More Reps and Less Weight: A Better Approach for Older Adults?
As a trainer and someone who is aging just like the rest of you, understanding the dynamics of strength training as we age is important to my own daily life. However, the older a person gets, the less it seems resistance training is actually understood in a clinical setting. This lack of knowledge is unfortunate, considering strength training is probably more important as we age from the perspective of public health.
The ability to perform everyday tasks with greater speed and strength is important as our maximum strength reduces with age. There comes a point when a loss in strength will begin to affect even normal tasks, like how quickly you can hit the brakes on your car or get across a road on foot. In a recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, researchers sought to understand how the strength and power needs of older adults were different as they aged. The researchers hypothesized that daily tasks require a greater velocity component of the power curve than the force production component. The ability to catch yourself when you slip is one example that comes to mind. It’s a simple aspect of human life, but an important one.
In the study, the researchers compared a power training protocol with a traditional resistance training program. The power training protocol was 3 sets of 12 to 14 reps at 40% of the participant's one rep max. The traditional program was 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps at 80% of one rep max. As you can see, there were more reps total in the power training protocol. This was because the researchers wanted to balance out the workload, given the lower amount of resistance in the power protocol.
The results of the study were telling. The major difference between the protocols was that the power training reduced the resistance required to achieve peak power. What this means in everyday terms is that the velocity component of power production was improved more by power training. The strength and overall power of both groups increased pretty much the same. So not only did the power training work just as well as the traditional program for making older people stronger, but it was also better at making them faster.
The researchers noted that in younger people, the force development gained by slower movements might be better at developing power. However, in older individuals this seems to change. Not only is power training more applicable to older adults, it’s also more effective.
For trainers who work with older adults, or for those of you who are already older, a switch to higher speed with lower weights looks like the best method of resistance training. It isn’t clear exactly at which point in life this occurs, but it’s likely the best method for older adults who want to improve their ability to perform daily tasks.
1. Stephen P. Sayers, et. al., “High-speed power training in older adults: A shift of the external resistance at which peak power is produced,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182a361b8.
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