Age or Inactivity?
We typically associate aging with multiple degenerative process
include a loss of muscle mass, increased body fat, performance
losses, reduced flexibility, etc. In fact, most of these processes
are actually caused by a sedentary lifestyle rather than the
actual aging process.
A reduction of activity level leads to a loss in muscle mass
(atrophy) whereas lack of activity in older adult is compounded
by a loss of muscle cells (sarcopenia). These losses of muscle
consequently decreases metabolism since muscle burns a significant
portion of the required calories. This results in an average
increase in body fat of 2.5 to 3% per decade since most people
don't generally compensate by reducing the amount of food they
consume as their activity and muscle mass decrease over the years.
Further loss of muscle can compromise functional performance.
Approximately 15% of performance capacity can be lost per decade
with inactivity. The loss of muscle mass at an advanced age can
also decrease proprioception balance and mobility.
The body's ability to quickly utilize information about its
position in space to make instantaneous corrections is certainly
important for athletic performance, but for the older adult,
it becomes vital for safety. There appears to be a correlation
between strength and balance in the elderly. For example, elderly
(ages 67 to 97 years of age) who participated in a free weight
program reported a decreased fear of falling in addition to increased
functional performance (Brill, et. al. 1998).
Benefits of Weight Training
Weight training has shown to be beneficial across every age
group, including seniors. It is highly effective in preventing
all of these so called 'age-related' problems. Weight training
restores and maintains muscle mass at any age. Even in 60-90
year-old individuals, weight training reduces the loss of muscle
mass to less than 5% per decade.
Several studies have demonstrated that elderly subjects who
were inactive but began weight training actually gained muscle
mass, improved their strength, proprioception, and balance. These
benefits were directly related the inclusion of leg weight exercises
which resulted in improvements of lower body strength. Improvements
in leg strength increase walking speeds in older subjects. A
twelve week strength training program increased walking endurance
by 38%, greater improvement as compared to a walking only program.
Squats performed with progressive greater workloads can be beneficial
Although, not as widely known, lifting weights alone can improve
flexibility. Performing weight training exercises through a full
range of motion serves as a dynamic stretch while increasing
strength. For this reason, weight training can improve flexibility
in older trainees, particularly for those with limited range-of-motion.
Osteoarthritis is a condition caused by degenerative changes
in joints resulting in a loss of joint function. Those with arthritis
typically reduce their activity in attempt to eliminate discomfort,
which actually exacerbates this condition. In fact several studies
have demonstrated that resistance training utilizing the musculature
around the affected joint can significantly decrease pain and
improve mobility of the arthritic joint. Some of these studies
had even used squats to reduce knee pain.
Adults older than 45 years of age should consult with a licensed
health practitioner before engaging in a vigorous exercise program,
particularly if they have certain medical concerns. Also see
Exercise Readiness Questionnaire
and Risk Classification
When older adults begin a weight training program, the general
process is essentially the same for that of a younger deconditioned
novice. Most of the same rules apply with consideration of reduced
recovery ability and initial physical condition of the trainee.
The basic principles of adaptation
will apply as long as the health of the individual remains intact.
However, changes in the body's physiology occur that make the
individual somewhat less adaptive to an exercise stimulus.
Exercise tolerance to a particular workout should be a major
consideration when training as we age. When beginning a weight
training program, intensity should be quite modest and the number
of exercises and sets should be kept to a minimum to allow adequate
adaptation and to prevent aversions to excessive efforts at this
early stage. Participants can take several workouts to identify
their beginning exercise resistances. See conservative method
under identifying initial
People over 50 years of age commonly have joint and muscle
discomfort after a heavy workout. Therefore, the frequency of
intense workouts should be carefully programmed. See study summary
on varying workloads
in older adults. If joint pain or stiffness is still experienced,
then the frequency of heavy loading day must be further reduced
or the repetition training zones must be altered accordingly.
Since older individuals may have deminished ability to deal
with increases in muscle and blood acidity, rest between sets
should not be reduced quickly. Pay particular attention to adverse
reactions such as nausea and dizziness when reducing length of
rest periods in all participants, especially individuals over
50 years of age due to reduced buffering capacity.
The natural breath holding (Valsalva maneuver) during heavy
lifts can result in an undue raise in blood pressure. This is
a particular concern for those with cardiac problem, a family
history of cardiac problems, or unstable left ventricular function.
Older participants should be advised to avoid or minimize momentary
breath holding during lifts. For this reason they should not
be encouraged to train to complete failure, and if it should
occur breath holding should be discouraged.
ACSM recommended a repetition range for individuals older
than age 50-60 years of age or frail persons is 10 to 15 repetitions
(see Suggested Repetition
Ranges). Although more advanced and healthy older adults
can perform lower repetition ranges for greater strength gains
with relatively little risk of injury. Also see ACSM
Recommendations for Resistance Training Exercise.
Masters athletes are a growing population. As the population
ages, masters competitions become more prevalent in many sports.
It's not unusual to see younger masters age-group athletes (35-45
years of age) just as well, if not better than much younger athletes
in national and international competition. Powerlifting is one
sport that has seen its fair share of masters athletes winning
in the open competition. A middle-aged trainee can develop strength,
power, and muscle as long as they have a sound training practices
and proper attitude.
Joint pain and stiffness is often a concern for master athletes
since it affects their ability to perform specific exercises
in their training. Injury for the master athlete can be somewhat
more detrimental since recovery from injury may take longer as
one advances in age. See Dealing
The recovery capacity of a masters athlete is generally less
than their younger counterpart so periodization of training becomes
even more important for the serious masters competitor. Periods
of recovery should be longer and more pronounced than for younger
athletes. When using undulating
periodization models, the recovery microcycles should have
a larger percentage of intensity reduction than for younger athletes,
10-15% rather than the 5% frequently used in OSFTSB (One Step
Forward Training Stress Balance) models. The masters athlete
is using the Hormone
Fluctuation Model (HFM) should adapt the 8 week model with
a smaller volume of training during the two weeks of maximal
work. Beyond 30 years of age, a volume reduction of 5% per decade