Due to age-related decreases in muscle function and joint flexibility, it is important for seniors to develop strength throughout their full range of joint movement. Research has shown that full-range exercise movements are necessary for building full-range muscle strength (Jones et al 1988). That is, strength gains appear to be limited to the movement range that is trained. For best results, seniors should perform each strength exercise through the complete range of joint movement, working the muscles from their fully stretched position to their fully-contracted position. However, if any part of the exercise action causes discomfort, the movement range should be abbreviated accordingly.
In addition to controlled movement speed and full movement range, exercise technique is a critical training factor for older adults. Seniors should always practice proper posture when performing strength exercises, with particular emphasis on position stability and back support. To avoid unnecessary blood pressure elevation older adults should breathe continuously throughout every repetition. The preferred breathing pattern is to exhale during the more demanding lifting movement (concentric muscle action), and to inhale during the less demanding lowering movement (eccentric muscle action). Most important, senior strength trainers should never hold their breath (valsalva effect) or hold the resistance in a static position (isometric effect).
There are many reasons that men and women over 50 years of age should perform regular strength training. These include physiological benefits for the muscular system, skeletal system, cardiovascular system, and digestive system.
However, the major advantage of strength exercise is to replace the muscle tissue that is lost at the rate of about one pound per year in older adults. Regular strength training has been shown to increase muscle mass by more than one pound per month and to increase resting metabolism by over two percent per month, thereby reversing some of the degenerative processes associated with aging.
Senior exercisers should follow general guidelines for safe, sensible, effective and efficient strength training programs. The basic recommendation for successful strength training experiences are: (1) including exercises for all of the major muscle groups; (2) training two or three non-consecutive days per week; (3) performing one set of each exercise; (4) using between 70 and 80 percent of maximum resistance; (5) performing between 8 and 12 repetitions per set; (6) adding five percent more resistance whenever 12 repetitions are completed; (7) using moderate movement speeds, such as six seconds per repetition; (8) exercising through the full range of joint movement; (9) practicing proper posture; and (10) breathing continuously throughout every exercise repetiton.
Research indicates that 95 percent of previously sedentary seniors who complete a well-designed, short-term strength training program continue to do strength exercise.
Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., is fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA and author of several books including, Building Strength and Stamina and Strength Training Past 50.
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Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., is fitness research director at the South
Shore YMCA in Quincy, MA., and author of several fitness books
including the new releases, Building Strength and Stamina and Strength
Training Past 50.
© Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D. all rights reserved