Power training–not strength training–is most effective at improving function. If you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Unless we are participating in a weightlifting competetion, there is a limit as to how strong we need to be; if the heaviest thing we lift is a 50 lb. bag of mulch, do we need to be able to bench press 200 pounds? On the other hand, being able to move quickly and effectively is necessary to prevent falls and other injuries. We need to train our bodies to react without a lag time. This would all indicate that it is preferable to work with lower weights (stop loading) with reps that are performed with greater speed (start exploding).

The conference was valuable, but this course in particular will help me to better train my clients. For years, people have thought that we cannot push older adults to perform resistance exercises (or even cardio) too quickly. Now we know that increasing the speed has tangible benefits.

I look forward to seeing the results as I continue to integrate power training into the work that I do.

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.