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 Strength Training for Older Adults 
 
The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Keeping Fit by . View all columns in series

Training Range
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.

Training Technique
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).

Summary 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.


References:

Andersen, R., Blair, S., Cheskin, L., et al. (1997). Encouraging patients to become more physically active: The physician's role. Annals of Internal Medicine, 127: 395-400.

Ballor, D. L. and Poehlman, E. T. (1994). Exercise training enhances fat-free mass preservation during diet-induced weight loss: a meta analytic finding. International Journal of Obesity, 18: 35-40.

Brehm, B. and Keller, B. (1990). Diet and exercise factors that influence wieght and fat loss. IDEA Today, 8: 33-46.

Campbell, W., Crim, M., Young, V., and Evans, W. (1994). Increased energy requirements and changes in body composition with resistance training in older adults. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 60: 167-175.

DeMichele, P., Pollock, M., Graves, J., et al. (1997). Isometric torso rotation strength: Effect of training frequency on its development. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 78: 64-69.

Evans, W., and Rosenberg, I. (1992). Biomarkers, New York: Simon and Schuster.

Fiatarone, M., Marks, E., Ryan, N., et al. (1990). High-intensity strength training in nonagenarians. Journal of the American Medical Association, 263 (22): 3029-3034.

Frontera, W., and Meredith, C., O'Reilly, K. et al. (1988). Strength conditioning in older men: Skeletal muscle hypertrophy and improved function. Journal of Applied Physiology, 64 (3): 1038-1044.

Harris, K. and Holly R. (1987). Physiological response to circuit weight training in borderline hypertensive subjects. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 19: 246-252.

Hurley, B. (1994). Does strength training improve health status? Strength and Conditioning Journal, 16: 7-13.

Hurley, B., Hagberg, J., Goldberg, A., et al. (1988). Resistance training can reduce coronary risk factors without altering VO2 max or percent body fat. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 20: 150-154.

Jones, A., Pollock, M., Graves, J., et al. (1988). Safe, Specific Testing and Rehabilitative Exercise For Muscles of the Lumbar Spine. Santa Barbara, California: Sequoia Communications.

Keyes, A., Taylor, H., and Grande, F. (1973). Basal metabolism and age of adult man. Metabolism, 22: 579-587.

Koffler, K., Menkes, A., Redmond, w. et al. (1992). Strength training accelerates gastrointestinal transit in middle-aged and older men. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 24: 415-419.

McClernan, J. (1992). The great American fat rip-offs. IDEA Today, 10: 48-49.

Menkes, A., Mazel, S., Redmond, R. et al. (1993). Strength training increases regional bone mineral density and bone remodeling in middle-aged and older men. Journal of Applied Physiology, 74: 2478-2484.

Nelson, M., Fiatarone, M., Morganti, C., et al. (1994). Effects of high-intensity strength training on multiple risk factors for osteoporotic fractures. Journal of the American Medical Association, 272 (24): 1909-1914.

Pollock, M., Foster, C., Knapp, D., et al. (1987). Effect of age and training on aerobic capacity and body composition of master athletes. Journal of Applied Physiology, 62 (2): 725-731.

Risch, S., Nowell, N., Pollock, M., et al. (1993). Lumbar strengthening in chronic low back pain patients. Spine, 18: 232-238.

Scrips Howard News Service (1996). Study: Nearly 75% in U.S. are overweight. Quincy Patriot Ledger Newspaper, November 26.

Singh, N., Clements, K. and Fiatarone, M. (1997). A randomized controlled trial of progressive resistance training in depressed elders. Journal of Gerontology, 52A (1): M27-M35.

Starkey, D., Pollock, M., Ishida, Y., et al. (1996). Effect of resistance training volume on strength and muscle thickness. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 28 (10): 1311-1320.

Tufts University Diet and Nutrition Letter. (1994). Never too late to build up your muscle. 12: 6-7 (September).

Westcott, W. (1990). How much exercise is necessary? American Fitness Quarterly, 9 (2): 38-47.

Westcott, W. (1994). Exercise speed and strength development. American Fitness Quarterly, 3 (3): 20-21.

Westcott, W. (1995). Strength Fitness: Fourth Edition. Dubuque, Iowa: Wm. C. Brown Publishers.

Westcott, W. and Guy, J. (1996). A physical evolution: Sedentary adults see marked improvements in as little as two days a week. IDEA Today, 14 (9): 58-65.

Westcott, W., Dolan, F., and Cavicchi, T. (1996). Golf and strength training are compatible activities. Journal of Strength and Conditioning, 18 (4): 54-56


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



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 About The Author
Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., is fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, MA. He is strength training consultant for numerous national organizations, such as the American Council on Exercise, the......moreWayne Westcott PhD
 
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